from the world's big
Life...As We Don't Know It
You've undoubtedly heard the maxim "Life finds a way." Well, if life has indeed found a way on one of the other trillions of planets in our Milky Way Galaxy, it would likely not be our way.
This article originally appeared in ReaClearScience's Newton Blog. You can read the original here.
It's amusing and intellectually stimulating to seriously ponder the existence and characteristics of alien life. But like quantum mechanics, such contemplations can easily wrack the mind, leaving one quite discombobulated. I can only imagine the self-inflicted vexations suffered by astrobiologists, whose livelihoods require daily ruminations about life on inconceivably faraway worlds.
After all, the vast randomness inherent to the evolutionary process can give rise to creatures the likes of which we cannot fathom. You've undoubtedly heard the maxim "Life finds a way." Well, if life has indeed found a way on one of the other trillions of planets in our Milky Way Galaxy, it would likely not be our way.
So what would life resemble instead?
My favorite answer to that question originated from the 1976 paper "Particles, Environments, and Possible Ecologies in the Jovian Atmosphere," penned by astrophysicists Carl Sagan and E. E. Salpeter. With learned speculation and fascinating imagination, they envisioned what life could be like on a planet like Jupiter. If such a planet were hospitable to life, the native fauna and flora wouldn't be anything like that on Earth.
In the dense clouds, rich in hydrogen and helium with traces of ammonia, methane, and water, tiny floating organisms could suddenly spring up, jolted into existence by electrical discharges more than 1,000 times as powerful as lightning here on Earth. These creatures could be photosynthetic autotrophs, gaining energy from sunlight and making their own food. Or they might very well be heterotrophs, feasting on organic molecules like ethane and methane. In their paper, Sagan and Salpeter called these organisms "sinkers."
Over many thousands of years, these sinkers could evolve or coalesce into new life forms: "floaters." Resembling gigantic jellyfish, these immense "living balloons" might be the size of small cities. They could stay buoyant by pumping heavy gasses from their interiors or by keeping their hydrogen-filled insides warm. Through their amazingly thin skin, floaters might absorb and feast on the much tinier sinkers.
Salpeter and Sagan conceived of these floaters "arrayed in great, lazy herds as far as the eye can see, concentrated in the updrafts in the enormous sea of clouds."
The two astrophysicists also dreamed of another life form: "hunters." Winged, faster, and more maneuverable, they would nip and peck at the much larger floaters to sustain themselves.
In the 37 years since Sagan and Salpeter envisaged sinkers, floaters, and hunters, we've learned much about Jupiter. We now know that these life forms do not exist, at least in our solar system. Jupiter's atmosphere may simply be far too turbulent and hostile. Or perhaps life never received the improbable, yet necessary spark.
But the nonexistence of sinkers, floaters, and hunters has not dimmed the search for life in our stellar neighborhood. In fact, Jupiter's moon Europa is one of the likeliest candidates to harbor life. At the bottom of the moon's ice-covered ocean, microbes might very well persist among hydrothermal vents, using a process called chemosynthesis to convert inorganic molecules into usable nourishment.
Imagine if -- one day -- we found something; even just a speck! In the landmark television series Cosmos, Carl Sagan asserted that such a discovery would "deprovincialize biology."
"It will show us what else is possible."
(Images: 1. Structures on ALH84001 meteorite by NASA via Wikimedia Commons 2. Hunters & Floaters via Carl Sagan's Cosmos)
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Men take longer to clear COVID-19 from their systems; a male-only coronavirus repository may be why.
- A new study found that women clear coronavirus from their systems much faster than men.
- The researchers hypothesize that high concentrations of ACE2-expressing cells in the testes may store more coronavirus.
- There are many confounding factors to this mystery—some genetic, others social and behavioral.
Where is coronavirus hiding?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE1NTgxNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODY4NzkxMX0.D84W6ZUOhv6Q-Ki7ddiF3zmDLK_Z6vuXtzfB9R8zLAA/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C179%2C0%2C180&height=700" id="1cc38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b4e083fb45357e1fb56a8571e8cdc553" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A laboratory technician at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, holds a container of test-tube samples from people tested for novel coronavirus.
Further research required<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="z9vH49bb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="7ef1ab8ca2f90b28543d580c408ed25f"> <div id="botr_z9vH49bb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/z9vH49bb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/z9vH49bb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/z9vH49bb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The Montefiore-Einstein study is currently preliminary, and further research will be required before researchers can determine what, if anything, its results illuminate.</p><p>The study is currently published on <em>Medrxiv</em>, a <a href="https://www.aje.com/arc/benefits-of-preprints-for-researchers/" target="_blank">preprint</a> distributor. This means the study has been shared publicly before undergoing the <a href="https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/howscienceworks_16" target="_blank">peer-review process</a>.</p><p>Preprints allow researchers to communicate their findings before official publication, which can take months if not a year or longer. This pre-publication can lead to early feedback, increased visibility, and new collaborations. It's especially helpful for <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6400415/" target="_blank">early-career researchers</a> trying to establish themselves.</p><p>However, given the speed at which coronavirus is spreading, researchers have leaned on preprints as a means of disseminating data to other experts faster than the peer review allows. As a result, <em>Medrixiv</em> has seen a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/science/coronavirus-disinformation.html" target="_blank">surge of preprint studies</a>, but they must be read within the context of their preliminary status.</p><p>The Montefiore-Einstein also has its limitations. The study had an initial sample size of only 68 subjects (48 males, 20 females) and a further examination of three families. And the connection of coronavirus to ACE2 enzymes in the testes came from database research, not direct observation.</p><p>The researchers acknowledge the need for further investigation. In particular, Shastri stresses the need to confirm the coronavirus's ability to infect and multiply in testicular tissue. If other researchers find their data promising, they could move forward with new research to build upon the study and see if this clue fits into the mystery.</p>
One clue among many<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE1NTc5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTQ3NjEzMX0.G-p4KniVRhsHXoIOyFfzEARdN5nGXWWkkQa85x6_ooM/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C281%2C0%2C298&height=700" id="d50c6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="938d51b21df264aae5e883e5f1f9c894" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Coronavirus protesters in Los Angeles. Men are more likely than women to disregard health warnings from officials.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.