Yearbook 2018

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Many facets of human behaviour are rhythmic. Examples include singing, playing an instrument, or dancing, but also – perhaps less obviously – spoken language. First, we investigate the neuronal underpinnings of rhythmicity in humans. Using the example of speech, we aim to better understand the role of rhythmic neuronal activity in speech comprehension. Second, we use an animal model (songbird) to test whether rhythmicity, as observed in speech and music, is specific to human cognition – or plays a more general role in communication. more
New finds of fossils and stone tools from Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) document the origin of our species by about 300,000 years ago in Africa. These fossils are more than 100,000 years older than the previous oldest finds and document important biological and behavioural changes in an early evolutionary phase of Homo sapiens. more
The relationships between groups of human beings and the land they occupy have become more heterogeneous and complex than ever. The department “Integration and Conflict” at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology studies the logic of collective identification and group formation and the different forms of possessiveness found in these relationships. The key example is taken from the south of Ethiopia, where agro-pastoralists find their land to be taken over by large-scale sugar cane production in the hands of investors from other parts of the country and international investors. more
Astronomers from McMaster University and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have completed calculations that lead to a consistent scenario for the emergence of life on Earth, based on astronomical, geological, chemical and biological models. In this scenario, life forms a mere few hundred million years after Earth’s surface was cool enough for liquid water; the essential building blocks for life were formed in space during the formation of the solar system, and delivered to warm little ponds on Earth by meteorites. more
Astronomers believe that matter in intergalactic space is distributed in a vast network of interconnected filamentary structures – the cosmic web. Nearly all the atoms in the Universe reside in this web, left over from the Big Bang. A team led by a team of the MPI for Astronomy has made the first measurements of small-scale fluctuations in the cosmic web just 2 billion years after the Big Bang. These measurements were enabled by a novel technique using pairs of quasars to probe the cosmic web along adjacent lines of sight. They promise to help astronomers reconstruct the epoch of reionization. more
By using galaxies as giant gravitational lenses, an international group of astronomers including researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have made an independent measurement of how fast the Universe is expanding. The newly measured expansion rate for the local Universe is consistent with earlier findings. These are, however, in intriguing disagreement with measurements of the early Universe. This hints at a fundamental problem at the very heart of our understanding of the cosmos. more
On 17 August 2017, two merging neutron stars were seen for the first time by their gravitational wave si  gnal as well as high-energy gamma radiation. Follow-up observations revealed optical emission powered by the radioactive decay of r-process elements - a so-called kilonova. more
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