The Oldest Homo Sapiens, a NAZCA Climate Alliance, and More SpaceX Success | Vol. 4 / No. 33

It’s a long way from East Africa to Morocco | Photo: Mapswire / This Week In Tomorrow

This week we’ve got stories about the oldest examples of Homo Sapiens ever found, a collection of states and cities in the US pledging to stick to the Paris agreement regardless of what the federal government does, and more of me fanboying about SpaceX (because you love it, too). It’s the weekly roundup for Sunday, June 11, 2017!

Pan-African Homo Sapiens

This week an article in the journal Nature revealed the discovery of the oldest evidence of Homo Sapiens, and it did so in a fairly surprising place. Instead of in the Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa, the skull and accompanying tools and evidence of habitation come from a cave in the Jebel Irhoud cave in Morocco. The skull exhibits certain Homo Sapiens-clade features—specifically features of the face, jaw, and teeth—without the more recent hominid cranium shape. Given the location of the finds and the date—over 300,000 years ago, about 100,000 years older than the next-oldest evidence of Homo Sapiens—it’s led the researchers to hypothesize that he evolution of our species involved “the whole African continent” rather than evolving in one spot and spreading out from there. The skull itself was found in 1961 by mining efforts, and was itself dated back in 2007 as being 160,000 years old. But a team of researchers returned to the cave and managed to find even more skeletons, the partial remains of five individuals, and in the same stratigraphic layer, their tools. Dating from the tools produced a range of dates from 280,000-350,000 years old, which (combined with another, more advanced dating from a tooth which produced a date of 254,000-318,000 years old), strongly suggests that the previous tooth dating had been wrong. The new date also fits better with the animal bones found in the same layer. This pushes back the earliest evidence of Homo Sapiens back almost a hundred thousand years, and suggests that there was a “large, interbreeding population” across the African continent that eventually gave rise to modern humans. You can read more about the story at AAAS Science Magazine, or read the study itself in the journal Nature.


We will prevail | Photo: moonjazz, CC0 (Public Domain)


Remember this acronym. NAZCA stands for Non-state Actor Zone for Climate Action, and it’s a little-spoken of part of the Paris climate accord whereby subnational groups can work to fulfill the goals of Paris independent of their country’s leadership. America is a more-or-less-united series of states, and as of this week, ten governors—of New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia—and 247 mayors have pledged to form a coalition to uphold the Paris agreement, and “to reduce carbon emissions to between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels, while meeting targets of the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule the Trump administration has revoked.” Plus, this week Governor Jerry Brown of California signed an independent climate agreement with China while Energy Secretary Rick Perry offered meaningless platitudes about the federal government taking an “all of the above” energy strategy, seemingly unable to recognize that you can’t have “all of the above” and limit climate change. You can read more about the stories here and here, and about the NAZCA in particular here. Our message to the world? We’re still fighting. Don’t count us out yet.


CRS-9 long exposure of the launch and first-stage return | Photo: SpaceX, CC0 (public domain)

SpaceX News

This week SpaceX’s CRS-11 mission arrived at the International Space Station ferrying necessary cargo and supplies for the maintenance of the station and the continuing progress of science (not to mention delivering the dragon itself, the first reused Dragon, which is still the only capsule we have for getting completed experiments back from the ISS). After the launch, the first stage landed flawlessly, and everything looked—dare we say it—positively routine. Whenever things get quiet at SpaceX, you know something cool’s about to happen, and here it is: “All Falcon Heavy cores should be at the Cape in two to three months, so launch should happen a month after that“.

That means the three-core Falcon Heavy—which will be the most powerful currently-operating rocket on Earth when it launches—is roughly slated for mid-October. And the plan seems to be to land all three cores. Oh, and did I mention that SpaceX just got the contract for launching the next “top secret” X-37B unmanned space plane? Pinch me: I’m dreaming.


Best of the Rest

Of course we can’t get to everything, so here is it, your weekly linkspam: