Sci/Tech briefs

Scientists find ancient footprints

Footprints discovered in Kenya show that nearly 1.5 million years ago, the ancestors of humans had developed the foot structure and walking gait of modern humans.

Researchers believe that the footprint belongs to Homo erectus, one of the earliest ancestors of humans.
The findings, reported in the journal Science, are special because this is the first time footprint trails for members of the genus Homo have been discovered.
The only other time such footprint trails were discovered was in 1978 for the species Australopithecus afarensis.

Source: The New York Times

NASA sets date for next launch

NASA set March 12 as the date for the launch of the space shuttle Discovery. The launch is the first of this year and was initially on hold due to concerns that a fuel valve could crack, damaging the entire shuttle. NASA decided to replace the valves with new ones that would be safer for the shuttle.
The space shuttle will carry the last set of solar wings to the international space station, which is a $100 million project that has been under construction for over a decade.

If the shuttle is unable to launch in March, the next date of the launch is scheduled for April. Before retiring these shuttles, NASA still has to carry out eight missions to take parts up to the space station.
Apart from these eight missions, a final mission will be carried out for servicing the Hubble Telescope. All of these missions are slated to take place by 2010.

Source: Reuters

Space dust found to be very pervasive

Scientists have discovered that cosmic dust expelled by different galaxies is present throughout space in significant quantities.
Also, the study revealed that the dust is able to scatter through larger distances in space than previously expected. The dust could interfere with planned experiments that use supernovae to investigate dark energy.

Scientists were able to make these discoveries by studying the light patterns emitted by quasars. Quasars are present at the center of galaxies and emit streams of radio waves, X-rays, and gamma rays. Dust interferes with light of quasars and shifts light toward the red end of the spectrum.

10-million year old bird fossil found

Paleontologists in Peru have discovered a fossil of a bird that lived approximately 10 million years ago. The fossil was discovered in the Ica region of Peru’s southern coast and was from the bird’s cranium. It also reveals that the bird had teeth at the tip of its beak. Reserachers believe that the teeth helped the bird catch its prey.

They also believe that the presence of the teeth indicates that the bird flew while it held its prey in its beak.
The bird, of the Pelagornithidae family, had a wingspan of 19.7 feet and first appeared 50 million years ago. Researchers believe that the large wings of the bird made it harder for the bird to take off from the ground. Researchers presume that the bird had to move to elevated ground to take off.

Source: Reuters