What We're Reading
by • June 19, 2015
Start your weekend with the top science news of the week.
Learning is contagious. Enter at your own risk. (Amy Snyder/Exploratorium)
Scientists have used DNA analysis to conclude that the Kennewick Man – an 8,500 year old skeleton found near the Columbia River – was Native American. The results of the study, which were published this month in the journal Nature, come after a complicated legal battle between scientists and the Native American community over custody of the remains. Two men discovered the Kennewick Man in 1996, but scientists did not begin studying the bones until 2005, after litigation ended.
Where were you when Philae woke up? On Saturday, June 13, the little lander that could rose from seven months of slumber on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Philae arrived at the comment after a 10-year journey through the solar system on the Rosetta Spacecraft. Though there was no contact from Philae between June 14 and June 19, the lander has once again sent a message and hopes of resuming research on the comet remain intact.
Earlier this year, University of California, San Francisco biochemistry professor Peter Walter won the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science. This award goes to foreign-born scientists and artists who have made exceptional contributions to the United States. In an interview with New York Times reporter Claudia Dreifus, the West Berlin-born scientist discusses his path to the United States and his passion for inquiry into the unknown. “Once you realize you’re good at looking into the unknown, it no longer scares you,” he says.
Modern science has, thankfully, discredited shoddy early conclusions about what it means to be left-handed, and made advances in understanding the connection between how your hands work and how your mind thinks. This week, the study of handedness took a turn, with Russian biologist Yegor Malashichev concluding that most kangaroos are lefties. What’s groundbreaking here isn’t that species other than humans have a favorite hand, it’s that “scientists originally expected a 50:50 split in preference across entire species,” writes Devin Powell for Smithsonian Magazine.
California isn’t the only state experiencing a perplexing rash of whale deaths. According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the carcasses of nine Fin whales, an endangered species, have been spotted off the coast of Alaska since May 23. The cause of death is unknown, but researchers suspect the answer might be toxic algal blooms.