Earth’s upper atmosphere—below freezing, nearly without oxygen, flooded by UV radiation—is no place to live. But last winter, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that billions of bacteria actually thrive up there. Expecting only a smattering of microorganisms, the researchers flew six miles above Earth’s surface in a NASA jet plane. There, they pumped outside air through a filter to collect particles. Back on the ground, they tallied the organisms, and the count was staggering: 20 percent of what they had assumed to be just dust or other particles was alive. Earth, it seems, is surrounded by a bubble of bacteria.
It’s Alive! & Airborne
In the midst of airborne sea salt and dust, researchers from Georgia Tech unexpectedly found thousands of living fungal cells and bacteria, including E. coli and Streptococcus.
Courtesy Georgia Tech; Photo by Gary Meek
Scientists don’t yet know what the bacteria are doing up there, but they may be essential to how the atmosphere functions, says Kostas Konstantinidis, an environmental microbiologist on the Georgia Tech team. For example, they could be responsible for recycling nutrients in the atmosphere, like they do on Earth. And similar to other particles, they could influence weather patterns by helping clouds form. However, they also may be transmitting diseases from one side of the globe to the other. The researchers found E. coli in their samples (which they think hurricanes lifted from cities), and they plan to investigate whether plagues are raining down on us. If we can find out more about the role of bacteria in the atmosphere, says Ann Womack, a microbial ecologist at the University of Oregon, scientists could even fight climate change by engineering the bacteria to break down greenhouse gases into other, less harmful compounds.
Could Alien life have exsited in the Big Bang afterglow? According to Abraham Loeb, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, in the early Universe, the energy required to keep water liquid could have come from the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the Big Bang, rather than from host stars. A set of calculations -standard adiabatic cold dark matter (ACDM) cosmology- suggests that the first star forming halos within the Hubble volume started collapsing at redshifts allowing liquid water chemistry— a prerequisite for life — to form on rocky planets just 15 million years after the Big Bang regardless of their distance from a star. “The whole Universe was once an incubator for life,” he says.
The very early universe was filled with superheated gas, plasma, that gradually cooled and condensed to form stars and galaxies. We see the first light emitted by this plasma as the Big Bang afterglow, cosmic microwave background (CMB), which today just a few degrees above absolute zero. Loeb calculates that about 15 million years after the big bang, the radiation would have kept the entire Universe at 300 kelvin making it a vast habitable zone –”an incubator for life.”The first light produced by this plasma is the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) that we observe today, which dates from about 389,000 years after the Big Bang. Today, the CMB is terrifyingly cold — around minus 454 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 270 degrees Celsius; 3 degrees Kelvin). It cooled down gradually with the expansion of the universe, and at some point during the cooling process, for a brief period of seven million years or so, Loeb’s “vast habiytable zone,” the temperature was just right for life to form — between 31 and 211 degrees Fahrenheit (0 and 100 degrees Celsius; 273 and 373 degrees Kelvin).
Our current understanding of the early distribution of matter is incomplete, says Loeb. Standard Big Bang cosmology says that in most parts of the universe, the amounts of heavy elements needed to make planets didn’t occur until hundreds of millions of years after the big bang. But rocky planets could have existed in pockets of the early Universe where matter was exceptionally dense, leading to the formation of massive, short-lived stars that would have enriched these pockets in the heavier elements needed to make planets. He suggests that there would have been a habitable epoch of 2 million or 3 million years during which all rocky planets would have been able to maintain liquid water, regardless of their distance from a star.
“These planets are very rare objects that are extremely unlikely, but because the universe is so large, you could still have them,” Loeb says. These planetary systems would have to be very stable from a very early stage to give life a chance of emerging.
Many of our greatest scientists have been asking why does the universe appear to be “fine-tuned” for life? The logic behind this question, sometimes known as the anthropic principle, says that’s why we are here today, able to study the universe and learn about its laws, that the fundamental constants in the universe are tuned in just the right way for us to be around to observe them. But if any of these constants were slightly different, we could never have come in to exist in the first place.
“The anthropic argument gives us an excuse for not seeking a more fundamental understanding,” says Loeb, which makes the notion of “big bang life” appealing. The denser regions of matter needed for it to arise would have also required a cosmological constant a million times larger than ours. That would mean life existed in our universe even at a time when the value of the cosmological constant would have precluded the existence of humans, negating the anthropic thesis.
Christopher Jarzynski, a biophysicist at the University of Maryland, reports the journal Nature, is not convinced that life could exist in a uniformly warm Universe. Life on Earth depends thermodynamically not only on the heat source of the Sun, but also on the cold cosmic microwave background, which provides a heat sink, he notes. “Life feeds off this,” he says.
Alexander Vilenkin, a cosmologist at Tufts University, issued the most logical hole in the Loeb hypothesis “that a few million years is too short a time to produce intelligent life.” And the statistical odds of it happening are so low, and that most life in our universe should be suited to today’s small cosmological constant, that from a statistical view the anthropic principle remains valid.
The image at the top of the page shows an extraordinarily dynamic galaxy cluster, MACS J0717.5+3745, with a total mass greater than 1015 (a million billion) times the mass of the sun or more than 1,000 times the mass of our own galaxy appears to contain three relatively stationary subclusters (A, C, and D) and one subcluster (B) that is being drawn into the larger galaxy cluster, moving at a speed of 3,000 kilometers per second. By observing a high-speed component of this massive galaxy cluster, Caltech/JPL scientists and collaborators have detected for the first time in an individual object the kinetic Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect, a change in the cosmic microwave background caused by its interaction with massive moving objects.
Today, the Kepler team announced the discovery of 715. Even before the announcement, the observatory had confirmed 246 new worlds outside the solar system. The latest discoveries almost quadruple that number. Kepler works by looking for the slight dimming of starlight caused when a distant planet transits its parent star. Any dip in stellar brightness attracts the attention of the Kepler team, and can prompt them to declare a planet candidate. Verification of candidates can be a laborious process, proceeding slowly, planet-by-planet.
A research team co-led by Jack Lissauer of the Ames Research Center has figured out a way to speed the process up. “We’ve developed a procedure to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds.”The technique is called “verification by multiplicity,” which relies in part on the logic of probability. Out of the 160,000 stars Kepler has observed, a few thousand have planet candidates. But not all candidate systems are equal. A subset of the total, numbering in the hundreds, have not just one but multiple candidates. By concentrating on those busy systems, the team found 715 planets orbiting 305 stars.
The method of multiplicity can be likened to the behavior of lions and lionesses. Suppose that Kepler’s stars are like lions, and the planets are lionesses. If you see two big cats it could be a lion and a lioness or it could be two lions. But if more than two cats are gathered, then it is very likely a lion and his pride. Thus, through multiplicity, the lionesses—or planets—can be reliably identified.
All of the newly-discovered worlds are located in multi-planet systems. Nearly 95 percent of the planets are smaller than Neptune—that is, less than four times the size of Earth. This is a marked increase in the known number of relatively small planets.
“This study shows us that planets in multi-systems tend to be small and their orbits are flat and circular, much like the inner parts of our own solar system,” says Jason Rowe a co-leader of the research at the SETI Institute.
Four of the new planets are less than two-and-a-half times the size of Earth. Moreover, they orbit in their sun’s habitable zone, where the surface temperature of the planets may be suitable for liquid water, a key ingredient for life as we know it.
“The more we explore,” concludes Rowe, “the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home.”
The image at the top of the page is a NASA artist concept depicting multiple-transiting planet systems, which are stars with more than one planet. The planets eclipse or transit their host star from the vantage point of the observer. This angle is called edge-on.
Dr. Rick Strassman in his book DMT: the Spirit Molecule, claims that DMT, which is one of the most powerful psychedelic drugs, can provide a reliable and regular access to the other planes of existence. He claims that DMT may actually be a gateway to parallel universes.
In fact, these universes are always there and constantly transmit information. But we cannot perceive them because we are simply not designed for this: our ‘program’ keeps us tuned to the standard, mentally ‘normal’ channel. We don’t have the sensory tools available to tune into to this information. Dr. Strassman beliefs that DMT allows us to tune into to other dimensions of existence that are already present right now.
What if DMT can lead us to parallel worlds? Theoretical physicists assume that the existence of parallel worlds is based on the phenomenon of interference, writes Strassman. One of the demonstrations of this phenomenon is what happens to the light beam when passing through a narrow hole in cardboard. Various rings and colorful edges that appear on the screen on which the light falls are not just the outlines of the cardboard. As a result of more complex experiments, the researchers concluded on the existence of “invisible” light particles that collide with those that we can see, refracting light in unexpected ways.
Parallel worlds interact with each other when the interference occurs. According to the theoretical hypothesis, there is an unimaginably huge number of parallel universes, or multiverses, each of which is similar to our own and is subject to the same laws of physics. This is the reason to the fact that it is not necessary that there is anything particularly strange or exotic about different multiverses. At the same time, they are parallel due to the particles that form them and that are located in different positions in each universe.
Strassman refers to the British scientist David Deutsch, a leading theorist in this area and author of The Fabric of Reality. He has corresponded with Deutsch discussing the likelihood that DMT can alter brain function so as to grant access or knowledge about parallel worlds and the physicist doubted this possibility because it would require quantum computing. This phenomenon, according to Deutsch, “could distribute components of a complex task among vast numbers of parallel universes, and then share the results. One of the conditions required for quantum computing is a temperature close to absolute zero.” That is why the physicist finds prolonged contact between universes in a biological system unlikely.
However, Strassman notes that since DMT is the key substance that changes the brain’s physical properties so that quantum computing may take place at body temperature, establishing contact with parallel universes could be possible. In other words, DMT changes the physiology of the brain to such a degree that quantum computing is possible, thus giving us access to these parallel worlds.
This possibility confirms many of the stories reported by those who have used DMT. They report that it is more than a mere hallucination or a “trip”, and often report going to other worlds and interacting with beings that inhabit these worlds. With a theoretical hypothesis in place, we can now begin to give credence to the idea that users of DMT are in fact tapping into other parallel worlds.
It was a glorious morning in late August when me and my friends went mushroom hunting in the meadows in the outskirts of my place in Mexico. We searched in the patches of tall grass left uneaten by the cows that looked at us uninterested while ruminating. Hidden inside these tall patches of grass, there were large bodies of cow dung.
Mushrooms feed on cellulose, that is why they grow there. Cellulose is broken down by the cow’s digestive system to facilitate the growth of mushrooms, and it is the excess of nitrogen in the soil around the dung that keeps the cows away from eating the grass.
We collected the mushrooms filled with a mix of veneration and enthusiasm and then proceeded to a nearby forest where we ingested them. I had taken a couple of psychedelics before, but nothing had such a strong effect as these mushrooms. Gradually, geometrical patterns of previous unseen hues and of complicated shapes twirled and tinkled. My body felt a bit like rubber and I was yawning a lot. Everything seemed to breathe and was alive and conscious. When I went into a deeper stage, there was no longer an “I” but a “we” – me, my friends and the forest became a single unity, rejoicing in the mystery of existence.
Even though the effect of mushrooms has now long faded away, the insight that I gained from the experience is still with me: I carry it around as precious wisdom. It was a life-changing experience. It really was!
R. Gordon Wasson, an American author and ethnomycologist, played a vital role in spreading awareness of the existence of psychoactive mushrooms to a wide audience. He, like me, was profoundly touched by his first experience with magic mushrooms. It steered his life towards the study of the relationship between mushrooms and humanity (ethno-mycology). He soon discovered that the magic mushrooms, that can be categorized as psychedelics, have a long and important relationship with mankind.
For example, the Aztecs and Mayans incorporated its usage in their rituals of worshiping, divination and even, just for the fun of it. Similarly, the people of Siberia had a religious relationship with the mushroom Amanita Muscaria.
Here in Mexico if you take a look at the 100 peso bill, one can see how the usage of these mushrooms are incorporated into the culture of the inhabitants before the Spanish came. A statue of Xochipilli can be seen on the bill, sitting down, in ecstasy, displaying ominous wise eyes. He is the Aztec god of art, games, beauty and flowers and on his skin we can see the image of various entheogens used by the Aztecs, like the mushroom and other ethnobotanicals.
Wasson got hold of an essay by Richard Shultes, an ethnobotanist and a psychedelic pioneer, where he described the existence of magic mushrooms and of people who were using them in a ritualistic manner. He went to Mexico to pursue the validation of his thesis.
In Huatla, Oaxaca, he met the legendary healer Maria Sabina and attended one of her healing ceremonies called velada (roughly translates into evening event) where he experienced the “childrens” as Maria Sabina called them with affection.
Gordon Wasson receiving mushrooms from Maria Sabina
Wasson then published his findings in Life magazine in 1957, featuring him on the cover. This was the moment when the existence of these mushrooms gained attention by the general public. It subsequently sparked interest among many hippies and psychonauts, who traveled to Mexico in pursuit of these magic mushrooms.
Wasson also postulated that an ancient drink called soma, was actually made out of a magic mushroom. As we can see from the following quote, it seems to have given the drinkers many insights and made them have some sort of metamorphosis:
“We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Now what may foeman’s malice do to harm us? What, O Immortal, mortal man’s deception? (Rigveda (8.48.3))”
Soma is important because it is a crucial source of inspiration for the people who wrote the Vedas, ancient texts that originated in India, making up the oldest scriptures of Hinduism (around 1st century B.C).
The other thesis is described in the book “The Road to Eleusis” (having Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD and C.A.P. Ruck as a collaborators). He makes the hypothesis that a drink called ‘kykeon’ was similarly made out of a fungal parasite of barley called ergot (it contains LSA, the precursor of LSD). Similar to the Soma, this drink allowed people to peek into the after-life.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece
This drink seem to be used during the Eleusinian Mysteries (initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece). We do not know much about it since it was a well-kept secret and those who divulged the core ritual received death penalty. What we do know, is that this festival was a fundamental part of the ancient Greek culture.
Terence McKenna, another mushroom enthusiast, also hypothesized that the Eleusinian Mysteries took place under the effect of some substance that came from mushrooms (although he thought that they were some sort of Psilocybe kind). He said that the mushroom was not only a part of ancient cultures, but the very reason behind our advanced cognitive capacities.
His theory is often referred as the “Stoned Ape Theory of Human Evolution”. He theorized that the Homo Sapiens stumbled with the species Psilocybe Cubensis and started ingesting. The effects of the mushroom that address fundamental facets help us become Homo Sapiens by modulation, our sense of ego, for example, promoting social bonding; similarly, language, could have triggered something in our psyche that allowed us to reach a fundamentally higher level of communication.
Nowadays psilocybin, one of the main alkaloids that most magic mushrooms have, is being researched for its medical uses. Research has shown that it can certainly help patients with terminal diseases come to terms with life. Also, it can help get rid of depression, anxiety and other unnecessary psychological habits.
Microscopic view of Mycelium
Mushrooms are truly wonderful beings. What we usually consider to be a mushroom, for example, the ones we buy in the supermarket, are actually just their fruiting bodies. Their purpose is the dispersing of spores in to its surroundings; but if we look underground, we find that under the fruiting body there are complex networks of interlocking tubular cells called mycelium.
They grow from the mushroom’s spores, and quickly become a happy community of selfless cells that work in harmony towards their goals. Nutrients and cellular compounds travel along these tubular networks to help the growth of mushrooms, aimed at the abortion of further nutrients. Yes, but why would a mushroom put so much of its energy into producing a substance that has no benefit to it?
I like to think that it is their gift to us, in order to open our mind and heart. It is the realization that we can be like mushrooms, to work as a community, that’s what we learn when we eat them. Rather than being separate beings from one another, we are fundamentally united: Interdependence is more important than independence to archive realization in a broader scale. Our actions spread like spores do, let us put some good vibes into it. The cosmic sacrament with magic mushrooms is available to us as a gift from the mushroom kingdom, let us be ready for it, let us allow the mushroom to give us their wisdom!
The human brain is capable of 1016 processes per second, which makes it far more powerful than any computer currently in existence. But that doesn’t mean our brains don’t have major limitations. The lowly calculator can do math thousands of times better than we can, and our memories are often less than useless — plus, we’re subject to cognitive biases, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. Here are a dozen of the most common and pernicious cognitive biases that you need to know about.
Before we start, it’s important to distinguish between cognitive biases and logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in logical argumentation (e.g. ad hominem attacks, slippery slopes, circular arguments, appeal to force, etc.). A cognitive bias, on the other hand, is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations (such as statistical errors or a false sense of probability).
Some social psychologists believe our cognitive biases help us process information more efficiently, especially in dangerous situations. Still, they lead us to make grave mistakes. We may be prone to such errors in judgment, but at least we can be aware of them. Here are some important ones to keep in mind.
We love to agree with people who agree with us. It’s why we only visit websites that express our political opinions, and why we mostly hang around people who hold similar views and tastes. We tend to be put off by individuals, groups, and news sources that make us feel uncomfortable or insecure about our views — what the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner called cognitive dissonance. It’s this preferential mode of behavior that leads to the confirmation bias — the often unconscious act of referencing only those perspectives that fuel our pre-existing views, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing opinions — no matter how valid — that threaten our world view. And paradoxically, the internet has only made this tendency even worse.
It’s called a fallacy, but it’s more a glitch in our thinking. We tend to put a tremendous amount of weight on previous events, believing that they’ll somehow influence future outcomes. The classic example is coin-tossing. After flipping heads, say, five consecutive times, our inclination is to predict an increase in likelihood that the next coin toss will be tails — that the odds must certainly be in the favor of heads. But in reality, the odds are still 50/50. As statisticians say, the outcomes in different tosses are statistically independent and the probability of any outcome is still 50%.
Relatedly, there’s also the positive expectation bias — which often fuels gambling addictions. It’s the sense that our luck has to eventually change and that good fortune is on the way. It also contribues to the “hot hand” misconception. Similarly, it’s the same feeling we get when we start a new relationship that leads us to believe it will be better than the last one.
Remember that time you bought something totally unnecessary, faulty, or overly expense, and then you rationalized the purchase to such an extent that you convinced yourself it was a great idea all along? Yeah, that’s post-purchase rationalization in action — a kind of built-in mechanism that makes us feel better after we make crappy decisions, especially at the cash register. Also known as Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome, it’s a way of subconsciously justifying our purchases — especially expensive ones. Social psychologists say it stems from the principle of commitment, our psychological desire to stay consistent and avoid a state of cognitive dissonance.
Very few of us have a problem getting into a car and going for a drive, but many of us experience great trepidation about stepping inside an airplane and flying at 35,000 feet. Flying, quite obviously, is a wholly unnatural and seemingly hazardous activity. Yet virtually all of us know and acknowledge the fact that the probability of dying in an auto accident is significantlygreater than getting killed in a plane crash — but our brains won’t release us from this crystal clear logic (statistically, we have a 1 in 84 chance of dying in a vehicular accident, as compared to a 1 in 5,000 chance of dying in an plane crash [other sources indicate odds as high as 1 in 20,000]). It’s the same phenomenon that makes us worry about getting killed in an act of terrorism as opposed to something far more probable, like falling down the stairs or accidental poisoning.
This is that effect of suddenly noticing things we didn’t notice that much before — but we wrongly assume that the frequency has increased. A perfect example is what happens after we buy a new car and we inexplicably start to see the same car virtually everywhere. A similar effect happens to pregnant women who suddenly notice a lot of other pregnant women around them. Or it could be a unique number or song. It’s not that these things are appearing more frequently, it’s that we’ve (for whatever reason) selected the item in our mind, and in turn, are noticing it more often. Trouble is, most people don’t recognize this as a selectional bias, and actually believe these items or events are happening with increased frequency — which can be a very disconcerting feeling. It’s also a cognitive bias that contributes to the feeling that the appearance of certain things or events couldn’t possibly be a coincidence (even though it is).
We humans tend to be apprehensive of change, which often leads us to make choices that guarantee that things remain the same, or change as little as possible. Needless to say, this has ramifications in everything from politics to economics. We like to stick to our routines, political parties, and our favorite meals at restaurants. Part of the perniciousness of this bias is the unwarranted assumption that another choice will be inferior or make things worse. The status-quo bias can be summed with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — an adage that fuels our conservative tendencies. And in fact, some commentators say this is why the U.S. hasn’t been able to enact universal health care, despite the fact that most individuals support the idea of reform.
People tend to pay more attention to bad news — and it’s not just because we’re morbid. Social scientists theorize that it’s on account of our selective attention and that, given the choice, we perceive negative news as being more important or profound. We also tend to give more credibility to bad news, perhaps because we’re suspicious (or bored) of proclamations to the contrary. More evolutionarily, heeding bad news may be more adaptive than ignoring good news (e.g. “saber tooth tigers suck” vs. “this berry tastes good”). Today, we run the risk of dwelling on negativity at the expense of genuinely good news. Steven Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, argues that crime, violence, war, and other injustices are steadily declining, yet most people would argue that things are getting worse — what is a perfect example of the negativity bias at work.
Though we’re often unconscious of it, we love to go with the flow of the crowd. When the masses start to pick a winner or a favorite, that’s when our individualized brains start to shut down and enter into a kind of “groupthink” or hivemind mentality. But it doesn’t have to be a large crowd or the whims of an entire nation; it can include small groups, like a family or even a small group of office co-workers. The bandwagon effect is what often causes behaviors, social norms, and memes to propagate among groups of individuals — regardless of the evidence or motives in support. This is why opinion polls are often maligned, as they can steer the perspectives of individuals accordingly. Much of this bias has to do with our built-in desire to fit in and conform, as famously demonstrated by the Asch Conformity Experiments.
As individuals trapped inside our own minds 24/7, it’s often difficult for us to project outside the bounds of our own consciousness and preferences. We tend to assume that most people think just like us — though there may be no justification for it. This cognitive shortcoming often leads to a related effect known as the false consensus bias where we tend to believe that people not only think like us, but that they also agree with us. It’s a bias where we overestimate how typical and normal we are, and assume that a consensus exists on matters when there may be none. Moreover, it can also create the effect where the members of a radical or fringe group assume that more people on the outside agree with them than is the case. Or the exaggerated confidence one has when predicting the winner of an election or sports match.
The Current Moment Bias
We humans have a really hard time imagining ourselves in the future and altering our behaviors and expectations accordingly. Most of us would rather experience pleasure in the current moment, while leaving the pain for later. This is a bias that is of particular concern to economists (i.e. our unwillingness to not overspend and save money) and health practitioners. Indeed, a 1998 study showed that, when making food choices for the coming week, 74% of participants chose fruit. But when the food choice was for the current day, 70% chose chocolate.
Also known as the relativity trap, this is the tendency we have to compare and contrast only a limited set of items. It’s called the anchoring effect because we tend to fixate on a value or number that in turn gets compared to everything else. The classic example is an item at the store that’s on sale; we tend to see (and value) the difference in price, but not the overall price itself. This is why some restaurant menus feature very expensive entrees, while also including more (apparently) reasonably priced ones. It’s also why, when given a choice, we tend to pick the middle option — not too expensive, and not too cheap.
From intergalactic neutrinos and invisible brains, to the creation of miniature human “organoids,” 2013 was an remarkable year for scientific discovery. Here are 17 of the biggest scientific breakthroughs, innovations and advances of 2013.
Bacteria have their own version of an adaptive immune system; but “CRISPR,” as the system is known, does not target protein antigens they way your immune system does. Instead, CRISPR works by targeting and eliminating specific DNA sequences with matching strands of RNA. What’s more, the system is easily manipulated – since researchers first reported harnessing the system in January,writes Elizabeth Pennisi in a perspective piece for Science, “various groups have used it to delete, add, activate or suppress targeted genes in human cells, mice, rats, zebrafish, bacteria, fruit flies, yeast, nematodes and crops, demonstrating broad utility for the technique.” For scientists in search of new tools, few qualities are more important than versatility and ease of use. CRISPR has both – and, some say, the potential to revolutionize the field of molecular biology.
By drilling a 1.5 mile hole deep into an Antarctic glacier, physicists working at the IceCube South Pole Observatory this year captured 28 neutrinos, those mysterious and extremely powerful subatomic particles that can pass straight through solid matter. And here’s the real kicker: the particles likely originated from beyond our solar system – and possibly even our galaxy. ”This is a landmark discovery,” said Alexander Kusenko, a UCLA astroparticle physicist who was not involved in the investigation, “possibly a Nobel Prize in the making.”
400,000-Year-Old DNA Muddles Humanity’s Origin Story
DNA recovered from a 400,000-year-old thigh bone has complicated our view of human evolution. The oldest-known human DNA discovered to date, the genetic material preserved within the bone – which anatomists first identified as Neanderthal-like – is thought to belong not to a forerunner to Neanderthals, but that of a little-understood branch of hominins known as Denisovans. The discordant findings are leading anthropologists to reconsider the last several hundred thousand years of human evolution. “It is possible,” writes Carl Zimmer, in his coverage of the discovery for the New York Times, “that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA.” [Image Credit: Javier Trueba, Madrid Scientific Films]
Dawn of the Mini-Organ
Lab-grown organs-in-miniature are providing scientists with new ways to study therapies and diseases as they play out in human tissues. The so called “organoids” are generated by coaxing pluripotent stem cells into a variety of specialized tissues, giving rise to “liver buds,” ”mini-kidneys,” and itty-bitty human brains like the one pictured above, which grow no bigger than an apple seed.
A Long-lost Continent is Discovered Beneath the Indian Ocean
For ages, Mauritia has been hiding. The small, precambrian continent once resided between Madagascar and India, before splitting off and disappearing beneath the ocean waves in a multi-million-year breakup spurred by tectonic rifts and a yawning sea-floor. But now, volcanic activity has driven remnants of the long-lost continent right through to the Earth’s surface.After millions of years, and some incredible geologic sleuthing, it seems Mauritia has been found, as researchers reported in Nature Geoscience back in February.
Giant “Pandoravirus” Could Redefine Life as we Know it
In July, Lamm released a series of illustrations imagining a Washington, D.C., where Wi-Fi was visible, bathing famous sites in a rainbow of colors. On Wednesday, he finished a sequel of sorts — a series of pictures of U.S. cities and landmarks, this time with cell phone radiation visible as a hazy, multicolored, strangely geometric overlay.
In an email to The Huffington Post, Lamm explained what was going on with each picture.
Here, a “hexagonal grid of cellular base-station sites” covers the city of Chicago. Base stations, more commonly called cell phone towers, sit at the corner of each hexagonal “cell” in Chicago’s huge network. The picture also shows “antenna signal extending beyond the original cells” that provides coverage over part of Lake Michigan.
An earlier article in The Atlantic Cities explained that cell phone networks across the country are made up of multiple hexagonal areas, each of which is called a cell. The hexagonal grid is efficient: Each cell tower sits at the intersection of three cells and each of the three directional antennas on top of the tower covers a 120-degree slice of the landscape.
Lamm’s rendering of the Department of Commerce headquarters in Washington focuses on the tridirectional nature of radiation emanating from a single cell phone tower. The different colors represent the radiation’s different frequencies, which allow mobile users to make calls without experiencing interference.
This illustration of the New York skyline shows how cellular base stations on top of buildings provide much of the coverage in the crowded city.
Here’s how a long-distance cell tower radiates over the Hollywood Hills.
For good and ill, finding places where cell phones don’t reach is becoming increasing difficult.