|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
The New York Times / November 5, 2011
A Russian Robot, a Martian Moon
9 ноября должен состояться запуск отечественной межпланетной космической станции «Фобос-Грунт». Аппарат проведет исследования на спутнике Марса, Фобосе, и возьмет материал с поверхности. Заодно доставит на орбиту Марса китайский спутник YH-1, который займется исследованиями его поверхности и атмосферы.
In a bold attempt to revive its long-dormant planetary exploration program, Russia is scheduled to launch a new, technologically sophisticated spacecraft this week to gather soil samples from a Martian moon and bring them back to Earth for analysis. Back in the early 1970's, the Soviet Union, after losing the race to land humans on the Moon, brought back lunar soil samples with robotic devices. It also became the first nation to put robotic devices on Venus and Mars.
Such pioneering ventures ended after the Soviet Union disintegrated and the economy soured, depriving the space agency of funds. But now Russia is poised to launch a spacecraft that will land on Phobos, a 17-mile-long rock that is the larger of two Martian moons. It will conduct studies there, extract surface materials, put them in a container, and return them to Earth in a small capsule, all in less than three years. Along the way it will drop off a Chinese satellite that will orbit Mars to study its surface, atmosphere, magnetic fields and other processes.
The main goal is to learn as much as possible about the composition of Phobos to understand its origins, evolution and relationship to Mars and to the beginnings of the solar system. If the probe finds hydrated rocks or even ice just beneath the crust, that could make Phobos a potential future base camp for astronauts. Phobos has such weak gravity that it would be relatively easy for astronauts to land and take off from the surface.
The mission is a welcome sign that Russia and China, which previously focused on flights closer to Earth, are now interested in planetary expeditions. The American space program, which has studied Mars from satellites and with automated rovers on the surface, will also launch a mission later this month to search the planet's surface for signs of water-containing rocks or other conditions favorable to life. It will be helped by an instrument contributed by Russia, which has an enhanced ability to detect traces of water beneath the surface. This is an arena where the more participants the better.
© 2011. The New York Times Company.
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Independent / Thursday 10 November 2011
A wrong turn en route to the red planet: Mars probe gets stuck in orbit
Scientists have just three days to fix the problem before the craft's batteries run out
Запуск российской межпланетной станции «Фобос-Грунт» состоялся в назначенное время, однако околоземную орбиту аппарат покинуть так и не смог - не включились двигатели, отсутствует также связь. Если в ближайшее время ситуацию исправить не удастся, станция просто упадет. К тому же после 21 ноября расположение Земли и Марса станет непригодным для межпланетного перелета.
Russian scientists were working against the clock last night to save the country's first Mars mission for over a decade after an engine failure left the spacecraft stranded in orbit above Earth.
Phobos-Grunt, which is supposed to be destined for the Mars moon of Phobos, blasted off on from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan late on Tuesday night, but after reaching orbit and separating successfully from its Zenit launch vehicle, disaster struck and an engine failure left the craft trapped orbiting Earth, rather than the Red Planet's moon.
"Neither the first nor the second engine fired. That meant it was unable to orientate itself with the stars," Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popotkin told journalists at Baikonur.
The Russian space agency said in a statement yesterday that it had no more than two weeks to reboot the spacecraft's systems in order to allow the engines to conduct the two-stage manoeuvre out of earth's orbit and on to a trajectory to Mars.
Earlier Mr Popotkin had suggested scientist had just three days to fix the problem before the unmanned craft's batteries run out.
With the craft stuck in a relatively low orbit, technicians at Baikonur were last night suffering an agonising wait to find out exactly what has gone wrong. "It will come into the zone of visibility from Baikonur at 11 pm Moscow time," the agency said in statement yesterday.
Only then will scientists be able to get the data they need to identify the problem and write new software to transmit to the probe and, hopefully, put the engines back on course.
"We'll try to manoeuvre as soon as possible, but rushing this thing is not going to help - one mistake and we could lose it," a source at the agency told Russia's Interfax news agency. But if it turns out the trouble is a hardware problem - such as a broken or missing part - the mission is doomed no matter what they do, he added.
Phobos-Grunt is Russia's first mission to Mars since a failed 1996 launch, and its three-year mission to recover soil samples from Phobos marks the country's return to deep-space missions.
It is also carrying vials of bacteria known to survive in extreme conditions to see how they fare in space, and tiny Chinese mini-satellite Yinghuo-1, which it will release into orbit around Mars itself.
There has been no dedicated mission to Phobos since the Soviet Union's partially successful Phobos 2 mission in 1988. Then the spaceship entered orbit around the moon and sent back several photographs, but contact was lost as it approached the surface.
The latest setback has reawakened jokes about the "Mars Curse", a reference to the high failure rate that has plagued missions to the Red Planet since they began in 1960.
Victims of the curse include the UK's Beagle 2 Mars Lander, which disappeared as it entered the Martian atmosphere in 2003, and Nasa's Mars Polar Lander, which crash-landed on the planet in 1999.
Of 16 spacecraft the Soviet Union sent to Mars only five have reached their destination.
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Xinhua / 2011-10-23
Chinese, Russian scientists compile first bird catalog for cross-border natural reserve
Российские и китайские ученые составили первый каталог птиц китайской половины природного заповедника «Озеро Ханка» (создан в 1996 году межправительственным соглашением между Россией и Китаем, объединил российский заповедник «Ханкайский» и китайский «Синкай-Ху»).
HARBIN, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) - Scientists from China and Russia have finished compiling a bird catalog after a joint monitoring program conducted in a natural wetland reserve, the reserve authorities said Sunday.
The catalog includes 288 species of birds that are recorded on the Chinese side of the Xingkai Lake Natural Reserve in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, said Wu Fule, deputy chief of the reserve's administrative bureau.
Chinese and Russian ornithologists carried out a joint bird monitoring in late September, according to Wu.
Six new species, including black woodpeckers, sharp-tailed sandpipers, rock pigeons, ashy minivets and thick-billed warblers, were found in the reserve for the first time.
The monitoring and the compiling of the catalog are of great significance in the protection of and research on birds in the region, Wu said.
Established in 1997, the Xingkai Lake Natural Reserve crosses the Sino-Russian border and covers 330,000 hectares, with two-thirds in China.
Copyright © 2000-2011 Xinhua News Agency. All rights reserved.
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Space Daily / Oct 26, 2011
German scientists ready for the hunt on dark energy
Институт внеземной физики общества Макса Планка (Германия) и Институт космических исследований РАН договорились о порядке распределения научных данных с германского рентгеновского телескопа eROSITA, который будет работать на борту российской космической астрофизической обсерватории «Спектр-РГ». Запуск запланирован на осень 2013 г. С помощью этого телескопа с очень высоким спектральным и угловым разрешением ученые рассчитывают обнаружить около 500 тысяч звезд, 100 тысяч групп и скоплений галактик и около трех миллионов сверхмассивных черных дыр.
The German and Russian partners of the new eROSITA X-ray space observatory have now agreed on how to split the data from the first four years of an all sky survey.
This decision was announced at the first dedicated eROSITA conference in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and will enable German astronomers to work with the first full sky X-ray survey since the one carried out by the ROSAT satellite some 20 years ago.
The conference is attended by more than 150 astronomers from many different countries and fields of astronomy, showing the broad interest of the international astronomical community in this new observatory that is to be launched in 2013.
The eROSITA X-ray telescope, which is currently under construction by an international consortium led by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) will perform the first imaging all-sky survey in the medium energy X-ray range up to 10 keV with an unprecedented spectral and angular resolution.
With the data collected, astronomers will be able to detect and measure not only some 500 000 active stars but also about 100 000 groups and clusters of galaxies and up to three million new, distant supermassive black holes in active galactic nuclei.
The agreement between the German MPE and the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI), the two main scientific partners of eROSITA, specifies that German astronomers from all the institutions involved will receive data covering 20 000 square degrees of sky - an area hundreds of times bigger than the largest area observed with the XMM-Newton X-ray telescope.
While this telescope and its sister, the Chandra X-ray space observatory, are designed for deep observations of tiny areas, eROSITA was specifically developed for large scale observations.
"With eROSITA we will be able to systematically probe the Universe in depth, we can look back in time to where the Universe was half its current age," explains Peter Predehl, who is leading the eROSITA project team. "While the previous X-ray all-sky survey by ROSAT was mainly concerned with the local Universe, eROSITA will enable us to map out the large scale structure in the Universe."
Analysing the large-scale structure evolution as traced by the hot, X-ray emitting gas, will allow the scientists to put new constraints on the mysterious dark energy, which is causing the accelerated expansion of the Universe. While the discovery of this effect was honoured by the Nobel Prize in physics this year, the nature of dark energy remains an open question.
However, as the attendance by astronomers from many fields at the first dedicated eROSITA conference in Germany shows, the project meets with general and broad interest from the international scientific community.
Talks and discussions range from prospects for observing galaxy clusters and using them as cosmological probes, to distant active galactic nuclei, black holes and neutron stars in our galaxy, X-ray binary stars and other compact objects.
Several collaborations have been proposed with ground-based telescopes observing large areas of the sky in other wavelengths that already do and will provide crucial complementary data to the eROSITA survey.
"At the eROSITA conference, many recent scientific developments are presented that could directly lead to a number of interesting collaborations," says Andrea Merloni, eROSITA project scientist. "The project is now mature enough that we can present it to the international community and listen to their ideas about the scientific potential of eROSITA. Indeed, the interested we generated exceeds our expectations."
The manufacturing of the hardware for eROSITA runs like clockwork: The complete telescope structure has arrived at MPE and for the seven mirror modules (plus one spare), one of the 54 nested mirror shells is integrated per day. Testing shows that all mirrors are of excellent quality.
Assembly of the complete hardware including the new X-ray detector system developed at MPE is scheduled for the end of 2012 and then eROSITA will be launched 2013 from Baikonur as the primary instrument on-board the Russian "Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma" (SRG) satellite and placed in an L2 orbit.
The first four years of observations will be dedicated to an all-sky survey followed by three years of pointed observations, for which scientists from all over the world can submit proposals.
Copyright 1995-2011 - Space Media Network.
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The Boston Globe / 10/26/2011
MIT, Russian foundation to open tech research hub
После двух лет переговоров Массачусетский технологический институт (MIT) заключил договоренность об основании в Сколково исследовательского университета постдипломного образования. В новом университете SkTech будет магистратура и аспирантура в области биомедицины, а также энергетических, информационных, космических и ядерных технологий. Предполагается, что большую часть финансирования предоставит Российская Федерация.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology signed an agreement this morning to jointly found a graduate research university in Skolkovo, Russia, a planned technology research hub outside Moscow meant to be Russia's equivalent of Silicon Valley.
Seda Pumpyanskaya, an official with the Skolkovo Foundation, the Russian-backed nonprofit that is building and partly funding the complex, compared the new university to a baby. "MIT will put it on its feet so it can start walking," she said.
MIT and the foundation inked a 70-page agreement - the result of nearly two years of negotiations - that calls for them to partner in minute detail on curriculum design, recruitment, and even job descriptions. "It won't be under MIT's brand. It's going to be an independent entity," Pumpyanskaya said. "But we hope to create on the European scale something similar to MIT, prestigious and well-designed."
The new university, to be called SkTech - pronounced "ess-kay tech" - will offer master's and doctoral degrees in five interdisciplinary areas: energy science, biomedicine, information technology, space science, and nuclear science. Much of the funding for the school is expected to be provided by the Russian foundation.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that speed is key to getting Skolkovo up and running. Although the new university has no faculty and construction has yet to begin, Pumpyanskaya said it could open with a full-size inaugural class by 2014. Ultimately, it is intended to serve 1,200 master's and doctoral students, 300 postdoctoral fellows, and 200 faculty.
MIT has embarked on similar ventures in the past. During the 1960s and '70s, it was instrumental in building the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, now one of India's most prestigious research universities. MIT invested many millions in the school and helped shape its academic offerings. It also helped launch a separate management school in Calcutta and a technology institute in Rajasthan.
MIT has tight ties with Skolkovo already. The chief operating officer of the Skolkovo Foundation, Steven Geiger, is an MIT graduate. And in 2009, MIT's Sloan School of Management launched an MBA partnership with a business school at Skolkovo, featuring project-based courses led by Sloan faculty.
At the new university, MIT professors and students will be expected to collaborate with their Russian counterparts on research. The new school's president, Ed Crawley, will come from MIT, where he is a prominent professor of engineering, aeronautics, and astronautics.
"He is an inspired choice," said Lawrence Bacow, formerly the chancellor of MIT and president of Tufts University, and currently president in residence at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. "He is a terrific scholar, a great administrator, an entrepreneur in his own right, and he speaks fluent Russian. He also knows MIT inside and out."
Like MIT's home base in Kendall Square, the Skolkovo complex will be swarming with high-tech firms. It has offered operating permits to about 200 companies, including an all-star list of US firms - Google, Intel, Microsoft, Siemens, Boeing, IBM, Dell, Nokia, and Cisco among them. Cisco alone has committed $1 billion over 10 years.
The companies' enthusiasm partly stems from legal changes in Russia. Lawmakers there have introduced tax incentives and eased some restrictions to help firms protect their intellectual property and bring in new workers and technologies from abroad.
Skolkovo's boosters hope the complex will attract top talent and slow Russia's brain drain, which began amid the economic disintegration of the 1990s.
But some critics worry that it will be a bonanza for corrupt officials. "The greedy bureaucrats are already salivating in anticipation of the hundreds of construction permits that will be required to develop a Silicon Valley from scratch," wrote Vladimir Ryzhkov, a politician opposing Medvedev, in The Moscow Times last year.
Zhores Alferov, a physicist and Nobel Laureate who advises project officials, said during this past summer's St. Petersburg Economic Forum that MIT and other institutions seeking partnerships would have to move carefully. "The success of Skolkovo depends on one thing: that we do it together," he said. "Our foreign partners should understand that they are not here to make big money or to take advantage of our national talent."
© 2011 NY Times Co.
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MarketWatch / Nov. 10, 2011
U.S. Materials Scientist, Russian Astrophysicist and Japanese Kabuki Actor Receive 27th Annual Kyoto Prizes from Japan's Inamori Foundation
NIST's Dr. John W. Cahn honored with Dr. Rashid Sunyaev and Tamasaburo Bando V for significant contributions to humanity in technology, science and the arts
10 ноября в Японии состоялось вручение премии Киото. Самая известная японская частная премия была учреждена в 1985 году некоммерческим фондом Инамори и присуждается за достижения в науке, технологии и культуре.
В этом году лауреатами стали российский астроном и астрофизик Рашид Сюняев (за создание теории флуктуаций в космическом микроволновом фоновом излучении и выдающийся вклад в астрономию высоких энергий), профессор Вашингтонского университета Джон Кан (за достижения в области материаловедения) и актёр театра Кабуки Тамасабуро Бандо (за достижения в области искусства и философии).
KYOTO, Japan, Nov 10, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) - The non-profit Inamori Foundation (president:Dr. Kazuo Inamori) today presented its 27th Annual Kyoto Prizes, Japan's highest private awards for lifetime achievement, in Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy.
Each laureate received a diploma, a 20-karat gold Kyoto Prize medal and a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately US$640,000) in recognition of lifelong contributions to society. The laureates will reconvene in San Diego, Calif. March 20-22, 2012, to participate in North America's eleventh annual Kyoto Prize Symposium.
The 2011 Kyoto Prize in "Advanced Technology" was presented to Dr. John W. Cahn, (83; citizenship: U.S.), a materials scientist currently serving as emeritus senior fellow at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (http://www.nist.gov), and affiliate professor at University of Washington. Dr. Cahn established the theory of three-dimensional spinodal decomposition, which has played a key role in materials science and engineering by allowing alloy materials to be engineered for highly specific structural and functional characteristics. This theory has found universal application in the design and production of better-performing metals, glass, semiconductors, polymers, and thermal materials requiring unique properties - including extreme strength, thermal conductivity, pore permeability, heat resistance, and magnetism. Dr. Cahn's research findings have also laid the foundation for the phase-field method, one of the hottest research topics of recent years in the materials sciences. His work has generated productive lines of research not only in metallurgy but also in physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, economics and demography.
The 2011 Kyoto Prize in "Basic Sciences" was presented to Dr. Rashid Sunyaev, (68; citizenship: Russia and Germany), an astrophysicist who serves as director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (www.mpa-garching.mpg.de) and chief scientist at the Space Research Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences (www.iki.rssi.ru). Dr. Sunyaev's work helped reveal that cosmic acoustic oscillations from the beginning of time can be observed in today's cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) - and that CMBR fluctuations can be used as a means of exploring the expanding universe. Dr. Sunyaev has also contributed significantly to high-energy astronomy. His theories serve both as a starting point for structural research on celestial objects and as the basis for describing black holes, protostars and active galactic nuclei, ranking among the most often-cited original research in the field of astronomy today.
The 2011 Kyoto Prize in "Arts and Philosophy" was presented to Tamasaburo Bando V, (61; citizenship: Japan), an actor who has created his own unique world of traditional Kabuki theater and contributed to many other genres of performing arts. He has delivered acclaimed performances in onnagata (Kabuki female roles), establishing himself as a tate oyama, or leading actor of female roles, in the contemporary Kabuki scene. Tamasaburo has devoted his life to the craft from childhood, making his stage debut at the age of seven. At 19 he was selected to play the role of Princess Shiranui in the Kabuki drama, Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki (The Moon Like a Drawn Bow). Beyond the world of Kabuki theater, he has been featured by the Metropolitan Opera and performed with renowned artists from around the globe. His films include Gekashitsu (The Operating Room), which he co-wrote and directed, and Andrzej Wajda's Nastasja. Tamasaburo's artistry makes a multifaceted world come alive in numerous different performing arts and continues to hold audiences spellbound.
The Inamori Foundation
The non-profit Inamori Foundation was established in 1984 by Dr. Kazuo Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera and KDDI Corporation. The Foundation created the Kyoto Prize in 1985, in line with Dr. Inamori's belief that a human being has no higher calling than to strive for the greater good of society, and that the future of humanity can be assured only when there is a balance between our scientific progress and our spiritual depth. As of the 27th Kyoto Prize ceremony (November 10, 2011), the prize has been awarded to 87 individuals and one foundation - collectively representing 15 nations. Individual laureates range from scientists, engineers and researchers to philosophers, painters, architects, sculptors, musicians and film directors. The United States has produced the most recipients (35), followed by Japan (15), the United Kingdom (12), and France (8).
Copyright © 2011 MarketWatch, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Vietnam+ / 03/11/2011
Séminaire sur la limitation des pertes d'énergie
С 2 по 5 ноября в Российском центре науки и культуры в Ханое состоялась выставка-семинар Министерства образования и науки РФ «Энергосберегающие технологии для нефтехимии и экология».
Мероприятие открылось пресс-конференцией руководителя представительства Россотрудничества во Вьетнаме Алексея Лавренева и главы российской делегации - директора Института катализа им. Г.К.Борескова СО РАН, академика Валентина Пармона.
Une exposition et un séminaire sur les technologies permettant de limiter les pertes d'énergie dans la pétrochimie ont commencé mercredi à Hanoi.
Organisés par le ministère russe de l'Education et des Sciences, ils visent à renforcer la coopération entre le Vietnam et la Russie dans les sciences et les technologies.
Selon le directeur de l'Institut Boreskov G.K. de l'Académie des sciences de la Russie, Parmon Valentin Nikolaevich, son pays souhaite renforcer la coopération bilatérale dans la pétrochimie, la production de matières premières biologiques et la protection de l'environnement.
L'exposition donnera un panorama des technologies permettant de limiter des pertes d'énergies dans la pétrochimie de la Russie. Quant au séminaire, il présentera des interventions de spécialistes russes sur les énergies renouvelables, le traitement des déchets toxiques, le filtrage et le recyclage des eaux usées de l'industrie de la pétrochimie, la protection de l'environnement.
© Copyright, VietnamPlus, Agence vietnamienne d'information (AVI).
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IEEE Spectrum / 04/11/2011
Virtual Mission to Mars Ends
4 ноября завершился эксперимент «Марс-500» по имитации полета на Марс, проходивший в Институте медико-биологических проблем РАН. 6 добровольцев провели 520 дней в замкнутом комплексе, где были воспроизведены условия жизни на космическом корабле.
At 10 am Greenwich Mean Time this morning (2 pm local time), six volunteers stepped out of a one-bedroom-apartment-size isolation pod at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow that they had shared for the previous 520 days. The aim of the Mars500 experiment was to learn more about the psychological and physical effects that a 250-day trip to Mars, a 30-day stay on the Red Planet's surface, and a 240-day return will have on humans. In other words, it answered a question similar to the one asked in intro of the old TV sitcom "The Odd Couple": Can six strangers share a cramped apartment without driving each other crazy?
The answer apparently was yes, though there was no way to be sure beforehand. In 2000, a similar experiment came to an abrupt halt after 420 days when two participants got into a drunken fistfight and a third made unwanted sexual advances toward a female crewmember. But there were no such contretemps this time around. Italian crewmember Diego Urbina confirmed that things went relatively smoothly. "It was like a normal life on board. Not everybody had to be everybody's friend," said Urbina.
"Thank you very much for your outstanding effort," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), in his greeting from Paris after the crew stepped from their module. Three ESA astronauts participated in the virtual Mars mission. "I welcome the courage, determination and generosity of these young people who have devoted almost two years of their lives to this project, for the progress of human space exploration," said Dordain.
While locked inside a mock spaceship , the all-male crew - three Russians, and one each from China, Italy, and France - dealt with conditions that they would have to face if they were hurtling through space. For instance, there was a limited supply of food, and messages sent from the crew were answered with a 25-minute time delay to replicate the communications lag that they would experience if they were on the surface of Mars. All the while, IBMP researchers were able to keep tabs on the earthbound space travelers using more than 30 cameras that watched their every move except for when they were in a private, 3-square-metre bathroom chamber.
During the experiment, which began on 3 June 2010, the team carried out all the activities of a real interplanetary mission. In February, Urbina, along with Alexandr Smoleevskiy from Russia, and Wang Yue from China, conducted a virtual landing and subsequent surface exploration. This called for putting on 32-kilogram spacesuits and clambering from the habitat module where they spent most of their time into a module that simulates a Martian-lander ship. The trio then made their way into a dark, sand-filled module that represented the Martian surface.
All told, the crew carried out more than 100 experiments, mainly focused on the discovering and ironing out the problems that will crop up during long-distance space missions. The only major elements of a a real 54-million-kilometer flight to Mars that were missing were weightlessness and cosmic rays.
"It is great to see you all again," said Urbina after emerging from isolation. "On the Mars-500 mission, we have accomplished on Earth the longest space voyage ever so that humankind can one day greet a new dawn on a distant but reachable planet."
Although now free from the pod, the crew is still in for four more days of isolation. After a brief press availability this morning and reunions with their families, they went into quarantine. There they will undergo a series of tests to gauge their physical and mental fitness. They are scheduled to speak to the media again on 8 November.
© Copyright 2011 IEEE - All Rights Reserved.
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CORDIS Nouvelles / 2011-11-10
L'ADN de chevaux préhistoriques confirme le réalisme des représentations pariétales
Реалистичность наскальных изображений лошадей эпохи палеолита подтверждена исследованием, проведенным международной группой ученых (Германия, Мексика, Россия, Испания, Великобритания, США). Изучение ДНК костей и зубов 31 лошади (возрастом до 35 тыс. лет) доказало, что все цветовые вариации лошадиной масти, отмеченные на доисторических рисунках, действительно существовали.
Статья «Genotypes of predomestic horses match phenotypes painted in Paleolithic works of cave art» опубликована в журнале Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Les dessins peints dans les cavernes datant du Paléolithique reflètent-ils bien l'environnement naturel de l'homme préhistorique? Une équipe internationale de scientifiques a utilisé l'ADN (acide désoxyribonucléique) pour résoudre le mystère des représentations des chevaux sur les dessins préhistoriques pariétaux.
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Présentés dans la revue scientifique National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), les résultats montrent que toutes les variations chromatiques observées dans les dessins du Paléolithique, dont le pelage pommelé, existaient bien dans les populations de chevaux domestiques de l'époque. L'étude a permis de corroborer la théorie selon laquelle les artistes reflétaient bel et bien leur environnement naturel et fournit ainsi la preuve de l'existence des phénotypes des chevaux aux taches grises. Jusqu'à présent, les études d'ADN n'avaient confirmé que l'existence des chevaux aux pelages bais et noirs.
Dans cette étude, des scientifiques d'Allemagne, du Mexique, de Russie, d'Espagne, du Royaume-Uni et des États-Unis ont réalisé le génotype et étudié 9 loci associés au pelage prélevés sur des restes de 31 chevaux sauvages vieux de 35 000 années d'Europe occidentale et orientale, de Sibérie et de la péninsule ibérique. L'équipe a étudié des spécimens d'os et de dents prélevés de 15 sites différents.
Les données ont montré qu'un gène similaire au pelage pommelé des léopards était présent chez quatre échantillons du Pléistocène et deux de l'âge de bronze d'Europe occidentale et orientale. Cette découverte confirme bien l'existence des chevaux au pelage pommelé. Les résultats apportent également des informations sur l'existence de tous les pelages visibles dans les représentations des cavernes et grottes (bai, noir, pommelé) existaient bel et bien dans les populations de chevaux sauvages.
L'équipe fait remarquer que le phénotype complexe pommelé était rare, notamment après que les autres phénotypes prennent le dessus. Mais récemment, il a repris du terrain, devenant un phénotype de prédilection dans certaines espèces de chevaux comme l'appaloosa et le noriker. «Nos efforts de reproduction ont renforcé ce trait car on s'intéresse de plus en plus à la réintégration de ces chevaux», explique Dr Monika Reissmann du Département de sciences animales et cultures de l'université Humboldt en Allemagne.
«Nos résultats montrent qu'au moins pour les chevaux sauvages, les représentations pariétales paléolithiques étaient véritablement associées à l'apparence réelle des animaux», commente Michi Hofreiter, un professeur du département de biologie de l'université de York, au Royaume-Uni. «Tandis que les études antérieures d'ADN ont prouvé le bien-fondé des pelages bais et noirs, notre étude démontre que l'on retrouve le pelage pommelé chez les chevaux préhistoriques et que les hommes de l'époque représentaient simplement ce qu'ils voyaient il y a 25 000 ans.»
Le professeur Hofreiter explique que les résultats de l'étude étayent la croyance selon laquelle l'art pariétal n'est pas forcément le fruit d'une vision symbolique, mais plutôt qu'il s'agissait réellement de représentations réelles de l'environnement naturel de l'homme préhistorique.
Commentant l'étude et les travaux impliqués, le Dr Melanie Pruvost, de l'institut Leibniz de recherche zoologique de Berlin et de l'institut archéologique allemand s'explique: «Nous venons à peine de posséder les outils génétiques pour accéder à l'apparence des animaux préhistoriques et il reste encore de nombreuses questions et phénotypes pour lesquels le processus génétique n'a pas encore été décrit. Toutefois, nous pouvons déjà voir que ce genre d'études renforcera grandement nos connaissances sur le passé. La preuve de l'existence des chevaux pommelés au cours du Pléistocène en Europe offre de nouveaux arguments pour la réinterprétation de l'art pariétal par les archéologues.»