Anthropologists have long known that environmental conditions influenced the evolution of our Homo sapiens ancestors. But there have been gaps in our understanding because certain periods have a sparse archaeological and fossil record. Today a new study describes a research project in the Rift Valley of Africa that drilled a 450-foot-deep sediment core to get a picture of the environmental factors that influenced how people lived and evolved during a period starting 500,000 years ago.

Also in this week’s science and research news: A space systems engineer provides the back story – and the technical challenges – in NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission, and more emerging research around COVID-19, including why men are more susceptible to the disease and how pneumonia vaccines could protect against the worst effects of COVID-19.

Martin La Monica

Deputy Editor

Drilling 139 meters down to volcanic rock provided scientists with a million-year environmental record. Human Origins Program, Smithsonian

Turbulent environment set the stage for leaps in human evolution and technology 320,000 years ago

Richard Potts, Smithsonian Institution

A new environmental record for a prehistoric site in Kenya helped researchers figure out how external conditions influenced which of our ancient ancestors lived there, with what way of life.

This artist’s rendering shows OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending toward asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will land on an asteroid to bring home rocks and dust – if it can avoid Mt. Doom

Elizabeth Cantwell, University of Arizona

OSIRIS-REx will touch down on asteroid Bennu, collect a sample of the dust and begin its journey back to Earth, where scientists will study it, hoping to learn secrets of the solar system's origin.

The COVID-19 new normal might be here for quite some time. SolStock/E+ via Getty Images

How do pandemics end? History suggests diseases fade but are almost never truly gone

Nükhet Varlik, University of South Carolina

As ready as you are to be done with COVID-19, it's not going anywhere soon. A historian of disease describes how once a pathogen emerges, it's usually here to stay.

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