Uncovering a lost Maya city in the jungle

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The first time I watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a kid, it inspired me to explore the little forest behind my house.

Armed with a walking stick and a shovel in my best impersonation of Indiana Jones, I maneuvered through thick clusters of trees, my feet slipping on the waxy leaves from a massive magnolia.

I scanned the ground, thinking any minute I would spy some rock sticking up that had been used to build a long-forgotten city that held buried treasure.

When no discovery emerged, I remember thinking there must be a more efficient way to investigate the past.

While searching for evidence of lost civilizations can still involve traversing jungles and hacking a path through the underbrush, airborne tools are making the job a little easier.

Once upon a planet

Shown here are the remains of a building with a staircase that once stood within the ancient city of Ocomtún on the Yucatán Peninsula. - Ivan Šprajc/ZRC SAZU

Shown here are the remains of a building with a staircase that once stood within the ancient city of Ocomtún on the Yucatán Peninsula. – Ivan Šprajc/ZRC SAZU

A lost Maya city abandoned more than 1,000 years ago has been found in the jungles of Campeche on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz, research assistant professor in civil engineering at the University of Houston, spotted the city, dubbed Ocomtún, during an aerial archaeological survey.

Using light detection called LiDAR, researchers such as Fernandez-Diaz can practically peer right through dense vegetation to see evidence of ancient structures.

Archaeologist Ivan Šprajc of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts and his team used Fernandez-Diaz’s data and found 50-foot-tall (15.2-meter-tall) structures resembling pyramids, pottery and engravings that they believe date back to between 600 and 900. The lost city’s “peculiar features” could take years to excavate.

Dig this

When archaeologists excavated the Oc Eo site in southern Vietnam, they uncovered a sandstone slab and nutmeg seeds that still released a unique aroma.

A newly released analysis of the slab showed it was once a work surface for grinding spices used to prepare curry at least 2,000 years ago. The array of spices detected on the slab and other tools at the site — once an overseas trading hub — originated from different places around the world.

The ingredients used to prepare the ancient curry are incredibly similar to curries made today in Vietnam and elsewhere across Southeast Asia, proving that the dish has deep roots.

Other worlds

This illustration shows what the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will look like in orbit. - GSFC/SVS

This illustration shows what the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will look like in orbit. – GSFC/SVS

The Milky Way galaxy may be home to trillions of rogue planets, or worlds that travel through space without orbiting a star. These cold, faint worlds are incredibly difficult to detect — but not for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.

The next-generation space observatory is set to launch between October 2026 and May 2027. Named for NASA’s first chief of astronomy, the telescope may have what it takes to find hundreds of Earth-mass rogue planets as well as thousands of exoplanets that orbit stars.

The telescope, nicknamed the wide-eyed cousin of the Hubble Space Telescope, marks the next big step toward finding life outside the solar system. The Roman telescope will have the same orbit as the James Webb Space Telescope, which just detected water swirling around a nearby planetary system.

Mission critical

If humans continue releasing planet-heating pollution across the globe, a vital system of ocean currents could collapse, according to a new study. And that calamitous event may happen sooner than expected.

Scientists have determined that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which regulates global weather patterns, could shut down as soon as 2025 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced.

Global warming is also having a more immediate effect on air travel, making it more difficult for planes to take off at certain airports and contributing to summer travel woes.

Two aviation projects from NASA could help revolutionize air travel by the 2030s, creating the next generation of more sustainable flight that burns less fuel.

Across the universe

The James Webb Space Telescope captured a high-resolution image of Herbig-Haro 46/47, an actively forming pair of stars. - J. DePasquale/CSA/ESA/NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope captured a high-resolution image of Herbig-Haro 46/47, an actively forming pair of stars. – J. DePasquale/CSA/ESA/NASA

The Webb telescope has captured the energetic outbursts of two rambunctious young stars.

The stellar pair is still actively forming and is 1,470 light-years away. The space observatory’s capabilities allowed it to peer through the shroud of gas and dust around the stars and spy the jets of material they’ve been blasting into space for thousands of years.

As the stars burp out the gas and dust, the newly ejected material collides with previously released clouds, creating colorful waves seen in the image above.

Separately, an international team of astronomers has discovered an eerily glowing dead star with two completely different faces.

Explorations

Grab a refreshing beverage and settle in with these fascinating reads:

— Carl Sagan’s pristine personal copy of the master recording for Voyager’s Golden Record, including music styles from around the world and the sounds of Earth, hit the auction block this week.

— There is a “gravity hole” in the Indian Ocean where Earth’s gravitational pull is weaker and the sea level dips by hundreds of feet. Scientists now think they have solved the riddle of this anomaly.

— Pieces of bone found inside a safety deposit box might have belonged to composer Ludwig van Beethoven — and the Medical University of Vienna is testing to see whether the skull fragments are a genetic match.

— Scientists revived a 46,000-year-old worm found deep in the Siberian permafrost that lived at the same time as woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats.

And don’t forget to look up for two different meteor showers peaking on July 30 and 31!

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 writers Ashley Strickland and Katie Hunt. They find wonder in planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.

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