Meet a robot that could explore caves on other planets

These twisting, subterranean caverns can hold secrets and grand stories, and lead to pirate treasures or a nest of vampires – if you’ve ever seen 1980s movies like The Goonies or The Lost Boys.

In reality, caves housed our ancestors, who left examples of their artwork and stories on shaded walls. But early humans were not alone in these dwellings. A variety of microorganisms live in caves around the world.

However, many of these hidden, natural networks and the wonders they contain remain unexplored because they are dangerous and sometimes inaccessible.

Technological advances could help scientists meet the challenges of studying these subterranean systems – and beyond. In our search for life beyond Earth, extraterrestrial caves may contain just the evidence we hope to find.

other worlds

An artist's concept shows ReachBot exploring a Martian cave.

A robot named ReachBot could become the first explorer, crawling into Martian caves to look for microbes.

ReachBot is a concept for a toaster oven-sized machine with multiple extending arms that could help him crawl through treacherous Martian caves the way Spider-Man swings through a city.

The bot would connect to a surface rover that could provide power, analyze cave samples and send photos back to Earth.

The ReachBot team has received funding to build and test a prototype in caves on Earth, similar to what might be found on Mars.

Meanwhile, China’s Tianwen-1 probe has shared images from more than a year of photographing the red planet.

Mysteries of the Ocean

The second largest barrier reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef is a kind of highway for sharks, turtles and rays that live in the Caribbean.

Stretching more than 600 miles (965.6 kilometers) from Mexico to Honduras, the reef provides food and rich habitat for marine life. But the endangered creatures that use this reef to navigate north and south can swim directly into danger and fall prey to illegal fishing practices.

Now, sharks using this route have unlikely new allies in local communities along the reef – fishermen determined to protect the vital ecosystem.

Meanwhile, researchers recently uncovered another threat to great white sharks living off the coast of South Africa: a pair of shark-killing orcas.

We are a family

These are four different Australopithecus skulls found in the Sterkfontein Caves in South Africa.

Fossils of early human ancestors found in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves are 1 million years older than previously thought.

The fossils belong to the genus Australopithecus, an ancient hominin originally thought to have lived between 2 and 2.6 million years ago. Now researchers believe these ancient ancestors lived around 3.4 million to 3.6 million years ago.

This new date makes the cave fossils older than the famous fossil Lucy, a member of the species Australopithecus afarensis found in Ethiopia and lived 3.2 million years ago.
Australopiths from South Africa were initially thought to have evolved from those who lived in East Africa, like Lucy – but the new data turns that theory on its head. Now the researchers hope to find out who the older common ancestor of these two ancient populations was.

through the universe

Soon we will be able to see the universe in a whole new way.

On July 12, astronomers will share the first full-color, high-resolution images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. One of them “is the deepest picture of our universe ever taken,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

The images are intended to show how galaxies interact and grow, provide a glimpse into the vast life cycle of stars and even a colorful glimpse into the spectrum of an exoplanet – or how light wavelengths reveal properties of other worlds.

Fantastic creatures

Pandas have six fingers that help them grasp bamboo.

Giant pandas have a fondness for bamboo, but it wasn’t always like this. Rare bears’ ancestors had a much more varied diet that even included meat.

If you’ve ever looked closely at a panda’s paw, you’ll notice that it has an extra finger. Analysis of the “false thumb” of a fossilized panda ancestor found 6 million years ago in China’s Yunnan province showed when this fondness for bamboo began, according to a new study.

Pandas evolved the finger to help them hold on to the plant’s woody stems.

The fossil also revealed a mystery surrounding the thumb, which turned out to be an evolutionary compromise for the giant pandas.


You must have seen these:

— A carnivorous plant that traps subterranean creatures has been found on Borneo. It is the first pitcher plant known to go underground in search of prey.
– Miners were digging for gold in Canada’s Klondike when they unearthed an ‘almost complete’ mummified baby woolly mammoth that died more than 30,000 years ago.
— A NASA orbiter has discovered a surprising new binary crater on the moon. The cavity was formed when a mysterious rocket crashed into the lunar surface on March 4th.
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