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Scientists find a new method to calculate the expansion rate of the universe

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A research team from Clemson University, in an international collaboration, reports that it has devised a new method for measuring the Hubble constant, or the speed of expansion of the universe.

Marco Ajello, who has worked with researchers Abhishek Desai, Lea Marcotulli and Dieter Hartmann, explains in a statement: “Cosmology is about understanding the evolution of our universe – how it evolved in the past, what it is doing now and what will happen in the future. Our knowledge is based on a number of parameters – including the Hubble constant – that we strive to measure as accurately as possible. In this paper, our team analyzed the data obtained from both orbiting and terrestrial telescopes to elaborate on one of the latest measurements of how fast the universe is expanding.”

In the study, entitled “A new measure of the Hubble constant and the matter content of the universe using the attenuation of the γ rays of the extragalactic background light,” the researchers state that they have deduced a new rate of expansion of the universe estimated at about 67.5 kilometers per second per megaparsec, quite in line with the estimates made in recent years that fall into a range ranging from 50 to 100 kilometers per second per megaparsec, estimates made mainly with Planck satellite data.

The researchers used gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. In particular, they analyzed the interaction of gamma rays with extragalactic background light (EBL), a sort of cosmic “fog” consisting mostly of ultraviolet light, of any wavelength, emitted by the stars or dust in their vicinity.

The interaction between these two forms of radiation leaves an observable mark, a sort of loss of flow, which scientists have calculated to arrive at their own estimate of the expansion of the universe. Often when we refer to the expansion of the universe we quote the balloon with various spots on its surface: inflating the balloon, these spots move away from each other. But will the balloon continue to inflate forever?

According to some theories, at some point the same balloon could start to deflate and return to its original size. The most common convention, in any case, as Desai specifies, is that the universe will continue to expand practically forever until, in the very distant future, the balloon “explodes,” there will be no more structures of any kind, there will be no more observable light and we can talk about “cold death.”

“Matter – the stars, the planets, even us – is only a small part of the overall composition of the universe,” reports Ajello. “The vast majority of the universe is made up of dark energy and dark matter. And we believe that it is the dark energy that is ‘exploding’ the balloon. Dark energy is driving things away from each other. Gravity, which attracts objects to each other, is the strongest force at the local level, which is why some galaxies continue to clash. But at cosmic distances, dark energy is the dominant force.”

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Teenage male chimpanzees need their mothers if they want to survive.

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Chimpanzees, as well as humans, need their mother’s contribution until the age of adolescence. This is the opinion of a study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology by a team of researchers led by the primatologist Jane Goodall.

The researchers came to the conclusion that those chimpanzees whose mothers were present during their adolescence show better survival properties during life than those specimens that saw their mother die before adolescence for some reason.

The researchers analyzed data collected since the 1960s from groups of wild chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park in western Tanzania.
The data were related to births, deaths and relationships between parents and children as well as the various interactions that could arise in the groups.
The data covered more than fifty years and related to 247 chimpanzees.

The researchers discovered not only that the presence of the mother after weaning meant in general a better life for their children, but also that those chimpanzees who had their mother around them on their 10th birthday or later lived longer than their “orphaned” peers.
Strangely enough, the effect seems stronger for the sons than for the daughters.

Boys between the ages of 10 and 15 whose mothers still existed had a much greater chance of surviving than orphaned boys, but this did not apply to girls who seemed to be doing well anyway.
According to the researchers this can be explained by the fact that in chimpanzee groups at least half of all females leave their families of origin during puberty while the males are more or less always around and are more or less likely to form stronger bonds with their mothers.

That said, the researchers are still not good enough for the mere presence of the mother to favor the level of survival of the male offspring.
As Anne Pusey, professor of evolutionary anthropology, explains, it is already well known that young chimpanzees are used to turn to their mothers for consolation or reassurance, for example after a quarrel with a member of the group, and this can apply throughout adolescence. But more in-depth studies should be carried out on the interesting mother-child relationship in chimpanzee groups to really understand the influence of the mother.

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Mass grave with 48 skeletons of plague victims from 1346-1353 discovered in England

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A team of archaeologists from the University of Sheffield found a site of mass graves with various skeletons and skeletal remains of human beings victims of the Black Death, one of the worst plague pandemics that struck European populations from 1346 to 1353 causing many millions of deaths (estimates do not agree and range from 75 to 200 million deaths).

The discovery was made near a former 14th century monastic hospital in Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire.
In total archaeologists discovered 48 skeletons, 27 of which were children. The death of the many children made the archaeologists themselves think that the community that dug these pits was unable to cope with the pandemic and was almost overwhelmed by it (children are usually the most protected by families and communities in such cases).

Hugh Willmott of the Department of Archaeology at the University of England talks about a discovery of national importance because mass graves related to the Black Death of 1346-1353 are quite rare in Britain.
The only two similar sites from this period relate to two historically documented cemeteries near London.

This discovery, which occurred in a mostly rural area of central England, “sheds light on the real difficulties faced by a small community poorly prepared to face such a devastating threat,” as Willmott himself explains.

The confirmation that it was a mass grave of test deaths was made through DNA analysis of some teeth found on site by experts from McMaster University in Canada. These tests revealed the presence of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium responsible for the plague.
The latter should have reached the Lincolnshire area in the spring of 1349.

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Skeletal remains of Neanderthals discovered in Iraqi cave show funeral honours

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A well-preserved skeleton of a Neanderthal was found in what can be considered one of the most important sites for the paleoanthropological study of this species, the Shanidar cave, Iraqi Kurdistan.
This is an exceptional discovery that “offers an unprecedented opportunity to study the mortuary practices” of Neanderthals, as explained in the press release that among other things refers to a study that appeared in the journal Antiquity.

Experts began excavating the Shanidar cave in the 1950s and since then partial remains of 10 Neanderthals have been discovered among men, women and children.
These findings had already shown that the Neanderthals used to bury their dead together and that they probably also performed funerary rituals since pollen from the same period had also been found near the skeletons.

That was one of the discoveries that changed our idea of the Neanderthals, which until then had been that of an animal species and not so refined as to celebrate their dead.
Now researchers have reanalyzed the site collecting new samples and discovering the remains of another Neanderthal, remains mostly represented by skull and torso bones.

The new Neanderthal, called Shanidar Z, was found in one of the deepest parts of the cave. The remains were discovered when a piece of rib began to emerge from the wall.
In order to excavate and bring to light all the other remains, researchers had to carefully excavate metres of sediment between various problems such as the arrival of Isis in the area in 2014.

The remains belong to a Neanderthal who lived more than 70,000 years ago. The researchers do not yet know the sex, but the teeth show that it is a middle-aged adult.
Now the remains of Shanidar Z are in the hands of the experts of the archaeological laboratories of Cambridge who will analyze them with some of the most modern techniques among those existing.

Near the pieces of skull of Shanidar Z the researchers also found a prominent stone that could have been used as a “marker” to indicate the position of the remains by individuals in the same group who wanted to deposit commemorative flowers.
The body of the deceased, in fact, “was deliberately buried”, as Graeme Barker of the McDonald Institute of Archaeology in Cambridge explains.

Perhaps the entire cave was used by the Neanderthals as a real “cemetery” or at least as a memorial site to perform burial rites and honor their dead, which in itself indicates a cultural complexity at least equal to that of Homo sapiens.

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