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Tectonic plates helped early Earth evolve 3.2 billion years ago, and that shaped how life developed – CNN

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Tectonic plates helped early Earth evolve 3.2 billion years ago, and that shaped how life developed – CNN_5ea0c7ec256f7.jpeg

This is an artist’s illustration showing a cross-section of Earth’s forming crust approximately 3 to 4 billion years ago.

Illuminated medieval manuscripts are full of intricate decorations, illustrations and colors, including “endangered colors” that can no longer be recreated today.

These monkeys can be found in ancient Grecian frescoes. And the details are so accurate that researchers were able to identify them as vervet monkeys and baboons.

Archeologists have found the oldest string of yarn at a prehistoric site in southern France. This photograph, taken by digital microscopy, shows that of the cord fragment, which is approximately 6.2 mm long and 0.5 mm wide.

This illustration shows Elessaurus gondwanoccidens, a long-legged reptile that lived in South America during the Early Triassic Period. It’s a cousin to other mysterious early reptiles that arose after the Permian mass extinction event 250 million years ago.

The skeletal remains of Homo antecessor are on display in this image. A recent study suggests antecessor is a sister lineage to Homo erectus, a common ancestor of modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans.

A nearly two-million-year-old Homo erectus skullcap was found in South Africa. This is the first fossil of erectus to be found in southern Africa, which places it in the area at the same time as other ancient human ancestors.

This painting shows what Antarctica may have looked like 90 million years ago. It had a temperate swampy rainforest.

This artist’s illustration of Dineobellator notohesperus shows them in an open landscape, across what is now New Mexico, along with Ojoceratops and Alamosaurus in the background.

Ikaria wariootia was a worm-like creature that lived 555 million years ago. It represents the oldest ancestor on the family tree for most animals.

This is the 3.67-million-year-old ‘Little Foot’ skull. The view from the bottom (right) shows the original position of the first cervical vertebra, which tells us about her head movements and blood flow to the brain.

This is an artist’s illustration of the world’s oldest modern bird, Asteriornis maastrichtensis, in its original environment. Parts of Belgium were covered by a shallow sea, and conditions were similar to modern tropical beaches like The Bahamas 66.7 million years ago.

This donkey skull was recovered in a Tang Dynasty noblewoman’s tomb. The researchers determined that she played donkey polo and was buried with her donkeys so that she may continue her favorite sport in the afterlife.

Hundreds of mammoth bones found at a site in Russia were once used by hunter-gatherers to build a massive structure 25,000 years ago.

A fossil of an ancient rudist clam called Torreites sanchezi revealed that Earth’s days lasted 23.5 hours 70 million years ago.

This is an artist’s impression of dinosaurs on prehistoric mudflat in Scotland, based on varied dinosaur footprints recovered on the Isle of Skye.

A new study suggests that ostrich eggshell beads have been used to cement relationships in Africa for more than 30,000 years.

This rock lined the seafloor roughly 3.2 billion years ago, providing evidence that Earth may have been a ‘waterworld’ in its ancient past.

These stone tools were found at the Dhaba site in India, showing that Homo sapiens survived a massive volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago.

The remains of 48 people who were buried in a 14th century Black Death mass grave were found in England’s Lincolnshire countryside.

The articulated remains of a Neanderthal have been found in Shanidar Cave, representing the first discovery of its kind in 20 years.

A rare disease that still affects humans today has been found in the fossilized vertabra of a duck-billed dinosaur that roamed the Earth at least 66 million years ago.

Venezuelan Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sánchez is shown next to a male carapace of the giant turtle Stupendemys geographicus, for scale.

This artist’s illustration shows the newly discovered Tyrannosaurus rex relative, Thanatotheristes degrootorum.

The newly discovered species Allosaurus jimmadseni represents the earliest Allosaurus known. It was a fearsome predator that lived during the Late Jurassic Period millions of years before Tyrannosaurus rex.

Remains found in ancient Herculaneum boat houses revealed that people trying to flee the eruption of Mount Vesuvius slowly suffocated as volcanic clouds overtook the town.

The Wulong bohaiensis fossil found in China’s Jehol Province shows some early, intriguing aspects that relate to both birds and dinosaurs.

Shell tools were recovered from an Italian cave that show Neanderthals combed beaches and dove in the ocean to retrieve a specific type of clam shell to use as tools.

A closer look at the Heslington brain, which is considered to be Britain’s oldest brain and belonged to a man who lived 2,600 years ago. Amazingly, the soft tissue was not artificially preserved.

Researchers from Russia’s RAS Institute of Archeology excavated the burial sites of four women, who were buried with battle equipment in southwestern Russia and believed to be Amazon warrior women. The oldest woman found in the graves bore a unique, rare ceremonial headdress.

Teen Tyrannosaurus rex were fleet-footed with knife-like teeth, serving as mid-sized carnivores before they grew into giant bone-crushing adults.

A Homo erectus skull cap discovered in Central Java, Indonesia reveals how long they lived and when the first human species to walk upright died out.

This is an artistic reconstruction of Lola, a young girl who lived 5,700 years ago.

Part of the scene depicted in the world’s oldest cave art, which shows half-animal, half-human hybrids hunting pigs and buffalo.

An ancient Egyptian head cone was first found with the remains of a young woman buried in one of Amarna’s graves.

A lice-like insect was trapped in amber crawling and munching on a dinosaur feather.

Newly discovered penguin species Kupoupou stilwelli lived after the dinosaurs went extinct and acts as a missing link between giant extinct penguins and the modern penguins in Antarctica today.

This illustration compares the jaws and teeth of two predatory dinosaurs, Allosaurus (left) and Majungasaurus (right).

This is an artist’s illustration of Najash rionegrina in the dunes of the Kokorkom desert that extended across Northern Patagonia during the Late Cretaceous period. The snake is coiled around with its hindlimbs on top of the remains of a jaw bone from a small charcharodontosaurid dinosaur.

University of South Carolina archaelogist Christopher Moore (second from right) and colleagues collect core samples from White Pond near Elgin, South Carolina, to look for evidence of an impact from an asteroid or comet that may have caused the extinction of large ice-age animals such as sabre-tooth cats and giant sloths and mastodons.

Core samples from White Pond near Elgin, South Carolina, show evidence of platinum spikes and soot indicative of an impact from an asteroid or comet.

The Sosnogorsk lagoon as it likely appeared 372 million years ago just before a deadly storm, according to an artist’s rendering. The newly discovered tetrapod can be seen in the left side of the image below the surface.

Bronze goods recovered from a river in northern Germany indicate an ancient toolkit of a Bronze Age warrior.

Mold pigs are a newly discovered family, genus and species of microinvertebrates that lived 30 million years ago.

Ferrodraco lentoni was a pterosaur, or “flying lizard,” that lived among dinosaurs 96 million years ago. The fossil was found in Australia.

These Late Bronze Age feeding vessels were likely used for infants drinking animal milk.

This is the first depiction of what mysterious ancient humans called Denisovans, a sister group to Neanderthals, looked like. This image shows a young female Denisovan, reconstructed based on DNA methylation maps. The art was created by Maayan Harel.

Researchers found a fossil of one of the oldest bird species in New Zealand. While its descendants were giant seafaring birds, this smaller ancestor likely flew over shorter ranges.

A painting shows the new species of giant salamander called Andrias sligoi, the largest amphibian in the world.

After her discovery in 2013, Victoria’s 66-million-year-old, fossilized skeleton was restored bone by bone. She’s the second most complete T. rex fossil on record.

An artist’s illustration shows how different an ancient “short-faced” kangaroo called Simosthenurus occidentalis looked, as opposed to modern kangaroos. Its skull more closely resembles a koala.

An artist’s illustration of Cryodrakon boreas, one of the largest flying animals that ever lived during the Cretaceous period. Although researchers don’t know the color of Cryodrakon’s plumage, the colors shown here honor Canada, where the fossil was found.

A graphic thermal image of a T. rex with its dorsotemporal fenestra glowing on the skull.

A complete skull belong to an early human ancestor has been recovered in Ethiopia. A composite of the 3.8 million-year-old cranium of Australopithecus anamensis is seen here alongside a facial reconstruction.

The remains inside grave IIIN199, found under Prague Castle in 1928, belong to a man from the 10th century. His identity has been the subject of great debate for years.

Vertebrae fossils of a previously undiscovered type of stegosaurus were found in Morocco. Researchers say they represent the oldest stegosaurus found.

The La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal skull shows signs of external auditory exostoses, known as “surfer’s ear” growths, in the left canal.

The Fincha Habera rock shelter in the Ethiopian Bale Mountains served as a residence for prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

The world’s largest parrot, Heracles inexpectatus, lived 19 million years ago in New Zealand. It was over 3 feet tall and weighed more than 15 pounds.

Saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and coyotes had different hunting patterns according to a new study of predator fossils found in the La Brea Tar Pits.

Researchers found 83 tiny glassy spheres inside fossil clams from a Florida quarry. Testing suggests that they are evidence of one or more undocumented meteorite impacts in Florida’s distant past.

This primitive dinosaur had a wide W-shaped jaw and a solid bony crest resembling a humped nose.

An illustration of a Microraptor as it swallows a lizard whole during the Cretaceous period. The well-preserved fossils of the Microraptor and the lizard were both found, leading to the discovery that the lizard was a previously unknown species.

The back of a skull found in a Grecian cave has been dated to 210,000 years ago. Known as Apidima 1, right, researchers were able to scan and re-create it (middle and left). The rounded shape of Apidima 1 is a unique feature of modern humans and contrasts sharply with Neanderthals and their ancestors.

A 33,000-year-old human skull shows evidence of being struck with a club-like object. The right side of the man’s head has a large depressed fracture.

The recently discovered fossilized femur of an ancient giant bird revealed that it weighed nearly as much as an adult polar bear and could reach 11½ feet tall. It lived between 1.5 million and 2 million years ago.

This jawbone belonged to a Neanderthal girl who lived 120,000 years ago. It was found in Scladina Cave in Belgium.

This is an artist’s illustration of the newly discovered dinosaur species Fostoria dhimbangunmal.

Radiocarbon dating has revealed that this Iron Age wooden shield was made between 395 and 255 BC.

The incredibly well-preserved fossil of a 3 million-year-old extinct species of field mouse, found in Germany, which was less than 3 inches long, was found to have red pigment in its fur.

A mass grave dated to 5,000 years ago in Poland contains 15 people who were all from the same extended family.

This is an artist’s impression of the Ambopteryx longibrachium, one of only two dinosaurs known to have membranous wings. The dinosaur’s fossilized remains were found in Liaoning, in northeast China, in 2017.

Reconstruction of a small tyrannosauroid Suskityrannus hazelae from the Late Cretaceous.

Researchers have been studying Archaeopteryx fossils for 150 years, but new X-ray data reveal that the bird-like dinosaur may have been an “active flyer.”

A 160,000-year-old Denisovan jawbone found in a cave on the Tibetan Plateau is the first evidence of the presence of this ancient human group outside the Denisova Cave in Siberia.

An artist’s illustration of Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, a gigantic carnivore that lived 23 million years ago. It is known from fossils of most of its jaw, portions of its skull and parts of its skeleton. It was a hyaenodont, a now-extinct group of mammalian carnivores, that was larger than a modern-day polar bear.

The right upper teeth of the newly discovered species Homo luzonensis. The teeth are smaller and more simplified than those belonging to other Homo species.

The towering and battle-scarred “Scotty” is the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada.

Researchers discovered unknown species at the Qingjiang fossil site on the bank of the Danshui River, near its junction with the Qingjiang River in Hubei Province, China.

During a study of the ancient Iberian population, the remains of a man and woman buried together at a Spanish Bronze Age site called Castillejo de Bonete showed that the woman was a local and the man’s most recent ancestors had come from central Europe.

Durrington Walls is a Late Neolithic henge site in Wiltshire. Pig bones recovered at the site revealed that people and livestock traveled hundreds of miles for feasting and celebration.

An artist’s impression of a Galleonosaurus dorisae herd on a riverbank in the Australian-Antarctic rift valley during the Early Cretaceous, 125 million years ago.

The remains of 137 children and 200 llamas were found in Peru in an area that was once part of the Chimú state culture, which was at the peak of power during the 15th century. The children and llamas might have been sacrificed due to flooding.

The tooth of an extinct giant ground sloth that lived in Belize 27,000 years ago revealed that the area was arid, rather than the jungle that it is today.

An artist’s illustration of what the small tyrannosaur Moros intrepidus would have looked like 96 million years ago. These small predators would eventually become Tyrannosaurus rex.

Examples of tools manufactured from monkey bones and teeth recovered from the Late Pleistocene layers of Fa-Hien Lena Cave in Sri Lanka show that early humans used sophisticated techniques to hunt monkeys and squirrels.

Footprints thought to belong to Neanderthals have been found in the Catalan Bay Sand Dune.

Two of the fossil specimens discovered in Korea had reflective eyes, a feature still apparent under light.

An artist’s illustration of Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia, a long-necked titanosaur from the middle Cretaceous period recently found in Tanzania. Its tail vertebra has a unique heart shape, which contributed to its name. In Swahili, the name translates to “animal of the Mtuka with a heart-shaped tail.”

The oldest evidence of mobility is 2.1 billion years old and was found in Gabon. The tubes, discovered in black shale, are filled with pyrite crystals generated by the transformation of biological tissue by bacteria, found in layers of clay minerals.

Researchers recently studied climate change in Greenland as it happened during the time of the Vikings. By using lake sediment cores, they discovered it was actually warmer than previously believed. They studied at several sites, including a 21st-century reproduction of Thjodhild’s church on Erik the Red’s estate, known as Brattahlíð, in present day Qassiarsuk, Greenland.

This is an artist’s illustration of Antarctica, 250 million years ago. The newly discovered fossil of a dinosaur relative, Antarctanax shackletoni, revealed that reptiles lived among the diverse wildlife in Antarctica after the mass extinction.

Bone points and pierced teeth found in Denisova Cave were dated to the early Upper Paleolithic. A new study establishes the timeline of the cave, and it sheltered the first known humans as early as 300,000 years ago.

This artist’s illustration shows a marine reptile similar to a platypus hunting at dusk. This duckbilled animal was the first reptile to have unusually small eyes that most likely required it to use other senses, such as the tactile sense of its duckbill, to hunt for prey.

Although it’s hard to spot, researchers found flecks of lapis lazuli pigment, called ultramarine, in the dental plaque on the lower jaw of a medieval woman.

A Neanderthal fossil, left, and a modern human skeleton. Neanderthals have commonly be considered to show high incidences of trauma compared with modern humans, but a new study reveals that head trauma was consistent for both.

The world’s oldest figurative artwork from Borneo has been dated to 40,000 years ago, when humans were living on what’s now known as Earth’s third-largest island.

A 250,000-year-old Neanderthal child’s tooth contains an unprecedented record of the seasons of birth, nursing, illness and lead exposures over the first three years of its life.

An artist’s illustration shows giant nocturnal elephant birds foraging in the ancient forests of Madagascar at night. A new study suggests that the now-extinct birds were nocturnal and blind.

Kebara 2 is the most complete Neanderthal fossil recovered to date. It was uncovered in Israel’s Kebara Cave, where other Neanderthal remains have been found.

The world’s oldest intact shipwreck was found by a research team in the Black Sea. It’s a Greek trading vessel that was dated to 400 BC. The ship was surveyed and digitally mapped by two remote underwater vehicles.

This fossil represents a new piranha-like fish from the Jurassic period with sharp, pointed teeth. It probably fed on the fins of other fishes.

The fossil skull of the young Diplodocus known as Andrew, held by Cary Woodruff, director of paleontology at the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum.

Two small bones from the Ciemna Cave in Poland are the oldest human remains found in the country. The condition of the bones also suggests that the child was eaten by a large bird.

This artist’s illustration shows the newly discovered dinosaur species Ledumahadi mafube foraging in the Early Jurassic of South Africa. Heterodontosaurus,another South African dinosaur, can also be seen in the foreground.

A 73,000-year-old red cross-hatch pattern was drawn on a flake of silicrete, which forms when sand and gravel cement together, and found in a cave in South Africa.

A suite of Middle Neolithic pottery including typical Danilo ware, figulina and rhyta that was used to hold meat, milk, cheese and yogurt.

These four dinosaurs showcase the evolution of alvarezsaurs. From left, Haplocheirus, Xiyunykus, Bannykus and Shuvuuia reveal the lengthening of the jaws, reduction of teeth and changes in the hand and arm.

Eorhynchochelys sinensis is an early turtle that lived 228 million years ago. It had a toothless beak, but no shell.

The leg bones of a 7-year-old, recovered from an ancient Roman cemetery, show bending and deformities associated with rickets.

The famed Easter Island statues, called moai, were originally full-body figures that have been partially covered over the passage of time. They represent important Rapa Nui ancestors and were carved after a population was established on the island 900 years ago.

Researchers stand at the excavation site of Aubrey Hole 7, where cremated human remains were recovered at Stonehenge to be studied. New research suggests that 40% of 25 individuals buried at Stonehenge weren’t from there — but they possibly transported stones from west Wales and helped build it.

The fossil of the newly discovered armored dinosaur Akainacephalus johnsoni was found in southern Utah.

The foot is one part of a partial skeleton of a 3.32 million-year-old skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis child dubbed Selam.

The asteroid impact that caused dinosaurs to go extinct also destroyed global forests, according to a new study. This illustration shows one of the few ground-dwelling birds that survived the toxic environment and mass extinction.

The remains of a butchered rhinoceros are helping researchers to date when early humans reached the Philippines. They found a 75% complete skeleton of a rhinoceros that was clearly butchered, with 13 of its bones displaying cut marks and areas where bone was struck to release marrow, at the Kalinga archaeological site on the island of Luzon.

This is just one of 26 individuals found at the site of a fifth-century massacre on the Swedish island of Öland. This adolescent was found lying on his side, which suggests a slower death. Other skeletons found in the homes and streets of the ringfort at Sandby borg show signs of sudden death by blows to the head.

The skeleton of a young woman and her fetus were found in a brick coffin dated to medieval Italy. Her skull shows an example of neurosurgery, and her child was extruded after death in a rare “coffin birth.”

This portion of a whale skull was found at the Calaveras Dam construction site in California, along with at least 19 others. Some of the pieces measure 3 feet long.

A Stone Age cow skull shows trepanation, a hole in the cranium that was created by humans as as surgical intervention or experiment.

On the left is a fossilized skull of our hominin ancestor Homo heidelbergensis, who lived 200,000 to 600,000 years ago. On the right is a modern human skull. Hominins had pronounced brow ridges, but modern humans evolved mobile eyebrows as their face shape became smaller.

On the left is a 13,000-year-old footprint as found in the sediment on Calvert Island, off the Canadian Pacific coast. On the right is a digitally enhanced image, showing details of the footprint.

A central platform at Star Carr in North Yorkshire, England, was excavated by a research team studying past climate change events at the Middle Stone Age site. The Star Carr site is home to the oldest evidence of carpentry in Europe and of built structures in Britain.

This wall with paintings is in the La Pasiega Cave in Spain. The ladder shape of red horizontal and vertical lines is more than 64,000 years old and was made by Neanderthals.

These perforated shells were found in Spain’s Cueva de los Aviones sea cave and date to between 115,000 and 120,000 years ago. Researchers believe these served as body ornamentation for Neanderthals.

The earliest modern human fossil ever found outside of Africa has been recovered in Israel. This suggests that modern humans left Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than previously believed. The upper jawbone, including several teeth, was recovered in a prehistoric cave site.

This is an excavated structure at the northern edge of the Grand Plaza at Teposcolula-Yucundaa in Oaxaca, Mexico. Researchers investigated a “pestilence” cemetery associated with a devastating 1545-1550 epidemic. New analysis suggests that salmonella caused a typhoid fever epidemic.

Standing about 4 feet tall, early human ancestor Paranthropus boisei had a small brain and a wide, dish-like face. It is most well-known for having big teeth and hefty chewing muscles.

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How the NFL made it to Super Bowl with no COVID-19 game cancellations – Axios

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The NFL’s giant COVID-19 experiment ends Sunday with the improbable feat of an on-time Super Bowl, capping a season with no canceled games.

Why it matters: The season suggests that with the right resources, safety measures and cooperation — all of which have been lacking in the general U.S. response — life can go on during the pandemic without uncontrolled spread of the virus. 

The big picture: The NFL decided early on that it wouldn’t require its thousands of players, coaches and other staff to live in a “bubble,” as other sports leagues had done.

  • Instead, the league scaled up the public health basics of social distancing, testing, contact tracing and isolation across all 32 teams. To prevent spread, officials were prepared to postpone games or bench players.

Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, told Axios: “The approach we took was to appreciate that there was an expectation that individuals would get COVID — and what could we do to prevent it from spreading throughout our facilities.”

  • “Our protocols were built on that premise — that living in our 32 communities during a pandemic was a risk, but we wanted to ensure that as best as possible we could prevent” virus spread.

Between the lines: Some of the NFL’s findings were published by the CDC — including what the league learned about transmission of the virus. 

  • The most important changes the league had to make over time related to “our evolution of what a high-risk contact was,” Miller said.

The league discovered that risky contacts with an infected person weren’t limited to 15-minute interactions within 6 feet. The definition instead became more complex, factoring in time, distance, ventilation and mask-wearing. 

  • “Those four factors all had an interplay within them, which was, in our experience, vastly more complicated than six feet and 15 minutes,” Miller said.

The bottom line: “We never saw the virus transmitted across the line of scrimmage,” Miller said — even when players who later tested positive participated in the game. 

  • The league was able to confirm this was the case through genetic sequencing.

Go deeper: Super Bowl preview

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Coronavirus Variant First Found in Britain Now Spreading Rapidly in US – The New York Times

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A more contagious variant of the coronavirus first found in Britain is spreading rapidly in the United States, doubling roughly every 10 days, according to a new study.

Analyzing half a million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes, a team of researchers predicted that in a month this variant could become predominant in the United States, potentially bringing a surge of new cases and increased risk of death.

The new research offers the first nationwide look at the history of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, since it arrived in the United States in late 2020. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that B.1.1.7 could become predominant by March if it behaved the way it did in Britain. The new study confirms that projected path.

“Nothing in this paper is surprising, but people need to see it,” said Kristian Andersen, a co-author of the study and a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “We should probably prepare for this being the predominant lineage in most places in the United States by March.”

Dr. Andersen’s team estimated that the transmission rate of B.1.1.7 in the United States is 30 percent to 40 percent higher than that of more common variants, although those figures may rise as more data comes in, he said. The variant has already been implicated in surges in other countries, including Ireland, Portugal and Jordan.

“There could indeed be a very serious situation developing in a matter of months or weeks,” said Nicholas Davies, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the study. “These may be early signals warranting urgent investigation by public health authorities.”

Dr. Davies cautioned that U.S. data is patchier than that in Britain and other countries that have national variant monitoring systems. Still, he found results from some parts of the United States especially worrisome. In Florida, where the new study indicates the variant is spreading particularly quickly, Dr. Davies fears that a new surge may hit even sooner than the rest of the country.

“If these data are representative, there may be limited time to act,” he said.

Dr. Andersen and his colleagues posted their study online on Sunday. It has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

When the British government announced the discovery of B.1.1.7 on Dec. 20, Dr. Andersen and other researchers in the United States began checking for it in American coronavirus samples. The first case turned up on Dec. 29 in Colorado, and Dr. Andersen found another soon after in San Diego. In short order it was spotted in many other parts of the country.

But it was difficult to determine just how widespread the variant was. B.1.1.7 contains a distinctive set of 23 mutations scattered in a genome that is 30,000 genetic letters long. The best way to figure out if a virus belongs to the B.1.1.7 lineage is to sequence its entire genome — a process that can be carried out only with special machines.

The C.D.C. contracted with Helix, a lab testing company, to examine their Covid-19 samples for signs of B.1.1.7. The variant can deliver a negative result on one of the three tests that Helix uses to find the coronavirus. For further analysis, Helix sent these suspicious samples to Illumina to have their genomes sequenced. Last month Helix reached out to Dr. Andersen and his colleagues to help analyze the data.

Analyzing 212 American B.1.1.7 genomes, Dr. Andersen’s team concluded that the variant most likely first arrived in the United States by late November, a month before it was detected.

The variant was separately introduced into the country at least eight times, most likely as a result of people traveling to the United States from Britain between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The researchers combined data from the genome sequencing with Helix’s overall test results to come up with an estimate of how quickly the variant had spread. It grew exponentially more common over the past two months.

In Florida, the scientists estimate that more than 4 percent of cases are now caused by B.1.1.7. The national figure may be 1 percent or 2 percent, according to his team’s calculations.

If that’s true, then a thousand or more people may be getting infected with the variant every day. The C.D.C. has recorded only 611 B.1.1.7 cases, attesting to the inadequacy of the country’s genomic surveillance.

In parts of the country where Helix doesn’t do much testing, it is likely delivering an underestimate of the spread, Dr. Andersen cautioned. “I can guarantee you that there are places where B.1.1.7 might be relatively prevalent by now that we would not pick up,” he said.

“There’s still a lot that we have to learn,” said Nathan Grubaugh, a virologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study. “But these things are important enough that we have to start doing things now.”

It’s possible that chains of B.1.1.7 transmission are spreading faster than other viruses. Or it might be that B.1.1.7 was more common among incoming travelers starting new outbreaks.

“I still think that we are weeks away from really knowing how this will turn out,” Dr. Grubaugh said.

The contagiousness of B.1.1.7 makes it a threat to take seriously. Public health measures that work on other variants may not be enough to stop B.1.1.7. More cases in the United States would mean more hospitalizations, potentially straining hospitals that are only now recovering from record high numbers of patients last month.

Making matters worse, Dr. Davies and his colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine posted a study online on Wednesday suggesting that the risk of dying of B.1.1.7 is 35 percent higher than it is for other variants. The study has yet to be published in a scientific journal.

Communities can take steps to fight variants like B.1.1.7, as Dr. Grubaugh and his Yale University colleagues recently described in the journal Cell. For instance, they said, health officials should reinforce messaging about wearing effective masks, avoiding large gatherings and making sure indoor spaces are well ventilated.

The scientists also urged governments to require sick leave for people diagnosed with Covid-19 to stop workplace spread. “Such measures could help to significantly reduce community transmission,” Dr. Grubaugh and his co-authors wrote.

Vaccinations can also be part of the strategy to fight B.1.1.7. In Israel, where the variant is now predominant, new cases, severe illnesses and hospitalizations have already dropped significantly in people over 65, a group that was given top priority for vaccines.

“What we need to do with the current vaccines is get them into as many people as we can as quickly as possible,” Dr. Andersen said.

Driving down B.1.1.7 will also reduce the risk that the variant will evolve into something even worse. Already in Britain, researchers have found samples of B.1.1.7 that have gained a new mutation with the potential to make vaccines less effective. It’s not clear whether these viruses will become common. But they demonstrate that the coronavirus has a lot of evolutionary space left to explore.

“We should expect them to crop up here,” Dr. Andersen said. “Whatever was true elsewhere is going to be true here as well, and we need to deal with it.”

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Fifty years ago, Alan Shepard blasted from an endless sand trap and we just now found his ball – pennlive.com

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The most widely watched golf shot in history did not occur in a major tournament. It wasn’t even in a PGA event. In fact, it did not take place on Earth. And, as it turns out, its distance has been embellished by legend.

It was a one-handed chip with a converted Wilson Staff 6-iron club head adapted to an aluminum moon rock sample scooper. And the golfer was Alan Shepard, first American in space, 5th man on the Moon.

Shepard hit two golf balls on live television exactly half a century ago yesterday at the end of the Apollo 14 moonwalk. Because of the portable TV camera’s perpendicular angle to the flight of the ball, exactly how far the shots went was left up to the commentary of the jocular original “Mercury seven” astronaut. The first one, he clearly duffed.

But the second one appeared to be nutted and Shepard suggested it might’ve gone “miles and miles!”

Well, not exactly. But who’s keeping track?

Nobody really, until a 46-year-old British imaging specialist named Andy Saunders used his skills to enhance the clarity of long-sequestered video and photography from Apollo 14 and other moon missions. And the results are nothing short of astounding.

Saunders’ painstaking work used both new digital and traditional photo techniques to improve the brightness, sharpness and contrast of the 5-decade-old Apollo moon program (1968-72) shots so that we now can see more clearly all sorts of details hidden before – from the desolate gray surface to obscured faces of astronauts behind their helmet visors to intricate features of the lunar landers and equipment to, yes, the exact position of Shepard’s two golf shots.

Lunar golf ball

Enhanced NASA photo that now clearly shows one of Alan Shepard’s golf balls.Andy Saunders/NASA

Saunders’ photographs will be available later this year in a book entitled Apollo Remastered, to be published by Penguin Random House. Some have been posted and can be seen on the publisher’s advance website, ApolloRemastered.com.

Being the son of an industrial engineer at Apollo command/service module subcontractor North American Rockwell, I grew up amid the wonder of the U.S. space program. So, I was eager to spend a half hour on Friday with Saunders by phone from his home in Culcheth, Cheshire county, England.

As Saunders explains it, the original and clearest film negatives were socked away in NASA cold storage until very recently:

“Somewhere in the last five years, they finally got the original flight film out of the freezer and scanned it to an incredible resolution in about 1.3-gigobyte file sizes. And every minute detail that was in that camera is on this digital file.”

For someone like Saunders – a space nut since childhood who had developed considerable skill with image enhancing – this was like a gift from heaven.

“But of course, in an analog world, with photochemical processing, they weren’t designed for digital; they were designed to have light shining through them onto paper or in projection. So, you need to digitally enhance them to get the best out of them. And that’s what I’ve been using.”

Andy Saunders

British photo imaging specialist and author Andy Saunders will publish a book of his enhanced images of NASA’s moon landings later this year, to be entitled “Apollo Remastered”.Penguin Random House

Considering the advances in digital enhancement technology just over the past decade, this offered a unique opportunity to significantly clarify some of the most important images in human history.

So, how far did those 6-iron shots go in one-sixth gravity? That’s been a subject of hyperbolic conjecture, not just a little encouraged by the playful Shepard before his death in 1998.

We’ll get to that. But first some background on how Shepard managed to golf on Earth’s sand trap satellite in the first place. He had been seeded with the idea by an offhand crack from Bob Hope during the comedian’s visit to the Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston in 1970. The idea stuck with Shepard when he was slated for Apollo 14 later that year.

Shepard tells the entire story of the lunar golf shot at 1:02:30 of an 88-minute interview with former NBC spaceflight correspondent and Philadelphia native Roy Neal conducted in 1998, five months before the astronaut’s death from leukemia:

“I was an avid golfer. And before the flight, I was intrigued that a ball, with the same clubhead speed, would go six times as far and it’s time of flight would be at least six times as long. It would not curve, because there’s no atmosphere to make it slice or hook.

“So, I thought: What a neat place to whack a golf ball.”

When Shepard approached NASA manned spaceflight director Bob Gilruth with his idea, the response was immediate and emphatic: Forget about it. But Shepard persisted with an explanation: The only extra cargo was the clubhead, crafted by a pro he knew in Houston, plus a couple of golf balls:

“Which I paid for myself,” Shepard added with puckish grin. “No taxpayer expense.”

All of that would be left on the lunar surface. If anything at all went amiss during either of two 4½-hour extravehicular activities (EVA) on the Moon, Shepard agreed he wouldn’t do it. If everything went as planned, he’d hit a couple of balls at the very end of the second EVA on Feb. 6, 1971, climb up the ladder with partner and lunar module pilot Ed Mitchell and close the hatch.

In other words, it was sort of the mic drop of the show. And by that point in the Apollo program – with moon missions incredibly becoming old hat more than two years after the first lunar orbit of Apollo 8, and 18 months after the first manned landing of Apollo 11 – the show mattered. Gilruth relented.

Lunar 6-iron

The lunar 6-iron, used by NASA astronaut Alan Shepard during the Apollo 14 moonwalk on Feb. 6, 1971. A Houston golf pro friend of Shepard’s made the club from a Wilson 6-iron head and a lunar-sample-scooper handle. Shepard later donated the club to the USGA museumGetty Images/Steve Pyke

As it turned out, all went swimmingly with Shepard and Mitchell’s EVA, so out came the modified club head and two balls the commander had stowed in a pocket in his suit. He snapped it on the moonrock scooper, tossed a ball in the dust and addressed it with some great flair.

Shepard knew from trying out his flexibility in the bulky suit during training that there was no way he could either manage much of a backswing or keep both gloved hands on the scooper handle. His vision was also limited by inability to bend his neck much inside the EVA helmet. So, he used his right hand only and tried a sort of flick at the ball like a gardener whacking weeds with a scythe.

His first stroke at the first ball barely moved it. The second try was shanked and obviously didn’t go far, prompting a mocking reaction from Mitchell. But after the third and final try, on a second ball, Shepard exclaimed as if he was Lee Trevino admiring a perfect drive: “Miles and miles and miles!” That’s the shot viewers imagined might’ve flown on and on, unencumbered by atmosphere.

Saunders has been working on all the Apollo moon footage for years now. Some of the results are stunning. In one, you can now clearly see Neil Armstrong’s face behind his visor, a rare shot anyway because he had the still camera for most of the EVA and almost all the lunar shots you see of Apollo 11 are of lunar module pilot and fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.

So, the Apollo 14 enhancement is only part of a massive project. But the Shepard golf ball search was an obvious attraction:

“Before, maybe you could find a golf ball in the old quality. It looked a bit like a rock even in the new high-res scans. But [now] you could zoom in so far, because they were in such high resolution, and process them hard enough that you could tell – that was definitely a golf ball.”

Alan Shepard's golf shots

Wide-frame of Apollo 14 landing site with locations of divots and ball landing spots of Alan Shepard’s golf shots.NASA

Saunders was able to find and triangulate the position of both balls using frontal and lateral still photos from the portable lunar camera and overhead photos from the video camera atop the ascent stage of the lunar module as it blasted off to return to the command module.

The conclusion: Shepard’s first shot went 24 yards. The landing spot of his second one, which had never before been glimpsed, was not in fact “miles and miles” away, as most who knew Shepard’s mischievous nature pretty much suspected – but a mere 40 yards.

Alan Shepard's golf shots

Enhanced still frame taken from lunar ascent vehicle camera as Apollo 14 blasted from the lunar surface, including Shepard’s golf balls and Ed Mitchell’s “javelin” throw of an unused metal rod.Andy Saunders/NASA

Another tall golf tale. Saunders gives him all credit regardless:

“One-handed, quarter swing, can’t see properly, with that giant backpack on, hitting from effectively the biggest sand trap in the solar system? Well done.”

Theoretically, how far could a golf ball be driven on the moon by some bomber such as Bryson DeChambeau, given a hypothetical future in which humans could be protected from the extreme lunar temperatures in formfitting coveralls we can’t imagine today, maybe at some sort of sheltered lunar Topgolf franchise? Saunders did the math and says Shepard’s exaggeration would no longer be one: about 3.41 miles.

Alan Shepard was a man of myriad accomplishments including uncommon bravery as both a jet fighter test pilot, not to mention his mounting a Redstone rocket in 1961, previous editions of which had blown up on the pad, to be first American to ride the fire into space.

Yet, nuttily enough, he is still possibly best known 23 years after his death for being the only Moon golfer.

He probably wouldn’t mind, as he later affirmed of that 6-iron from a bad lie:

“It was designed to be a fun thing. Fortunately, it was a fun thing.”

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