You may have missed…

Fossilised baby elephant tracks

Researchers found 14 fossilised footprints in southwestern Spain that may have been from a 10,000-year-old elephant nursery.

The footprints belonged to an extinct straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) that might have been killed by Neanderthals for food.

Elephant nursery image 2 jpeg
The first hominin trackway attributed to a Neanderthal adult found in the Matalascañas Trampled Surface. The area was targeted for potential game (see the large well-preserved deer track in the bottom of the photo) and newborn elephants known to be part of the Neanderthal menu. Credit: Neto de Carvalho et al.

Using the size of the footprints, the researchers estimated that the body mass of the elephants was between 70-100 kg. There appeared to be 8 juveniles (2-7 years old) and 6 adolescents (8-15 years old). This indicated that the area may have been a reproduction site.

There were also some adult footprints made by older females that were siblings or parents of the babies.

The study was published in Scientific Reports.

Lava secrets

Lava samples reveal the truth about the Earth’s crust.

Previously, it was understood that cooled lava from ‘hotspot’ volcanoes was ‘pristine’ magma form the melting mantle, tens of thousands of kilometres below the surface of the earth.

“This isn’t quite the case – we’ve been misled, geologically deceived,” says Teresa Ubide, a volcanologist from the University of Queensland.

“For decades, we have considered hot spot volcanoes to be messengers from the earth’s mantle, offering us a glimpse into what’s happening deep under our feet.

“But these volcanoes are extremely complex inside and filter a very different melt to the surface than what we’ve been expecting.

“This is due to the volcano’s intricate plumbing system that forces many minerals in the magma to crystallise.”

Ubide explains that the minerals are being recycled by rising magma – this changes their chemistry to look pristine. The new information may help us understand ocean island volcanoes work.

“We have discovered that hot spot volcanoes filter their melts to become highly eruptible at the base of the Earth’s crust, situated several kilometres below the volcano,” she says.

“The close monitoring of volcanoes can indicate when magma reaches the base of the crust, where this filtering processes reaches the ‘tipping point’ that leads to eruption.

“Our results support the notion that detection of magma at the crust-mantle boundary could indicate an upcoming eruption.

“This new information takes us one step closer to improving the monitoring of volcanic unrest, which aims to protect lives, infrastructure and crops.”

The study was published in Geology.

On the origin of ‘empty sky’ gamma-rays

Gamma-rays reach Earth all the time, but where do they originate?

Now, a team of researchers, led by Matt Roth of the Australian National University, have pinpointed the origin. The culprit? Star-forming galaxies.

“It’s a significant milestone to finally discover the origins of this gamma-ray emission, solving a mystery of the Universe astronomers have been trying to decipher since the 1960s,” says Roth.

“There are two obvious sources that produce large amounts of gamma-rays seen in the Universe. One when gas falls into the supermassive black holes which are found at the centres of all galaxies – called an active galactic nucleus (AGN) – and the other associated with star formation in the disks of galaxies.

“We modelled the gamma-ray emission from all the galaxies in the Universe and compared our results with the predictions for other sources and found that it is star-forming galaxies that produce the majority of this diffuse gamma-ray radiation and not the AGN process.”

The study was published in Nature.

Ancient fashion trends

Researchers have discovered a plethora of ancient tools that may have been used to craft clothes. This is the earliest example of tailoring discovered yet.

The 120,000-year-old tools unearthed in Morocco were mostly made of bone, but one of them even included the tooth of a cetacean. The researchers also found animal bones that appeared to have been skinned for leather, suggesting the practise and tools went hand in hand.

Low res contrebandiers pr image 3. Jpg
Carnivores were skinned for fur and bone tools were then used to prepare the furs into pelts. CreditL Jacopo Niccolò Cerasoni 2021

“The combination of carnivore bones with skinning marks and bone tools likely used for fur processing provide highly suggestive proxy evidence for the earliest clothing in the archaeological record,” says Emily Hallett of Arizona State University, who led the study, published in iScience.

“But given the level of specialization in this assemblage, these tools are likely part of a larger tradition with earlier examples that haven’t yet been found.”

Glowing Gophers

Some secrets are only revealed in the dark – with an ultraviolet flashlight.

Low res news pocket gopher 3. Jpg
A pocket gopher illuminated with UV light. Credit: UGA

A new study, published in The American Midland Naturalist shown a UV light on pocket gophers and found they are biofluorescent – naturally glowing under certain wavelengths of light.

It isn’t the first time a mammal has glowed.

“A bunch of people, myself included, were curious about other animals,” says lead author J.T Pynne, now a private lands wildlife biologist with the Georgia Wildlife Federation, US.

“We tested it on the flying squirrels we had, and sure enough, it worked. So, I said, ‘Well, what else do we have?’”

 “And it turned out, pocket gophers, flying squirrels and opossums were the only animal specimens that fluoresced. And I’m thinking, of course my strange little animals do this.”

So why does it happen?

“There’s some speculation and hypotheses, but nobody really knows the truth,” says collaborator Steven Castlebury of the University of Georgia, US.

Please login to favourite this article.