This Week in Science: 1/22 – 1/27


Bowie Funk, East Staff Writer

Meteorites Reveal Possible Origin of Building Blocks of Life

Meteorites have revealed to researchers the likely far-flung origin of Earth’s volatile chemicals, some of which form the building blocks of life.  They found that about half of all Earth’s zinc, a volatile chemical, came from beyond the asteroid belt, in a region of the solar system that contains quite a few meteors that probably landed on our planet in its early days before life evolved.

Senior Professor Mark Rehkämper of Imperial College London’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering said, “Our data show that about half of Earth’s zinc inventory was delivered by material from the outer solar system, beyond the orbit of Jupiter. Based on current models of early solar system development, this was completely unexpected.”

To carry out this theory, scientists examined 18 meteorites from different places in our solar system. Eleven of them were non-carbonous from the inner solar system, and seven were from the outer solar system and were carbonous.  For each of the meteorites, they measured the isotopes, or different forms, of zinc, and compared them to the isotopes of Earth meteorites that fell to the ground.  They meteorites were the most similar to the eleven non-carbonous meteorites rather than the carbonous ones, with the final result suggesting that only ten percent of the meteorites that have fallen to Earth were carbonous.

Humans Were Building Complex Structures Nearly 11,000 Years Ago

Archaeologists from the University of Central Lancashire have found Homo sapien remains dating back nearly 11,000 years in northern Britain.  These bones also come with complex mesolithic structures, tools, and burial items.

Dr. Peterson, a reader in Archaeology, said, “This is a fantastic discovery! We’ve been delighted to confirm Martin’s unbelievable find dates back around 11,000-years-ago and gives us clear evidence of Mesolithic burials in the north. This is particularly exciting as these are some of the earliest dates for human activity in Britain after the end of the last Ice Age.”

The researchers have been excavating the site since 2016, but these remains were not found until last week.  Since then, numerous tools have been discovered ranging from animal bones to ax heads and arrows.  Other things include pottery made from shells and clay.  The team has been able to prove that eight different individuals were buried in the cave where they were first found and despite scattered bones, the layout of the tools and jewelry suggests an intentional burial, something that has been in human culture since the first H. sapiens evolved.

Strange Pterosaur Had Nearly 500 Teeth

Pterosaurs, or flying reptiles, are commonly thought of as large, terrifying fliers, but there were smaller species as well.  One of these was discovered in Central Germany, in an area known as Bavaria.

This particular genus, called Balaenognthus (bah-LIE-noe-NAY-thuss), is a ctenochasmatid (teh-noe-KAZ-mihd), grouping it in with others that look similar to it.  This group consists of members from Brazil to China, but there are several things that they all have in common, namely the hundreds of small teeth in their jaws.  However, Balaenognathus was different in that its jaws had a sort of funnel shape, being wide at the tip and quickly becoming thinner.  The reason why this is is quite clear.

For most members of ctenochasmatidae, as well as related groups, they needed to catch fish efficiently, and the best way to do so was to create a net.  This got taken to an extreme during the Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous periods when pterosaurs were evolving rapidly.  Balaenognathus was no different, needing to catch fish in order to survive, so over time, it evolved to have a wider bill to scoop up small fish more easily.