Approximately 176,500 years ago, in a cave in what is now called France, Neanderthals cut 400 pieces of stalagmite into regular lengths and arranged them in two circles and four piles. In 1990, a teenager and a group of local cavers rediscovered them. Only now, though, have scientists estimated just how old they are—dating well beyond the history of Homo sapiens in this area.
This is one of the earliest examples of construction ever found, and the first example of Neanderthal construction that scientists have dated. It shows that these early homonins explored underground and could use fire and reveals an unknown aspect of their culture. It’s not clear what the circle of stones was used for, but it’s possible it had a ritual function, since there’s no evidence that anyone actually lived in the cave.
The more we learn about Neanderthals, the smarter and more complex was their lifestyle, using fire, creating design art. All before the newer iteration of humans expanded into regions already populated by our older cousins.
In 2018, astronomers were shocked to find a bizarre explosion in a galaxy 200 million light-years away. It wasn’t like any normal supernova seen before—it was both briefer and brighter. The event was given an official designation, AT2018cow, but it soon went by a more jovial nickname: the Cow.
The short-lived event—known as a transient—defied explanation. Some thought it might be a star being torn apart by a nearby black hole, but others favored a “failed supernova” scenario, where a black hole quite literally eats a star from the inside out. To find out for sure, they needed to find more Cow-like events.
More than two years later, they got one.
Beginning on October 12, 2020, telescopes watched as something in a galaxy 3 billion light-years away became incredibly bright, then disappeared from view. It behaved almost identically to the Cow, astronomers reported in a paper posted to the online preprint site arXiv.org last week, leading them to conclude that it must be the same type of episode. In keeping with tradition, it was given its own animal-inspired name: the Camel.
These astronomers were able to watch the course of this event, from a bright, explosive start, to what likely is a failed star collapsing into a black hole. In real time…happening 3 billion years ago.