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.”


Meet Sofia, the Humanoid Robot That Looks, Thinks and Talks Like a Human

The latest robot from Hanson Robotics took the stage at the Web Summit in Lisbon, displaying simple emotions, human-like facial expressions and bad jokes


Morons Shine Laser at News Helicopter, Get Exactly What’s Coming to Them

Not great, guys. By Andrew Moseman

America has no shortage of idiots who pass the time by shining lasers at planes and helicopters. Thankfully, today’s awesome camera technology means that our nation’s worst and dimmest are caught pretty easily.

Take this recent clip at LiveLeak. As it opens you can see a blue light at the bottom, clearly people shining a laser at the news chopper. The thing about shining a bright laser at somebody, though, is that it gives away your position. The news chopper guys call it in, and pretty soon the cops come for these geniuses.

Don’t be these guys. If you’re not swayed by the very real danger of blinding pilots, then take a moment to consider the people who decided to point a laser at a police helicopter. Yeah. They didn’t get away.

Source: LiveLeak via Reddit

Here’s how much marijuana it would take to kill you

Melia Robinson,Business Insider

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.


Heart attacks are linked to patients’ activity level, emotional state

 (iStock)

A large global study of more than 12,000 first-time heart-attack patients found a strong link between the attack and what the patients were doing and feeling in the hour preceding the event.

The study, published in the journal Circulation, found that being angry or emotionally upset more than doubled the risk of suffering a heart attack. Performing heavy physical activity in a highly emotional state more than tripled the risk. The researchers compared people’s behavior in the 60 minutes before the onset of heart-attack symptoms with the same one-hour period 24 hours earlier.

The results, based on an analysis of heart-attack patients in 52 countries, were consistent regardless of other, traditional cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure and diet.

Intense physical activity and negative emotions can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which reduces the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart, the researchers said. This can cause arterial plaque to rupture and trigger an acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack, they said.

Previous studies have found links between heart-attack risk and anger, stress, physical activity—even extreme happiness. But these mostly involved a small number of subjects from Western countries, the researchers said.

Researchers at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, analyzed data from patients who were examined and interviewed at 262 health centers around the world as part of a larger study. The patients, about three-quarters of whom were men, were 58 years old, on average.

In the hour before the first symptoms, 13.6 percent were engaged in heavy physical exertion, compared with 9.1 percent on the previous day. Feelings of anger or being emotionally upset were reported by 14.4 percent and 9.9 percent during the same periods, respectively. The majority of heart attacks occurred between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.


Business and Vacation Property Rentals

14 States That May Never Legalize Marijuana

Legal cannabis sales are growing rapidly, but these states are unlikely to be seeing green anytime soon, if ever.

Images
IMAGE SOURCE: CANNABIS CULTURE VIA FLICKR.

Marijuana’s expansion over the past two decades has been nothing short of phenomenal.

In the mid-1990s, Gallup’s national poll showed that only a quarter of respondents favored legalizing cannabis nationwide, and not a single state had approved the drug for medical or recreational use. Today, 25 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, and an additional four — Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska — along with Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana.

Gallup’s 2015 poll shows that 58% of the American public now supports the nationwide legalization of marijuana. A separate CBS News poll the same year also found that 84% of the American public is in favor of legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.

Marijuana sales are growing like a weed

It’s not just public support for marijuana that’s budding — sales are growing like a weed, too. According to a recently released report from investment firm Cowen & Co., the legal marijuana market is currently worth about $6 billion, with 8 million daily users and 32 million adults who’ve admitted to using cannabis before. By 2026, Cowen & Co. is predicting legal marijuana sales could grow to $50 billion, which works out to a compound annual growth rate of almost 24% over the next decade.

Marijuana’s growth has businesses and investors seeing green, but it’s also been a major boon to select states and local governments, with Colorado being the best example.

Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, with voters choosing to allow for the sale of recreational marijuana in 2012. Over the trailing 12-month period in Colorado, more than $1 billion in legal marijuana has been sold. Furthermore, based on legal cannabis sales figures from 2015, Colorado reaped approximately $135 million in tax revenue and licensing fees that are being used to fund education, law enforcement, and drug abuse programs in the state. It’s figures like these that have residents and legislatures in states such as California excited about the upcoming elections.

Speaking of elections, residents in nine states will be going to the polls next month to decide whether or not cannabis will become legal either recreationally or medically in their state.

Like I said, marijuana’s growth has been phenomenal.

Businessman Thumbs Down Ceo Getty
IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

These 14 states may never legalize marijuana

Yet, in spite of this rapid growth, some states look unlikely to participate. Of the 25 remaining states that don’t have a medical marijuana law on their books, 14 may never wind up legalizing marijuana. These states are:

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Indiana
  4. Iowa
  5. Kentucky
  6. Kansas
  7. Louisiana
  8. North Carolina
  9. South Carolina
  10. Tennessee
  11. Texas
  12. Virginia
  13. West Virginia
  14. Wisconsin

Scientists hope Japanese probe can answer questions about planet Venus

By Kenneth Chang

Venus is not a placid paradise — that much we know. In addition to searing surface temperatures, wind in the upper atmosphere howls as fast as 250 mph, carrying clouds around the planet once every four days.

Yet Venus itself spins very slowly: one rotation every 243 Earth days — in the wrong direction, no less, opposite to almost every other body in the solar system.

On the whole, the atmosphere on Earth rotates about the same speed as the planet. So why does the air on slow-spinning Venus speed around so much faster than the planet itself?

The Japanese space probe Akatsuki, now in orbit around Venus, seeks to solve the mystery of so-called super-rotation.

That is not just an idle trivia question for planetary scientists. Computer models of our own weather fail when applied to Venus, and knowledge of the planet’s workings could better our understanding of Earth’s.

‘‘We don’t know what is the missing point in meteorology,’’ said Masato Nakamura, Akatsuki’s project manager.

In recent years, Venus has been a backwater of planetary exploration, even though it is much closer in size to Earth than is Mars. For a long time, scientists imagined there could be a habitable tropical paradise beneath Venus’ thick clouds.

In the late 1950s, intense thermal emissions, measured by a radio telescope on Earth, told a different story. Venus broils.

The average surface temperature is more than 850 degrees — an extreme demonstration of the heat-trapping prowess of carbon dioxide, the primary constituent of the Venusian atmosphere. Clouds of sulfuric acid make it an even less appealing place to visit.

In the 1990s, NASA’s Magellan spacecraft precisely mapped the topography of Venus through radar. Except for a few flybys by spacecraft on the way to somewhere else, NASA has not returned to Venus, although the agency is considering two modest proposals.

A European mission, Venus Express, studied the planet from 2006 to 2014, discovering among other things a frigid layer of atmosphere, minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit at an altitude of 75 miles, sandwiched between two warmer layers.

But now Akatsuki, which entered orbit last December, has begun its work. Takehiko Satoh, one of the mission scientists, said that one of ‘‘the most exciting, most surprising results’’ so far came almost immediately after the spacecraft arrived.

The camera that captures long-wavelength infrared light from the cloud tops discovered an arc-shaped white streak that stretched 6,000 miles from nearly the south pole to nearly the north pole.

Curiously, this giant atmospheric feature does not move with the atmosphere. ‘‘It seems to be fixed to the ground,” Satoh said.

The arc sits above Aphrodite Terra, a highland region about the size of Africa that rises up nearly 3 miles from the surface. Scientists working on data from the Venus Express reported a similar finding in July.The small spacecraft — the main body is a box a bit bigger than a refrigerator — carries five cameras, collecting light at different wavelengths to monitor the Venusian atmosphere at different altitudes.

In another experiment, scientists will observe how the radio signal from the spacecraft to Earth is distorted when it passes through the atmosphere. That will reveal temperature, abundance of sulfuric acid vapor and other properties. By observing the atmosphere at different altitudes, they can detect wavelike features that rise and fall, like blobs in a lava lamp.That Akatsuki, which means ‘‘dawn’’ in Japanese, is there at all is the result of ingenuity and perseverance.

It launched in May 2010 and arrived at Venus seven months later. But when its main engine failed to fire properly, it sailed right past the planet. ‘‘It was a very sad moment,’’ Satoh said.

Within a day, Satoh said, calculations indicated that in six years, Akatsuki, in orbit around the sun instead of Venus, could meet up with Venus again. But it was not clear the spacecraft still would be able to slow down and enter orbit.

An investigation found that a valve in the engine had leaked, leading to the formation of salts that fused it shut. The engine, as it fired, had overheated beyond repair.

Akatsuki still had the maneuvering thrusters that were to be used after it entered orbit. They were not as powerful as the broken engine, but they could apply enough force to slow it down enough so that Venus’ gravity could capture it.The Akatsuki’s orbit is different from the one originally envisioned. Instead of being synchronized to the spinning atmosphere, which would have allowed scientists to better track small changes, the spacecraft now loops around Venus in a large elliptical orbit.

That provides different benefits. Instead of intently staring at one spot, seeing the smallest changes, scientists are now able to see what happens on a global scale, although they will miss some of the details.

Akatsuki is to continue operating until at least April 2018, depending on how much fuel it has left. ‘‘We know at least we have one kilogram of fuel,’’ said Nakamura, likening the uncertainty to an imprecise fuel gauge in a car.

If it turns out that Akatsuki has more, the spacecraft could continue operating for perhaps up to six years, he said.

 


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More than 300 reindeer killed by lightning in Norway

 

China to attempt a space first: Landing on the far side of the Moon


The Chang’e-3 probe carried the Yutu rover to the lunar surface in 2013.
CNS

China plans to become the first nation to land a probe on the far side of the Moon, according toXinhua News Agency, the country’s official press organization.

Launching possibly as early as 2018, the mission represents the next step in China’s plans to explore the Moon with robotic probes and, within the next decade, to return a couple of kilograms of lunar material to Earth. The proposed Chang’e-4 probe follows the successful soft landing of the Chang’e-3 probe on the near side of the Moon in December 2013.

Although the new probe was built as the engineering backup to the Chang’e-3 lander, Chinese officials said the structure could handle a larger payload. China plans to use the probe to study “geological conditions” on the far side of the moon. The Chang’e probes are named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon.China has also offered foreign countries the opportunity to participate in its lunar exploration programs. In contrast to NASA, Europe and Russia have both signaled their interest in further studying the Moon and likely landing humans there, before moving on to Mars. Many countries and businesses see potential value in ice at the lunar poles and rare minerals in the lunar soil. The US Congress recently passed a law to legalize the mining of these resources.

Humans have studied the far side of the Moon from above since 1959, when the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 spacecraft returned the first grainy images of its pockmarked surface. But no humans or robotic spacecraft have yet landed there.