TIME space

European Spacecraft Finally Hooks Up With Comet After Ten-Year Pursuit

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Picture taken on August 3, 2014 by ESA's space probe Rosettas OSIRIS narrow-angle camera shows the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ESA/AFP/Getty Images

Rosetta will accompany the comet for over a year of its 6.5-year orbit round the sun

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft has entered the orbit of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, ending a decade-long hunt to become the first vehicle to rendezvous with one.

Rosetta and comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, about 405 million kilometers from Earth, and are traveling at the speed of nearly 55,000 kilometers per hour, the ESA said Wednesday. Rosetta will accompany the comet for over a year of its 6.5-year orbit of the sun.

Rosetta, launched in 2004, had to make three complex gravity-assist flybys of Earth and one of Mars to help it towards the comet.

Rosetta will seek to understand the nature of the comet through an in situ study. Comets are one of the primitive building blocks of the Solar System and may have helped “seed” Earth with water, ESA said.

During its approach, Rosetta already discovered indications that the comet was emitting water vapor into space at about 300 milliliters per second.

TIME

Martian Vistas: A Look at the Curiosity Rover’s Strange Home

Two years ago, NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on Mars, transforming an engineering team’s high-risk brainstorming into reality. See the planet's topography, captured by Curiosity's HiRise cameras

TIME space travel

Photos from the Curiosity Rover’s First 2 Incredible Years on Mars

On Aug. 5, 2012, NASA's Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars. Here are pictures from its exploration thus far

TIME Japan

Top Japanese Scientist Who Co-Authored Discredited Stem-Cell Study Commits Suicide

Yoshiki Sasai
Yoshiki Sasai, deputy chief of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo on April 16, 2014. Police said Sasai, 52, was found dead on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. AP

Death is mourned as huge loss to scientific community

A top Japanese scientist who oversaw and co-authored a controversial stem-cell study has committed suicide by hanging, authorities said on Tuesday.

Yoshiki Sasai, 52, was found in a research institution next to his workplace by a security guard on Tuesday morning and was pronounced dead at a hospital two hours later.

Sasai was deputy director of the prestigious RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, and supervised a study by lead author Haruko Obokata that was published in the journal Nature earlier this year.

Obokata claimed to have found a highly innovative new method for creating stem cells, but when the method could not be replicated, a probe was launched and it was found that parts of the study had been plagiarized. The paper was withdrawn from Nature in July, following months of dispute about its veracity.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Sasai maintained that he was brought into the project at a late stage. He consistently expressed remorse for not keeping a closer eye on the research, while continuing to argue that parts of the study held evidence of a genuine breakthrough.

Phil Campbell, editor in chief of Nature, issued a statement calling Sasai’s death a great loss to the scientific community. “Yoshiki Sasai was an exceptional scientist, and he has left an extraordinary legacy of pioneering work across many fields within stem cell and developmental biology,” Campbell said.

TIME Archaeology

Museum Finds Misplaced 6,500-Year-Old Human Skeleton in the Cellar

Ancient Skeleton
6,500-year-old human remains are displayed at the The Penn Museum, part of the University of Pennsylvania,, Aug. 5, 2014, in Philadelphia. The museum announced Tuesday that it had rediscovered in its own storage rooms a 6,500-year-old human skeleton believed to have been a man at least 50 who stood 5 feet, 9 inches tall. Matt Rourke—AP

But it had only been missing for 85 years, so

An archaeology museum in Philadelphia said Tuesday it found a 6,500-year-old human skeleton in its own basement.

Yes. Its own basement.

Researchers at the Penn Museum, which is associated with the University of Pennsylvania, said they found documentation for the human skeleton while digitizing old records. The remains are extremely rare and date to 4,500 BCE. They were unearthed by archaeologists around 1930 during an excavation of the ancient city of Ur in modern day Iraq beneath the city’s cemetery, itself dating back to 2,500 BCE, Reuters reports.

The skeleton, which scientists have named Noah, is roughly 2,000 years older than any other remains found at the excavation site. The find could give scholars a new depth of understanding into everyday life during the little-understood time period.

Noah’s remains indicate he was muscular, about five feet-ten-inches tall and died at 50 years old.

[Reuters]

TIME Environment

California Catastrophes: Why is the Golden State Always a Mess?

First it's droughts, then wildfires, then mudslides. But despite how it seems, the coast isn't really cursed

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California is burning. In several places. Of course, this is news, especially since lives and property are at risk—but in a sense, it isn’t news at all. California burns every year at around this time. California is also sliding downhill. That isn’t really a headline either, since mudslides are annual events too, as a result of torrential rains in the non-burning part of the state. So far this year the slides have caused one death.

California’s Central Valley, meanwhile, is dangerously parched, as a drought that’s already lasted three years shows no signs of letting up. The only hope for desperate farmers is that a long-awaited El Niño weather pattern kicks in later in the year, bringing heavy rains (at which point, see above under “mudslides”). And then there’s the next major earthquake, which is sure to come sooner or later—probably sooner given California’s luck.

In fact, it almost seems as though the state is a disaster magnet. That, however, is something of an illusion. Much of the American West is more or less starved for rainfall, with the exception of the immediate Pacific Coast. It’s hardly a surprise that the region as a whole suffers from periodic droughts; all it takes is a ridge of heat and high pressure to park itself off the Pacific coast and most rainfall will veer northward into Canada before dipping bock down into the inland U.S. The dried-out forests and grasslands that result are then ready fuel for fires caused by lightning or human carelessness. When rains do start, steep hillsides that have been logged or burned or overdeveloped are prone to mudslides.

These are by no means problems unique to California. But the state is so huge, and the population so large, that natural disasters there simply affect more people than they do elsewhere in the U.S. Still, for those of us watching from the other side of the continent, it sometimes seems like you’d have to be a little bit crazy to live in California. But then you consider Mt. Whitney or Yosemite Valley or the Coast Range or the redwood forests—never mind the southern California warmth and the Pacific Ocean as your swimming pool.

So maybe it’s not entirely crazy to live in California. What is entirely crazy is the need to push the envelope—to build houses on hillsides and in forests which may be the most gorgeous locations in the nation’s most gorgeous state, but which are often the most dangerous in terms of natural hazards. If you lived on an airport runway and got hit by a plane, it would be a tragedy—but an entirely predictable and preventable one.

We’re not immune to this sort of craziness out East: we keep putting houses on beaches, for example, when we know perfectly well that they could wash away with the next storm. Once you get away from the shore, though, you’re relatively safe. On this last point, the East may have the edge: Move inland in California, and you could end up next to an active volcano.

TIME space

SpaceX Is Building a New Launch Site In Texas

The next launch site for billionaire Elon Musk's space company will be built in one of the poorest cities in America

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Texas Governor Rick Perry announced Monday that private space company SpaceX will build the first-ever exclusively commercial launch site near Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX, owned and operated by PayPal billionaire Elon Musk, received a $2.3 million investment from the state to build its site in Texas.

Brownsville has a median income of $30,000, and nearly 40% of Brownsville’s population lives below the poverty line — the highest percentage in the country. Perry said in his announcement that the SpaceX site will bring 300 new jobs and inject $85 million into the local economy.

TIME Environment

Gulf of Mexico ‘Dead Zone’ Now the Size of Connecticut

Mike Coleman and Jarad Williams check their crab traps on October 4, 2013 in Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Mike Coleman and Jarad Williams check their crab traps on October 4, 2013 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Marianna Massey—Getty Images

Surveyors measured a 5,052sq mile expanse of asphyxiating water off of the coast of Louisiana

A survey of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico has found the world’s second-largest “dead zone” ballooning out from the mouth of the Mississippi River and covering an expanse of ocean roughly equal in size to the state of Connecticut.

Scientists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured the dead zone, an expanse of asphyxiating water marked by unusually low oxygen levels and marine life, at roughly 5,052 square miles. Scientists trace the dead zone to nutrient runoffs from farmlands upriver. The nutrients stimulate algae growth, creating massive algae blooms that sink, decompose and consume oxygen that is vital to the surrounding marine life.

“The Dead Zone off the Louisiana coast is the second largest human-caused coastal hypoxic area in the global ocean and stretches from the mouth of the Mississippi River into Texas waters and less often, but increasingly more frequent, east of the Mississippi River,” wrote the study’s author Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON). The largest dead zone is thought to be in the Baltic Sea, in Scandinavia.

NOAA scientists note that this year’s dead zone is smaller than the one recorded last year, but still well above the federal target of 1,900 square miles.

TIME Culture

Study: Society Flourished When Humans Got Less Manly

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A model of Peking man (Homo erectus pekinensis), who lived 1-2 million years ago Getty Images

Does lower T lead to higher tech? Research links decrease in manly traits to an increase in sophisticated toolmaking in early humans

Some anthropologists now believe that advanced human behaviors like toolmaking only developed when early humans evolved to have lower levels of testosterone than their ancestors, according to a new study published in Current Anthropology.

“All of a sudden, in the archeological record, culture and advanced technology suddenly becomes more widespread. And at that time we also see a decrease in testosterone,” said the study’s lead author Bob Cieri, a graduate student at the University of Utah. “Before 50,00 years ago, there were brief flashes of advanced behavior and artifacts, but they’re not persistent and widespread.”

Cieri measured the browridge of different human skulls, which indicates the level of testosterone in the skeleton. Heavier brows and longer faces indicate more testosterone, and more rounded heads indicate less testosterone, according to Stephen Churchill, the Duke professor who supervised Cieri’s work. Cieri measured 13 human skulls that were more than 80,000 years old; 41 skulls between 10,000 and 38,000 years old; and over 1,200 20th-century skulls from different ethnic populations. He found that the modern skulls had substantially more rounded features and less heavy brows than the early skulls, indicating a drop in testosterone between our early ancestors and modern humans.

Cieri says the decrease in testosterone levels could be attributed to the rise in the Homo sapiens population, which meant that people had to be nicer to each other because they were living in closer quarters. “If population density starts increasing, not only are there more people in your immediate environment that you have to get along with, but all land would be occupied with human groups,” he explains. “You wouldn’t just go across to the other side of the valley to hunt bison by yourself, you’d go to the other side of the valley and maybe make a treaty with the other people who live there.”

It’s important to note that these early humans didn’t yet have “culture” as we know it — they were still hunter-gatherers, Cieri says, but they were much less aggressive about it. But he thinks this lowering of testosterone led to more cooperation between people, which laid crucial groundwork for cultural advances thousands of years later.

So if you’re still worried about low T after reading TIME’s recent cover story, “Manopause?!,” consider that a little less T isn’t always a bad thing.

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