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22 February 2020 | New Scientist | 17


Palaeontology Environment

Sweaty summer
nights ahead

The number of extremely
hot days followed by
intensely hot nights in
northern hemisphere
summers could jump to
32 by 2100 – four times as
many as now. That applies
even if the world acts to
check global warming
(Nature Communications,

Mars may have
been a late bloomer

Evidence from Martian
meteorites that landed on
Earth has shown that Mars
may have taken 15 million
years more to form than
we thought. The meteorites
had initially pointed to early
formation, but simulations
of large rocks hitting Mars
show their compositions
better fit a later formation
of the planet (Science
Advances, doi.org/dmk7).

Conception most
likely in autumn

Women may be most likely
to conceive in late autumn
and least likely to do so in
spring. A study of 14,
women in North America
and Denmark found the
chance of conceiving in a
given menstrual cycle was
highest in late November
and early December
(Human Reproduction,

Ape brains are
more like ours

OUR brains could have more in
common with those of our ape
cousins than previously thought.
The left and right sides of our
brains aren’t symmetrical; some
areas on one side are larger or
smaller, while other bits protrude
more. The pattern of these
differences, or asymmetries, was
thought to be uniquely human,
dating from when our brain
hemispheres became specialised
for certain tasks, like processing

ALL dinosaurs were warm-blooded,
suggests a new analysis of fossil
eggshells. The finding also means
the ancestors of dinosaurs were
warm-blooded too, say researchers.
It is now mostly agreed that the
theropod dinosaurs that gave rise
to birds were warm-blooded, but
there is still a debate about whether
other groups of dinosaurs were too.
There is a way to work out the
temperature at which organic
matter, such as eggshells, forms
inside bodies. In 2015, a team
applied this method to the
eggshell of a theropod and
a sauropod – a long-necked
dinosaur – and found both were

warm-blooded. Now Robin
Dawson at Yale University and her
colleagues have done the same
to three more fossil eggshells.
One belonged to a theropod,
another to a duck-billed dinosaur
and the third is thought to have
been a sauropod. Their analysis
showed all were warm-blooded
(Science Advances, doi.org/dmsb).
Duck-billed dinosaurs are a more
distant relative of theropods and
sauropods. It is much less likely
that warm-bloodedness evolved
independently in these three major
groups, says Dawson, which implies
this trait had an ancestral origin.
Michael Le Page

language with the left side.
Now it seems the pattern came
first, before humans evolved. “It
suggests it is an ancestral pattern
that was established far earlier
during evolution,” says Simon
Neubauer at the Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology in Germany.
His team analysed skulls from
95 humans, 45 chimpanzees,
43 gorillas and 43 orangutans.
Brain shape is imprinted on the
inside of the skull during growth,
so the team used CT scanning to
detect these details in the hollow
skulls and then created digital

BP oil spill was even
bigger than thought

THE worst ever oil spill in the US,
at a rig run by BP a decade ago,
may have been almost a third
larger than previously thought.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster
in 2010 saw nearly 800 million
litres of oil spew into the Gulf of
Mexico, which satellite tracking
suggested covered an estimated
149,000 square kilometres.
But an analysis suggests that the
real extent of the spill may have
been 30 per cent greater, because
much of the oil was invisible to
satellites. The study also found
that the oil extended much deeper
than satellites had detected,
with toxic concentrations
1.3 kilometres down.
A US team made this estimate
using data from 25,000 samples of
water and sediment from the area,
much of it only released in recent
years by BP, in addition to satellite
and aerial images. The team used
these to model how far the oil is
likely to have spread, accounting
for ocean currents, temperature
and the biodegradation of oil.
The results suggest the spill
reached as far as the West Florida
shelf, Texas shores and Florida
Keys (Science Advances, doi.org/
dmn9). The Deepwater Horizon
crisis has cost BP more than
$65 billion. Adam Vaughan

models of each brain. Anatomical
features on the left and right sides
of each brain model were then
marked with digital dots.
When the hemispheres were
superimposed, mismatching dots
revealed the pattern and size of
brain asymmetry. They all shared
a common pattern but it was
less pronounced in chimpanzees
than in the other species (Science
Advances, doi.org/dmsq). Past
comparisons relied on chimps,
which may explain why the deep
evolutionary history of brain
asymmetry wasn’t spotted sooner.
James Urquhart

Heated debate over dinosaurs

may finally have been settled














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