HMS Beagle First Voyage

It was on May 22, 1826, that HMS Beagle set out on its its first voyage. That was to Tierra del Fuego, and the captain, Pringle Stokes, got depressed and shot himself on the trip. The ship’s most famous voyage, with Captain Robert FitzRoy and Charles Darwin aboard, took place between 1831 and 1836. Curiously, FitzRoy also got depressed and committed suicide in 1865, cutting his throat with a razor.

Ancient Greeks and the Nature of Matter

The fundamental questions of what the world is made of, and where matter came from, are some of the oldest. In the 6th century BCE, Greek philosophers such as Thales and Anaximenes proposed that all substances were modifications of more intrinsic substances, the main candidates being water, air, earth, and fire. In the 5th century BCE, Empedocles claimed that everything was a mixture of all four of these substances, or elements. His near-contemporary Democritus developed the idea that the universe is made of an infinite number of indivisible particles called atoms. Finally, in the 4th century BCE the influential scholar Aristotle added a fifth element, ether, to Empedocles’four. Although Aristotle was skeptical of the idea of atoms, it is remarkable that the concepts of both atoms and elements had been proposed more than 2,000 years before either was proved to exist.

Primate Facts

A bit about our closest relatives:

Primate Facts —> Just how egocentric are human beings? Well, it’s telling that “primate,” the name employed for this order of mammals, is Latin for “first rank,” a not-so-subtle reminder that Homo sapiens considers itself the pinnacle of evolution. Scientifically speaking, though, there’s no reason to believe that monkeys, apes, tarsiers and lemurs–all of the animals in the primate order–are more advanced from an evolutionary perspective than birds, reptiles or even fish; they just happened to branch off in a different direction millions of years ago.

Until recently, naturalists divided primates into prosimians (lemurs, lorises and tarsiers) and simians (monkeys, apes and human beings). Today, though, the more widely accepted split is between “strepsirrhini” (wet-nosed) and “haplorhini” (dry-nosed) primates; the former includes all the non-tarsier promisimians, and the latter consists of tarsiers and simians. Simians themselves are divided into two major groups: old world monkeys and apes (“catarrhines,” meaning “narrow-nosed”) and new world monkeys (“platyrhines,” meaning “flat-nosed”). Technically, therefore, all human beings are haplorhine cattarrhines, dry-nosed, narrow-nosed primates. Confused yet?

#PrimateFacts #Science #Evolution

Chinese rocket tumbling uncontrolled back to Earth

A large segment of a Chinese rocket is expected to make an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere on the weekend, but Beijing has downplayed fears and said there is a very low risk of any damage.

A Long March-5B rocket launched the first module of China’s new space station into Earth’s orbit on April 29. Its 18-tonne main segment is now in freefall and experts have said it is difficult to say precisely where and when it will re-enter the atmosphere.

Re-entry is expected to be around 2300 GMT on Saturday, according to the Pentagon, with a window of nine hours either side.

Chinese authorities have said most of the rocket components would likely be destroyed on re-entry.

“The probability of causing harm… on the ground is extremely low,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Friday.

Although there has been fevered speculation over exactly where the rocket—or parts of it—will land, there is a good chance any debris that does not burn up will just splash down into the ocean, given that the planet is 70 percent water.

“We’re hopeful that it will land in a place where it won’t harm anyone,” said Pentagon spokesman Mike Howard.

Howard said the United States was tracking the rocket segment but “its exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its re-entry”.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier said that the US military had no plans to shoot it down, and suggested that China had been negligent in letting it fall out of orbit.

“Given the size of the object, there will necessarily be big pieces left over,” said Florent Delefie, an astronomer at the Paris-PSL Observatory.

“The chances of debris landing on an inhabited zone are tiny, probably one in a million.”

In 2020, debris from another Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that although there was no need to worry “too much”, the rocket’s design needed a re-think to stop such a scenario happening again.

“There is a real chance of damage to whatever it hits and the outside chance of a casualty,” he said.

“Having a ton of metal shards flying into the Earth at hundreds of kilometres per hour is not good practice, and China should redesign the Long-March 5B missions to avoid this.”

Sources: Phys.org

Galileo Galilei

Galileo was born in Pisa, but later moved with his family to Florence. In 1581, he enrolled in the University of Pisa to study medicine, then switched to mathematics and natural philosophy. He investigated many areas of science, and is perhaps most famous for his discovery of the four largest moons of Jupiter (still called the Galilean moons). Galileo’s observations led him to support the Sun-centered model of the solar system, which at the time was in opposition to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1633, he was tried and made to recant this and other ideas. He was sentenced to house arrest, which lasted the rest of his life. During his confinement, he wrote a book summarizing his work on kinematics (the science of movement).

Key works:

1623 The Assayer

1632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems

1638 Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences

First Pregnant Egyptian Mummy Discovered

The first known case of a pregnant Ancient Egyptian mummy has been revealed by researchers from the Warsaw Mummy Project.

The mummy, which is housed in the National Museum in Warsaw was previously thought to be the remains of the priest Hor-Djehuti, until it was discovered in 2016 to be an embalmed woman who lived in Thebes around the 1st century BC.

Dr. Marzena Ożarek-Szilke from the University of Warsaw said in an interview to PAP: “We were about to summarise the project and submit the publication to print. For the last time my husband Stanisław Szilkec looked at the x-ray images, and we saw in the deceased woman’s belly a sight familiar to the parents of three children … a little foot.”

A closer examination using tomographic imaging revealed that the woman was between 20-30 years old when she died and was in her 26th to 30th week of her pregnancy.

Wojciech Ejsmond from the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences said: “For unknown reasons, the fetus was not removed from the abdomen of the deceased during mummification.” This has led the research team to speculate as to whether the fetus was to difficult for the embalmers to remove, that there might have been an attempt to camouflage an unwanted pregnancy, or possibly in connection to the ritual beliefs of rebirth and the afterlife.

Scientists will now try to unravel the mystery of the cause of the woman’s death. “It’s no secret that the mortality rate during pregnancy and childbirth was also high at that time. Therefore, we believe that the pregnancy could have somehow contributed to the death of the young woman ”- noted Dr. Ejsmond.

Source: HeritageDaily

Stone Tools Used By Homo Erectus Discovered

Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of stone tools in a goldmine where Homo erectus would have inhabited 700,000 years ago in the eastern part of the Sahara Desert, 70 km east of the modern city of Atbara in Sudan.

Homo erectus (meaning “upright man”) is an extinct species of archaic human from the Pleistocene, with its earliest occurrence about 2 million years ago. Studies of surviving fossils suggest that the species had a humanlike gait and body proportions, and was the first human species to have exhibited a flat face, prominent nose, and possibly sparse body hair coverage.

A gold rush in the eastern Sahara Desert has led to many open-cast mines being excavated in search of the valuable ore. The mining activity has allowed archaeologists to study exposed layers containing large tools with a transverse cutting edge, and almond-shaped cleaver tools with chamfered edges on both sides, which form a pointed tip at the junction.

Archaeologists believe that the site was a workshop for the manufacturing of stone tools, evident by the discovery of associated flakes formed during their production.

Layers of earth and sand lying just above the tools have been analysed using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), which dates the earthen-sand layer to around 390 thousand years ago.

Professor Mirosław Masojć from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Wrocław said: “This means that the layers below are certainly older. Based on the style of workmanship of the tools, I believe that they may be over 700,000 years old, and perhaps even a million years old – similar to their counterparts in South Africa”.

The researchers suggest that the site is the oldest known example of tool manufacturing within the areas of Egypt and the Sudan that has a well-confirmed chronology, in which Masojć adds: “Yes, ancient tools are found in deserts, but never before have they come from layers that we can safely determine their age”.

Source: HeritageDaily

Leonardo da Vinci

The original Renaissance man died 502 years ago (1452–1519), but the nature of his genius continues to fascinate us:

Leonardo’s science was grounded in the Aristotelian world as shaped by 18 centuries of interpreters. He developed a system of what he called the four powers of nature: movement, weight, force and percussion. Although he struggled to define these concepts, and many of the ideas are archaic, it is telling that he developed a coherent model for all natural phenomena ranging from the macrocosm (e.g., geological forces that lead to the formation of rivers and oceans) to the microcosm (e.g., human anatomy).

Clémence-Auguste Royer

On this date in 1830, Clémence-Auguste Royer was born in Nantes, France. Her parents were Catholic royalists, and Royer’s early education took place in a convent school. Royer became a republican following the Revolution of 1848, and began to question other common views at that time. Royer obtained a teaching certificate and taught at girls schools in Wales, where she mastered English, and in France. She read widely on science in these school libraries. In 1855, as a result of her inquiries, she rejected Catholicism thoroughly, and devoted herself to science. She began to offer lectures on science and logic for women in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1858. Royer translated Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species into French in 1863. She famously wrote a preface to the work which used Darwin’s mechanism for evolution as part of an anti-religious argument which Darwin himself did not make — by this time, the book was in its third English edition and contained several strong references to a creator. Royer had been an evolutionist before reading Darwin, having been strongly influenced by the writings of Jean Baptiste LaMarck. French scientists, especially atheists and anthropologists, were strongly influenced by evolution and natural selection as framed by Royer, who also discussed the implications of evolutionary theory for human beings and society in her introduction (it would be almost ten years before Darwin himself grappled with these issues in The Descent of Man). Royer continued as Darwin’s official French translator until the third French edition of Origin was published in 1870.

Royer, despite not being a research scientist, remained a popular interpreter of science as well as a philosopher of science throughout her life. As a woman, she was denied access to many learned societies, as well as university teaching positions. It has been argued by Jennifer Michael Hecht, among others, that Royer opened doors to women within the freethinking movement. Royer was a feminist who argued passionately for the rights of women, married and unmarried, to child custody, property, education and equality with men. In 1866, she had a son by her lover and life partner, Pascal Duprat, a married man, which sharpened her concern about the major legal obstacles then present to unwed mothers and their children. She published many books and articles throughout her life, and considered the pinnacle to be 1900’s Natura rerum, her theory of nature. In 1900, Royer was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her contributions as “a woman of letters and a scientific writer.” D. 1902

“Yes, I believe in revelation, but a permanent revelation of man to himself and by himself, a rational revelation that is nothing but the result of the progress of science and of the contemporary conscience, a revelation that is always only partial and relative and that is effectuated by the acquisition of new truths and even more by the elimination of ancient errors. We must also attest that the progress of truth gives us as much to forget as to learn, and we learn to negate and to doubt as often as to affirm.”
~ Clémence Royer, preface to Charles Darwin, L’origine des espèces, in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The End of the Soul