Simple Science is an attempt to make the past week’s science news simple.
This week in science, we discuss an ancient pyramid in Indonesia suggested to be the oldest in the world, the rediscovery of a thought-to-be-extinct Attenborough’s echidna and the insights that NASA’s most distant black hole will provide information about the early universe.
The newest oldest known pyramid
The Gunung Padang site, located in West Java, Indonesia, was previously considered a megalithic site, a structure or monument built centered around a singular large stone, potentially put together with other stones. Throughout history, this site has been used for religious rituals.
However, a conglomeration of institutions in Indonesia has recently found evidence suggesting that Gunung Padang is a multi-layered pyramid. A fact, if true, would make it the oldest known pyramid in the world.
From 2011 to 2015, the Indonesian research team studied the structure attempting to solve its mysterious nature. One notable discovery was the possible presence of hidden underground spaces within the structure. The team also drilled into the ground of the site and utilized radiocarbon dating on the samples to determine the dates of construction.
Radiocarbon dating is a scientific method that estimates the age of a sample based on the amount of carbon present. In an analysis of the collected samples, the scientists found there were multiple construction stages of the pyramid. The oldest stage began in the Paleolithic era (also known as the Old Stone Age), about 14,000 to 25,000 years ago.
These findings suggest that Gunung Padang is largely man-made and resulted from multiple efforts over time to create the completed structure as it stands today.
For more information, read the paper published here.
Rediscovery of Sir David Attenborough’s namesake
Deep in the Cyclops Mountains of Indonesia, scientists rediscovered the previously thought to be extinct Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna during a four-week expedition.
Following an 11,000-meter uphill hike and 80 trail cameras, Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna was caught on camera for the first time by Oxford scientists and local guides. It had been over 60 years since the egg-laying mammal was last recorded in 1961.
The Cyclops Mountains in Indonesia’s Papua province are one of the most remote and unexplored regions of the world. Expedition Cyclops, led by a group of Oxford University scientists, set out to explore the landscape of northeastern Papua with an invitation from the local community.
Named after the British biologist, Attenborough’s echidna was assumed to be extinct until its “nose pokes,” a result of its unique feeding technique, were discovered as prints in the ground in New Guinea.
James Kempton, a biologist at the University of Oxford, is the expedition lead. He describes the mammal's appearance as having “the spines of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater and the feet of a mole.” The mammal, originally a member of the monotreme species (along with the platypus), actually separated from the “mammal tree-of-life" around 200 million years ago, according to Kempton.
The expedition, which was not without its challenges, also uncovered several undiscovered insect species and rediscovered the Ernst Mayr’s honeyeater bird. The footage of the echidna was captured on the last day of the trip.
This expedition and the rediscovery of the echidna is only the beginning. The expedition team hopes that this four-week mission will bring attention to the conservation needs of Cyclops Mountain and the need for further exploration.
Keep up with Expedition Cyclops at their website here.
A distant black hole
NASA has discovered a supermassive black hole that will help inform about the nature of the early universe.
A black hole is an area in space where an extreme amount of mass is collected into a small volume. The gravitational pull is so strong there that nothing, even light, has enough energy to escape.
NASA’s recent discovery is not only the most distant black hole seen by the organization, but it’s also the first time this stage of growth has been pictured. Never before has such an early stage of growth in black holes been witnessed. These images may reveal information about how the first supermassive black holes were formed.
The signs of a growing black hole were discovered using combined data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Over two weeks of collaboration and intense searching, the team of researchers was able to find the source of the signals.
The black hole is located in galaxy UHZ1, which is 13.2 billion light-years away from Earth, meaning these images were captured when the universe was only at 3% of its current age. This black hole began developing about 470 million years after the Big Bang.
Born massive, this black hole’s mass is comparable with the rest of the stars in its galaxy. This may be the first discovery of an “Outsize Black Hole,” which is theorized to occur when massive clouds of gas collapse and form a black hole.
Other notable scientific news:
Volcanic activity in Iceland indicate an eruption may be coming soon
New images from Euclid space telescope reveal some of the sharpest images of the distant universe, emphasizing Euclid's potential for discovery.