Coronavirus outbreak in China: snakes could be the original source

Haitao Guo, University of Pittsburgh; Guangxiang “George” Luo, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Shou-Jiang Gao, University of Pittsburgh Snakes – the Chinese krait and the Chinese cobra – may be the original source of the newly discovered coronavirus that has triggered an outbreak of a deadly infectious respiratory illness in China this winter.

Proxima Centauri c: how we spotted a potential new planet around the Sun’s neighbouring star

Hugh Jones, University of Hertfordshire Most exoplanets, bodies orbiting stars other than the sun, are too far away for us to be able to send probes to. So it’s no wonder that the discovery of a possible habitable planet around the sun’s nearest neighbour star, Proxima Centauri, a few years ago generated a lot of […]

Betelgeuse: star’s weird dimming sparks rumours that its death is imminent

Daniel Brown, Nottingham Trent University Every season has its characteristic star constellations in the night sky. Orion – one of the most recognisable – is distinctly visible on crisp, clear winter nights in the northern hemisphere. The constellation is easy to spot even in light-polluted cities, with its bright stars representing the shape of a […]

Planetary confusion: why astronomers keep changing what it means to be a planet

Christopher Palma, Pennsylvania State University As an astronomer, the question I hear the most is why isn’t Pluto a planet anymore? More than 10 years ago, astronomers famously voted to change Pluto’s classification. But the question still comes up.

What are lost continents, and why are we discovering so many?

Maria Seton, University of Sydney; Joanne Whittaker, University of Tasmania, and Simon Williams, University of Sydney For most people, continents are Earth’s seven main large landmasses. But geoscientists have a different take on this. They look at the type of rock a feature is made of, rather than how much of its surface is above […]

Were other humans the first victims of the sixth mass extinction?

Nick Longrich, University of Bath Nine human species walked the Earth 300,000 years ago. Now there is just one. The Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, were stocky hunters adapted to Europe’s cold steppes. The related Denisovans inhabited Asia, while the more primitive Homo erectus lived in Indonesia, and Homo rhodesiensis in central Africa. Several short, small-brained species […]

Climate explained: why Mars is cold despite an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide

Paulo de Souza, Griffith University Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

Humanity’s birthplace: why everyone alive today can call northern Botswana home

Vanessa Hayes, University of Sydney Where was the evolutionary birthplace of modern humans? The East African Great Rift Valley has long been the favoured contender – until today. Our new research has used DNA to trace humanity’s earliest footsteps to a prehistoric wetland called Makgadikgadi-Okavango, south of the Great Zambezi River. Our analysis, published in […]

Evolution tells us we might be the only intelligent life in the universe

Nick Longrich, University of Bath Are we alone in the universe? It comes down to whether intelligence is a probable outcome of natural selection or an improbable fluke. By definition, probable events occur frequently, improbable events occur rarely – or once. Our evolutionary history shows that many key adaptations – not just intelligence, but complex […]

Animals are disappearing from forests, with grave consequences for the fight against climate breakdown – new research

Charlie Gardner, University of Kent; Jake Bicknell, University of Kent; Matthew Struebig, University of Kent, and Zoe Davies, University of Kent It’s tempting to think that our forests would be fine if we could simply stop trees being felled or burnt. But forests – particularly tropical ones – are more than just trees. They’re also […]