ENOUGH SAID

“Donald Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki is not treason, and saying it highlights the hypocritical hysterics of those that cry collusion”.

 

 

 

 

Dinosaur tail found in amber at market in Myanmar

The tip of a preserved dinosaur tail section, showing carbon film at its surface exposure, and feathers arranged in keels down both sides of tail.

Source: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar)
The tip of a preserved dinosaur tail section, showing carbon film at its surface exposure, and feathers arranged in keels down both sides of tail.

Scientists browsing a market in Southeast Asia have uncovered a highly unusual 99-million-year-old feathered dinosaur tail encased in amber.

It is rare to find a feather attached to a dinosaur’s body in an amber sample, and it supports the position among researchers that many dinosaurs had feathers rather than scales, like the birds that have descended from them.

 

This reconstruction depicts a small coelurosaur approaching a resin-coated branch on the forest floor.

Source: Chung-tat Cheung
This reconstruction depicts a small coelurosaur approaching a resin-coated branch on the forest floor.

The study’s lead author, Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, found the unusual specimen at an amber market in Myanmar in 2015, and urged the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology to buy the piece after recognizing its potential scientific importance.

The team used a CT scan to peer into the fossil, finding that the long and flexible nature of the tail meant it had to belong to a dinosaur, not a bird.

The tail belonged to a dinosaur called Coelurosaur — a dinosaur about the size of a small bird, from the same theropod group of dinosaurs as Tyrannosaurus rex. Despite the feathers, the dinosaur was not able to fly, providing more evidence for the contention that plumage originally began popping up on animals for reasons other than flight — such as for camouflage or attracting mates.

Amber is fossilized tree sap, and it acts as a kind of resin that can preserve organic matter that would otherwise be lost.

“Amber pieces preserve tiny snapshots of ancient ecosystems, but they record microscopic details, three-dimensional arrangements, and labile tissues that are difficult to study in other settings,” one of the study’s authors, Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, said in a news release. “This is a new source of information that is worth researching with intensity and protecting as a fossil resource.”

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How can I avoid paying taxes on my Social Security income?

By Melissa Horton

Image result for taxation

A:Nearly 90% of individuals over age 65 rely on Social Security income to pay for a large portion of living expenses throughout their retirement years. The federal government makes this benefit available to those who have worked and contributed to the system for a certain number of years, but the total monthly benefit varies from person to person. Although Social Security is an inevitable part of most individuals’ retirement planning, retirees may not be fully aware of how and when those benefits are taxed.

When Social Security Is Not Taxable

For retirees who receive Social Security income with little to no supplemental influx of cash, either from retirement plan distributions or other earnings, most likely those benefits are not taxable. The average benefit received is just under $1,300 each month, totaling $15,600 annually, and benefits are only taxable when combined income exceeds $25,000 for single retirees or $32,000 for couples filing joint tax returns. Individuals who are able to sustain the type of lifestyle they need or want on that level of income do not pay taxes on their Social Security benefits.

Taxable Social Security Income

For Social Security benefits to be taxable, individuals must have income above the threshold. This is based on total combined income, calculated as an individual’s adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest earnings and half of his or her Social Security benefit. If combined income for a single individual is above $25,000 but below $34,000, or above $32,000 but below $44,000 for married couples, 50% of Social Security benefits are taxed. Combined income above these maximum amounts results in benefits taxed up to 85%. At this time, there is no income level that creates a situation where Social Security benefits are 100% taxable for retirees.

Avoiding Tax on Benefits

The simplest way to keep Social Security income free from income tax is to keep total combined income low; however, most retirees are not able to live on the average monthly benefit of $1,300 without supplementing it from investments or savings. Individuals receiving Social Security benefits can get creative to avoid reaching or exceeding the relatively low combined income limits. Instead of taking distributions from a traditional IRA or other pre-tax retirement savings plans, such as an employer sponsored 401(k) or 403(b), distributions from a Roth IRA may provide the supplemental income necessary to meet living expenses without affecting the combined income calculation. Because Roth IRA distributions are made with post-tax dollars, withdrawals are tax-free in retirement and therefore do not increase total income for Social Security taxes. A similar effect can be achieved by withdrawing from conventional savings or money market accounts in lieu of pretax investments.

If Roth IRA or savings assets are not available during retirement, retirees may want to consider lowering living expenses to stay below the combined income limits. Paying off a mortgage balance or downsizing to a smaller home prior to receiving Social Security income may considerably reduce the need for supplemental income throughout retirement. Although Social Security income is not fully taxable at any time, retirees need to be aware that benefits are subject to income tax under some circumstances and they must plan to reduce other sources of income if necessary.

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Calling Good What Is Evil And Evil What Is Good

Christina Forreste

IBTIMES UK

Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I truly believe the Word of God is living, staying relevant to each generation as we apply it to today. Indeed, it is sharper than any two-edged sword. So, when I come upon a verse such as Isaiah 5:20 at a certain time, it cuts through all the rhetoric, all the arguments, all the politics, all the religious talk and “Christian-ese” and gets to the heart of the issue. This is a verse for such a time as this. For months, I and millions of others have been witness to this scripture being lived out in churches and on the national stage. It does not matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican – this comes down to basic values and crosses party and denominational lines. I have seen what is good called evil and what is evil called good.

Putting Light for Darkness and Sweet for Bitter

Speaking in anger…is not good. Hateful attitudes and lack of compassion towards a person or group because of their immigration status, color, country of origin or religion…is not good. Pride and exalting oneself above others, ego that is out of control, and lack of humility…is not good. Bragging about sexual assault, stereotyping, lying, sexism, exalting one’s wealth, bullying…is never good. None of this is good, yet we have 81 percent of white evangelicals who have supported and called out what is evil as being good. We have a situation where a large population of our nation’s churches have declared that what Jesus said was evil in his sight, is now good. They have said that what He declared as bitter is now sweet, what He preached as darkness is now light! Thus, we have a spiritual crisis in America.

This isn’t about political and differing views on policy or “how to make America great again.” I am certainly not saying that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is not a Christian. It is never OK to make that accusation, as only God knows the heart. I am talking about those religious leaders and Christians who have embraced ideology of hate and judgment and supported, even promoted, values that are completely contrary to God’s Word and called it “holy.” For months before the election and even more so after the election, I have seen Christian people telling the followers of Christian Democrats of America and me personally that they are not Christians if they vote for Democrats, but they are good Christians if they vote for someone who said you can sexually assault women without their consent. They have embraced racism, bigotry, xenophobia and sexism and called it Christian values. They need to remember what Jesus embraced: character, love, and the outcasts of society.

Just look at Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman – an outcast because of her religion, her ethnic status, and because she was a woman. He not only broke the religious and society rules by speaking to her, He shocked all with His love and He touched her heart by reaching out to her. He was continuously criticized and degraded by the Pharisees and teachers of the law on who He dined with, and let’s not even start on the “riff-raff” He asked to be His disciples! And since this is Christmas, remember the complete humility of Jesus very beginnings. He was born in nothing more than a barn, and He rode into Jerusalem not on a beautiful noble steed with gold plated saddle, but a simple donkey.

So, to put this into perspective, let’s use this example: say you are a Republican Christian and you care deeply about the working poor of this country, as I, a Christian Democrat, do. We both care based on our Christian values, we just reach a different conclusion as to what will help the poor. This is not you being evil as a conservative and me being good as a liberal or vice versa – this is a difference of political views. We can and should hold mutual respect as believers on this standpoint, even as we disagree on policy and vote differently – remembering we have a mutual goal and value. However, if you belittle the poor, if you scapegoat minorities who are poor, if you insult them, if you are hardhearted and without compassion…we now stand on opposite ends of scripture and you have just embraced an ideology that calls what Jesus Christ said is evil, good.

Sometimes what is passed off as good or holy on the outside is not. Jesus made this abundantly clear in Matthew 23:5-7, “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” And in verse 28, “In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Matthew 23 lays out very clearly the seriousness of this issue of hypocrisy, religious bullying and “gagging on a gnat while swallowing a camel.” Here is the best way to tell if you are dealing with a person or church that is calling good what is evil – the Pharisee will point out your sin and condemn you, Christ will point out your value and love you.

Putting Darkness for Light and Bitter for Sweet

Likewise, we have also seen good things and good works called bad. I have seen liberals mocked relentlessly for pushing an agenda of love and compassion. Efforts to help the poor are said to be giving handouts to drug addicts. A Christian President who has had no scandals while in office, no investigations for corruption, who has upheld the office with decency and a high moral grounding accused of being a Muslim terrorist and disrespected in every way. And I’ve seen a lifelong Christian woman who made her campaign slogan about love and kindness be slandered, insulted, threatened, and falsely accused of the worst things you can think of. She continually quoted the famous Methodist quote by John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can,” and spoke of social justice and lifting every one up – but certain Christians called this, which was good, evil.

Divorce in many conservative Christian circles is still a very dirty word, yet they embraced and excused a man with three divorces and multiple adulterous affairs, and mocked a candidate who had stood through the trial of extra-marital affairs and saved her marriage. There was a special kind of hypocritical irony to watching Christian Trump supporters completely denigrate something which has always been applauded by conservative Christians…calling saving a marriage bitter and multiple divorces and affairs, sweet. One must begin to wonder what “family values” this group of believers actually believe anymore.

You may not have agreed with Hillary Clinton’s policies. You may have disagreed with her approach to the issues – and that’s fine. But what we saw this year was not simple disagreement. The Republican convention and the Trump rallies were full of hatred – it was chanted, it was on signs, even little children held signs with curse words. They said it with bitterness, they treated her supporters with hatred. This kind of visceral attack I saw from people who claim to know Christ, towards this woman who is a fellow sister-in-Christ, can only be put best into words by Jesus Himself: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Never murder. Whoever murders will answer for it in court.’ But I can guarantee that whoever is angry with another believer will answer for it in court. Whoever calls another believer an insulting name will answer for it in the highest court. Whoever calls another believer a fool will answer for it in hellfire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

Michael Gerson, columnist for the Washington Post, said, “Evangelicals in particular should be speaking out for values, not just being on a team…it’s what they said was the most important thing and now that’s totally discredited.” What so many in the conservative Christian church-world preached for decades they called bitter this year. So how can any person take seriously a staunch message of values from the church-world anymore? Well, if any of you are searching or are unsure, let me leave you with this: Let the Bible itself be your guide, and if your preacher is calling what Jesus said was good, evil, and what Jesus said was evil, good, get away from that place as fast as you can and shake the dust off your feet! People reach out to us at Christian Democrats of America on a daily basis, with a great increase after the election, asking if we know of a church they can attend that is not preaching Right-Wing politics, focuses on love and social justice, and is friendly and open to all people. We are building a national list of “safe churches” for this very reason.

 

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Marijuana’s Expansion Could Turn Into a Nightmare for Employers

While marijuana marches forward, drug-testing policies for employers remain stuck in neutral.

Man Holding Marijuana Plant Leaves In Hands Getty
IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

As we look back at what’s transpired in 2016, it could rightly be argued that this was the most successful year ever for marijuana.

2016: Marijuana’s most successful year ever

Entering 2016, 23 states had legalized cannabis for medical use, while residents in four states — Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska — had approved the sale of recreational pot to adults ages 21 and up. Furthermore, Gallup’s 2015 marijuana poll found that 58% of Americans favored the legalization of recreational weed.

Now, less than two weeks before the end of the year, 28 states have legalized medical cannabis, two of which did so entirely through the legislative process (Ohio and Pennsylvania). The number of recreational pot states has also doubled to eight from four, with residents in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada all approving statewide initiatives to legalize adult-use weed. Even marijuana’s public approval has increased, with the 2016 Gallup poll finding that 60% of Americans want to see pot legal across the U.S. — a new all-time high. For added context, just 25% of Americans wanted to see marijuana use legalized two decades ago.

The proof of marijuana’s success can be seen in its election near-sweep (sorry, Arizona), as well as in the rapidly growing legal dollar figures behind the industry. Investment firm Cowen & Co is forecasting compound annual growth for the legal pot industry of nearly 24% through 2026, while ArcView is calling for 30% annualized legal sales growth through the end of the decade.

Marijuana Cannabis Bud On Top Of Hundred Dollar Bill Getty
IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Marijuana’s expansion could very well lead to an employment boom within the industry, with some pundits calling for a 100% to 200% increase in pot jobs available in the near future. CNBC is estimating that the cannabis industry already employs about 150,000 people, so we could be talking about another 150,000 to 300,000 jobs being created solely because of marijuana’s state-level expansion.

However, outside the marijuana industry, it could be another story.

A nightmare for employers is brewing

While marijuana’s expansion is setting up bountiful opportunities within the pot industry, it could be narrowing employment opportunities elsewhere.

Even though more than half of all U.S. states have legalized medical cannabis, and more than a fifth of the U.S. population will soon have access to legal recreational cannabis following the November elections, the federal government still holds marijuana to be a schedule 1 substance. Schedule 1 drugs are deemed to have no medical benefits and are thus illegal. Employers are within their right to follow federal law during the hiring and/or employment process and administer drug tests that screen for marijuana, even if the state a worker resides in has legalized medical and/or recreational pot. Given that marijuana can stay in a person’s system for a considerable amount of time, this could prove a problem for infrequent users in legal states, and especially for medical marijuana patients who need the drug to treat a specific ailment.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, companies in certain safety-sensitive industries, as well as those that operate directly with the federal government, are unlikely to relax their drug-testing qualifications for initial or continued employment. Industries such as trucking and construction, which require the user to operate heavy machinery, are almost assuredly not going to budge on their marijuana-testing standards, especially with the full effects of marijuana on drivers still not fully known.

Employer Drug Test Marijuana Pot Cannabis Weed Getty
IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Likewise, federal contractor Boeing (NYSE:BA), which employs nearly 162,000 — many of whom are in Washington and California — has firmly stated that it has no intention of changing its drug-testing policy regardless of what laws individual states pass. According to the company, “As a federal contractor, The Boeing Company’s Drug Free Workplace policy is based on federal standards which define marijuana as an illegal drug. Therefore the use of marijuana by Boeing employees is prohibited.” For what it’s worth, Boeing hasn’t experienced major shifts in hiring despite the passage of recreational marijuana laws in Washington state, but that isn’t the case with other industries where it has been difficult to find workers to hire who can pass (and continue to pass) a drug test.

Barry Sample, the aptly named Director of Sciences and Technology for Quest Diagnostics, the company that handles most drug testing for employers, told the Los Angeles Times that most California employers don’t plan to change their policies on marijuana, and many of those in Washington and Colorado that had suggested they would alter their drug-testing policies have not followed through.

A reminder of marijuana’s many challenges

If there’s a lesson to be learned behind the growing clash over legal state-level marijuana use and employers that ardently oppose their employees’ use of pot, it’s that marijuana’s path to success is probably more challenging than most people realize.

Scientist Writing On Clipboard Marijuana Cannabis Getty
IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Until marijuana is rescheduled by the federal government, many employers that are currently testing for it (along with other illegal substances) are probably going to continue to do so. But that’s the problem — the federal government isn’t liable to alter its stance on cannabis anytime soon. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had its opportunity to reschedule pot this summer but declined. The DEA cited a lack of safety and medical evidence, as well as a lack of knowledge surrounding the chemical makeup of marijuana, as reasons for declining to reschedule pot. Petitions that call for the DEA to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana can take years to review.

Also, even though President-elect Donald Trump has demonstrated support for medical marijuana, it doesn’t mean that Republican leaders in Congress will agree. Of the states that have not legalized medical marijuana, many are led by Republican legislators.

These employment challenges compound a number of existing challenges that actual marijuana businesses are also facing, which stem from the federal government’s stance on marijuana. As long as cannabis stays as a schedule 1 substance, access to basic banking services (i.e., checking accounts and lines of credit) will remain constrained, and pot industry businesses probably won’t be able to take normal business deductions come tax time.

Though marijuana’s expansion could continue in 2017 and beyond, it’s expected to be filled with some sizable hiccups and speed bumps.


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Make Your Own Glow-in-the-Dark Beer With Fluorescent Yeast

The $199 kit gets a little help from jellyfish genes

by

The Odin/Facebook

A former NASA biologist just launched a kit to help everyday home brewers step up their beer game by making beverages that glow, because who needs those regular amber hues anymore?

Josiah Zayner left his job in synthetic biology to start his own company, The Odin, which has a goal of increasing the accessibility of science and technology research, as Gizmodo reports. Zayner and The Odin produce kits for interested parties to conduct their own experiments, of sorts, and this bioluminescent beer kit is no different.

The fluorescent yeast kit uses a gene from a jellyfish and retails for $199. It requires about 10 hours of work over the span of two days before a user can get down to brewing.

“There is no impact on the flavor of the beer with the GFP engineering kit,” Zayner tells Eater. “You can literally add the engineered yeast to honey and water (or mash or wort) and the yeast will ferment and fluoresce.”

“This kit demonstrates the power and simplicity of genetic engineering by adding plasmid DNA to the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae so that it turns a fluorescent green color,” the kit’s guide reads. When used in a batch of home brew, the fluorescent yeast will produce a beer that glows under a blacklight, much as tonic water does, albeit for different reasons (tonic water contains quinine, which produces a similar glow as engineered yeast).

The kit has come under some scrutiny from the FDA, but Zayner says The Odin is not trying to sell food-grade materials, and has done research to demonstrate that the kits are not toxic or allergenic. “Honestly, when I started working on this stuff I was just trying to create something cool and push genetic design into the mainstream consumer market,” he says. “We are trying to sell a kit that allows people to create a new type of yeast that they can then possibly use to ferment with. We are trying to create a whole new industry, a whole new way of life where people can use genetic design freely in their homes.”

Zayner’s kit puts beer in a category of other weird glowing foods, including some Floam-colored udon noodles made by a Japanese food scientist and glow-in-the-dark ice cream made at a pop-up ice cream shop in Australia using UV-reactive liquid coloring.

 

Are Aliens Really Just 94 Light Years Away? A ‘Strong Signal’ Might Just Mean Yes

Dan Seitz,UPROXX 


According To Science, Humans Have Been Pooping Wrong For Years. Here Is How It Should Be Done.

No one really likes to discuss it, but “going number 2” is nonetheless a natural and essential part of life. But guess what: we’ve all been doing it wrong, pretty much since the invention of the toilet.

There’s a better, more natural way to do it.

Everyone poops, but evidently we all do it wrong, according to science.

When you sit on a toilet at a 90-degree angle, you form a blockage in your intestines that forces you to strain. Yet if you squat, everything will straighten out.

 

Nature designed us this way, and it’s the healthiest way to enjoy defecating. ““1.2 billion people around the world who squat have almost no incidence of diverticulosis and fewer problems with piles,” says writer and scientist, Giulia Enders.

sheknows

Conversely, excessive strain can cause diverticulosis, swollen tissue, and blood vessels around your colon and anus. The best way to avoid all of this is to simply put a footstool in front of you when you go so that your feet are raised.

Darm Mit Charme

Are We The Earliest Intelligent Life In The Universe?

Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye.

ESA/Hubble & NASA

The study of the formation and logic of the universe — cosmology — and the study of exoplanets and their conduciveness to life do not seem to intersect much.

Scientists in one field focus on the deep physics of the cosmos, while the others search for the billions upon billions of planets out there — and seek to unlock their secrets.

But astrophysicist and cosmologist Avi Loeb, a prolific writer about the early universe from his position at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, sees the two fields of study as inherently connected and has set out to be a bridge between them. A result of his efforts is a theoretical paper that seeks to place the rise of life on Earth, and perhaps elsewhere, in cosmological terms.

His conclusion: Earth may well be a very early example of a living biosphere, having blossomed well before life might be expected on most planets. And in theoretical and cosmological terms, there are good reasons to predict that life will be increasingly common in the universe as the eons pass.

By eons, here, Loeb is thinking in terms that don’t generally get discussed in geological or even astronomical terms. The universe may be an ancient 13.7 or so billion years old, but Loeb sees a potentially brighter future for life not billions — but trillions — of years from now. Peak life in the universe, he says, may arrive several trillion years hence.

“We used the most conservative approaches to understanding the appearance of life in the universe, and our conclusion is that we are very early in the process and that it is likely to ramp up substantially in the future,” says Loeb, whose paper was published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. “Given the factors we took into account, you could say that life on Earth is on the premature side.”

This most intriguing conclusion flows from the age of the universe, the generally understood epochs when stars and then planets and galaxies formed, and then how long it would take for a planet to cool off enough to form the chemical building blocks of life and then life itself. Given these factors, Loeb says, we’re early.

In the long term, the authors determined, the dominant factor in terms of which planets might become habitable proved to be the lifetime of stars. The higher a star’s mass, the shorter its lifetime. Stars larger than about three times the sun’s mass will burn out well before any possible life has time to evolve.

Our sun is a relatively large and bright star, which is why its lifetime will be relatively short in cosmological terms (altogether, maybe 11 billion years, with 4.5 billion already gone). But smaller stars, the “red dwarf,” low-mass variety, are both far more common in the universe and also much longer lived — as in trillions of years.

These smallest stars generally have less than 10 percent the mass of our sun, but they burn their fuel (hydrogen and helium) much more slowly than a larger star. Indeed, some may glow for 10 trillion years, Loeb says, giving ample time for life to emerge on any potentially habitable planets that orbit them. What’s more, there’s every reason to believe that the population of stars in the galaxy and cosmos will increase significantly, giving life ever more opportunity to commence.

As a result, the relative probability of life grows over time. In fact, chances of life are 1,000 times higher in the distant future than now.

This calculation, however, comes with a major caveat: Scientists are sharply divided about whether a star much smaller than ours can actually support life.

The potential obstacles are many — an insufficient amount of heat and energy emanating from the star unless the planet is close in, the fact that red dwarf stars have powerful, luminous beginnings that could send a nearby planet into a runaway greenhouse condition that might result in permanent sterilization, and that many planets around red dwarfs would be close to the stars and consequently tidally locked. That means that one side of the planet would always face the star and be light, while the other would continue in eternal darkness. This was earlier considered to be a pretty sure deterrent to life.

Recent theoretical analyses of planets around these red dwarfs, however, suggests that life could indeed emerge. It could potentially survive at the margins — where day turns into night and the temperatures would likely be stable — and also in other day-side regions were temperatures could be moderated by clouds and winds. But no observations have been made to substantiate the theory.

Because of their relatively cool temperatures and resulting low brightness, individual red dwarfs are nearly impossible to see with the naked eye from Earth. But they’re out there.

The nearest star to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is a red dwarf, as are 20 of the next 30 nearest stars. Scientists announced Wednesday they had discovered that a potentially habitable planet about the size of Earth orbits Proxima Centauri. Data from the Kepler Space Telescope suggest that as many as 25 percent of red dwarfs have planets orbiting in their habitable zones — neither too hot nor too cold to keep liquid water from sometimes pooling on their surfaces.

“I think we can and we should test these theories in the years ahead with observations,” Loeb says. “We should be able to tell if nearby low-mass stars have life around them” in the decades ahead.

And if red dwarfs can support life, then the future for life in the universe is indeed grand.

The merging of cosmological theory and astronomical observation that Loeb has in mind would indeed be unusual, but it is nonetheless consistent with the interdisciplinary nature of much of the broader search for life beyond Earth. That effort has already brought together astrophysicists and geoscientists, astronomers and biologists. It’s just way too big for one discipline.

An interesting sidelight to Loeb’s argument that Earth may well be among the earliest planets where life appeared and continued is that it would provide a solution to the extraterrestrial life puzzle known as Fermi’s Paradox.

It was in 1950 that renowned physicist Enrico Fermi was talking with colleagues over lunch about the predicted existence of billions of still-to-be-discovered planets beyond our solar system, and the likelihood that many had planets around them. Fermi also was convinced that the logic of the vast numbers and of evolution made it certain that intelligent, technologically advanced life existed on some of those planets.

It was an era of fascination with aliens, flying saucers and the like, but there actually were no confirmed reports of visitations by extraterrestrial life. Ever, it seemed.

If intelligent life is common in the universe, Fermi famously wondered, “Then where is everybody?”

There are many potential answers to the question, including, of course, that we are alone in the universe. The possibility that Earth might be among the very early planets with life has not been put forward before, but Loeb says that now it has been.

“Our view is that we’re at the very beginning of life in the universe, we’re just ramping up,” he says. “So of course we haven’t been visited by anything extraterrestrial.”

As a congenital thinker in the very long term, Loeb also raises the issue of whether it makes sense for human life to remain on Earth and in our solar system. The sun, after all, will run out of fuel in those remaining 6 billion years, will expand enormously as that occurs, and then will re-emerge as a superdense white dwarf star. Any biology in our solar system would have been destroyed long before that.

But is Proxima Centauri one of those very long-lived stars?

“It will be there a very long time,” he says. “If the conditions are right, then maybe a time will come to migrate to any planets that might be around Proxima. It’s four light-years away, so it would take generations of humans to get there. Certainly very difficult, but some day in the far future people may be faced with an alternative that’s considerably worse.”


Mouse Brain Visualized in Stunning 3D Detail

One small step for man, one giant leap for mousekind.

Scientists have painstakingly mapped the connections in a tiny segment of the mouse’s brain. The stunningly intricate picture provides an unprecedented level of detail of an organ smaller than a pebble and lighter than the average cotton ball.

“At the end of the day, we want to understand the human brain. Understanding the mouse brain is an important step toward that goal,” Lydia Ng, senior director of technology at the nonprofit Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, told Live Science in an email.

The resulting 3D structure, called the Mouse Common Coordinate Framework, is the equivalent of leveling up from simple paper maps to a Google Maps or GPS for the mouse brain, Ng said.

“Maps of the brain have always been created in two dimensions, but even a stack of flat maps sitting on top of each other does not necessarily align with the complex three-dimensional nature of the brain,” neuroscientist Christof Koch, the president and chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, said in a statement. [See Images of the Mouse Brain Up Close]

Detailed picture

The new map, however, doesn’t just track the firing between different brain cells; it also allows researchers to visualize how different genes are expressed in teensy portions of the brain as well as the physical connections between anatomical structures in the brain.

To create this detailed map, researchers carefully measured and examined 1,675 mouse brains and then created a 3D image of an “average mouse brain.” From there, the scientists used fluorescently labeled brain cells from the mouse brain as clues to help draw the boundaries between different brain regions. Ultra-high-resolution images of individual brain cells were then translated into digital images.

The ultimate goal for this project, as well as for the the National Institutes of Health’s larger BRAIN Initiative, which helped fund the current project, is to create a detailed map of all the connections in the human brain. Though the mouse brain is an important first step, there are many more to go. The human brain weighs about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms), whereas the mouse brain weighs just 0.02 ounces (0.5 grams) — or about the weight of a paper clip. What’s more, the mouse brain contains just 70 million neurons, whereas the human brain contains a whopping 86 billion neurons, according to a study published in 2012 in the journal Nature.

Any researcher interested in using the framework or looking at the data can do so at brain-map.org, Ng said.

Original article on Live Science.