Space Telescope Test Image of Star Captures Background Galaxies Too

The James Webb space telescope, launched into orbit at the end of December 2021, is going through some mirror alignment steps. A test image was taken, and it shows the astounding potential of the telescope in space imaging. Take a look:

2022 03 NASA STScI James Webb Alignment Eval Image

Not only does the focal point star stand out conspicuously, you can see other stars and galaxies(!) in the background.

The significance of James Webb summarized in NASA’s press release for the alignment test:

“While some of the largest ground-based telescopes on Earth use segmented primary mirrors, Webb is the first telescope in space to use such a design. The 21-foot, 4-inch (6.5-meter) primary mirror – much too big to fit inside a rocket fairing – is made up of 18 hexagonal, beryllium mirror segments. It had to be folded up for launch and then unfolded in space before each mirror was adjusted – to within nanometers – to form a single mirror surface. […]

“Webb is the world’s premier space science observatory and once fully operational, will help solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.”

I don’t need to be a STEM person to be delighted at the progress!

Image by NASA/STScI

Solar Foods is an International NASA Space Foods Winner

Solar Foods, a Finnish food tech company from Lappeenranta, Finland, has been selected as one of the international winners of the Phase 1 of NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge.

Solein Foods Selection Image 08

Solein is a protein made from electricity, air, and carbon dioxide, plus added nutrients. The process involves fermentation, and produces a nutrient-rich powder whose macronutrient composition is very similar to that of dried soy or algae.

Ten teams were honored in the international and 18 in the U.S. section of the challenge.

Congrats!

Image: Solein foods by Solar Foods.

Hand- and Footprints in Tibet Potentially the Earliest Prehistoric Art Found

Potentially the earliest stone age art consists of hand- and footprints on stone, and was found in investigations between 2018 and 2020.

From the September 2021 Science Bulletin abstract covering the find:

“At Quesang on the Tibetan Plateau we report a series of hand and foot impressions that appear to have been intentionally placed on the surface of a unit of soft travertine. The travertine was deposited by water from a hot spring which is now inactive and as the travertine lithified it preserved the traces. On the basis of the sizes of the hand and foot traces we suggest that two track-makers were involved and were likely children. We interpret this event as a deliberate artistic act that created a work of parietal art. The travertine unit on which the traces were imprinted dates to between ∼169 and 226 ka BP.”

Below is a contour map from the article, showing the prints on the rock surface:

Science Bulletin Sept 2021 Zhang et al Earliest Parietal Art Contour

Fascinating. I’m sure there are still many open questions, like intentionality (if such a thing is even possible for prints left hundreds of thousands of years ago) and the identity of the creator(s). (The discovery team posits they may have been children, potentially at play.)

It’s just… Do these prints remind anyone else of of how Gollum moves?

Found via Colossal.

Image via Zhang, David D., et al. “Earliest parietal art: Hominin hand and foot traces from the middle Pleistocene of Tibet.” Science Bulletin September 10, 2021

A Babylon 5 Reboot Is in Active Development

‘Tis official: a Babylon 5 reboot is in the works.

The Catholic Geeks babylon52

(Please read the thread for more of Straczynski’s thoughts on the announcement. Looks like at this writing many articles available online largely just rephrase his tweets.)

Without wading too deep into all of the speculation, I did glean this tidbit about the timing of the new B5:

Pretty exciting, wouldn’t you say? Of course, in the end the fan reaction—including mine—will depend on the technical quality of the final product, our personal preferences, which aspects were chanced and which retained, and whether the cast will be able to carry the stories. I’m certainly looking forward to more news on the project, and fervently wish that the casting will be successful (and quality-wise more even).

Image via The Catholic Geeks

Agatha Christie’s Hjerson: A Poirot Spinoff

Fans of Agatha Christie or Hercule Poirot probably remember Poirot’s friend, writer Ariadne Oliver. Her popular detective, Sven Hjerson, happens to be a countryman of mine.

Astoundingly—to my mind at least—Sven Hjerson is going to get his own series! Produced in Sweden, the series is called Agatha Christies Hjerson (unsurprisingly, Agatha Christie’s Hjerson in English). The series was created by Patrik Gyllström; he has also written some of the scripts along with Jakob Beckman, Martin Luuk, and Björn Paqualin, and there are two co-directors, Lisa Farzaneh and Lisa James Larsson. Hjerson is starred by Johan Rheborg and Hanna Alström, the latter of which has some international renown as the Swedish Princess in Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

C More Agatha Christies Hjerson S1

The titular character Hjerson is a Swedish-speaking Finn who has had a long career as a criminal investigator in Sweden and now lives a retired, uneventful life in the Åland Islands. A Swedish reality tv producer Klara Sandberg is on the lookout for a new hit series and decides on Hjerson as her new star. Naturally, murders ensue.

Agatha Christie’s Hjerson is a C More original production. The series was filmed in Stockholm and Åland Islands (Ahvenanmaa) and is described as a combination of Christie and Nordic noir. Season one consists of four 90-minute episodes, which for tv have each been split into two parts.

So far the IMDB reviews are not flattering. Have you seen Hjerson? Do share!

Image via C More

Ryan Coogler Is Developing a Wakanda Series for TV

Fantastic news for Wakanda fans! Tor.com reports that “[a]ccording to Deadline, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler has made a 5-year television deal with Disney. His first scheduled project will be a drama set in Wakanda that will be featured on Disney+.”

Flickering Myth Coogler Black Panther Set w Boseman

Apparently developing this series is a part of a broader deal between Coogler’s production company Proximity Media and Disney.

Although we don’t have any other details yet, not even a tentative name, I’m pretty excited. I absolutely loved Black Panther, and as long as he keeps—or is allowed to keep—to that ethos, I have high hopes for the series!

Image via Flickering Myth.

The Rise of the First Cities through Genetic Research

Juan Siliezar at The Harvard Gazette writes about new genetic research into the movement and interactions of inhabitants of different areas of Western Asia and the Levant in the Bronze and Iron Ages. According to the evidence, people traveled and interacted with their neighbors before the rise of cities (and not the other way around as previously thought).

MHAAM Genetic Gradient 6500 BCE

Quoting Siliezar’s article:

“The evidence reveals that a high level of mobility led to the spread of ideas and material culture as well as intermingling of peoples in the period before the rise of cities, not the other way around, as previously thought. The findings add to our understanding of exactly how the shift to urbanism took place.

“The researchers, made up of an international team of scientists including Harvard Professor Christina Warinner, looked at DNA data from 110 skeletal remains in West Asia from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, 3,000 to 7,500 years ago. The remains came from archaeological sites in the Anatolia (present-day Turkey); the Northern Levant, which includes countries on the Mediterranean coast such as Israel and Jordan; and countries in the Southern Caucasus, which include present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“Based on their analysis, the scientists describe two events, one around 8,500 years ago and the other 4,000 years ago, that point to long-term genetic mixing and gradual population movements in the region.

“’Within this geographic scope, you have a number of distinct populations, distinct ideological groups that are interacting quite a lot, and it hasn’t really been clear to what degree people are actually moving or if this is simply just a high-contact area from trade,’ said Warinner, assistant professor of anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Sally Starling Seaver Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. ‘Rather than this period being characterized by dramatic migrations or conquest, what we see is the slow mixing of different populations, the slow mixing of ideas, and it’s percolating out of this melting pot that we see the rise of urbanism — the rise of cities.’ […]

“Historically, Western Asia, which includes today’s Middle East, is one of civilization’s most important geographical locations. Not only did it create some of humanity’s earliest cities, but its early trade routes laid the foundation for what would become the Silk Road, a route that commercially linked Asia, Africa, and Europe. […]

“The paper outlines how populations across Anatolia and the Southern Caucasus began mixing approximately 8,500 years ago. That resulted in a gradual change in genetic profile that over a millennium slowly spread across both areas and entered into what is now Northern Iraq. […]

“’What’s really interesting is that we see these populations are mixing genetically long before we see clear material culture evidence of this — so long before we see direct evidence in pottery or tools or any of these more conventional archaeological evidence artifacts,’ Warinner said. ‘That’s important because sometimes we’re limited in how we see the past. We see the past through artifacts, through the evidence people leave behind. But sometimes events are happening that don’t leave traces in conventional ways, so by using genetics, we were able to access this much earlier mixing of populations that wasn’t apparent before.’”

Interesting, especially the fact that genetic mixing predates evidence seen in artifacts. Sounds like there’s much to research in the future!

Read more at The Harvard Gazette or see the original article by Lily Agranat-Tamir et al. at Cell.

Found via File 770.

Image: The Max Planck-Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean (MHAAM) via Phys.org.

WoW: Shadowlands Character Customization Options

Details of Shadowlands, the next World of Warcraft expansion, have continued to slowly accumulate. Blizzard Watch and Wowhead, among others, have kept track of new character customization info.

Wowhead Shadowlands F Human Screencap

Here is an incomplete list as a note to self:

New options include new skin or fur tones (inclding black skin—finally!) and hair styles, makeup for human women, heterochromia (eyes of different colors), body tats or paint, cataracts, facial scars or markings, vines with leaves (Elven hair), some ear or tail size options, and the separation of beard and moustache sliders.

Wowhead Shadowlands F Dwarf Portrait

Not all options will be available to all races / classes, which might be annoying, but I understand the need for limiting options.

There’ll also be new special armor depending on which covenant you choose.

Shadowlands Night Fae Covenant Armor F Pandaren

We still don’t know all of the, er, detailed details, and of course these customizations may change or simply never be available in the finished game. But what we do know is already enough for me to realize I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in the barber shop after Shadowlands drops! LOL!

Images by Blizzard Entertainment: Female Human faces and hair via Wowhead (screencapped). Female Dwarf portrait via Wowhead. Night Fae covenant armor (cropped).

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Happy Belated Birthday, Hubble!

Oh my goodness, the Hubble telescope has turned 30 years!

NASA Large Magellanic Cloud Apr 2020 Sm

More specifically, it’s been operating, up there in Earth orbit, for 30 years. It was projected to be in service only about 10 years when it launched on April 24, 1990, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Impressive.

Read more at the NASA website:

Happy belated birthday, Hubble! Thank you for all of the space pics you’ve sent down.

Found via File 770.

Image: Large Magellanic Cloud, a vast star-forming region composed of the giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020), by NASA / ESA / STScl via NASA

New Find: Neanderthals Worked with Fibers to Make Yarn or Cord

The world’s oldest yarn or cord has been found. The fragment was discovered at the prehistoric cave site Abri du Maras in the south of France.

Scientific Reports Hardy et al Neanderthal Fiber

The 3-ply cord fragment was made from fibers by twisting, likely of inner conifer bark, and found on a stone tool. A number of artefacts at the same site also have plant / wood fibers adhering to their surfaces, but the remains are not extensive enough to classify as cords.

The researchers estimate the meaning of the find thus:

“While it is clear that the cord from Abri du Maras demonstrates Neanderthals’ ability to manufacture cordage, it hints at a much larger fibre technology. Once the production of a twisted, plied cord has been accomplished it is possible to manufacture bags, mats, nets, fabric, baskets, structures, snares, and even watercraft. […]

“Ropes and baskets are central to a large number of human activities. They facilitate the transport and storage of foodstuffs, aid in the design of complex tools (hafts, fishing, navigation) or objects (art, decoration). The technological and artistic applications of twisted fibre technologies are vast. Once adopted, fibre technology would have been indispensable and would have been a part of everyday life.”

 

Fascinating! Like the research team says, fiber making allows for an incredibly large variety of material culture, from utilitarian objects to clothing to decorative motifs. As a bit of a fiber nerd, it’s tantalizing to think that people were making yarn already 40,000 years ago.

Found via CNN. Read more in Scientific Reports.

Image: Hardy, B.L., Moncel, M., Kerfant, C. et al. in “Direct evidence of Neanderthal fibre technology and its cognitive and behavioral implications” via Scientific Reports