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Elon Musk Says SpaceX's About to Launch And 'Hover' a Mars Rocket Prototype

SpaceX to perform hop-and-hover launch of its Mars rocket prototype

South Texas will witness the most ambitious test launch of SpaceX with a shiny Mars rocket prototype. Over the past 8 months, workers have been working upon a coastal launch site to prepare the stout and three-legged prototype for testing. It is made of stainless steel and have the shape of a badminton shuttlecock and is equipped with the next-gen Raptor rocket engines.

Elon Musk has named his company’s six-story tall rocket ship as “Starhopper” as it is made to hop to altitudes no higher than 3 miles but not to fly into space. The Starship is a 400-foot tall launch system for the powerful Starhopper.  The company’s vision lies in taking dozens of people to Moon and Mars, deploying many satellites at a time and rocketing people around Earth for a few minutes. The Starhopper was fired up in April for the first time and the vehicle was lifted for no more than a few inches and subsequent tests lifted it further but not by much.

The engineers are hoping to take the vehicle up to 20 meters above its own height and Musk also added that the Starhopper will move sideways and land back on its launch pad. SpaceX spokesperson said that the hop and hover test is a series of tests designed to push the limits of the vehicle as quickly and as fast as possible within safety limits.

SpaceX will launch Star hopper from 14:00-20:00 Hours CT on 16th July. The schedule for launch can be quite dynamic and subject to change with development programs.  The company will flow liquid oxygen through the engine to check for plumbing and hardware and a static fire test attempt on Monday if everything works out fine. The static fire test would add methane to flowing oxygen to ignite and burn the Raptor Engine for a matter of seconds to check its functioning.  The launch site is located near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas. Spacehopper was confirmed by Musk in late 2018.

It marks the beginning of the Starship Program. It is building a Mark 1 Starship (Mk1) prototype which is designed to reach the orbit. Mk1 Starship is hopeful to reach 20km up in a few months but the issued government license allows experimental vehicles up to 5Km and lasting up to 6 minutes. It is working on regulatory approval for the prototypes. The company plans to launch prototypes into orbit by end of 2020 and a full-scale Starship to the moon by 2023 and a manned mission to Mars by 2026.

crab nebula

Explosion of stars might have motivated early humans to walk on two feet

According to a recent study, ancient supernovas might have been the reason humans shifted from swinging by trees to walking on legs. These immensely powerful explosions created a change in the climate of the planet with its huge energy. It charged the atmosphere of Earth with electrons and caused frequent lightning and storms. The study has been published in the Journal of Geology.

The lightning, storms could have caused wildfires which damaged entire landscapes in Africa. The study suggests that as the forests were replaced by savanna, early humans who resided may have been forced to walk on two legs. However, it would not be wise to draw quick conclusions. Several factors have contributed to bipedalism, which began several million years before the stellar explosions occurred.

Traces of iron-60 found in the Earth’s crust contained clues to the supernova. This radioactive isotope of iron is found in the stars which are approaching their end. Previous studies show that the trace of iron-60 on Earth came from the explosion of stars approximately 8 million years before. The explosions peaked with the supernova that took place 123 light years away from Earth, 2.6 million years ago.

Adrian Melott, principal author of the study and Professor of Astronomy at the University of Kansas commented that the very high energy emissions of the supernova could have penetrated the troposphere thus ionizing the atmosphere of Earth. This caused drastic changes in the Earth’s climate.

Scientists estimated that the infusion of energy from supernova increased the atmospheric ionization by 50, which highly increased the cloud-to-ground lightning leading to more violent wildfires. Although they could not precisely calculate the exact increase in the lightning events from the 50 fold boost of atmospheric ionization, the potential for increase is very high.

Most wildfires today are a result of human actions, but previously the principal factor of wildfires was lightning. Scorching of forests by wildfires led to grasslands, and the open savannas meant more walking which would create more pressure on humans to spend increased time on legs.

William Harcourt-Smith, professor of paleoanthropology at Lehman College said that long before the peak of supernovas, hominins were becoming upright walkers. The very first proof of bipedalism in human beings was seen almost 7 million years ago, and the switch to full bipedalism happened almost 4.4 million years ago.

Bipedalism is energy efficient, as a result of which hands can be used for carrying necessary items. Grassland habitats support for full upright walking however it is not fully certain that the wildfires are the main reason behind these changes.

osorno volcano

Scientists discover 15000 year old footprint, the oldest evidence of humans in South America

Researchers in Chile reported that they have obtained footprint belonging to humans. It dates back to more than 15000 years. This is the oldest evidence of humans which has been found in Latin America.

This finding makes a direct challenge to the timeline and path of migration of human beings into South America. The evidence which was available till now held the understanding that human beings could not reach the Patagonia region which is located at the south tip of Latin America till 12,000 years before.

The footprint was obtained at Pilauco excavation in Osorno, where researchers have been searching for any evidence since 2007.

Archaeologists from Austral University in Chile reported that the footprint was first detected in 2011 beside a house. It took several years for paleontologist Karen Moreno, geologist Mario Pino to verify that the footprint was that of a human being. The report has been published in the journal PLOS-ONE.

Mario Pino told the newspaper, El Austral that several other footprints have been discovered in South America but none of them was so dated old as this one. Scientists have been able to calculate the age of the footprint by applying radiocarbon techniques of dating to the plant where the footprint was present.

Radioactive dating was first developed by Willard Libby, in the latter part of the 40s who was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in 1960. It is based on the principle that radioactive form of Carbon ( C -14) has been continuously created by the interaction of cosmic rays with nitrogen. Measuring the amount of C-14 in the dead animal or plant provides the data from which it can be calculated when the plant or animal died.

Pino reported that the print appeared to be of a male human weighing approximately 70 kilograms. He belonged to the species Hominipes modernus, which is related to Homo Sapiens. Evidence of stone tools has also been obtained in the region around the fossil.

Almost eight years have passed between finding the fossil and reporting the confirmation about the age. The team of researchers spent the time in checking, confirming and re-checking the evidence and finally managed to convince their peers.

The city of Osorno has been a rich archaeological site and scientists were alerted of this after workers found treasures underneath the Earth while digging. Remains of animals such as horses have been found here. Scientists think that many more evidence of humans may be present, but they have been mostly eroded by glaciers or is present underwater.

Callao Cave Philippines

Researchers discover fossils in Calleo Cave indicating a new hominid species

Scientists have reported the discovery of an unknown species of human beings who resided in the Philippines almost 50,000 years before. The recently found evidence shows that new species, Homo luzonensis was very small in size and maybe even smaller than the Hobbit species which was discovered in the Flores island back in 2004.

This discovery has made the timeline of human evolution very messy but nonetheless fascinating due to the discovery of the species which was previously not known. Small pieces of bones and teeth were found from the Callao Cave in the Philippines island of Luzon. The fossils found in the Callao Cave give clues of many features which have been totally unknown to the researchers. Hence it makes the statement for the declaration of a new human species, Homo luzonensis. This discovery was reported in the Nature journal.

This is a breakthrough discovery as it is not regular to find about new human species. The discovery of Homo luzonensis can reveal facts about human evolution and what happened to the ones who left Africa thousands of years before.

In 2010, a single human foot bone was discovered in Calleo Cave which was dated at 67000 years old. This was the first evidence that humans have been present in Philippines for quite some time. We have known that hominins, the group of primates who are more closely related to us than chimpanzees lived in Philippines as early as 700,000 years ago.

The hominins are not exactly our direct ancestors but they can be considered as close relatives. Each species had their own evolutionary journey as they adapted to changing environments and circumstances. Around 50,000 years ago in Africa, there were many human species in Africa and Eurasia.

The team of scientists led by Florent Détroit, National Museum of Natural History located in France and Armand Mijares, University of the Philippines who found the foot bone in Philippines have tried to gather more evidence around Calleo Cave. The excavations have led to the discovery of 12 hominin elements in all which includes a thigh bone, and several bones of hands and feet. Scientists have identified them belonging to two adults and one child. Unfortunately, there was no genetic evidence present in these specimens.

Analysis of the specimens gives rise to the conclusion that the species, Homo Luzonensis have been very small compared to the present size of human beings. Scientists suspect that they may have been subjected to insular dwarfism, a condition where the size of a species gets significantly reduced due to very less to the resources needed for development.

Although some of the scientists feel it is too soon to declare the luzonensis a new species and that only another set of fossils complemented by DNA and mark them as a new Homo member.