from the world's big
Scientists Plan to Make Humanity an Intergalactic Species
Some fear we are meddling with forces too powerful for human control.
In Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, a device known as Genesis is deployed from a starship. Though repurposed as a weapon by the evil Khan, it was originally intended to terraform a dead planet, in order to make it inhabitable. Today, there are scientists who believe this may be a good idea. Now that colonizing Mars has gone from promising concept to foregone conclusion, some are suggesting we terraform the red planet. Others peg Venus as a good candidate.
One reason, someday our home planet will no longer be livable. Even if climate change or an apocalyptic war doesn’t wipe us out, in about five billion years or so, our sun is expected to turn into a red giant, swell massively and vaporize the Earth, along with other planets in our solar system. If humanity has any chance of survival, it’s by colonizing the galaxy and beyond.
Michael Mautner is a research chemistry professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He argues that not only is it a moral imperative to seed the galaxy and perhaps the universe with life, but it can be done with current technology.
Artist depiction of the sun turning into a red giant and coming to swallow the Earth.
In a 2010 report published in the Journal of Cosmology, Mautner claims that by depositing a wide variety of microorganisms and certain hardy, multicellular ones, on planets and proto-planets across our galaxy and others, we should, in time, be able to create livable planets, much like Earth. These organisms would have to be able to survive in a harsh atmosphere, in order to someday create Earth-like conditions.
Mautner believes there may be hundreds of planets beyond our solar system that are good candidates, perhaps including the recently discovered, “Earth next door.” So far, 3,500 exoplanets have been identified. To be a good candidate, a planet must be in the “goldilocks zone,” or a particular distance from a white star. Its chemical makeup has to be right too with conditions to support liquid water. If it has all of this, a planet is dubbed “transiently habitable.” Mautner himself has identified several good candidates, as well as gas and dust clouds surrounding fledgling stars, which may form suitable planets, someday.
Ships with solar sails would be used to transport terraforming devices to other planets. Utilizing radiation from starlight, these sails can guide spacecraft through the solar system and beyond. That’s important, as it may take hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years for any particular ship to reach a suitable destination.
Conceptualization of a solar sail. Image by Kevin Gill from Nashua, NH, United States - Solar Sail, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Hundreds of tons of microbes would be required for mission success. One ship would contain, all told, around 100,000 carefully selected organisms, crammed into tiny capsules, just waiting for their chance to start building a proto-Earth. Cyanobacteria are just one example of the type that might be used. These take in ammonia, carbon dioxide and other toxic gasses, and give off oxygen, which would help build an atmosphere. The project is estimated to cost about a billion dollars. For that, dozens of planets could potentially be seeded. A scaled down version targets planets only in our own solar system and launches the ships from space, making things easier and decreasing costs.
Another plan was recently outlined by theoretical physicist Claudius Gros. Gros hails from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. In Gros’s report, published in the journal Astrophysics and Space Science, he argues that we could use smaller spacecraft, imbued with artificial intelligence, to target those planets best suited for sustaining life. He says that such technology will be available within the next couple of decades or so.
In this vision, small spacecraft travelling at speeds of 60,000 kilometers per second (37,280 miles per second), scan the galaxy and beyond, searching for planets to target. When one looks right, a ship orbits it and examines it further, to determine whether or not to seed it. The criteria would be if life could be sustained there for the next hundred billion years, or more.
Thousands of possible candidates for successful terraforming may exist in our galaxy and beyond. Image by ESO - http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1118a/, CC BY 3.0
If the ship decided to move forward, an onboard lab would begin producing a variety of microbes. These would be genetically altered to survive and thrive in harsh conditions. Once created, these bacteria would be stuffed into tiny, nano-size capsules. The spacecraft would hover above the planet for hundreds of years, raining down seeds onto the surface continuously, or at least until signs of life could be found.
Here, Gros is piggybacking on the theory of panspermia, which states that bacteria may have clung to asteroids that landed on Earth and jumpstarted life. His hope in this plan is to recreate the Cambrian explosion. This is when, some 542 million years ago, life gained a foothold on our planet. Other experts warn that life may become fickle and less willing to take root on other planets. With such plans, it is of course all theoretical at this point.
These proposed missions also raise a lot of fundamental and philosophical questions. What would happen if a ship mistakenly seeded a planet already containing life? It might cause the destruction of native species or even the downfall of an entire ecosystem. Under current law, it is illegal to drastically change other moons or planets, for this very reason.
Terraforming other planets may have disastrous but as of yet unforeseen consequences.
Some critics argue that Gros’s “Genesis Project” will take too much energy. The vehicle needs to make a number of stops. So it may take centuries before it is successful. Gros counters that we have time.
Others say they see little benefit in the plan. Gros’s big reason for doing so is to see if intelligent life will pop out of the other end. That would only take approximately 500 million years or so. His secondary concern oddly enough, is saving humanity.
One theory making its rounds across the internet is that Earth could have been seeded in such a manner by a now extinct alien race, leading to us. But scientists are quick to point out that there is no evidence to support this claim. It also brings up fundamental questions about our role in the universe. Would such an exercise rest on hubris or is it our next logical evolutionary step?
To learn about terraforming Mars, perhaps the first experiment in this vein, click here:
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.