April was one eventful month this year, but one specific date had ever since gone down in history as remarkable and noteworthy. That was April 10—when mankind was treated to both the discovery of a new species of the Homo genus and the very first visual representation of a black hole.
Even more than a month after being reported, the two discoveries’ impacts continue to ring strong especially among scientists and enthusiasts of science, as well as spike more questions based on the findings. Theories on evolution continue to be challenged, and perceptions of astronomical bodies and regions of space still are being re-assessed.
With this, The LaSallian delves into the unearthed and the spotlighted and discusses what these mean for science and for mankind as a whole.
Two significant people are already embedded in the minds of the public ever since that specific Wednesday. These are Armand Mijares, an archeologist from the University of the Philippines Diliman and the discoverer of the Homo luzonensis; and Katie Bouman, a member of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project and the now face—and brain—behind the first image of the astronomical gargantuan.
With the discovery of the H. luzonensis in Callao Cave in Cagayan, Mijares, indirectly, dared the world to look at human evolution in such a way that it is a complicated patchwork, and not as a linear process of development. For quite a while, the Philippines has been silent in terms of its contributions to the body of knowledge that is science. But the Diliman archeologist proved that all we needed were more hands and tools to dig up the still unknown.
On the other hand, Bouman continued to reach out to the great beyond, the direction opposite that of Mijares. She further revolutionized women’s contributions to science, and proved that Einstein—after a century—was right. Bouman and her team lit up not only the shadows of history but also the road mankind has yet to travel with their algorithm which pieced together data from the EHT. The black hole, M87, isn’t anymore just a dark, conceptualized image. Now, it is known as a flying, glowing ring in the depths of the Universe—55 million lightyears away from Earth.
Brushing off the dust
At the wake of its discovery, the H. luzonensis reportedly displayed both ancient and “advanced” traits of identified hominin species. Now, paleoanthropologists hint at the theory that the interaction and breeding of older and “developed” hominids took place, leading to offspring sharing mixed characteristics. What makes this complicated is the species having traits that of australopithecines which lived approximately three million years ago, and traits that the modern Homo sapiens possess, which is believed to have lived only 100,000 years ago. This points out unknown periods of human evolution which possibly allowed earlier species of the Homo genus to meet the later ones at some point in time.
Looking from a microscopic viewpoint, the above theory justifies the idea that human evolution did not occur as simply as we thought it had. Similar to how animal species eventually deviate from each other, evident by physical characteristics and developed abilities, human evolution is now seen as having branches. This led to even more theories that question whether or not racial differences we see today in humans may have been due to the “branching out” of human evolution.
Moreover, the new hominin species further obscures the timeline explaining when the extinct ancestors of the modern man developed technical skills. The Philippine archipelago is known to not have been intact or in any way connected by land bridges to the rest of the major continents even in ancient times. How then could it have reached the island of Luzon? Scientists, now, are deliberating just that.
A publicized claim, however, from paleoanthropologist Michael Petraglia speculates that human ancestors from 60,000 years ago utilized rafting to reach the island of the Philippines, explaining how the remains were found in Cagayan.
Not only has the finding complexed the world’s current knowledge on human evolution and the very history of Earth’s geography, it has also emphasized that even the indicators of the past can dictate the future. Mijares, who continues to look for more signs of the H. luzonensis in other parts of the archipelago, is the affirmation that the future of archeology in the Philippines can be more promising.
Still in the dark
In the beginning, astronomers had to go outside Earth’s atmosphere in order to make even the simplest observations of space. Like they say, good things take time—and perhaps greater ones take longer. Now technologies allow explorers to see in and through space even without leaving their laboratories.
Bouman and the EHT project started back in 2017 and was only able to produce a significant output two years later. Though that detail is undermined, coordinating with eight radio telescopes scattered around the globe to capture an image of a previously unseeable space giant 55 million lightyears away from Earth is no easy task—and a big feat in itself. However, this is just one of the small big steps for mankind.
As a matter of fact, there is a much nearer supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, located in the middle of the Milky Way galaxy, approximately just 150,000 to 200,000 lightyears away from Earth. We may be wondering, why don’t we capture that one first? The technology is ready and available and Sagittarius A* is relatively nearer as compared to M87. Well, the orientation of the planet in the galaxy and the shape of the galaxy itself prove to be challenges. Not only that, the Milky Way black hole’s behavior changes rapidly as well. Like in taking photographs, the subject has to cooperate, so such has been the problem for astronomers and scientists ever since.
This breakthrough did not only highlight more dark giants to be possibly photographed in the near future, but as well as the impact Bouman has made in the field of astronomy. The computer scientist is now part of the hall of fame of women like Katherine Johnson, Henrietta Leavitt, Vera Rubin, among others, who have made their mark in the same field. This not only amplified the voice of women in the field of science, it furthered their rightful claim on their contributions and being at the forefront of advancements.
Our Universe has been expanding since the beginning of time, and seeing that there is no limit to it also dictates the amount of work mankind has in its hands.
The setting of the discoveries in itself is unique. It is rare that natural phenomena would allow mankind to revel about something groundbreaking and out of this world in the same day.
Whether we continue to dig deeper down into the Earth, or go farther beyond its domains, from here on out, more breakthroughs like these, with the aid of our curiosity, will continue to build our future—which is undeniably bright.