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Possible New Human Species Discovered

A new study describes human fossils from southern China that have a blending of modern and archaic features. The fossils date from between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago, a time when it was thought that Neanderthals and all other human species had died out except ours (Homo sapiens). Scientists aren’t sure if the new fossils represent a previously undiscovered human species that lived alongside ours, a group of modern humans that migrated from Africa much earlier than other known migrations, or simply modern humans with unusual features. The report, co-authored by evolutionary biologist Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales, appeared online in the journal PLoS One on March 14. The fossilized individuals have been dubbed the Red Deer Cave people after a cave in Yunnan province where several … Read entire article »

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Scientists Punch Into Ancient Antarctic Lake

Racing against the oncoming southern winter, Russian scientists announced today they have broken through more than 2 miles of ice to dip into a freshwater lake in eastern Antarctica that had been sealed off from the surface for millions of years. Pressurized water from the lake was allowed to rise up and fill the bore hole before freezing solid. Next year, the scientists plan to return to sample the lake water. They are especially keen to know if microbes are currently living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth. The lake is seen as an analog for a liquid lake or ocean under the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa. In a terrific piece on the much anticipated breakthrough for the New York Times today, David Herszenhorn and James Gorman write that environmentalists are concerned … Read entire article »

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Archaeopteryx had (some) black feathers

A team of scientists announced yesterday the first evidence of feather color in Archaeopteryx, a feathered dinosaur that has also long been considered one of the earliest birds. The first fossil remains, consisting of a single feather, were discovered in Germany in 1861. It’s this single feather that was analyzed using a technique developed by Jakob Vinther, currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences. Comparing microstructures called melanosomes in the fossil to a database of 115 living bird species, the team concluded with 95% certainty the feather was black. That’s not to say that all of it’s feathers were black. It might just as well have had a white body and black wings. Evidence from more complete fossils might give a better picture. This video from Brown … Read entire article »

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Charles Darwin’s nemesis reconsidered

In his Laelaps blog, science writer Brian Switek explains how much of what you may have heard or read about Richard Owen, famed “anti-evolutionist” and nemesis of Charles Darwin, is in fact wrong. Switek writes: If we wish to tell the stories of highly-influential scientists like Darwin and Owen, the least we can do is try to accurately comprehend their words and what they meant by them. … Read entire article »

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