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Hot new skull, yeti-bear, diamond rain, cleansing sleep, constancy

Hot new skull (Science, Discover)

Paleontologists have found a skull in Georgia (the one next to Russia, not the one in the US), part of a collection of prehistoric human skeletons. This skill has an odd mixture of features found in more than one early human species. It raises the possibility that all those various "species" were really just variations, races, within one large, variable species. This might result in (yet another) re-write of human evolutionary history. Human fossils are incredibly rare; when you have so little data, every new find can make a big difference.

Yeti-bear? (New Scientist)

Bryan Sykes, a perfectly respectable biologist at Oxford, is now dabbling in the shady field of cryptozoology - the study of dubiously real creatures like Nessie and that all-time favorite, the Abominable Snowman, a.k.a. yeti.

Sykes analyzed two hair samples from the Himalayas (home of the yeti) and finds they belong to an extinct (or maybe not) variation of the polar bear. Sykes proposes this bear is or was the basis for the legend of the yeti.

Diamond rain (BBC)

It may rain diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn. Both, especially Jupiter, have lots of lightning, which would produce soot from the methane in their atmospheres. As the soot falls, the increasing pressure turns it into diamonds, or so new readings on their atmospheres indicate.

Cleansing sleep (Science)

Why do we waste time sleeping? This is a very old puzzle. Recently, biologists have found that, in sleep, the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain moves much faster. Following up this clue, they have a new sleep theory - in sleep, the brain cleans itself, washing out toxins built up during the work of waking.

We do our own brain-washing.

Constancy (Science News)

The equations of physics are studded with various numbers called "natural constants." They are a necessary part of the math, and they just are, with no known explanation of their values. But are they really constant? If they weren't, and we could measure the changes, (1) we'd have a clue to a lot of interesting new physics, and (2) this would probably include some explanation for the values the constants have.

One of these constants, called the "fine structure constant," is a combination of several others, and relatively easy to measure by analyzing light spectra, including those from distant galaxies. A new study finds that, even long ago and far away in those galaxies, the fine structure constant was indeed constant, the same as it is here and now, to at least 1.4 parts in 10 million.

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