Top stories: the oldest human fossil in Arabia, snakes on Mercury, and clot-busting mosquito spit

Human finger bone points to an early exodus out of Africa

Archaeologists and anthropologists have scoured the Arabian Desert for evidence that some of the earliest members of our species once traversed these formerly green lands. Now, they may have it. An ostensibly modern human finger bone uncovered in Saudi Arabia in 2016 has been dated to about 88,000 years old, making it the oldest directly dated fossil of our species found outside Africa or its immediate vicinity in the eastern Mediterranean. The discovery supports the idea that early modern humans spread into Eurasia earlier and more often than many previously believed.

What is Alpha Centauri hiding? Searches for Earth-like planets ramp up around our nearest stellar neighbor

Alpha Centauri, a three-star system and the sun’s nearest neighbor at just 4 light-years away, ought to be a great place to look for Earth-like planets. But last week, at a meeting of the European Astronomical Society, astronomers lamented the way the system has thwarted discovery efforts so far—and announced new efforts to probe it. “It’s very likely that there are planets,” says Pierre Kervella of the Paris Observatory in Meudon, France, but the nature and positions of the stars complicate the search.

China asserts firm grip on research data

In a move few scientists anticipated, the Chinese government has decreed that all scientific data generated in China must be submitted to government-sanctioned data centers before appearing in publications. At the same time, the regulations, posted last week, call for open access and data sharing. The directives puzzle researchers, who note that the yet-to-be-established data centers will have latitude in interpreting the rules.

Mosquito spit can bust blood clots in mice

Does your blood run thick? A bit of mosquito saliva might one day be just what the doctor ordered. That’s because scientists have found a new way to reinvigorate anticlotting factors in mosquito spit in the lab. The modified blood thinner has so far only been tested in mice; if it ever works in humans, it could help prevent—and even treat—the blood clots that can lead to hemorrhaging or thrombosis.

Mercury’s ‘snakes’ get formal names

When a NASA spacecraft passed by Mercury in 2008, astronomers spotted strange deposits: blankets of material ranging from tens to thousands of kilometers wide whose color led researchers to informally dub them “red spots.” To date, scientists have cataloged more than 150 of these objects—and now, the International Astronomical Union has given them formal names.