“How did life begin” Are we alone in the Universe? We are the first generation in history to ask those as scientific rather than philosophical questions says Andrew Knoll, professor of natural history at Harvard. The question: How did life begin on Earth is one of the big unsolved questions humanity has always asked. Biology has been very good at describing how living organisms work, but not very good at answering what life is or how it could emerge from a non-organic, non-living world.
Enter Martin Nowak, professor of mathematics and biology and a member of Harvard’s Origins of Life Initiative, who say that life is an engine propelled by evolution. Most biologists, says Nowak, look at evolution as a process that occurs among organisms that reproduce. Nowak takes an exciting new view, looking at evolution at the molecular level. To Nowak, evolution is a well defined process that can be described as precise mathematical equations. Nowak believes that “the same principals governing complex life forms must have been present at the earliest, simplest molecular levels otherwise the origin of life would depend on an unlikely collection of disparate random events.
Nowak’s thesis that evolution is the driver of life, “not an added feature,” led him to conclude that not only is cooperation among humans and other organisims a fundamental aspect of evolution, but it is also essential at the level of molecules. To Nowak Early Earth’s “prelife was not a primordial soup of chemicals, but an active generative phenomenon in which mutation and selection were already acting on molecules. Only when some of them began reproducing, out competing the others, did life begin.”
We humans are all too aware of the scary shit nature likes to pull on us. Whether it’s destroying our towns with surging flood waters or setting our drug labs on fire with a well-placed lightning strike, we’re constantly reminded that this is Mother Nature’s world, and we’re only squatting on it until she eventually comes home from vacation with a lingering tequila buzz and a shotgun. But perhaps that’s unfair to nature: She’s not all petty violence and viciousness … sometimes she goes for more of a psychological approach to warfare. Here are a few natural phenomena that prove nature is probably just fucking with our heads …
This looks like a hot vacation spot in Tron World. It looks like a jellyfish rave. It looks like somebody ate the future and threw it up on a beach. This is actually a bioluminescent bloom, and it’s the result of a mass of naturally glowing plankton washing up all at once on a single tide. There is zero trickery going on here. If you were standing there in person, this is exactly what it would look like. The motion of the ocean agitates the bioluminescent plankton as it brings them to shore, causing the waves to flare to sudden, brilliant life.
#6. Frost Flowers
It’s like a scene out of an arctic-themed Disney movie: This would be the set piece when Princess Nanoo sings about the “frozen beauty of the north,” right before the sinister Duke of Blubber steals her away.
And it is absolutely real: These are Frost Flowers, and they’re formed when tiny imperfections in surface ice kickstart a chain reaction of bizarre growth. Hollow tubes of ice form vertically from the imperfections, pulling moisture and debris into the structure. More ice grows over those imperfections, bringing in more moisture and debris, and so on and so forth until you have an entire floating field of icy romance.
#5. Snow Chimneys
Ah, the ancient slumbering giant whose frozen body forms Antarctica finally awakens, just as the prophecy foretold, and it seems he’s uh … he’s got some steamy morning wood.
That’s actually an ice fumarole. A normal fumarole is a vent that protrudes from the ground, allowing steam from volcanoes to escape out into the open. Of course, arctic volcanoes have fumaroles, too, but it’s so cold that steam particles freeze upon contact with the outside air, building up and up until you eventually get massive, 60-foot-high “ice chimneys” inexplicably shooting hot air out into the arctic wasteland. It makes sense now that you know the explanation, but if you were an arctic explorer stumbling upon one of those things for the first time, you just know you’d assume “giant Eskimos cooking breakfast.”
Quiet, can you hear it? It’s as if a thousand voices suddenly cried out at once! And they cried out “FAAAKE PIXLZZZ!!!”
That’s either clearly Photoshopped, or we’ve finally discovered the gateway to Oz. The interior of the rainbow is daytime, the exterior is night. You expect us to believe this fantasy bullshit? Well, you should probably start: While it may look like the pseudo-surrealist pap you’d find hanging in some naturopath dentist’s office, this is a real photo of a real phenomenon. There are such things as rainbows in the middle of the night. If it looks like the sun’s coming up in the middle of that rainbow, it’s not — that’s just the long exposure augmenting background light.
But the effect isn’t just long-exposure trickery. If the conditions are just right, you can see Moonbows with the naked eye, if you’re paying attention to the sky opposite the moon. For once, the explanation is simple: Moonbows work exactly like rainbows and appear whenever bright moonlight refracts just so off of moisture in the air.
And they happen fairly often, it’s just that most are duller rainbows, or less sharp eyes only pick up on a faint white shimmering arc, while some lucky bastards can squint and see a rainbow in the dark. So it turns out Dio wasn’t a poet, after all: Dude just had some keen peepers.
#3. Snow Rollers
Is Old Man Winter whittling a shiv? Is Frosty the Snowman rolling up the bodies of all the children that didn’t believe in him in giant ice-rugs for later disposal?
Nope. Those are “Snow Rollers,” and the name is pretty self-explanatory. For a snow roller to form, the ground must be covered by a layer of ice that snow will not stick to, the layer of ice must be covered by wet, loose snow with a temperature near the melting point of ice, the wind must be strong enough to move the rollers, but not strong enough to blow them apart and, finally, the ground must have a slope, to start the rolling.
Well, either that, or you just feed a Frost Giant a bunch of fiber …
High altitude cirrus clouds sometimes contain a large number of hexagonal ice crystals, and if these are struck by sunlight at just the right angle, with the sun elevated at least 58 degrees, the sky suddenly looks like somebody waved a giant magnet in front of an old-school computer monitor.
Now think about describing that moment to anybody who wasn’t right there with you: You’re either getting tossed in the loony bin or hit up for some of those excellent drugs you’re apparently on.
What looks like the aquatic version of the Nothing from The NeverEnding Story up there is actually … well, no, turns out that analogy is pretty accurate. The Brinicle is an icy tentacle of doom that instantly freezes any sea creatures unlucky enough to be caught in that ominous river of frozen death up there. And you really have to watch it in time-lapse action to see how disturbing it is. The Brinicle looks like a magic spell cast by some sort of evil sea wizard:
It happens when newly formed sea ice creates very salty brine that is denser than the sea water. When that brine inevitably sinks to the bottom, the water surrounding it freezes over, leaving an “icy sheath” in its wake. As soon as the frozen brine hits the bottom, the surrounding sea floor is enveloped in a catacomb of ice, killing any life caught in its path.
A sonic boom heard in California last year had an out-of-this world origin as ”a large meteoric event” according to NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Scientists now estimate the blast measured in near 5 kilotons or roughly 1/3 the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, estimates the object was about the size of a minivan, weighed in at around 154,300 pounds.
Meteorite hunters found fragments of the rock, identified by the “fusion crust” that forms when it burns in the atmosphere. NASA and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, also mobilised a search team of about 30 scientists to search for the small black rocks.The meteorite turned out to be a very rare type of rock called CM chondrite, which makes up less than 1 per cent of the meteorites that fall to Earth. According to Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, it is not clear whether it is rare because it easily burns up in the atmosphere or there are just fewer of these rocks in space.
The meteorite has now led to an important discovery concerning the possible inventory of molecules available to the early Earth. Scientists led by Sandra Pizzarello, a research professor in ASU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, found that the Sutter’s Mill meteorite contains organic molecules not previously found in any meteorites. These findings suggest a far greater availability of extraterrestrial organic molecules than previously thought possible, an inventory that could indeed have been important in molecular evolution and life itself.
“The analyses of meteorites never cease to surprise you … and make you wonder,” explains Pizzarello. “This is a meteorite whose organics had been found altered by heat and of little appeal for bio- or prebiotic chemistry, yet the very Solar System processes that lead to its alteration seem also to have brought about novel and complex molecules of definite prebiotic interest such as polyethers.”
Pizzarello and her team hydrothermally treated fragments of the meteorite and then detected the compounds released by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The hydrothermal conditions of the experiments, which also mimic early Earth settings (a proximity to volcanic activity and impact craters), released a complex mixture of oxygen-rich compounds, the probable result of oxidative processes that occurred in the parent body. They include a variety of long chain linear and branched polyethers, whose number is quite bewildering.
This addition to the inventory of organic compounds produced in extraterrestrial environments furthers the discourse of whether their delivery to the early Earth by comets and meteorites might have aided the molecular evolution that preceded the origins of life.
A collaboration between various US and European institutes has proven the presence of vital nucleobases in the Murchison meteorite, an extraterrestrial rock fragment which impacted Earth in 1969. Nucleobases are the very binary bits of DNA, the base pairs that make up the vital genetic information. Uracil and Xanthine were the two of the most exciting components detected. Uracil is Thymines stand-in when RNA is created, and Xanthene is a mutated form of Guanine.
These bases are unquestionably alien – for one, the rock-chemicals are equally left and right “handed” (a property of the physical structure of the chemicals), while the Earth-borne biological equivalents are either one or the other(sugars are right-handed, amino acids are left-handed). Even more fundamentally, the carbon atoms that make these chemicals organic at all are a space born isotope, the not-so-unlucky Carbon-13, while life on Earth is based on Carbon-12.
Strikes of such substances early in evolution may have played a vital role in the development of Earth biology - and with these precious particles literally falling out of the sky, the odds of life off-planet seem better than ever.
Members of a UN human rights conference in Geneva were presented accounts of international experts, the Russian Foreign Ministry reports.
The speakers argued that the suspected sarin gas attack near Damascus on August 21 was likely a provocation of the rebel forces and that a military action against the President Bashar Assad government will likely result in civilian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe affecting the entire region.
Evidence for the Russian case, including numerous eyewitness reports and results of investigations of the chemical weapon incident by activists, were handed over to a UN commission of experts probing the Syrian crisis, the ministry said. – via RT