May 07, 2012

Science News Roundup: (Mostly) archaeology edition

Some highlights from science news in the past couple weeks:

Penguin from space.
Scientists count penguins from space: Scientists have completed the first count of emperor penguins from space by estimating the number of birds using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images of Antarctica and collaborating the counts with ground and aerial counts. (Note that these were penguins being counted from space, NOT penguins from space being counted. :-) Using satellite images allows more accurate counts of the penguins, due to their harsh environment.

DNA points to common ancestors of modern cattle: Modern cattle are probably descended from a herd of just 80 animals that lived 10,500 years ago. An international team of scientists extracted DNA from early domesticated cattle bones thanks to archaeological digs in Iran. The Near East is where cattle, goats, pigs and sheep were first domesticated, and the DNA analysis provides important clues to how and why animals were domesticated.

Human ancestors used fire 1 million years ago: In a cave in South Africa, an international team of scientists found evidence that human ancestors used fire as long as 1 million years ago. The evidence consists of "microscopic traces of wood ash, alongside animal bones and stone tools ... found in a layer dated to one million years."

As if the Great Pacific Garbage Patch wasn't enough: Wind pushes plastic below the ocean's surface, a University of Washington oceanographer recently noticed. Since we currently estimate how much plastic garbage is in the ocean by skimming the surface, this means there's even more garbage clogging the ocean than we thought. Instead of just floating on the surface, the oceanographer found plastic at every depth.

A note about Science News Roundups: these short blurbs are based on press releases and, therefore, represent one perspective on a news item. If you're interested in a story, be sure to look for more news pieces that feature a variety of sources, including experts who were involved in the work as well as experts in the same field who weren't.