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New Scientist 23-mar-19

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

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51 Issues


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further, faster, earlier

(AMY TOENSING/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC IMAGE COLLECTION)HAVE humans been in Australia twice as long as we thought? The discovery of what look like two hearths is tantalising (see page 10). Yet even the researchers acknowledge: “In the absence of bones, stone flakes or any independent trace of people, the notion of occupation at 120,000 years ago currently remains difficult to credit.” So why all the fuss?We have been here before. Two decades ago, The Sydney Morning Herald broke the story that 176,000-year-old stone tools had been found in Australia’s Northern Territory. The dates were considered outlandish. “If modern humans evolved in Africa, they must have invented the bicycle at the same time so they could cycle around to catch the first rafts to Australia,” quipped one palaeoanthropologist.That earlier research has since been…

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schrödinger’s kittens

THERE is a famous quote about quantum theory. Fittingly for a discipline where uncertainty is the stock-in-trade, no one quite seems to know what form it originally took or who first said it. But it goes along the lines of “if you think you understand it, you haven’t understood it”.Mindful of this sentiment, we will reserve judgement as to whether the Schrödinger’s-cat-on‑steroids thought experiment lately served up really is the existential threat to quantum theory – or perhaps our sanity – that some claim (see page 28). But we applaud both its spirit and the lively debate it has engendered.Yes, you might argue the world has more pressing concerns. Yes, you might say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Quantum theory is by any measure the most successful picture…

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cyclone idai strikes

(JOSH ESTEY/CARE/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK)AS MANY as 1.7 million people may be affected after Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, in what a UN spokesperson says is shaping up to be the worst weather-related disaster on record in the southern hemisphere.According to president Filipe Nyusi, at least 1000 people may have been killed by the cyclone. The country’s government says 100,000 people urgently need to be rescued.“The scale of damage caused by Cyclone Idai that hit the Mozambican city of Beira is massive and horrifying,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in a statement on 18 March.Beira, a port, was hit by the category-two storm late on 14 March, with winds of about 175 kilometres per hour. Rivers burst their banks, killing people and flooding nearby areas. The IFRC…

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first woman wins abel maths prize

MATHEMATICIAN Karen Uhlenbeck has become the first woman to win the Abel prize, sometimes called the Nobel prize of mathematics. She has been awarded the 6 million Norwegian kroner ($700,000) prize for her work in the fields of gauge theory and geometric analysis, which have been credited with far-reaching impact in mathematics and physics.Gauge theory underpins much of modern theoretical physics, and is integral to cutting-edge research in particle physics, general relativity and string theory. Her work laid the foundations for one of the major milestones of 20th-century physics, the unification of two of the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force.“The holy grail in physics has always been unification of forces,” says Jim Al-Khalili at the University of Surrey, UK. “She has made a big…

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hen harriers go missing on moors

HEN harriers are being illegally killed in significant numbers in the UK, a new analysis suggests.These birds of prey are struggling to survive in England and many conservationists believe illegal killings are a factor. The prime suspects are the managers of grouse moors, where grouse – which hen harriers eat – are reared for recreational shooting. Reports that harriers have vanished are common, but nobody has been convicted of illegally killing one.Stephen Redpath at the University of Aberdeen, UK, and his colleagues fitted 58 hen harriers with tags and tracked them between 2007 and 2017. Four died in suspicious circumstances, and 38 simply disappeared: their transmitters stopped working without warning, and no body could be found (Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09044-w).The birds were statistically more likely to vanish while on a…

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videos of massacre proliferate online

ON 15 March, 50 people were killed and dozens wounded in attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is the worst massacre in the nation’s recent history.The suspected attacker, an Australian man, broadcast the shootings in a live stream on Facebook. Although his account was disabled after New Zealand police alerted the firm, copies of the footage rapidly resurfaced, reposted by users of Reddit, Twitter and YouTube.These platforms have scrambled to remove the video from their sites. The original was viewed about 4000 times, but in the first 24 hours after the attack, Facebook removed 1.5 million copies of it, the firm said.The rapid proliferation of the video highlights the ongoing challenge that tech companies face in managing potentially harmful content. New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, among…