Scientific discoveries this week: 12-5-11

Bab-El-Mandab Strait, Oman – Recent discoveries of stone tools in Oman have lead archaeologists to conclude that Homo Sapiens migrated from Africa to the continent of Eurasia close to 125,000 years ago. This estimate is much earlier than previous estimates, due to the markings and distinctive style of tool-making exhibited by the artifacts. One of the archaeologists on the project says that the type of tools they found have only ever been found in the Nile valley. This points to an African exodus to Oman, which a new dating technique puts at roughly 106,000 years ago.

Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Canada – Baby Harp Seals depend on consistently thick ice to survive in the harsh northern environments, and that ice is showing less consistency. The Canadian government has been studying thinning ice in the gulf of Saint Lawrence, trying to predict the seal population for each year. Because the seal’s mothers leave their pups to forage for themselves after about two weeks, the seals must have thick ice on which to live until they are strong enough to swim and hunt on their own. If the ice melts before they have grown enough, they die in the icy water. By monitoring the quality of the ice, the Canadians can predict the seal population for any given year.

Helsinki, Finland – Quantum tunneling occurs when an electron(or another object) moves from one state of equilibrium to another state of equilibrium, by passing through a solid object. For instance, if an electron is sitting in a depression, with a hill and then another depression on the other side of the hill, quantum tunneling would allow the electron to move through the hill, instead of over it. The physicists at Aalto University have postulated that they could cool a one-atom-thick sheet of graphene to one-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero, and by doing so observe macro-scale molecules quantum tunnel through it.

West Chester, Pennsylvania – Sharks are known to be among the fastest swimmers out there, and scientists have often wondered how they do it. Many have postulated that they must have some way of making the tail-flicking motion more efficient, but until recently, have not understood how. In a new study by a bio-mechanist at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, researchers have been studying the swimming patterns of sharks and have discovered that they have a different motion when they swim than other fish. It appears that they stiffen their tails midway through the swing, which causes them to have nearly constant thrust for the total duration of the motion. This motion may be what gives sharks their impressive speed.

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