Researchers Unearthed 13.8 Million Year Old, New Middle Miocene Ape From Ramnagar, India (Paleontology)

Paleontologists unearthed a new approximately 12.5–13.8 Million year old fossil ape from the Lower Siwaliks of Ramnagar, India, that belongs to hylobatid (i.e. hylobatids = gibbons and siamangs) origins, which is virtually non-existent before the latest Miocene of East Asia.

This ape represents the first new hominoid species discovered at Ramnagar in nearly a century, the first new Siwalik ape taxon in more than 30 years, and likely extends the hylobatid fossil record by approximately 5 Myr, providing a minimum age for hylobatid dispersal coeval to that of great apes.

Map illustrating the location of Kapi (black star) relative to modern (dark green) and historical (light green) populations of lesser apes and the approximate distribution of early fossil apes in East Africa (blue triangles). Green triangles mark the location of previously discovered fossil gibbons. The new fossil is millions of years older than any previously known fossil gibbon and highlights their migration from Africa to Asia. Credit: Luci Betti-Nash.

The presence of crown hylobatid molar features in the new species indicates an adaptive shift to a more frugivorous diet during the Middle Miocene, consistent with other proposed adaptations to frugivory (e.g. uricase gene silencing) during this time period as well. This provided the evidence that the migration of great apes, including orangutan ancestors, and lesser apes from Africa to Asia happened around the same time and through the same places.


References: Christopher C. Gilbert , Alejandra Ortiz , Kelsey D. Pugh , Christopher J. Campisano , Biren A. Patel , Ningthoujam Premjit Singh , John G. Fleagle and Rajeev Patnaik, “New Middle Miocene Ape (Primates: Hylobatidae) from Ramnagar, India fills major gaps in the hominoid fossil record”, Published:09 September 2020 doi: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.1655 link: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2020.1655#

Quantum Light Enables Measurement Of Signals Otherwise Buried By Noise (Quantum)

ORNL researchers developed a quantum, or squeezed, light approach for atomic force microscopy that enables measurement of signals otherwise buried by noise.

Unlike today’s classical microscopes, Pooser’s team quantum microscope requires quantum theory to describe its sensitivity. The nonlinear amplifiers in ORNL’s microscope generate a special quantum light source known as squeezed light.

Credit: Raphael Pooser, ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

They demonstrated the first practical application of nonlinear interferometry by measuring the displacement of an atomic force microscope microcantilever with 50% better sensitivity than is classically possible. For one-second long measurements, the quantum-enhanced sensitivity was 1.7 femtometers—about twice the diameter of a carbon nucleus. Further, they minimize photon backaction noise while taking advantage of quantum noise reduction (up to 3 dB below the standard quantum limit) by transducing the cantilever displacement signal with a weak squeezed state while using dual homodyne detection with a higher power local oscillator.

Their approach to quantum microscopy relies on control of waves of light. When waves combine, they can interfere constructively, meaning the amplitudes of peaks add to make the resulting wave bigger. Or they can interfere destructively, meaning trough amplitudes subtract from peak amplitudes to make the resulting wave smaller. This effect can be seen in waves in a pond or in an electromagnetic wave of light like a laser.

A well-known aspect of quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, makes it impossible to define both the position and momentum of a particle with absolute certainty. A similar uncertainty relationship exists for the amplitude and phase of light.

That fact creates a problem for sensors that rely on classical light sources like lasers: The highest sensitivity they can achieve minimizes the Heisenberg uncertainty relationship with equal uncertainty in each variable. Squeezed light sources reduce the uncertainty in one variable while increasing the uncertainty in the other variable, thus “squeezing” the uncertainty distribution. For that reason, the scientific community has used squeezing to study phenomena both great and small.

The sensitivity in such quantum sensors is typically limited by optical losses. Entanglement means independent objects behaving as one. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.” In this case, the intensities of the light beams are correlated with each other at the quantum level. ORNL’s approach to quantum microscopy is broadly relevant to any optimized sensor that conventionally uses lasers for signal readout.


References: R. C. Pooser, N. Savino, E. Batson, J. L. Beckey, J. Garcia, and B. J. Lawrie, “Truncated Nonlinear Interferometry for Quantum-Enhanced Atomic Force Microscopy”, Physical Review Letters 124 (2020). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.230504 link: https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.230504

Almost All, Fast Growing Trees Have Shorter Lifespans (Botany)

New analysis done by Brienen and colleages revealed for the first time that across almost all tree species, fast growing trees have shorter lifespans. This international study further calls into question predictions that greater tree growth means greater carbon storage in forests in the long term.

Land vegetation is currently taking up large amounts of atmospheric CO2, possibly due to higher temperatures and tree growth stimulation. Extant models predict that this growth stimulation will continue to cause a net carbon uptake this century. But, the new study, casts doubts on these predictions.

The international study is the largest to date looking at the relationship between tree growth and tree lifespan. The researchers examined more than 200 thousand tree-ring records from 82 tree species from sites across the globe.

It confirms that accelerated growth results in shorter tree lifespans, and that growth-lifespan trade-offs are indeed near universal, occurring across almost all tree species and climates. This suggests that increases in forest carbon stocks may be short lived. The trade-off may be due to environmental variables affecting tree growth and lifespan. For example, co-author, Dr. Alfredo Di Filippo from Tuscia University, Italy previously reported that lifespan of beech trees in the Northern Hemisphere decreases by roughly 30 years for each degree of warming.

The current analysis confirms that, across biomes, reductions in lifespan are not due directly to temperature per se, but are a result of faster growth at warmer temperatures.

Their findings suggests that a prominent cause of the widespread occurrence of a growth lifespan trade-off is that chances of dying increase dramatically as trees reach their maximum potential tree size.

Nonetheless, other factors may still play a role as well. For example, trees that grow fast may invest less in defences against diseases or insect attacks, and may make wood of lower density or with water transport systems more vulnerable to drought.


References: Brienen, R.J.W., Caldwell, L., Duchesne, L. et al. Forest carbon sink neutralized by pervasive growth-lifespan trade-offs. Nat Commun 11, 4241 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17966-z link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17966-z

How Stars Are Formed?? (Astronomy)

Stars are massive, glowing balls of hot gases, mostly hydrogen and helium. They are formed from collapsing clouds of gas and dust, often called nebulae or molecular clouds. Some stars are alone in the sky, others have companions (binary stars) and some are part of large clusters containing thousands to millions of stars. Not all stars are the same. Stars come in all sizes, brightnesses, temperatures and colors.

Some stars are extremely hot, while others are cool. You can tell by the color of light that the stars give off. If you look at the coals in a charcoal grill, you know that the red glowing coals are cooler than the white hot ones. The same is true for stars. A blue or white star is hotter than a yellow star, which is hotter than a red star. So, if you look at the strongest color or wavelength of light emitted by the star, then you can calculate its temperature (temperature in degrees Kelvin = 3 x 10^6/ wavelength in nanometers). A star’s spectrum can also tell you the chemical elements that are in that star because different elements (for example, hydrogen, helium, carbon, calcium) absorb light at different wavelengths.

When we look at the night sky, we can see that some stars are brighter than others. Two factors determine the brightness of a star: Luminosity and distance. Luminosity is how much energy it puts out in a given time. While, distance is how far it is from us.

We can measure a star’s brightness (the amount of light it puts out) by using a photometer or charge-coupled device (CCD) on the end of a telescope. If we know the star’s brightness and the distance to the star, we can calculate the star’s luminosity:

[luminosity = brightness x 12.57 x (distance)²].

In 1924, the astronomer A. S. Eddington showed that the luminosity and mass of a star were related. The larger a star (i.e., more massive) is, the more luminous it is (luminosity = mass³).

Some stars are moving away from us and some are moving toward us. The movement of stars affects the wavelengths of light that we receive from them, much like doppler effect. By measuring the star’s spectrum and comparing it to the spectrum of a standard lamp, we can measure the amount of the Doppler shift. The amount of the Doppler shift tells us how fast the star is moving relative to us. In addition, the direction of the Doppler shift can tell us the direction of the star’s movement. If the spectrum of a star is shifted to the blue end, then the star is moving toward us; if the spectrum is shifted to the red end, then the star is moving away from us. Likewise if a star is spinning on its axis, the Doppler shift of its spectrum can be used to measure its rate of rotation.

In around 1910, Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung and American astronomer Henry Norris Russell independently graphed the luminosity vs. temperatures for thousands of stars and found a surprising relationship as shown below.

This diagram called a Hertsprung-Russell or H-R diagram revealed that most of the stars lie along a smooth diagonal curve called the main sequence with hot, luminous stars in the upper left and cool, dim stars in the lower right. Off of the main sequence, there are cool, bright stars in the upper right and hot, dim stars in the lower left.

If we apply the relationship between luminosity and radius to the H-R diagram, we find that the radius of the stars increases as you proceed bottom left diagonally to top right.

If you apply the relationship between mass and luminosity to the H-R diagram, you find that stars along the main sequence vary from the highest (approximately 30 solar masses) at the top left to the lowest (approximately 0.1 solar mass) at the bottom right. As you can see from the H-R diagram, our sun is an average star.

The table below summarizes the types of stars in the universe according to luminosity:

White dwarfs stars are not classified because their stellar spectra are different from most other stars. The H-R diagram is also useful for understanding the evolution of stars from birth to death.

So, how stars are formed?

Usually, some type of gravity disturbance happens to the cloud such as the passage of a nearby star or the shock wave from an exploding supernova. The disturbance causes clumps to form inside the cloud. The clumps collapse inward drawing gas inward by gravity. The collapsing clump compresses and heats up. The collapsing clump begins to rotate and flatten out into a disc. The disc continues to rotate faster, draw more gas and dust inward, and heat up. After about a million years or so, a small, hot (1500 degrees Kelvin), dense core forms in the disc’s center called a protostar. As gas and dust continue to fall inward in the disc, they give up energy to the protostar, which heats up more. When the temperature of the protostar reaches about 7 million degrees Kelvin, hydrogen begins to fuse to make helium and release energy. Material continues to fall into the young star for millions of years because the collapse due to gravity is greater than the outward pressure exerted by nuclear fusion. Therefore, the protostar’s internal temperature increases. If sufficient mass (0.1 solar mass or greater) collapses into the protostar and the temperature gets hot enough for sustained fusion, then the protostar has a massive release of gas in the form of a jet called a bipolar flow. If the mass is not sufficient, the star will not form, but instead become a brown dwarf. The bipolar flow clears away gas and dust from the young star. Some of this gas and dust may later collect to form planets.

The young star is now stable in that the outward pressure from hydrogen fusion balances the inward pull of gravity. The star enters the main sequence; where it lies on the main sequence depends upon its mass.

Now that the star is stable, it has the same parts as our sun: core, radiative zone, and convective zone. However, the interior may vary with respect to the location of the layers. Stars like the Sun and those less massive than the sun have the layers in the order described above. Stars that are several times more massive than the sun have convective layers deep in their cores and radiative outer layers. In contrast, stars that are intermediate between the sun and the most massive stars may only have a radiative layer.


The Overview Effect Describes How Leaving Earth Changes Your Perspective (Psychology)

Many things happen when you go to space. There are shifts in your eyesight, the shape of your heart, even in the way you speak. The most notable shift, however, happens in your mind. Looking down on our tiny planet from way up there in space has changed the perspective of many a returning astronaut. That phenomenon is called the overview effect.

Apollo 14 pilot Edgar Mitchell was the sixth person to walk on the moon. When he came back, he reflected on the way his trip to space changed his perspective on the world. “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it,” he said. “From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a b*tch.”

The most famous example of the overview effect may be from Carl Sagan. In 1990, the Voyager 1 probe was just finishing its grand tour of our solar system, soon to be lost to communication, when Sagan suggested that the engineers turn it around for one last snapshot of Earth. At 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away, it captured our world, a tiny speck sitting in a single scattered ray of sunlight. The image inspired Sagan to write this famous passage in his 1994 book “Pale Blue Dot.”

The famous pale blue dot image. That white speck on orange beam isnt the dust.. Its earth

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives,” he wrote. “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

Of course, not all of us get to have this literally world-shifting change in our mindset at hundreds of miles up. But there are scientists who want to give us the closest thing. In May 2008, 22 experts in science, technology, and art founded the Overview Institute with the mission to “educate both the space community and the general public on the nature and psychosocial impact of the space experience.” Their hope is to find better ways to communicate exactly what astronauts experience when they’re up there, both through new forms of media and, perhaps in the future, with better access to commercial space travel for regular people. But what can you do now? We recommend diving into NASA’s image library and letting yourself become one with the universe.


Space Travel Can Change The Space Of Astronauts Heart (Astronomy)

From feelings of weightlessness to literally out-of-this-world views, the life of an astronaut is something to be envied—most of the time. Unfortunately, space is also really bad for the human body. According to a NASA study, it’s bad for the human heart, too: time in space makes astronauts’ hearts more spherical.

Gym buffs know you lose muscle mass when you don’t work out regularly. Same goes for a heart in microgravity. “The heart doesn’t work as hard in space, which can cause a loss of muscle mass,” said James Thomas, M.D., ultrasound lead at NASA, in an American College of Cardiology news release.

For the study, 12 astronauts learned how to do ultrasounds so they could image their hearts before, during and after space travel. The NASA researchers found that their hearts became 9.4 percent more spherical, which could be a sign the muscle is not working as efficiently. Luckily, their hearts returned to their normal shapes once they were back on Earth, but the effects a longer spaceflight could have are anyone’s guess.

There’s a silver lining in all of this. The study not only tested what microgravity does to hearts in space—it also tested sophisticated mathematical models that the researchers had developed to predict what the hearts might do. The final results matched what their models had predicted, which means that they might be able to use them to predict what other, more earthly elements might do to the heart.

“It gives us confidence that we can move ahead and start using these models for more clinically important applications on Earth, such as to predict what happens to the heart under different stresses,” said Thomas, also of Northwestern Medicine, in the 2014 release. That means the astronauts’ heart images could eventually help scientists learn more about cardiac conditions that affect people on this planet.


Why Does Space Impair Your Vision? (Astronomy)

Humans have been going into space for 50 years, but scientists are still discovering new things about what microgravity does to the human body. For example, astronauts have been reporting worsening vision since the first crewed space flights, but it wasn’t until flights stretched to weeks and months at a time that the extent of this problem came to light.

In post-flight examinations on 300 astronauts since 1989, 29% of astronauts experienced worse vision after a two-week mission in the space shuttle and 60% experienced it after a five- to six-month tour of duty in the International Space Station. Most of the time, astronauts notice more far-sightedness, usually from a strange “flattening” of the eyeball and swelling of the optic nerve.

WHAT’S THE CAUSE??

Scientists aren’t entirely sure what’s causing the vision problems, but they have a few guesses. Some think it could be elevated intracranial pressure, that is, pressure in the brain and spinal fluid, since people with this issue have similar vision problems. Other hypotheses involve the elevated carbon dioxide levels in the air astronauts breathe, the large amount of sodium in their diets, or radiation exposure. To help figure out the cause, astronauts use advanced medical equipment to perform eye exams on each other in space while physicians examine the results from Earth.


Dogs Can Follow Your Gaze To Get What They Want (Psychology)

Dogs are super smart. Not just your dog — all dogs. Specifically, they’re able to interpret a human’s gaze to understand them or to get what they want. Your dog can literally take on your visual perspective to know what you know. How cool is that?

In March 2017, cognitive biologists from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna published a study in the journal Animal Cognition. Their research reveals that dogs use “geometrical gaze following” to take on a human’s perspective. In other words, your dog is able to follow your gaze toward his box of treats and know that that’s where you’re hiding them. What’s more, he knows whether you know that’s where the treats are, or whether you’re just guessing.

In this study, researchers used a standard “guesser-knower paradigm,” where the “knower” human hid dog food in a container, and the “guesser” human didn’t know where the food was being hidden. The researchers positioned a dog behind a solid wall while the knower hid the food in one of many containers, all of which smelled like food. The knower pointed to the correct container, while the guesser pointed to a different container. In order to get the food, the dog had to decide who it should follow. Seventy percent of the dogs successfully accomplished the test by choosing the knower’s container. We repeat: both humans pointed at a container in the exact same way, but the majority of dogs were able to successfully pick which human actually knew where the food was. That’s saying something.

Dogs literally evolved alongside humans, so it makes sense that they would have acquired certain communication skills to cope in the human world. Their ability to adopt their owners’ perspectives and to ascribe knowledge from them proves their social intelligence. It could also indicate that they have a “theory of mind,” or as Phys.org explains it, “the ability in humans to understand mental states in conspecifics such as emotions, intentions, knowledge, beliefs and desires.” Whether or not animals actually have a theory of mind remains a contentious issue, but we’re pretty sure dogs can read us like a book.