Latest news from Scientific American 18 October 2011 : Origins of Native Americans and the smallest astronauts

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Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped.

--- Summaries of newsworthy articles:

Archaeology: Rethinking the Origins of Native Americans

Planetary Science: The Smallest Astronauts

PDFs of all the articles mentioned on this release can be found in the relevant magazine’s section of


Archaeology: Rethinking the Origins of Native Americans (p 36)

Recent archaeological finds show that humans colonized the Americas much earlier than previously thought. This revelation is prompting a rethinking of long-standing ideas about these pioneers, an article in this month’s Scientific American reports.

For decades archaeologists thought that the first Americans were game hunters from northern Asia, called the Clovis people, who reached the New World around 13,000 years ago. The excavation of numerous pre-Clovis artefacts dating back as far as 15,500 years ago, however, proves that the Clovis people were not the first Americans. “Energized by such finds, archaeologists are now testing new models for the peopling of the New World,” writes Heather Pringle, author of the article. Pooling insights from archaeology, genetics and geology, scientists are reconsidering where the first Americans came from, what route they took and what their lives were like.

Evidence suggests that ancestors of the Native Americans migrated to the new world from East Asia between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago. Moreover, the Clovis people may have descended from these early pioneers rather than hailing from Asia. “What is beyond all doubt, however, is that the earliest Americans and their descendants were a resilient and resourceful people, trailblazers who settled the longest geographic expanse ever settled by humans,” Pringle concludes.

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Planetary Science: The Smallest Astronauts (p 54)

A space probe that will launch in November could help determine whether terrestrial microbes can survive a round-trip to Mars and even whether life on Earth may have originated on the Red Planet. David Warmflash discusses the experiment in this month’s Scientific American.

An estimated ton of Martian material hits Earth each year. Although most Mars meteoroids take thousands or millions of years to reach Earth, a few (about one in 10 million) arrive within a year. A project to discover whether a microbe could have stayed alive for that length of time is about to begin. The Russian Federal Space Agency’s Grunt probe will travel to the Martian moon Phobos and will collect a scoop of soil there. It will also carry a container filled with microorganisms from Israel’s Negev Desert, comprising 10 species representing bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes. The species were chosen either because of their hardiness (such as the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans, which can survive being blasted with huge doses of radiation) or because they are thought to be terrestrial analogues of putative Martian organisms.

Grunt will return to Earth in 2014, and its contents will be analyzed.

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Published: 18 Oct 2011

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