Your Top Three Florida-Level Crazy Science Stories Of The Month!
First, in early April, JAXA (that's Japan's NASA, duh!) bombs the hell out of an asteroid, then on April 10 we all saw a black hole for the first time, and THEN that same day we found out that we have ANOTHER homo species to add to the bunch! So, yeah, all three of those stories happened last month. Let's cover each in a science lightning round!
1. JAXA Hulk Smashes Ryugu
This is Hayabusa-2 on its way to chew gum and kick asteroid ass...and it's all out of gum.JAXA
It only took us 65 million years to avenge the dinosaurs, but we finally hit the asteroids back! JAXA's Hayabusa-2 spacecraft has been studying the Ryugu asteroid since 2018 (although it launched in 2014, it took a while to get there!) and it finally got tired of just looking and decided to do something more fun. So on April 4, it fired a damn cannonball at the giant space rock! Besides being just a cool thing to do, it had a scientific purpose. The point was to blast out a crater and then probe and test the gravelly soil underneath. The explosive experiment went as planned with the 2 kg cannonball hitting the asteroid at 4,500 mph and making a nice little dent.
See that little wisp of stuff? That's asteroid crap getting slapped into space.JAXA
This isn't the first space bombing we humans have done, but it's the first time we smacked an asteroid. Apparently, NASA is impressed, as we plan to do something similar but on a larger scale in 2022 when we shoot a bigger cannonball at a moon of the Didymos (not its rap name) asteroid in the DART mission. In fact, this time we're slamming an entire spacecraft, baybee! This mission's aim (heh, "aim") is to keep trying to see if we can deflect potentially dangerous asteroids that might try the same trick they did 65 million years ago.
2. Black Hole Passport Photo Impresses Scientists. Average Peep? Not So Much.
On April 10, astronomers from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project showed us the first picture of an actual black hole. Even though it's 55 million light-years away and at the center of another galaxy, internet trolls still weren't impressed. Screw those guys! This was major, even if the photo didn't look like this:
The image involved using eight different telescopes around the world, combining all 4 million gigabytes of data (8000 iPhone Xs worth) and processing it to produce the first ever photo of a black hole, but that just wasn't good enough for the internet. Come on, people! We got the first actual photo of the details of a super massive black hole bigger than our damn solar system. If that's not impressive, I don't know what is.
That's pretty fucking big.
3. Homo Sapien Meet Homo Luzonensis
Artist rendition...or probably not at all what they looked like, but hey! CGI power!Photo by Cicero Moraes et al CC BY 4.0
Researchers in the Philippines announced last month that they have discovered a species of old timey humanish. Another tiny fella (used in a non-male/female way like I say "dude"), they named it Homo luzonensis because these humanoids lived on the island of Luzon. Not the most original, but oh well. This species lived some 50,000 or so years ago, and while the news made the prestigious journal "Nature," not all scientists are convinced it rates as a newly discovered species quite just yet. This is probably because so far the entire discovery is based on a total of seven teeth and six small bones. No skulls yet.
One interesting note is that Luzon is now the third Southeast Asian island in the last 15 years where we've found unexpected ancient human activity. Early humans would have needed to cross a big bunch of sea to get to Luzon, and until this find, it was mostly assumed that old timey hominids lacked the navigation skills for that. That's one of the big deals about this find, even if it turns out to be some other already discovered species. Hey, take it from the project leader Armand Mijares, not yours truly:
"For a long, long time, the Philippine islands [have] been more or less left [out]. I'm very proud, because as a Filipino and Southeast Asian, we tend to be on the periphery of this debate. Now, we can be actively engaged in the debate, because our areas—our sites—are now recognized," Mijares says. "And that is, I guess, my legacy in this world."
Another big deal is that this find, if confirmed as a new species, won't fit cleanly into the paradigm that primitive humans progressed mostly linearly to advanced humans. Check the chart:
Look top right
And with that, I leave you with some '80s music about the homo species.
Pete Shelley "Homosapien" (1981) www.youtube.com
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I am a biochemist MexiCAN. I also write screenplays, ever hoping to get one made.
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