Ancient human relative used fire, surprising discoveries suggest
Charcoal and burned bones offer intriguing — if controversial — clues that the species Homo naledi made hearths to light its way and cook in dark caves.By Mark Johnson
Smithsonian exhibit digs out the ‘nature’ in old books
An exhibit focuses on long-ago artisans’ use of natural items such as leather, flax, lead and even semiprecious jewels to create tomes.By Erin Blakemore
Why this mammal eats its own brain — and why it could matter for you
Unlocking the shrew’s secret to shrinking its own cognitive tissue in winter – only to regrow it in spring – may help doctors treat brain diseases in humans.By Dino Grandoni
Fishtopher, the ‘very sad and depressed’ cat, is adopted after viral fame
“FISHTOPHER HAS LEFT THE BUILDING!” a New Jersey shelter announced after a Maryland couple adopted the cat, who went viral on Thanksgiving.By Annabelle Timsit
Scientists ‘re-discover’ lost pigeon species in Papua New Guinea
Scientists captured it on camera for the first time ever — with just hours to spare on a scientific expedition aimed at finding the long-lost bird.By Erin Blakemore
Skywatch: Mars brightens in early December, and Geminids peak mid-month
A description of planetary activity in December.By Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
Mars rover digs up intriguing clues in the hunt for life beyond Earth
NASA's Perseverance mission has collected samples that hold life-friendly molecules “in pretty much every rock” — as well as a few geologic surprisesBy Joel Achenbach
Why the 5.6-magnitude earthquake in Indonesia was so deadly
Scientists who study earthquakes offer several factors that could have contributed to the tragic death toll of this relatively mild temblor.By Carolyn Y. Johnson
Loss of 38 satellites prompts call for better space weather forecasts
Instead of reaching orbit, the satellites fell toward Earth, burning up as they reentered its atmosphere.By Erin Blakemore
The Earth now weighs 6 ronnagrams. What does that mean?
Ronna, quetta, ronto and quecto are newest prefixes in the recently expanded metric system, or the International System of Units.By Andrew Jeong
Almost all species in global shark fin trade to be protected
Dozens of countries vote for 'landmark' decision to regulate trade that has killed millions of sharks and threatened numerous species.By Kelly Kasulis Cho
Webb telescope spots earliest galaxies yet, and they are cosmic oddballs
The distant bundles of stars are far brighter than anyone expected, challenging views of how the cosmos first took shape.By Mark Johnson
Some octopus species may deliberately throw stuff to defend personal space
Researchers say octopuses not only throw objects — an uncommon behavior in animals — but may also be capable of deliberately targeting each other.By Jennifer Hassan
What happens when 10,000 minks are set loose? A county is finding out.
The ferret-like creatures have scrambled traffic on a northwest Ohio highway as drivers stop on the shoulder to take pictures.By Marisa Iati
Wild octopuses throw debris at one another
Researchers captured wild Octopus tetricus “throwing” sea debris at one another in what they said could be deliberate attacks.
Cows fed hemp produced milk with THC, researchers say
Protein-rich hemp has promise as animal feed. But a German study shows that dairy cows fed industrial hemp can produce milk containing the buzzy compound THC.By Joel Achenbach
Researchers track down two copies of fossil destroyed by the Nazis
When a Nazi bomb obliterated the collections of a London museum during World War II, many thought one fossil had been lost to science.By Erin Blakemore
Pigs mediate barnyard fights with a light touch of the snout, study says
Pigs are so smart they have conflict resolution strategies, Italian researchers found. After two fight, a third can intervene to lower aggression or anxiety.By Leo Sands
Please stop licking psychedelic toads, National Park Service warns
The National Park Service told visitors to quit licking the Sonoran Desert toad in attempts to get high from the natural psychedelic substance bufotenin, also known as 5-MeO-DMT.By Adela Suliman
Asteroids! Solar Storms! Nukes! Climate Calamity! Killer Robots!
A guide to contemporary doomsday scenarios — from the threats you know about to the ones you never think of.By Joel Achenbach