These twisting, subterranean caverns can be home to mysteries and tall tales and lead to pirate’s treasure or a nest of vampires — if you ever watched 1980s movies such as “The Goonies” or “The Lost Boys.”
Many of these hidden, natural networks and the wonders within them remain unexplored, however, because they are dangerous and sometimes inaccessible.
Technological advances could help scientists overcome the challenges of investigating these underground systems — and beyond. In our quest to search for life outside Earth, extraterrestrial caves may just hold the evidence we’re hoping to find.
A robot named ReachBot may become the first explorer to crawl inside Martian caves to search for microbes.
The bot would connect to a surface rover that could provide power, analyze cave samples and relay photos back to Earth.
The ReachBot team has received funding to build and test a prototype in caves on Earth similar to what might be encountered on Mars.
The reef, which spans more than 600 miles (965.6 kilometers) from Mexico to Honduras, provides food and a rich habitat for marine life. But the endangered creatures that use this reef to navigate north and south can swim right into danger and fall prey to illegal fishing practices.
Now, sharks using this route have new unlikely allies in the local communities along the reef — fishers who are determined to protect the vital ecosystem.
We are family
Fossils of early human ancestors found inside South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves are 1 million years older than previously suspected.
The fossils belong to the genus Australopithecus, an ancient hominin initially thought to have lived 2 million to 2.6 million years ago. Now, researchers believe these ancient ancestors were around 3.4 million to 3.6 million years ago.
Across the universe
Soon, we’ll be able to see the universe in an entirely new way.
The images are expected to show how galaxies interact and grow, provide a glimpse inside the violent life cycle of stars and even a colorful peek inside the spectrum of an exoplanet — or how light wavelengths reveal characteristics of other worlds.
Giant pandas have a taste for bamboo, but it hasn’t always been the case. Ancestors of the rare bears had a much more diverse diet that even included meat.
Pandas evolved the digit to help them hold on to the plant’s woody stems.
The fossil also revealed a mystery about the thumb, which turned out to be an evolutionary compromise for the giant pandas.
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