Science: Hyenas hunted and ate Neanderthals

The ancient remains of nine Neanderthals found near Rome have been discovered in a cave. Italian archaeologists speculate as to how the Neanderthals found near Rome died, discovered tell-tale smashed bones which revealed a brutal story in which a pack of hyenas attacked and killed the hunters, before dragging them back to their cave den and feasting on them.

Fossilized Neanderthals found near Rome in the Guattari Cave in San Felice Circeo. (Emanuele Antonio Minerva / Italian Ministry of Culture)

Neanderthals Found Near Rome Likely Also Lived In Caves

The Guattari Cave was discovered in 1939 in San Felice Circeo about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south-east of Rome. At that time the discovery sparked international interest after Italian archaeologists unearthed what was hailed as “one of the best preserved Neanderthal skulls ever found.”

According to The New York Times , because this skull had a large hole in the temple, its finder, paleontologist Alberto Carlo Blanc, suggested that the cave’s Neanderthal inhabitants had engaged in “ritual cannibalism.”

Neanderthals emerged from Africa and hunted their way across Eurasia from the Atlantic coast to the Ural mountains between 400,000 years ago and 40,000 years ago before becoming extinct.

While Neanderthals are often portrayed as less intelligent, but stronger relatives of modern humans, it is now known that our cousins had similar sized brains, developed complex stone tools, wore jewellery, and maintained “a culture” that we find represented in their cave art.

Finding so many Neanderthal bones at one site “is very rare,” the Italian Culture Ministry archaeologist in charge of the excavation said. (Emanuele Antonio Minerva / Italian Ministry of Culture)

The “Hunting Hyena Hypothesis” Takes Over

The 2010 publication of the Neanderthal draft genome sequence revealed that “about 2 percent of the DNA in the genomes of modern-day people with Eurasian ancestry is Neanderthal in origin.” Then, in September 2020, a Sciencereport by evolutionary geneticists Martin Petr and Janet Kelso showed how Homo sapiens’ DNA “imprinted onto Neanderthal populations when the two species met in Eurasia around 45,000 years ago.”

Now, a team of scientists from the Archaeological Superintendency of Latina and the University of Tor Vergata in Rome have unearthed more human remains in the Guattari Cave cave mixed in with those of rhinoceroses, giant deer, wild horses and hyenas.

Among the ancient remains the researchers identified “nine Neanderthals: seven adult males, one female and a young boy.” Some of the bones are 50,000 to 68,000 years old, while other are believed to be 100,000 years old.

This image released by the Italian Culture Ministry shows a fossil jaw that was discovered in the cave southeast of Rome, shedding new light on how the Italian peninsula was populated and under what environmental conditions. (Emanuele Antonio Minerva / Italian Ministry of Culture)

Sometimes Neanderthal Hunters Became The Hunted

An article in The Guardian says that among the Neanderthal remains uncovered at the Guattari cave the researchers discovered “ skullcaps and broken jawbones.” Accounting for this, Dr Mario Rolfo, professor of archaeology at Tor Vergata University, said evidence suggests some of the Neanderthals had met their demise after being “hunted, mauled and dragged back to their den” and eaten. Neanderthals were “prey for these animals,” said Rolfo, and he added that hyenas “hunted them, especially the most vulnerable, like sick or elderly individuals.”

Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said the new findings were “extraordinary” and Dr Mario Rolfo describes the discovery as “spectacular.” However, none of this would have been discovered if an earthquake hadn’t sealed the cave for more than 60,000 years, trapping the evidence within a virtual time capsule.

While it is known that hyenas made a den inside the cave while they ate the Neanderthals, the researchers think that the shelter might at one time have served Neanderthal populations as an actual hunting station /residence.

The remains scattered across the cave floor. One of the Neanderthals found in the cave lived about 100,000 to 90,000 years ago. The other eight were dated to around 65,000 to 50,000 years ago. (Emanuele Antonio Minerva / Italian Ministry of Culture)

Dental Tartar and Vegetable Matter Adds To Neanderthal Info

The researchers in Italy also discovered the remains of vegetable matter in the cave and a preliminary analysis of dental tartar has revealed that the Neanderthals “ate a varied diet including cereals,” which are associated with brain expansion .

Dr Rolfo has announced that his team of researchers now plan to analyze the Neanderthal’s in an effort to better understand “their ways of life and history.”

Only in February this year we wrote about another team of archaeologists who were planning on re-analyzing ancient Neanderthal teeth discovered at the start of the 20th century in a Jersey cave. This team claimed that interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans occurred earlier than previously thought, and that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens “had a shared ancestry.”

One thing that is now perfectly clear is that both species of ancient hunters were on the menu for hyenas during the turbulent times when man and beast battled for survival.

Top image: These hyenas are fighting over a zebra leg. But the Neanderthals found near Rome were likely also eaten by these predators inside and outside of their cave.


Space: How Bad is the Radiation on Mars? – Radiation has made Human space travel almost impossible

[A friend of mine who is into science told me a few years ago the shocking fact that radiation in space is so bad that true planetary space travel is so dangerous as to actually be impossible. You would DIE from the radiation. A trip to Mars for example, would kill you. But amazingly, scientists are breaking through this and making headway and it seems you might even be able to arrive at Mars alive. Jan]

Science: Radioactivity May Fuel Life Deep Underground and Inside Other Worlds

Scientists poke and prod at the fringes of habitability in pursuit of life’s limits. To that end, they have tunneled kilometers below Earth’s surface, drilling outward from the bottoms of mine shafts and sinking boreholes deep into ocean sediments. To their surprise, “life was everywhere that we looked,” said Tori Hoehler, a chemist and astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. And it was present in staggering quantities: By various estimates, the inhabited subsurface realm has twice the volume of the oceans and holds on the order of 1030 cells, making it one of the biggest habitats on the planet, as well as one of the oldest and most diverse.

Researchers are still trying to understand how most of the life down there survives. Sunlight for photosynthesis cannot reach such depths, and the meager amount of organic carbon food that does is often quickly exhausted. Unlike communities of organisms that dwell near hydrothermal vents on the seafloor or within continental regions warmed by volcanic activity, ecosystems here generally can’t rely on the high-temperature processes that support some subsurface life independent of photosynthesis; these microbes must hang on in deep cold and darkness.

Two papers appearing in February by different research groups now seem to have solved some of this mystery for cells beneath the continents and in deep marine sediments. They find evidence that, much as the sun’s nuclear fusion reactions provide energy to the surface world, a different kind of nuclear process — radioactive decay — can sustain life deep below the surface. Radiation from unstable atoms in rocks can split water molecules into hydrogen and chemically reactive peroxides and radicals; some cells can use the hydrogen as fuel directly, while the remaining products turn minerals and other surrounding compounds into additional energy sources.

Although these radiolytic reactions yield energy far more slowly than the sun and underground thermal processes, the researchers have shown that they are fast enough to be key drivers of microbial activity in a broad range of settings — and that they are responsible for a diverse pool of organic molecules and other chemicals important to life. According to Jack Mustard, a planetary geologist at Brown University who was not involved in the new work, the radiolysis explanation has “opened up whole new vistas” into what life could look like, how it might have emerged on an early Earth, and where else in the universe it might one day be found.

Hydrogen Down Deep
Barbara Sherwood Lollar set off for university in 1981, four years after the discovery of life at the hydrothermal vents. As the child of two teachers who “fed me on a steady diet of Jules Verne,” she said, “all of this really spoke to the kid in me.” Not only was studying the deep subsurface a way to “understand a part of the planet that had never been seen before, a kind of life that we didn’t understand yet,” but it “clearly was going to trample [the] boundaries” between chemistry, biology, physics and geology, allowing scientists to combine those fields in new and intriguing ways.

University of Toronto
Throughout Sherwood Lollar’s training in the 1980s and her early career as a geologist at the University of Toronto in the ’90s, more and more subterranean microbial communities were uncovered. The enigma of what supported this life prompted some researchers to propose that there might be “a deep hydrogen-triggered biosphere” full of cells using hydrogen gas as an energy source. (Microbes found in deep subsurface samples were often enriched with genes for enzymes that could derive energy from hydrogen.) Many geological processes could plausibly produce that hydrogen, but the best-studied ones occurred only at high temperatures and pressures. These included interactions between volcanic gases, the breakdown of particular minerals in the presence of water, and serpentinization — the chemical alteration of certain kinds of crustal rock through reactions with water.

By the early 2000s, Sherwood Lollar, Li-Hung Lin (now at National Taiwan University), Tullis Onstott of Princeton University and their colleagues were finding high concentrations of hydrogen — “in some cases, stunningly high,” Sherwood Lollar said — in water isolated from deep beneath the South African and Canadian crust. But serpentinization couldn’t explain it: The kinds of minerals needed often weren’t present. Nor did the other processes seem likely, because of the absence of recent volcanic activity and magma flows.

“So we began to look and expand our understanding of hydrogen-producing reactions and their relationship to the chemistry and mineralogy of the rocks in these places,” Sherwood Lollar said.

Gas bubbling through a puddle in the Soudan Mine.
Bubbles of methane, hydrogen and nitrogen rise up through standing water in the Soudan Mine in Minnesota. Water radiolysis is likely to have produced at least some of these gases.

J. Telling/University of Toronto
A clue came from their discovery that the water trapped in those rocky places held not just large amounts of hydrogen but also helium — an indicator that particles from the radioactive decay of elements like uranium and thorium were splitting water molecules. That process, water radiolysis, was first observed in Marie Curie’s laboratory at the beginning of the 20th century, when researchers realized that solutions of radium salts generated bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen. Curie called it “an electrolysis without electrodes.” (It took a few more years for scientists to realize that the oxygen came from hydrogen peroxide created during the process.)

Sherwood Lollar, Lin, Onstott and their collaborators proposed in 2006 that the microbial communities under South Africa and Canada derived the energy for their survival from hydrogen produced through radiolysis. So began their long quest to unpack how important radiolysis might be to life in natural settings.

‘A Completely Self-Sustained System’
For much of the next decade, the researchers obtained samples from deep aquifers at various mining sites and related the complex chemistries of the fluids to their geological surroundings. Some of the water trapped beneath the Canadian crust had been isolated from the surface for more than 1 billion years — perhaps even for 2 billion. Within that water were bacteria, still very much alive.

“That had to be a completely self-sustained system,” Mustard observed. By the process of elimination, radiolysis looked like a possible energy source, but could there be enough of it to support life?

A labeled vial of water with some colored sediment near the bottom.
A sample of ancient water found deep within Kidd Creek Mine in Ontario, Canada. In such samples, researchers have detected abiotically produced hydrogen, sulfate and organic compounds that may sustain life far below ground.

Pierre Martin, Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation
In 2014, when Sherwood Lollar and her colleagues combined the results of nuclear chemists’ lab work with models of the crust’s mineral composition, they discovered that radiolysis and other processes were likely to be producing a huge amount of hydrogen in the continental subsurface — on par with the amount of hydrogen thought to arise from hydrothermal and other deep-sea environments. “We doubled the estimate of hydrogen production from water-rock reactions on the planet,” Sherwood Lollar said.

Microbes could directly utilize the hydrogen produced by radiolysis, but that was only half the story: To make full use of it, they needed not just hydrogen as an electron donor, but another substance as an electron acceptor. The scientists suspected the microbes were finding that in compounds made when the hydrogen peroxide and other oxygen-containing radicals from radiolysis reacted with surrounding minerals. In work published in 2016, they showed that radiolytic hydrogen peroxide was likely interacting with sulfides in the walls of a Canadian mine to produce sulfate, an electron acceptor. But Sherwood Lollar and her colleagues still needed proof that cells were relying on that sulfate for energy.

In 2019, they finally got it. By culturing bacteria from the groundwater in mines, they were able to show that the microbes made use of both the hydrogen and the sulfate. Water, some radioactive decay, a bit of sulfide — “and then you get a sustained system of energy production that can last for billions of years … like an ambient pulse of habitability,” said Jesse Tarnas, a planetary scientist and NASA postdoctoral fellow.

Micrograph of a bacterium from a South African gold mine.
Bacteria found deep within a gold mine in South Africa that subsist on hydrogen and sulfate. Similar bacteria are believed to live at the Canadian mining sites studied by Sherwood Lollar’s group.

G. Wanger & G. Southam
In their February paper, Sherwood Lollar and her colleagues showed that radiolysis is instrumental not just in the hydrogen and sulfur cycles on Earth, but in the cycle most closely associated with life: that of carbon. Analyses of water samples from the same Canadian mine showed very high concentrations of acetate and formate, organic compounds that can support bacterial life. Moreover, measurements of isotopic signatures indicated that the compounds were being generated abiotically. The researchers hypothesized that radiolytic products were reacting with dissolved carbonate minerals from the rock to produce the large quantities of carbon-based molecules they were observing.

To cement their hypothesis, Sherwood Lollar’s team needed additional evidence. It arrived just one month later. Nuclear chemists led by Laurent Truche, a geochemist at Grenoble Alpes University in France, and Johan Vandenborre of the University of Nantes had been independently studying radiolysis in laboratory settings. In work published in March, they pinned down the precise mechanisms and yields of radiolysis in the presence of dissolved carbonate. They measured exact concentrations of various byproducts, including formate and acetate — and the quantities and rates they recorded aligned with what Sherwood Lollar was seeing in the deep fractures within natural rock.

Beneath the Bottom of the Sea
While Sherwood Lollar was conducting her field research within the continental subsurface, a handful of scientists were trying to suss out the effects of radiolysis beneath the seafloor. Chief among them was Steve D’Hondt, a geomicrobiologist at the University of Rhode Island, who in February with his graduate student Justine Sauvage and their colleagues published the results of nearly two decades’ worth of detailed evidence that radiolysis is important for sustaining marine subsurface life.

In 2010, D’Hondt and Fumio Inagaki, a geomicrobiologist at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, led a drilling expedition that collected samples of sub-seafloor sediments from around the globe. Subsequently, D’Hondt and Sauvage suspended dozens of sediment types in water and exposed them to different types of radiation — and every time, they found that the amount of hydrogen produced was much greater than when pure water was irradiated. The sediments were amplifying the products of radiolysis. And “the yields were ridiculous,” D’Hondt said. In some cases, the presence of sediment in the water increased the production of hydrogen by a factor of nearly 30.

Samuel Velasco/Quanta Magazine
“Some minerals are just hotbeds of radiolytic hydrogen production,” D’Hondt said. “They very efficiently convert the energy of radiation into chemical energy that microbes can eat.”

Yet D’Hondt and his colleagues found barely any hydrogen in the sediment cores they’d drilled. “Whatever hydrogen is being produced is disappearing,” D’Hondt said. The researchers think it’s being consumed by the microbes living in the sediments.

According to their models, in deep sediments more than a few million years old, radiolytic hydrogen is being produced and consumed more quickly than organic matter is — making radiolysis of water the dominant source of energy in those older sediments. While it accounts for only 1%-2% of the total energy available in the global marine sediment environment — the other 98% comes from organic carbon, which is mostly consumed when the sediment is young — its effects are still quite sizable. “It might be slow,” said Doug LaRowe, a planetary scientist at the University of Southern California, “but from a geologic perspective, and over geologic time … it starts to add up.”

This means that radiolysis “is a fundamental source of bioavailable energy for a significant microbiome on earth,” Sauvage said — not just on the continents but beneath the oceans, too. “It’s quite striking.”

A Natural Lab for Life’s Origins
The newfound scientific importance of radiolysis may not just relate to how it sustains life in extreme environments. It could also illuminate how abiotic organic synthesis may have set the stage for the origin of life — on Earth and elsewhere.

Sherwood Lollar has been invigorated by her team’s recent observations that, in the closed environmental system around the Canadian mines, most of the carbon-containing compounds seem to have been produced abiotically. “It’s one of the few places on the planet where the smear of life hasn’t contaminated everything,” she said. “And those are pretty rare and precious places on our planet.”

Part of their unique value is that they can be “an analogue for what might have been the prebiotic soup that our Earth might have had before life arose,” she continued. Even if life didn’t arise in this kind of subsurface environment — higher-energy regions of the planet, like hydrothermal vents, are still more probable venues for an origin story — it provided a safe place where life could be sustained for long stretches of time, far away from the dangers found at the surface (like the meteor impacts and high levels of radiation that plagued the early Earth).

Modeling and experimental work have shown that even simple systems (consisting solely of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and sulfate, for example) can lead to extremely intricate microbial food webs; adding compounds like formate and acetate from radiolysis to the mix could significantly broaden the potential ecological landscape. And because acetate and formate can form more complex organics, they can give rise to even more diverse systems. “It’s important to see life operating with this amount of complexity,” said Cara Magnabosco, a geobiologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, “even in something that maybe you would view as very simple and very energy-poor.”

“Let’s say [radiolysis] can only make basic organic carbons, like formate and acetate,” LaRowe said. “If you move those compounds into a different environmental setting, perhaps they can react there to form something else. They become starter or feeder material for more complex reactions in a different setting.” That might even help bring scientists closer to understanding how amino acids and other important building blocks of life arose.

Sherwood Lollar is now collaborating with other scientists, including colleagues at the CIFAR Earth 4D project, to study how the organic molecules present in the ancient Canadian water might “complexify” the chemistry at hand. In work they’re hoping to publish later this year, “we show how the coevolution of organics and minerals is key for the diversification of these organic compounds,” said Bénédicte Menez, a geobiologist at the Paris Institute of Earth Physics and one of the leaders of the research. Her aim is to determine how more complicated organic structures could form and subsequently play a role in some of the earliest microbial metabolisms.

Astrobiologists are also realizing how crucial it might be to consider radiolysis when constraining the habitability of planets and moons throughout the solar system and the rest of the galaxy. Sunlight, high temperatures and other conditions might not be strictly needed to sustain extraterrestrial life. Radiolysis should be practically ubiquitous on any rocky planet that has water in its subsurface.

Iceland’s Eruptions Reveal the Hot History of Mars
Take Mars. In a pair of studies, one published a couple of years ago and the other last month, Tarnas, Mustard, Sherwood Lollar and other researchers translated quantitative work being done on radiolysis on Earth to the Martian subsurface. They found that based on the planet’s mineral composition and other parameters, Mars today might be able to sustain microbial ecosystems akin to those on Earth — with radiolysis alone. The scientists identified regions of the planet where the microbial concentration would likely be greatest, which could guide where future missions should be targeted.

“It’s really fascinating to me,” Inagaki said, “as we are now in an era where particle physics is necessary to study microbial life in Earth’s planetary interior and other worlds in the universe.”


Video: Trump Breaking Video: We’re Going to Take Back the Senate, the House – the White House – SOONER THA N YOU THINK

[I hope so. I would like to see Trump as the President because that is validly his office – not this bum, communist, crap bag, Biden. Jan]

You can watch the video here:

Science: Giant diamonds, buried miles below Earth’s surface, could explain Superdeep Earthquakes

A new study has suggested that the presence of diamonds deep beneath the Earth could explain why earthquakes occur at such depths, claiming that super-hot rocks release water that weakens surrounding rocks and triggers quakes.

The study follows earlier hypotheses on superdeep earthquakes and explores whether water stored hundreds of kilometers below the Earth’s surface may be responsible for the phenomena.

An earlier explanation, although partially discounted as scientists didn’t know why there would be water 300km below the Earth’s surface, suggested that fluid in the mantle may weaken rocks around it and cause earthquakes. Some earthquakes in the mantle transition zone are some of the strongest ever recorded.

A team of researchers including Steven Shirey, a geochemist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, took a closer look at why water might be down there. They considered how water might permeate tectonic plates, infiltrating the slabs in a number of ways. Among these was that water may be locked in the minerals that formed as molten rock, or that wet sediment accumulated as slabs moved across the ocean floor, or that ocean water infiltrated the slabs as they bent and fractured.

The researchers then found that, once some rocks in the slabs reached temperatures above 580°C, they were less able to hold water – in theory such temperatures would be reached the closer the slab moved towards the Earth’s core. As water leaves the rock, it would then disrupt other rocks around it, triggering earthquakes. According to Shirey and his team, the mineral-rich water released by rocks would fuel diamond formation.

The authors contend that further research is needed to fully understand the fluid-triggered mechanism for deep earthquakes. They add that their new theory is in many ways easy to integrate into existing dominant theories on superdeep activity.


10 mind-boggling things you should know about quantum physics

From the multiverse to black holes, here’s your cheat sheet to the spooky side of the universe.

  1. The quantum world is lumpy
    You see? Exactly like a pair of shoes

The quantum world has a lot in common with shoes. You can’t just go to a shop and pick out sneakers that are an exact match for your feet. Instead, you’re forced to choose between pairs that come in predetermined sizes.

The subatomic world is similar. Albert Einstein won a Nobel Prize for proving that energy is quantized. Just as you can only buy shoes in multiples of half a size, so energy only comes in multiples of the same "quanta" — hence the name quantum physics.

The quanta here is the Planck constant, named after Max Planck, the godfather of quantum physics. He was trying to solve a problem with our understanding of hot objects like the sun. Our best theories couldn’t match the observations of the energy they kick out. By proposing that energy is quantized, he was able to bring theory neatly into line with experiment.

  1. Something can be both wave and particle
    A solar sail: in space, light exerts pressure like the wind on Earth.

A solar sail: in space, light exerts pressure like the wind on Earth. (Image credit: getty)
J. J. Thomson won the Nobel Prize in 1906 for his discovery that electrons are particles. Yet his son George won the Nobel Prize in 1937 for showing that electrons are waves. Who was right? The answer is both of them. This so-called wave-particle duality is a cornerstone of quantum physics. It applies to light as well as electrons. Sometimes it pays to think about light as an electromagnetic wave, but at other times it’s more useful to picture it in the form of particles called photons.

A telescope can focus light waves from distant stars, and also acts as a giant light bucket for collecting photons. It also means that light can exert pressure as photons slam into an object. This is something we already use to propel spacecraft with solar sails, and it may be possible to exploit it in order to maneuver a dangerous asteroid off a collision course with Earth, according to Rusty Schweickart, chairman of the B612 Foundation.

  1. Objects can be in two places at once
    Schrodinger’s cat – dead and alive

Erwin Schrödinger used the idea of a cat in a box to simplify superposition. (Image credit: Mopic / Alamy Stock Photo)
Wave-particle duality is an example of superposition. That is, a quantum object existing in multiple states at once. An electron, for example, is both ‘here’ and ‘there’ simultaneously. It’s only once we do an experiment to find out where it is that it settles down into one or the other.

This makes quantum physics all about probabilities. We can only say which state an object is most likely to be in once we look. These odds are encapsulated into a mathematical entity called the wave function. Making an observation is said to ‘collapse’ the wave function, destroying the superposition and forcing the object into just one of its many possible states.

This idea is behind the famous Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. A cat in a sealed box has its fate linked to a quantum device. As the device exists in both states until a measurement is made, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead until we look.

  1. It may lead us towards a multiverse
    Worlds within worlds within worlds within…

We could just be one bubble of many, each containing a different version of the universe. (Image credit: getty)
The idea that observation collapses the wave function and forces a quantum ‘choice’ is known as the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. However, it’s not the only option on the table. Advocates of the ‘many worlds’ interpretation argue that there is no choice involved at all. Instead, at the moment the measurement is made, reality fractures into two copies of itself: one in which we experience outcome A, and another where we see outcome B unfold. It gets around the thorny issue of needing an observer to make stuff happen — does a dog count as an observer, or a robot?

Instead, as far as a quantum particle is concerned, there’s just one very weird reality consisting of many tangled-up layers. As we zoom out towards the larger scales that we experience day to day, those layers untangle into the worlds of the many worlds theory. Physicists call this process decoherence.

  1. It helps us characterize stars
    The spectra of stars can tell us what elements they contain, giving clues to their age and other characteristics

The spectra of stars can tell us what elements they contain, giving clues to their age and other

Danish physicist Niels Bohr showed us that the orbits of electrons inside atoms are also quantized. They come in predetermined sizes called energy levels. When an electron drops from a higher energy level to a lower energy level, it spits out a photon with an energy equal to the size of the gap. Equally, an electron can absorb a particle of light and use its energy to leap up to a higher energy level.

Astronomers use this effect all the time. We know what stars are made of because when we break up their light into a rainbow-like spectrum, we see colors that are missing. Different chemical elements have different energy level spacings, so we can work out the constituents of the sun and other stars from the precise colors that are absent.

  1. Without it the sun wouldn’t shine
    This is a picture of quantum tunneling and you’re just going to have to take our word for it

Quantum tunneling is the finite possibility that a particle can break through an energy barrier.

The sun makes its energy through a process called nuclear fusion. It involves two protons — the positively charged particles in an atom — sticking together. However, their identical charges make them repel each other, just like two north poles of a magnet. Physicists call this the Coulomb barrier, and it’s like a wall between the two protons.

Think of protons as particles and they just collide with the wall and move apart: No fusion, no sunlight. Yet think of them as waves, and it’s a different story. When the wave’s crest reaches the wall, the leading edge has already made it through. The wave’s height represents where the proton is most likely to be. So although it is unlikely to be where the leading edge is, it is there sometimes. It’s as if the proton has burrowed through the barrier, and fusion occurs. Physicists call this effect "quantum tunneling".

  1. It stops dead stars collapsing
    It’s theorised that white dwarfs’ cores may crystallise as they age

It’s theorised that white dwarfs’ cores may crystallize as they age.

Eventually fusion in the sun will stop and our star will die. Gravity will win and the sun will collapse, but not indefinitely. The smaller it gets, the more material is crammed together. Eventually a rule of quantum physics called the Pauli exclusion principle comes into play. This says that it is forbidden for certain kinds of particles — such as electrons — to exist in the same quantum state. As gravity tries to do just that, it encounters a resistance that astronomers call degeneracy pressure. The collapse stops, and a new Earth-sized object called a white dwarf forms.

Degeneracy pressure can only put up so much resistance, however. If a white dwarf grows and approaches a mass equal to 1.4 suns, it triggers a wave of fusion that blasts it to bits. Astronomers call this explosion a Type Ia supernova, and it’s bright enough to outshine an entire galaxy.

  1. It causes black holes to evaporate
    Not everything that falls into a black hole disappears – some matter escapes

Not everything that falls into a black hole disappears – some matter escapes.

A quantum rule called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle says that it’s impossible to perfectly know two properties of a system simultaneously. The more accurately you know one, the less precisely you know the other. This applies to momentum and position, and separately to energy and time.

It’s a bit like taking out a loan. You can borrow a lot of money for a short amount of time, or a little cash for longer. This leads us to virtual particles. If enough energy is ‘borrowed’ from nature then a pair of particles can fleetingly pop into existence, before rapidly disappearing so as not to default on the loan.

Stephen Hawking imagined this process occurring at the boundary of a black hole, where one particle escapes (as Hawking radiation), but the other is swallowed. Over time the black hole slowly evaporates, as it’s not paying back the full amount it has borrowed.

  1. It explains the universe’s large-scale structure

Starting out as a singularity, the universe has been expanding for 13.8 billion years. (Image credit: getty)
Our best theory of the universe’s origin is the Big Bang. Yet it was modified in the 1980s to include another theory called inflation. In the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, the cosmos ballooned from smaller than an atom to about the size of a grapefruit. That’s a whopping 10^78 times bigger. Inflating a red blood cell by the same amount would make it larger than the entire observable universe today.

As it was initially smaller than an atom, the infant universe would have been dominated by quantum fluctuations linked to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Inflation caused the universe to grow rapidly before these fluctuations had a chance to fade away. This concentrated energy into some areas rather than others — something astronomers believe acted as seeds around which material could gather to form the clusters of galaxies we observe now.

  1. It is more than a little ‘spooky’

The properties of a particle can be ‘teleported’ through quantum entanglement.

As well as helping to prove that light is quantum, Einstein argued in favor of another effect that he dubbed ‘spooky action at distance’. Today we know that this ‘quantum entanglement’ is real, but we still don’t fully understand what’s going on. Let’s say that we bring two particles together in such a way that their quantum states are inexorably bound, or entangled. One is in state A, and the other in state B.

The Pauli exclusion principle says that they can’t both be in the same state. If we change one, the other instantly changes to compensate. This happens even if we separate the two particles from each other on opposite sides of the universe. It’s as if information about the change we’ve made has traveled between them faster than the speed of light, something Einstein said was impossible.


Video: Space Science: Mars helicopter Ingenuity experiences anomaly on 6th flight, but lands safely

[Very cool stuff. The helicopter seems to fly itself and make its own corrections itself because it's White controllers are sitting so far away. Jan]

You can watch the video here:

The incident, while stressful, showcased the little chopper’s toughness.

NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity encountered some trouble on its latest Red Planet flight, but the little chopper soldiered through.

Ingenuity lifted off May 22 on its sixth sortie overall and the first flight of its extended mission on Mars, which aims to showcase the scouting potential of Red Planet rotorcraft.

The flight plan called for the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) copter to attain an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters), cruise 492 feet (150 m) to the southwest, then move 49 feet (15 m) to the south while snapping photos toward the west, and then zip 164 feet (50 m) to the northeast before touching down.

Video: See the view on Mars from Ingenuity helicopter’s fourth flight

This image was taken from the height of 33 feet (10 meters) by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter during its sixth flight on May 22, 2021.

This image was taken from the height of 33 feet (10 meters) by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter during its sixth flight on May 22, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Things went well at first. But 54 seconds into the flight, Ingenuity suffered a glitch that interrupted the flow of images from its navigation camera to its onboard computer, Ingenuity chief pilot Håvard Grip, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, wrote in an update on Thursday (May 27).

"This glitch caused a single image to be lost, but more importantly, it resulted in all later navigation images being delivered with inaccurate timestamps," Grip wrote.

"From this point on, each time the navigation algorithm performed a correction based on a navigation image, it was operating on the basis of incorrect information about when the image was taken," he explained. "The resulting inconsistencies significantly degraded the information used to fly the helicopter, leading to estimates being constantly ‘corrected’ to account for phantom errors. Large oscillations ensued."

Ingenuity pitched and rolled more than 20 degrees at some points during the flight, Grip wrote, and experienced spikes in power consumption. But the helicopter managed to power through the anomaly, eventually landing safely within about 16 feet (5 m) of its intended touchdown spot.

"In a very real sense, Ingenuity muscled through the situation, and while the flight uncovered a timing vulnerability that will now have to be addressed, it also confirmed the robustness of the system in multiple ways," Grip wrote.

"While we did not intentionally plan such a stressful flight, NASA now has flight data probing the outer reaches of the helicopter’s performance envelope," he added. "That data will be carefully analyzed in the time ahead, expanding our reservoir of knowledge about flying helicopters on Mars."

Click here for more videos…

Ingenuity on new Martian airfield – See flight, landing site pics & mission control

Volume 0%


Ingenuity landed on Mars with NASA’s Perseverance rover on Feb. 18. They touched down inside Mars’ Jezero Crater, which harbored a lake and a river delta in the ancient past. On April 3, the helicopter deployed from the rover’s belly, kicking off a month-long, five-flight campaign designed to demonstrate that powered aerial flight is possible on the Red Planet.

That historic campaign went very smoothly, and Ingenuity remained in good health at its conclusion. So NASA approved a mission extension, during which the chopper will perform more directed scouting work.

Perseverance documented Ingenuity’s first five flights but did not do so for the May 22 sortie. The rover is now starting to focus on its own science mission, which involves hunting for signs of long-gone Mars life and collecting samples for future return to Earth.