Download Free NASA Posters From the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

YOU get a poster, and YOU get a poster, and YOU get a poster! 

 

NASA is taking a swipe at the void once filled by Oprah Winfrey by giving away free space-inspired posterrrrrs! There are 14 designs available for free download on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website. [Update: NASA recently added a TRAPPIST-1 poster to reflect the exciting new discovery of 7 "Earth-Like" planets 40 light years from Earth.]


It couldn’t come at a more important time; inspiration and ambition in the next generation of thinkers and innovators may be lacking. Experts at the Partnership for a New American Economy project predict that by 2018 there will be a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Dr Bonnie Bassler, a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, believes the reason American children might be falling behind in scientific ambition is due to a kind of hangover effect from the 20th century, when scientists were usually white-haired men of prestige, doing rarefied things that mere mortals could not comprehend. “I think that there is this stereotype of these boring asocial drones; that is who becomes a scientist,” Dr. Bassler says.

So science needs a PR makeover. Fortunately, we have figures like Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Janna Levin, and Michio Kaku fighting the good fight. In a video for Big Think, Tyson has spoken on the natural scientist within every child, and that rather than chastising children for touching things for fear they might break something, adults should give kids more things to potentially break and take apart and smash. It’s all an experiment to them, and that’s a great thing.

“I'm often asked by parents what advice can I give them to help get kids interested in science? And I have only one bit of advice. Get out of their way. Kids are born curious… And you know what you do? You put things in their midst that help them explore,” he says.

So if you know a young kid, either surprise them or let them pick a NASA poster to put on their wall to be an emblem of discovery and exploration. Read the backstory of each poster with them, look up terms they don’t understand, go down the rabbit hole that it may lead you. And if you’re a science and especially space-loving adult, then let your flag fly and hang one of these NASA poster in your home or office. As Carl Sagan said, “When you're in love, you want to tell the world.”

One more thing. While Bill Nye was wrapping up his viral rant on the way Creationism harms children and stalls innovation, he said – nay, begged – these words: “We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.” A good science education (in school and in recreation) develops critical thinking, healthy skepticism and the ability to separate facts from “facts”. 

With this series of posters, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tries to remind new generations of innovators and explorers that they are the architects of the future. Dreaming of the places that we as a species may one day go might just stoke the fires of young talent.

Get your hands on NASA's posters here.

And now, here’s Neil deGrasse Tyson on what he terms ‘the NASA effect’:

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.