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Neanderthal cave discovery and more top space and science stories this week

Andrew Cuomo

The colorful handprints of ancient humans. A spacecraft beyond the solar system.

They couldn’t be more different, but some of the first known cave art and the Voyager 1 spacecraft are among humanity’s most iconic creations.

It can stop you in your tracks when you think about the fact that humans were making art thousands of years ago in caves, and by the 1970s, we were sending probes across space to be our robotic eyes and ears.

Time has passed. Both feats of ingenuity remain — but those handprints grow more vulnerable with each day. The precious markings tell a crucial part of our story: the beginning.

Meanwhile, Voyager 1, the most distant human-made object in space, has detected a “persistent hum” beyond our solar system. Humans are capable of incredible things we need to safeguard — even as we explore wonders on the edge of the final frontier.

Mission critical

Time isn’t the only enemy of some of the first known artwork made by ancient humans. The climate crisis is also taking its toll.

And the damage is irreversible.

Red stenciled handprints and a warty pig are examples of cave art at risk of disappearing due to haloclasty — when salt crystals form as a result of repeated changes in temperature and humidity, according to new research.

The findings come as the world has only just started to realize the global significance of the art and what it tells us about early human culture.

Now, researchers are in a race against time to find and study cave art before it’s erased.

We are family

Speaking of caves, the remains of nine Neanderthals were discovered in the Guattari Cave near the Italian resort town of San Felice Circeo last week. One of the Neanderthals likely lived between 90,000 and 100,000 years ago. The other eight were alive between 50,000 and 68,000 years ago.

“It is an extraordinary discovery,” Dario Franceschini, Italy’s cultural minister, said in a statement. “The whole world will be talking about it.”

Also found in the cave were hundreds of bones belonging to elephants and other animals, including some that are now extinct.

Many of the bones bore teeth marks from hyenas that had gnawed on them, which means that cave might have served as food storage for the pack.

The findings could help researchers determine more about why Neanderthals died out — and the creatures they lived among.

Across the universe

No, it’s not the Milano, the spaceship belonging to “Guardians of the Galaxy” leader Peter Quill (you may know him as Star-Lord), but you’d be forgiven for making that assumption.

Instead, this is an illustration of what it looks like when two galaxies merge.

Those two brilliant lights are quasars within the cores of the galaxies. Quasars are the bright radiation of material released by supermassive black holes that reside at galactic centers. As the black holes feast, quasars release beacons of light rivaling billions of stars within a single galaxy.

Take a good look: This likely will happen in a few billion years when our Milky Way galaxy merges with the Andromeda galaxy.

Wild kingdom

Science is giving baby sharks a fighting chance (doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo).

Sharks hold a fascination for us, but their populations are declining. More than half of oceanic shark species are endangered.

Scientists used artificial insemination to bring 97 baby bamboo sharks to life, according to new research.

This effort, considered to be the largest ever, could lead to healthier and more genetically diverse sharks.

Other worlds

Mars may look like a dead planet, but our frozen desert neighbor is far from being a celestial zombie.

In fact, researchers have spotted signs that volcanoes were erupting on the red planet within the last 50,000 years — which is recent, astronomically speaking — and they could still happen in the future.

There are also some interesting implications for what volcanic activity suggests about the possibility of life existing beneath the surface of Mars.

Now that the Ingenuity helicopter is spacing out its flights, the Perseverance rover is on the move to search for signs of ancient life.

Ginny and Percy have been joined by China’s Zhurong rover, which landed on Mars Friday. China is the second country in history to touch down on the red planet. The space race is heating up.

The wonder

— Elsewhere in the solar system, Mars’ very distant neighbor, Jupiter, got its close-up, and the newly released images show the giant planet like you’ve never seen it before.

— A man used his mind to form real-time sentences despite being paralyzed from the neck down.

— Behold your new nightmare fuel: A fierce-looking fish from the ocean depths washed up on a California beach.

Like what you’ve read? Oh, but there’s more. Sign up here to receive in your inbox the next edition of Wonder Theory, brought to you by CNN Space and Science writer Ashley Strickland, who finds wonder in planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.

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