Clues to early human speech
An adolescent orangutan called Rocky could provide the key to understanding how speech in humans evolved from the time of the ancestral great apes, according to new research.
In an imitation "do-as-I-do" game, eleven-year-old Rocky, who was eight at the time of the research, was able to copy the pitch and tone of sounds made by researchers to make vowel-like calls.
The discovery, led by Dr Adriano Lameira of Durham University, UK, shows that orangutans could have the ability to control their voices.
It might answer the argument about whether or not spoken language stemmed from early human ancestors.
Previously it was thought that great apes -- our closest relatives -- could not learn to produce new sounds and because speech is a learned behaviour it could not have originated from them.
The findings are published today (Wednesday, July 27) in the journal Scientific Reports.
Rocky was studied at Indianapolis Zoo, Indiana, USA, where he is currently housed, between April and May 2012, and all steps were taken to ensure his routine and environments were not disrupted.
During the study, a researcher made random sounds with variations in the tone or pitch of her voice which Rocky then mimicked.
Evidence for 'direct collapse' black hole
Astronomers Aaron Smith and Volker Bromm of The University of Texas at Austin, working with Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, have discovered evidence for an unusual kind of black hole born extremely early in the universe. They showed that a recently discovered unusual source of intense radiation is likely powered by a "direct-collapse black hole," a type of object predicted by theorists more than a decade ago. Their work is published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
"It's a cosmic miracle," Bromm said, referring to the precise set of conditions present half a billion years after the Big Bang that allowed these behemoths to emerge. "It's the only time in the history of the universe when conditions are just right" for them to form.
These direct-collapse black holes may be the solution to a long-standing puzzle in astronomy: How did supermassive black holes form in the early epochs of the universe? There is strong evidence for their existence, as they are needed to power the highly luminous quasars detected in the young universe. However, there are several problems that should prevent their formation, and the conventional growth process is much too slow.
Astronomers think they know how supermassive black holes weighing in at millions of suns grow in the heart of most galaxies in our present epoch. They get started from a "seed" black hole, created when an extremely massive star collapses. This seed black hole has the mass of about 100 suns. It pulls in gas from its surroundings, becoming much more massive, and eventually may merge with other seed black holes. This entire process is called accretion.