Author Archives: John Tuttle

About John Tuttle

I am a nonfiction ebook author, freelance writer, blogger, photographer, and short filmmaker. I have a passion for the media and for science, history, cinema, travel, literature, art, education, and my Catholic faith. I can be reached via email at jptuttleb9@gmail.com.

Parker Solar Probe downlinking 25 GB of data and making history

NASA’s current solar probe, taking its name after that of groundbreaking astrophysicist Eugene Parker, has made two uneventful (but significant) close passes of our sun. Data transmission from the probe has been better than technicians had anticipated prior to the probe’s launch on Aug. 12, 2018.

Increased Data Transmissions

On May 6, a total of 22 GB of digital information was successfully received from the Parker Solar Probe. Regarding this transaction, a blog post from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory – written by Geoff Brown – stated, “This 22 GB is 50% more data than the team had estimated would be downlinked by this point in the mission…”

Currently, an additional 25 GB of data is in the process of being received and downloaded. The memory transfer, begun on July 24, is set to be completed by Aug. 15, just a few days after the anniversary of the probe’s launch.

The Probe’s Purpose and Expectations

Parker Solar Probe in Orbit. Source: Princeton.edu.

Equipped with a quadruple set of specialized devices, the probe has the capability to register readings on solar particles, waves, and several other aspects around solar phenomena. The discoveries that are in the middle of being received from the spacecraft are supposed to be made accessible by NASA to the public at some point in the future.

The Parker Solar Probe has already made its way into astronomical fame. It is credited with such record-breaking feats as being the vessel to have flown the closest (and the fastest) to the sun.

Its full seven-year mission in orbit around the sun is intended to see the probe make seven flybys. Parker’s third solar encounter is expected to occur on Aug. 27, 2019. And its perihelion, the point at which the spacecraft is closest to our star, is to follow on Sept. 1.

In 2024, it is anticipated the probe will get nearest the sun, closer than any previous solar pass-by it will have made. Estimates from NASA calculate its speed – at that point – would be almost 430,000 mph. If successful, the probe would claim the fastest speed ever achieved by a man-made vehicle.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Could Help Solve One of the Mysteries of Our Sun

Artist rendering of NASA's Parker Solar Probe observing the sun. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

Artist rendering of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe observing the sun. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most logically-baffling solar mysteries is the fact that the sun’s surface is close to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit while its outer atmosphere is several million degrees hotter. The body of the heat’s source itself is cooler than the atmosphere surrounding the fireball — and that’s simply against the common sense of physics.

Some physicists think that the terrific, intense heat displayed in the outer limits of the sun’s atmosphere may be explained by magnetic waves traveling to and from the solar surface, bouncing off the upper atmosphere (otherwise known as the corona) of the star. Recent studies have suggested that this activity could be tied to the sun’s zone of preferential ion heating. In this zone, ions reach scorching temperatures exceeding those at the very core of the sun.

Another element which has a role to play in this outlying solar vortex are Alfven waves. These waves are low-frequency oscillations traveling through a plasma in a magnetic field. Scientists think that these waves are making solar wind particles to collide and ricochet off one another. But once it hits the outskirts of the zone of preferential heating, the solar wind sweeps by at an extremely fast pace. Thus, it manages to evade the Alfven waves from there on out.

Researchers at trying to definitively mark the extent to which the superheating effect reaches beyond the sun. Recent research has brought light to a connection between the Alfven point (the point of altitude beyond the solar surface that permits solar wind particles to break free of the sun) and the outskirts of the zone of preferential heating. These two fields have fluctuated in unison. They shall continue their dance, and in 2021, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, christened in honor of physicist Eugene Parker, should come in contact with the two boundaries.

The spacecraft includes instruments capable of recording a number of significant data pertaining to those solar fields. The information it would collect in some two years to come would be invaluable in this particular study.

The Parker Solar Probe was launched in August 2018. It made its second successful fly-by of our sun in early April with the follow-up perihelion (the point at which it gets closest to the sun) scheduled to occur on September 1. Visit NASA’s page on the Parker Solar Probe to learn more about it and its mission. To learn of interesting updates, check out the website of Parker Solar Probe Science Gateway.

Steam Power Might Help in Space Exploration

WINE prototype. Credit: HONEYBEEROBOTICS LTD.

WINE prototype. Credit: HONEYBEEROBOTICS LTD.

A vast array of gas fuels have been used in the launching and transportation of spacecraft with liquid hydrogen and oxygen among them. Other spacecraft rely heavily on solar power to sustain their functionality once they have entered outer space. But now steam-powered vessels are being developed, and they are working efficiently as well.

People have been experimenting with this sort of technology since 1698, some decades before the American Revolution. Steam power has allowed humanity to run various modes of transportation such as steam locomotives and steamboats which were perfected and propagated in the early 1800s. In the century prior to the car and the plane, steam power revolutionized the way people traveled.

Now, in the 21st century, it is revolutionizing the way in which man, via probing instruments, explores the cosmos. The private company Honeybee Robotics, responsible for robotics being employed in fields including medical and militaristic, has developed WINE (World Is Not Enough). The project has received funding from NASA under its Small Business Technology Transfer program.

The spacecraft is intended to be capable of drilling into an asteroid’s surface, collecting water, and using it to generate steam to propel it toward its next destination. Late in 2018, WINE’s abilities were put to the test in a vacuum tank filled with simulated asteroid soil. The prototype mined water from the soil and used it to generate steam to propel it. Its drilling capabilities have also been proven in an artificial environment. To heat the water, WINE would use solar panels or a small radioisotopic decay unit.

“We could potentially use this technology to hop on the moon, Ceres, Europa, Titan, Pluto, the poles of Mercury, asteroids — anywhere there is water and sufficiently low gravity,” The University of Central Florida’s planetary researcher Phil Metzger stated.

Without having to carry a large amount of fuel and assumably having unlimited resources for acquiring its energy, WINE and its future successors might be able to continue their missions indefinitely. Similar technology might even be employed in transporting human space travelers.

Nanotyrannus and the Skeptical Criteria for Species

The classification of varying species, even the very term species itself, has long been a puzzling element of taxonomic categorization. Pulled from the Latin phrase species (meaning “appearance”), the term, in regards to its scientific use, has more than two dozen different definitions.

Based on this information alone, we can see how precisely pinpointing what declares a specimen a specific species is not quite clear. It is, perhaps, unique to each individual case. Numerous factors need to be taken into account. When biologists examine an organism to see if it is identical to or distinct from another species, they analyze its attributes. In comparing it to other organisms, they look for common characteristics or reproduction compatibility, or the lack of either.

However, when studying the remains of organisms of eons past, definitively declaring a species can be more difficult. Take a look at the drawn-out Jane and Nanotyrranus dilemma, for example. More than 15 years ago now, a dinosaur skeleton was unearthed in Montana by a team from the Burpee Museum of Natural History from Rockford, Illinois. The remains were rather well-preserved. They belonged to a ferocious carnivore of the Cretaceous Period. But what kind of carnivore?

Skeleton of a T. Rex. Source: Wikipedia.

It was a tyrannosaurid. Well, that narrows it down a bit, kind of like narrowing one’s selection from mammals down to bears. We have eliminated countless possibilities, yet there are quite a few bear species to go through. Similarly, there is a variety of species of tyrannosaurids to compare the remains of one to.

It was 20 feet in length, 7 feet in height, and its gender was undetermined. Regardless of that trifling mystery, the tyrannosaurid was dubbed Jane. Paleontologists made their observations. But not all agreed on what the appropriate classification of this specimen should be. Some suggested it could be a Nanotyrannus, a species of dwarf tyrannosaurid, whereas others believed it to simply be a juvenile specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Jane on Display at Burpee Museum. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The debate was on. Upon further research, the existence of Nanotyrannus has been a sketchy one, as far as some scientists are concerned. As Dougal Dixon puts it in his extensive World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Creatures, “Some paleontologists regard Nanotyrannus as a juvenile specimen of something better known, or even a dwarf species of Albertosaurus or Gorgosaurus” (324)”, which are other tyrannosaurids.

Jane’s remains were not the first to be suggested to be those of Nanotyrannus. In 1942, David Dunkle found the skull of a carnivorous dinosaur which resembled that of Jane. Dunkle’s discovery was tagged “CMNH 7541.” After this, other paleontologists examined the fossil on numerous occasions. Each suggested it was a certain species of previously known tyrannosaurid, such as Albertosaurus. It would not be until the late 1980’s that the skull would be suggested to be something more.

Robert Bakker. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Robert Bakker. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Renowned modern paleontologist Robert T. Bakker and his associates took another look at CMNH 7541. This time though, the scientists were able to use a variety of advanced practices in their combing of the skull. One of these was the use of CAT scans. Bakker’s team ultimately determined it to be an utterly new species, calling it Nanotyrannus.

However, this skull, like the remains of Jane, has more recently fallen under scrutiny again. Some experts, such as Thomas Carr, have pointed to the presence of the factor of mere growth to explain the differences between “Nanotyrannus” and other tyrannosaurids. Carr and others have stated that the features of this supposed new species are different from those of its relatives only because the specimens of “Nanotyrannus” were juvenile examples of another species.

Once again, technology managed to come to the rescue. Fossilized bones carry LAG’s, lines of arrested growth. Like tree rings, these natural markings can allow us to better distinguish the age of a prehistoric creature. In order to detect the LAG’s, a tiny bit of practically weightless bone must be cut off. This is what was done with a segment of bone from Jane. (This could not be done with CMNH 7541 since a weightless fragment of bone cannot be extracted from the fossilized skull.)

Jane remains on display at the Burpee Museum. You can see the dinosaur in her museum habitat in this video I was able to shoot of Jane. It features some of the other skeletons on display at the Burpee Museum as well.

From the fragment taken from Jane, scientists concluded that Jane was merely a teenager, around 12 years old. With tyrannosaurs typically reaching adulthood around 20, Jane’s LAG’s showed the dinosaur was, in fact, a juvenile. Most now consider Jane simply a very well-preserved specimen of juvenile T. rex.

Despite the whole controversy over Jane’s identity, the existence of Nanotyrannus has not altogether been ruled out. This is just one example of the confusing, perpetually ongoing discussions regarding what classifies an organism under a certain species.

Interview with Bluebird Director of Science Lex Pelger on CBD

Recently, I was able to call Lex Pelger, Director of Science for Bluebird Botanicals. We also hooked up digitally so I could send him some further questions via email. The company provides CBD (cannabidiol) products to consumers. The CBD extract allows for some of the benefits of marijuana but without the intoxicating high. Pelger is quite passionate about the use of CBD and the science behind it.

Lex Pelger on His Interest in CBD and the Science of It

Lex Pelger.

(Slight edits have been made to the following interview dialogue for clarity and accuracy.)

Me: As a Science Director at Bluebird Botanicals, what are a few of the most common tasks you’re faced with on a daily basis?

Lex: One of the main parts of my job is education. I teach our customer care team about what’s known about the cannabinoids and human health as well as talk to customers about what might work for them. I also go to conferences and working on research questions to make sure that we have the most accurate science available. I also do a good bit of writing articles, lecturing and answering questions from journalists about the cannabinoid world.

Me: In your experience, how have you seen CBD help people affected by the THC in ordinary cannabis?

Lex: For people who do not enjoy the psychoactivity of THC or who are very sensitive to even small amounts of it, full plant extract CBD can be a great way to harness the healing powers of the cannabis without getting any kind of high.

Me: What are the most notable benefits CBD can produce in people?

Lex: CBD supports health and wellness in people via the endocannabinoid system and its interactions with the neuronal, immune and hormonal systems of the body. In general, CBD can be seen as a balancing agent for the body.

Me: Bluebird offers CBD health products in a variety of forms, such as liquid extracts and capsules. To what varying ailments do these differently-applied products pertain? Is one compound better than the others in some circumstances?

Lex: The main difference in the ingestion method is the personal preference of the person and the amount of time until onset. For people with acute needs, there are vape pens to get the cannabinoids into your system within a few seconds. For effectiveness that lasts for most of the day, people like to take the oils orally. We’ll also soon have topicals and that’s a great way to get cannabinoids into the system through the skin.

Me: What was the educational process like to get into this field of science?

Lex: For me, I spent five years reading the peer-reviewed literature and traveling the continent interviewing experts and listening to cannabis users. That was the best education.

Me: Bluebird’s website displays a growing line of “pet products.” Could you explain a few of these how they can improve the lives of domesticated animals?

Lex: The cannabinoids tend to work on mammals in the same ways. Since anything with a spinal column has an endocannabinoid system, we like having pet products to help our animal friends feel better too.

Me: Have CBD products been tested a lot on animals?

Lex: A lot of CBD has been given to animals in this country and we certainly hear good stories about the results but the scientific literature is quite scant on the topic.

Me: How do the effects of low-THC hemp differ between humans and other mammals?

Lex: There does not seem to be much difference aside from the smaller weights that necessitate giving less to smaller animals.

Me: Could you go over the relationship between CBD and someone’s endocannabinoid system?

Lex: There’s two main known receptors in the endocannabinoid system: CB1 & CB2. It’s funny but CBD doesn’t activate either of those. But it does modulate how other molecules bind to those receptors and that’s why the presence of CBD can lessen the negative psychoactive effects from THC.

CBD is actually a very wide-ranging compound with at least 80 different targets at the biochemical level of the human body. That’s why it can do so many different things for different people. Molecularly, you might compare [it] to a Swiss Army knife.
Me: The endocannabinoid system has far-reaching effects in several areas of the human body, but which other system do you think relies most heavily on it?
Lex: It is especially tied up with the neuronal system, the immune system, and the hormonal system. However, since those are still some of the most mysterious areas of science, the complete picture of these interactions is not yet formed.

Pelger Talks on the Culture and Media Behind the CBD Business

Me: Obviously, our culture has produced many notions which throw a negative light on marijuana and items associated with it. How do you think this effect can be reversed?
Lex: Storytelling and education. People believe the stories of others and as more and more people share about what the cannabinoids have done for them, more people will have the courage to give them a try.
Me: You run the Greener Grass Podcast; so you’re already working to spread the facts about hemp and its medicinal uses. As the host, what have been some of the highlights of the podcast in your opinion?
Lex: I especially loved sitting down with Dr. Julie Holland. She’s a NYC psychiatrist who doesn’t hold back and she’s great about giving the nuts and the bolts about what works.

Me: You’re the author of two novels rooted in science (The Elephant Folio and The Queer Chapter) which cover a bit of marijuana’s past as well as the endocannabinoid system. What do you think your favorite element of these novels is?
Lex: I liked watching them come together. Of course, I have outlines when I start writing but the end product grows and transforms so much that you’re utterly surprised by how it turns out. In fact, I can still sit down and read them with enjoyment because I forget exactly what happens next.
Me: How many hemp-related graphic novels do you think you’ll end up writing? Do you think you would ever stop?
Lex: If I keep following my captain Herman Melville and use the structure of Moby Dick, I just have 133 more books left to write. Luckily, I have them all sketched out and outlined on my wall so now it’s just a matter of taking the next decade or two to fill them in.
Me: Lastly, where do you see laws regulating marijuana and CBD products going in the future?
Lex: I hope that the laws around cannabis will continue to liberalize while still keeping consumer safety at the forefront. But I’ve studied too much about the history of the War on Drugs to not think that a horrible backslide will occur that continues to use the War on Marijuana as a tool of racist oppression against ‘those people’ just as Nixon originally designed it.

It Is Possible Jupiter Could Support Life, Scientists Say

Jupiter and its shrunken Great Red Spot. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Jupiter and its shrunken Great Red Spot. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A new factor has been added to the debate on whether or not living organisms could exist on Jupiter. You probably know Jupiter is a Jovian planet, a giant formed primarily out of gases. So how could alien life be able to exist in an environment where most of the phases of matter are absent? The answer is simply found in the element of water.

Within the rotating, turbulent Great Red Spot, perhaps Jupiter’s most distinguishable characteristic, are water clouds. Many of the other clouds in this enormous perpetual storm are comprised of ammonia and/or sulfur. Life theoretically cannot be sustained in water vapor alone; it thrives in liquid water. But according to some researchers, the fact alone that water exists in any form on the planet is a good first step.

The Great Red Spot is still a planetary feature which stumps much of the scientific community today. As it has been observed for the past century and a half, the Great Red Spot has been noticeably shrinking. The discovery of water clouds may lead to a deeper understanding of the planet’s past, including whether or not it might have sustained life, as well as weather-related information.

Some scientists have pondered the possibility that, due to the hydrogen and helium content in its atmosphere, Jupiter could be a diamond-producing “factory.” They have further speculated that these diamonds could enter into a liquid state and a rainfall of liquid diamonds would be in the Jovian’s weather forecast.

Likewise, the presence of water clouds means that water rain (a liquid) is not entirely impossible. Máté Ádámkovics, an astrophysicist at Clemson University in South Carolina, had this to say on the matter:

“…where there’s the potential for liquid water, the possibility of life cannot be completely ruled out. So, though it appears very unlikely, life on Jupiter is not beyond the range of our imaginations.”

Scientists are acting accordingly, researching the part which water plays in the atmosphere and other natural systems on Jupiter. They remain skeptical but eager to follow up on the new discovery. They shall also strive to find out just how much water the planet really holds.

Crustaceans Help Track Movements of Prehistoric Whales

The little crustaceans known as barnacles are recognized for their significance in the food chain of all the oceans of the world. They provide food for animals such as sea stars, marine snails, a variety of fish, and even coastal birds. Before entering their adult crustacean state, the larvae also make up part of the oceans’ zooplankton.

The microscopic zooplankton make their way into the diet of baleen whales, the largest living creatures on Earth. But by the time they reach maturity, the barnacles fulfill a different function. They attach themselves to a surface and become as immobile as a bump on a log. They commonly attach themselves to the bodies of whales. A whale can easily be carrying barnacles with a weight of close to half a ton.

Barnacles can pick up oxygen atoms from wherever they go in the ocean. These atoms carry varying weights to them. Thus, scientists are able to roughly tell the routes whales travel by examining the barnacles on their hide. This information was recently published in a micro-article from National Geographic. But scientists knew about this fact 40 years ago and have put it to good use.

What National Geographic and other outlets have been shedding light on now is the concept of Larry Taylor, a graduate student. His curiosity urged him to ask whether or not barnacle fossils could contain the same evidence pertaining to whales of prehistoric eras.

Coronulid barnacles became one of Taylor’s prime interests.

This variety is known for affixing themselves exclusively to the humpback (a type of baleen whale). Upon checking that humpback barnacles snatch up oxygen atoms as effectively as those which ride on gray whales, Taylor tested the atoms from some humpback barnacles and concluded the information accurately reflected the route that whale had taken.

Next, he moved on to testing the fossils of some prehistoric coronulid barnacles, specimens which he gathered from the North and South American west coasts. Through further research and early observations, he has quickly confirmed his hard work.

He believes his studies have found that ancient humpbacks move along practically the same migrational paths as their modern counterparts.

However, other scientists have said his work needs a good deal more testing. Larry Taylor is currently working to learn more about prehistoric whales’ movements in addition to what the oceans of those eras were like.

New Antarctic Dinosaurs on Display at Field Museum

The world-renowned Field Museum of Chicago, Illinois has a new prehistoric creature display gracing their halls and galleries. The place has been decked out with fossil reconstructions and artistic representations of a variety of prehistoric animals. Most famous, of course, are those of the dinosaurs — and one of the newest additions is Antarctic Dinosaurs.

Around 195 to 235 million years ago (an era which encompasses the Triassic period as well as a small portion of the Jurassic period), Antarctica was quite different from its modern-day appearance. The Antarctic would have been closer to the equator, making for a lush habitat filled with “rhinoceros-sized dinosaurs and crocodile-sized amphibians,” says Kate Golembiewski, the public relations/science communications manager at the museum.

The exhibition includes hands-on interactive sections which can bring out the child in everyone. A significant portion of the exhibit is dedicated to the history of Antarctica in respect to man’s journeying there and learning how to survive the harsh, frigid conditions. Altogether, there are four dinosaur species appearing in the exhibit.

Glacialisaurus, a herbivorous dinosaur, is included as is a group of small sauropodomorphs which were ancestors of the massive long-necked sauropods. The titanosaur Maximo, which is also on display at the Field, is an example of the towering sauropods which are thought to have evolved along this lineage.

A life-like replica of the sauropodomorphs. Source: Of Intellect and Interest. Photo by John Tuttle.

Two of the dinosaur species on display were classified as sauropodomorphs. As yet, these new species have not been assigned personal scientific descriptions. The pride and joy of this entire display, however, is likely the Cryolophosaurus, a formidable predator of the area and era.

This carnivorous brute was a fierce hunter. The specimen present in Antarctic Dinosaurs measures 25 feet, which is not something you’d want to meet in a dark alley. Aside from the dinosaurs, there are other wondrous creatures which found their place in the exhibit.

It also features specimens of lichens, large amphibians, and even the skeleton of a sizeable aquatic carnivore known as Taniwhasaurus. It was a mosasaur, a relative to the giant marine animals depicted in the Jurassic World films, and is believed to have been able to reach lengths of close to 39 feet. It would have been a dangerous foe for any smaller swimmers of the Cretaceous period.

Altogether, the exhibit has something to offer everyone of every age, from child to adult, and of every interest, from history to paleontology, and is a great way to spend an afternoon or a day off.

How to “Weigh” Baby Planets

Similar to how stars are formed, the most popular theory among today’s scientists regarding the creation of planets is that they are a result of a nebula breaking down. During the long evolution of the deteriorating gaseous cloud, the nebula transforms into a structure called a protoplanetary disk, with a newly-formed star at its center. Such a disk provides a place of incubation for developing planets.

Just recently, for the first time on record, young planets-to-be (also referred to as protoplanets) developing in one of these protoplanetary disks were actually “weighed”. Several scientific papers published earlier this month as inclusions in the Astrophysical Journal Letters discuss a new mode of operation which can be employed to calculate various physical attributes of these protoplanets. It’s also rather accurate and dependable.

One group of astronomers headed by Richard Teague was responsible for the discovery of two young planets having a mass close to the size of the mass of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. The two bodies orbit a star which has been labeled HD 163296. This four-million-year-old ball of burning gas is still a youngster as a star the size of our Sun would have a normal life expectancy of about 10 billion years and beyond.

A Developing Star System. Source: SciTechDaily.

But a separate party of scientists, this one based in Australia and headed by Christophe Pinte, was also spending time examining the same system. They noticed a third protoplanet in a revolution around the very same star. However, the finding attributed to Pinte’s team was a young planet nearly twice as massive as the gas giant Jupiter.

Both of the teams employed data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). This is a system of radio telescopes located in Chile, South America. The two teams of astronomers closely examined the motion of the nebulous gas. Both managed to develop a process of measuring the gas’s velocity by observing the change in the wavelength of light emitted by carbon monoxide molecules.

The gravitational pull of a planet would best explain the gaseous movements. Richard Teague thinks this method of measurement could be used effectively in observing many other stars and protoplanets. In this way, he hopes scientists will be able to discover what types of protoplanets are most common in the cosmos.

The Science of Netflix’s Lost in Space

The first season of Netflix’s sci-fi series Lost in Space was released back in April. It has proved a fairly successful program, and a second season is already in the works. The show is a modern reboot of Irwin Allen’s original 1960’s TV series of the same title and featuring most of the same main characters.

The sixties were a golden era for sci-fi. Perhaps the best-remembered sci-fi entertainment on television from that time is Star Trek. Often science fiction from this period kept the “science” aspect of its genre title. Star Trek often tackled biological and atmospheric concepts in their scripts and Allen’s Lost in Space grappled with matters like rapid climate change, time travel, and even antimatter.

The Netflix remake has also done a fabulous job at maintaining various scientific ideas as core components to the characters’ actions. The reboot is even more strongly rooted in science than its 1960’s counterpart. This can partially be attributed to the simple fact that the scientific community has grown significantly in its understanding of the universe in general in the past 50 years.

One of the aspects of the original show which was kept in the new rendition was young Will Robinson’s childish curiosity mixed with his brilliant scientific know-how. He doesn’t function very well under pressure, but that doesn’t mean he has a slow mind. On the contrary, he is able to retain a wealth of information.

Crew of the Jupiter 2. Source: Netflix.

A classic sci-fi element which was also a large part of the original Lost in Space is Will’s close companion, the robot. The robot is some form of alien AI, and it learns quickly. So its IQ would likely be classified under general or even super artificial intelligence. During the time Will spends with the robot, he sees the machine drawing a picture in the soil, a picture presumably of the robot’s place of origin.

This shows an ounce of similarity to certain developments in current experiments with AI tapping into their “artistic side” if they can even have such a quality. Of course, this show is called sci-fi because it’s fiction after all. Many movies and series featuring droids and other AI entities try to make these non-human characters as emotional and as relatable as possible. Will Robinson’s relationship with the alien robot is unique. It’s something more than just a loyal pet following its master and defending him, though the two do bear some resemblances.

The next most obvious scientific characteristic of the show is all the flora and fauna the viewer is exposed to. Several of the characters are scientists such as Maureen Robinson. Plus, the Robinsons and several other surviving parties are stuck on an alien planet. So you know they’re going to encounter some cool creatures. And they do.

Will and the Robot. Source: GamesRadar.

With the John Williams-like music and the assortment of carnivorous reptilians, certain parts of the show feel like the Robinsons are stuck in Jurassic Park or Jurassic World. The world they’re trapped on is one of geysers, tar pits, purple grass, psychedelic fungi, and flowers which open in response to the sound of clapping hands. Interestingly, this last idea is not as much fiction as it is fact. Plants in different stages have been shown to react to various sound frequencies.

A loose retelling of the first few episodes of the 1960’s Lost in Space, the new series also pins the Robinsons in a time crunch to keep their family safe from the impending climatic danger which the planet’s orbital path presents. Only this drastic and recurring climate change is not one which the Robinsons can escape in their chariot. In the new version of the story, this is the dire natural catastrophe which forces them to leave the planet. This odd revolution is brought on by Hawking radiation coming from a black hole.

Very early on in the Netflix reboot, the survivors experience a downpour of stones falling from the sky. It is this rain which makes up a percentage of the planet’s soil as Don West suggests when he says that what they’re walking on could be diamonds. It turns out that he’s right because those stones raining down are diamonds. A diamond storm is probably worse than a hail storm. So everyone takes cover.

Once again, diamonds falling out of the sky is not as farfetched as it may seem. For instance, it rains diamonds on planets in our own solar system like Uranus and Neptune. And it rains other precious stones on different planets as well. A Jovian planet known as HAT-P-7b has been known to have rubies and sapphires rain down from its atmosphere. The new show includes many such interesting scientific aspects. It’s entertaining in many regards. Science geeks and sci-fi freaks have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy it.

NASA Explores the Use of Robotic Bees on Mars

Graphic depiction of Marsbee - Swarm of Flapping Wing Flyers for Enhanced Mars Exploration. Credits: C. Kang.

Graphic depiction of Marsbee – Swarm of Flapping Wing Flyers for Enhanced Mars Exploration. Credits: C. Kang.

Robot bees have been invented before, but Mars might be a place for them to serve a unique purpose. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Japanese chemist Eijio Miyako led a team at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in developing robotic bees. So they’re not really bees; they’re drones. Miyako’s bee drones are actually capable of a form of pollination similar to real bees.

Bees have been the prime subject of many a sci-fi films including The Savage Bees (1976), The Swarm (1978), and Terror Out of the Sky (1978). In the 21st century, bees have been upgraded. Their robotic counterparts shall have an important role to play in future scientific exploration. And this role could very well be played out on the surface of Mars.

Now, NASA has begun to fund a project to create other AI-steered robotic bees for the future exploration of Mars. The main cause of experimenting with such mini robots is for the desirable need for speed. The problem is this: the traditional rovers sent to Mars in the past move very slowly. NASA anticipates an army of fliers to move significantly faster than their snail-like predecessors.

A number of researchers in Alabama are currently collaborating with a group based in Japan to design these mechanical drones. Sizewise the drones are very similar to real bees; however, the wings are unnaturally large. The lengthened wingspan was a well-needed feature to add since the Red Planet’s atmosphere is thinner compared to Earth’s. These small insect-like robots have been dubbed “Marsbees.”

If used, the Marsbees would travel in swarms and be able to return to some sort of a base, not unlike the way bees return to their hive. The base would likely be a rover providing a place for the Marsbees to be reenergized. But they would not have to come to this rover station to send out the information they’ve accumulated. Similar to satellites, they would be able to transmit their findings wirelessly. Marsbees would also likely be able to collect a variety of data. If their full development is feasible and economical, the future for Marsbees looks promising.

Why Stephen Hawking Was Afraid of Aliens

Young Stephen Hawking.

Professor Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist hailed as one of the most brilliant scientists of the modern age, had genuine anxieties. Thus, intelligence does not necessarily reject fear. Hawking had one fear in particular which deserves noting, namely humanity’s encounter with advanced alien life.

Several of the late physicist’s theories have been shown to be quite accurate and are widely accepted in the scientific community. When he spoke (through his speech synthesizer) people gave ear and were attentive. Like any man, he too had his faults both public and personal. But simply because the man has passed away, does not mean we should disregard what he did and said during his time on Earth.

He made numerous predictions about the present and future problems that the human race faces, involving issues such as overpopulation and artificial intelligence. Perhaps one of his most intriguing and logically-stated beliefs was a concern for detrimental interaction between human beings and extraterrestrial beings.

Unlike astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who was rather optimistic about extraterrestrial contact, Hawking worried about the effects such contact might have on our race, even though the Professor assisted in founding projects to seek intelligent alien organisms. Some may fear aliens as they are depicted in sci-fi and horror stories: ugly creatures capable of taking over human beings and using them as their hosts.

The physical appearance of hypothetical aliens is not what alarmed Stephen Hawking. It was something a bit more sinister. In short, he apparently was cautious of entertaining alien contact because of the possibility that intelligent alien civilizations may want to dominate our race. They might do this either by enslaving people or slaughtering them, or both.

He has related these concerns publicly as early as 2010. In 2016, he speculated that if Earth received a signal of alien origins “we should be wary of answering back.” He further argued this point by employing historical references. “Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus,” he said. “That didn’t turn out so well.” Sometime in the future, if we’re not cautious in the search for alien life, humans might rue ignoring Stephen Hawking’s worries about extraterrestrials.

Pee, Poop, and Perspiration Will Be Useful in Traveling to Mars

People have effectively been able to acquire fuel and, consequently, energy from human urine. This capability has been known for a number of years. In late 2012, a small group of teenage girls from Nigeria made the news by presenting a generator that ran on urine at the Maker Faire Africa. In their generator, the pee is poured into an electrolytic cell where the hydrogen is isolated from other components in the liquid.

The hydrogen is then purified by passing through a filter. From there, it’s sent to a gas cylinder from which it is further pumped into a cylinder containing liquid borax. The borax aids in separating the hydrogen gas from any remaining moisture. The final step is for this gas to be sent to the generator. The girls’ machine was able to supply six hours’ worth of electricity by using a mere liter of liquid waste.

Of course, this was a rather simple apparatus primarily for display, but the important thing is it worked! Urine’s use for producing gas and/or syngas (synthesis gas) has the potential to be quite revolutionary.

Waste as a Water Source in Space

astronaut-11080_960_720

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Recycling everything possible in extraterrestrial day-to-day life and travel saves both space and money. For a while now, astronauts on the International Space Station have been recycling their own perspiration and pee. The purified output is clean water, which is drunk a second time over. This cycle can be repeated over and over.

You’ve heard of twice-baked potatoes? Well, twice-expelled waste is starting to catch up in its popularity. Human urine and condensate (including breath moisture, human sweat, shower runoff, and animal pee) are all distilled and reverted to clean drinking water. As of 2015, about 6,000 extra liters of water are recycled each year.

Waste Empowering Yeast

One of the molecules which makes up our urine is called urea. Furthermore, urea is composed of nitrogen and carbon. Both of these chemicals are needed to feed a yeast, Yarrowia lipolytica, which when genetically tweaked properly can take a variety of forms such as bioplastics and even fatty acids. One particular fatty acid necessary for human health and functionality is Omega-3. The brain requires this nutrient.

Thus, Yarrowia lipolytica is being tested to hopefully be able to produce Omega-3’s efficiently in the future. This would be a great aid to humanity in the occasion of a manned mission to Mars or elsewhere. In addition, future astronauts will use 3D printers onboard their spacecraft to generate tools and other needed objects made of plastic. Yet again, the yeast can be altered to produce a certain type of polyester which could be employed for this purpose.

Feces and Urine for Future Food

The sheer quantity of food needed to sustain a manned mission to Mars remains a big problem. However, a clever party of researchers from Pennsylvania State University believes to have found an efficiently ingenious answer. The concept was discussed in a paper published in late 2017. Their space-saving device, a bioreactor, uses the urine as well as the feces of astronauts to feed a non-harmful bacteria that, in turn, is capable of sustaining the human space travelers.

Within the bioreactor, the solid and liquid waste become condensed leaving salts and methane gas in its place. It’s the methane which is used to grow the microbial mush, an edible element with a texture similar to that of Vegemite, a thick Australian spread made up of leftover brewers’ yeast extract along with an assortment of additives.

As you have seen, our astronauts’ waste will not be wasted. Scientists will surely engineer more ways for bodily waste to be put to beneficial use.

Bill Nye Shares Some Facts and Opinions on Marijuana

A few weeks ago, the Rolling Stone‘s Amanda Chicago Lewis interviewed Bill Nye. One of the main topics of interest that Nye discussed was the science of marijuana which, of course, has caught everyone’s interest. He opened up and relayed some of his thoughts on weed culture and science.

The very first question thrown out to Bill Nye was: “Do you think good scientists can smoke marijuana?” He replied in the affirmative, stating it should be regulated by law in the same manner as other drugs. In the wake of instances like the “state of emergency” which Nevada declared in mid-2017 due to the state’s quickly dwindling supplies of cannabis, the Science Guy pointed to legalizations elsewhere in America which did not cultivate an excessive use of the drug.

Marijuana Scientists. Source: Medical Marijuana.

A little bit later on, the interviewer brought up the fact that Carl Sagan was an unabashed advocate of smoking pot. Sagan was known as an astronomer, cosmologist, astrobiologist, author, and speaker. A firm promoter of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, he was also a founder of The Planetary Society, an organization of which Bill Nye is now head of. This honorable mention in and of itself answers the first question asked by the interviewer: “Do you think good scientists can smoke marijuana?”

If Sagan (the leading astronomer/astrobiologist of the second half of the 20th century) smoked cannabis and maintained his brilliant foresight and ingenuity, other scientists can surely smoke it in moderation and keep their smarts. Nye said he had never been with Sagan when he was smoking pot, but he said he also knew Sagan’s widow Ann enjoys it.

Bill Nye pointed out it is possible, even perhaps likely, that the tendency to become addicted to cannabis has its roots in human DNA. He believes it is either present or not present, using alcoholism to back up his hypothesis. “Some people get addicted, some people don’t,” said Nye. “Some people get high, some people don’t.” The Science Guy concluded that cannabis is really a substance which requires our attention and a lot more studies before we can claim to truly understand its effects.

Recents studies show how coffee is good for your health

Steaming hot, iced, blended, black, creamy. Coffee! It comes in many forms, and it’s part of my daily routine. It’s part of many others’ too. Last week several established publications’ websites were running coffee-related articles, touting this beverage’s health benefits. Scientists have remarked on this drink’s healthful qualities in the past. The idea that coffee is good for you is not a new one.

The Relationship with Diabetes

The delightful drink seems to help in warding off type 2 diabetes. The sex hormone-binding globulin, or SHBG for short, is a protein which controls the sex hormones in the human body: testosterone and estrogen. It has also been considered to have a key role in the evolution of this specific type of diabetes.

It has been observed that drinking coffee will increase the amount of plasma of SHBG. A few years ago, a study showed that women who ingested a minimum of four cups each day were slightly less likely to develop diabetes as opposed to those who didn’t drink it at all.

Help in Other Areas

The Best Way to Start the Day Right. Source: Pixabay.

Coffee, primarily the caffeinated kind, has been known to prevent as well as alleviate Parkinson’s disease. The consumption of caffeine has been found to significantly decrease the number of Parkinson’s cases. In fact, it may even aid in simple movement in individuals afflicted with the disease.

It provides some benefits for those who are concerned about their heart. Small daily doses can assist in preventing heart failure. In one study, it was shown that the risk of heart failure in people drinking four European cups of coffee per day was reduced by 11%.

Newer studies show that the regular intake of a relatively small amount of coffee can bring down the chances of premature death by 10%. Additional benefits could possibly include preventing cirrhosis, decrease the likelihood of multiple sclerosis (MS), and prevent the onslaught of colon cancer. However, to be certain whether these benefits are actually present in coffee more tests are needed. It is also one of the very best sources of antioxidants which protect the human body against destructive molecules called free radicals. This is good since free radicals are believed by many scientists to bring about cancer, blood vessel disease, and other serious ailments.

The Biggie: Coffee and Liver Health

From Pot to Cup. Source: Pixabay.

Perhaps the biggest health factor it basks in being associated with is liver health. Marc Gunter, head of a recent large-scale European study noted by National Geographic, has stated coffee drinking is linked to good health in the liver and circulatory systems. He also says it can account for lower inflammation levels in those who drink it as opposed to those who don’t.

The discoveries this study has led to supply the strongest defense to date for the healthful qualities of coffee. Gunter informed the scientific community and the public that he plans to examine the beverage’s chemical compounds in an attempt to know what makes it healthful.

We have actually seen how it can aid in liver conditions for several years. For instance, it was found that consuming three cups of coffee on a daily basis reduced the chances of getting liver cancer by 50%! Decaf also decreases the number of enzymes located in the liver. Thus, it is seen that caffeine is not always the prime healthy aspect provided in coffee. Drinking the beverage frequently has been associated with decreasing the risk of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) which is a rare disease infecting the liver’s bile ducts.

As we’ve seen, coffee has quite a few benefits when drunk regularly and moderately. The important thing to recognize now is that many specific studies need to done on coffee itself and how it relates to treating various illnesses.

Three Old Scientific Concepts Getting a Modern Look

If you have a good look at some of the underlying concepts of modern science, you might notice that some of our current notions are rooted in old scientific thinking, some of which originated in ancient times. Some of today’s scientists have even reconsidered or revamped old scientific concepts. We’ve explored some of them below.

4 Elements of the Ancient Greeks vs 4 Phases of Matter

The ancient Greek philosopher and scholar Empedocles (495-430 BC) came up with the cosmogenic belief that all matter was made up of four principal elements: earth, water, air, and fire. He further speculated that these various elements or substances were able to be separated or reconstituted. According to Empedocles, these actions were a result of two forces. These forces were love, which worked to combine, and hate, which brought about a breaking down of the elements.

What scientists refer to as elements today have few similarities with the elements examined by the Greeks thousands of years ago. However, Empedocles’ proposed quadruplet of substances bares resemblance to what we call the four phases of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. The phases are the different forms or properties material substances can take.

Water in two states: liquid (including the clouds), and solid (ice). Image via Wikipedia.

Compare Empedocles’ substances to the modern phases of matter. “Earth” would be solid. The dirt on the ground is in a solid phase of matter. Next comes water which is a liquid; water is the most common liquid on Earth. Air, something which surrounds us constantly in our atmosphere, is a gaseous form of matter.

And lastly, we come to fire. Fire has fascinated human beings for time beyond history. Fire is similar to plasma in that both generate electromagnetic radiation such as light. Most flames you see in your everyday life are not hot enough to be considered plasma. They are typically considered gaseous. A prime example of an area where plasma is formed is the sun. The ancient four elements have an intriguing correspondent in modern science.

Ancient Concept of Dome Sky vs. Simulation Hypothesis

Millennia ago, people held the notion that his world was flat. Picture a horizontal cooking sheet with a transparent glass bowl set on top of it. Primitive people thought of the Earth in much the same way. They considered the land itself as flat and the sky as a dome. However, early Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras (c. 570-495 BC) — who is also known for formulating the Pythagorean theorem — understood that Earth was actually spherical.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Now scientists are considering the scientific concept of the dome once again but in a much more complex manner.

Regardless of what conspiracy lovers would have you believe, the human race has ventured into outer space, leaving the face of the Earth to travel to the stars. In the face of all our achievements, some scientists actually question if reality is real, a mindboggling and apparently laughable idea.

But some scientists have wondered if we could be existing in a computer simulation. The gap between science and science fiction starts to become very fine when considering this.

This idea calls to mind classic sci-fi plots such as those frequently played out in The Twilight Zone in which everything the characters take as real turns out to be something entirely unexpected. You might also remember the sequence in Men in Black in which the audience sees that the entire universe is inside an alien marble. Bill Nye even uses the dome as an example in discussing hypothetical virtual reality. This gives one the feeling that he is living in a snowglobe.

Medieval Alchemy vs. Modern Chemistry

The alchemists of the Middle Ages attempted to prove that matter could be transformed from one object into an entirely new object. One of their fondest goals they wished to achieve was the creation of gold from a less valuable substance. They were dreaming big, but such dreams have not yet come to fruition. Could it actually be possible to alter one type of matter into another?

Well, modern chemists may be well on their way to achieving this feat some day. They are pursuing the idea of converting light into matter, as is expressed in Albert Einstein’s famous equation. Since 2014, scientists have been claiming that such an operation would be quite feasible, especially with extant technology.

Einstein’s famous equation.

Light is made up of photons, and a contraption capable of performing the conversion has been dubbed “photon-photon collider.” Though we might not be able to transform matter into other matter in the near future, it looks like the light-to-matter transformation has a bright outlook.

What Can Quartz Crystals Really Do?

Image in public domain.

Crystals and quartz

Crystals have caught the eye of humans since the dawn of time. Some scientists have even speculated that the origins of life on Earth may trace its origins to crystals. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these gleaming mineral formations appear frequently in pop culture often as having supernatural powers (even though they don’t). A few examples of this reoccurring theme are the Silmarils in the Lord of the Rings universe and the sunstones in James Gurney’s Dinotopia.

The atoms which make up a crystal lie in a lattice which repeats itself over and over. There are several methods for generating crystals artificially in a lab, with superheating being the most common process. Likewise, in nature, a hot liquid (eg: magma) cools down, and as this happens, the molecules are attracted to each other, bunching up and forming that repeating pattern which leads to crystal formation.

Quartz is one of the most abundant minerals found on the planet. This mineral is known to be transparent or have the hues of white, yellow, pink, green, blue, or even black. It is also the most common form of crystalline silica which has a rather high melting point and can be extremely dangerous if inhaled in its powdered form. This mineral compound is present in the majority of igneous rocks. Some quartzes are considered semiprecious stones. Aside from mere bedazzlement, they have been used in countless industries.

Industrial, not magical uses

If a pressure is applied to the surface of a quartz crystal, it can give off a small electrical charge. This effect is the result of the electrically charged atoms (the ions) dispersing and spreading away from the area to which the pressure is being applied. This can be done in a number of ways, including simply squeezing the crystal. It also dispenses an electric current if a precise cut is made at an angle to the axis.

Since it possesses this property, quartz has been a component of devices such as radios, TV’s, and radar systems. Some quartz crystals are capable of transmitting ultraviolet light better than glass (by the way, quartz sand is used in making glass). Because of this, low-quality quartz is often used for making specific lenses; optical quartz is made exclusively from quartz crystals. Quartz which is somewhat clouded or which is not as transparent as the stuff used for optics is frequently incorporated into lab instrumentation.

Scientists have employed quartz for many things, and they have considered its role in the Earth sciences a crucial one. Some have stated it directly brings about the reaction which forms mountains and causes earthquakes! It continues to be used in association with modern technology, and it likely will lead us to more discoveries in the future.

The Fascinating and Beautiful, Yet Not So Cute Cuttlefish

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Like a starfish and various other sea-dwelling creatures, the cuttlefish is an invertebrate and not a true fish, for fishes are vertebrates, that is animals which have skulls and segmented spines. However, it does have a solid, bonelike internal shell which aids in buoyancy and is shaped not unlike a half of a clamshell. (A clam is a mollusk as is a cuttlefish.) This shell is called a cuttlebone. Because it is a terrific source of calcium, it has been put in bird cages for pet fowl like canaries since low calcium intakes for birds can lead to brittle bones.

Having eight arms and two tentacles for a total of ten appendages, the cuttlefish is a relative of its fellow cephalopods such as the octopus, squid, and nautilus. (The nautilus is bizarre as its body is equipped with 90 appendages.) Its method of ocean locomotion is attributed to the row of fins outlining the side of its smooth oval-shaped body. Typically growing from six to twenty inches long, the largest of cuttlefish can weigh 23 pounds.

In the wild, cuttlefish seem to be more nocturnal creatures, tending to feed and perform its predatory ambushes at night. Its diet is made up of fish and crabs. In hunting and catching prey, this bizarre marine creature sneaks up on the victim, and when ready it rapidly thrusts its two long, sucker-covered tentacles at the smaller sea creature.

The prey is then pulled toward the cuttlefish mouth. The sharp beak located there comes in handy in breaking the hard shells of animals such as crabs. Evidently considered a dangerous and deceptive little creature, author Jules Verne may have had the submarine Nautilus attacked by a giant cuttlefish in his fantasy novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, depending upon the type of translation from the original French text.

When it comes to a beautiful appearance, the cuttlefish, like squids and octopi, is certainly not lacking. They come in a variety of hues and patterns and are even able to change the color of their bodies to match that of their surroundings. In fact, the illusive cuttlefish is renowned for its superb camouflage capabilities. Special cells on the cuttlefish’s skin called chromatophores allow for extreme alteration of the skin color and texture.

A camouflaged cuttlefish. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A camouflaged cuttlefish. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The ancient Phoenicians would dive into the waters of the Mediterranean Sea in order to collect shellfish which were in turn used to acquire a secretion, an element for a violet or crimson dye. The cuttlefish has been used in a similar manner before.

For centuries it has been hunted and desired as it produces a brown pigment from its siphon if startled. In semi-recent times the pigment was still used in sepia ink which was employed by painters. They are now primarily hunted as food. The meat, once thoroughly dried out, is quite edible. Despite its being hunted, this colorful aquatic organism is thankfully not listed as an endangered species at the moment.

On the other side of the spectrum, many people find these creatures rather pleasant due to their natural beauty, smooth movements, and clever camouflaging and keep them as pets. In the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, the common European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) is sometimes kept in home aquariums.

But in the United States, there are no native cuttlefish species. One of the most imported species to the US is Sepia bandensis. It often arrives having a size of about four inches and has maybe a few weeks left to live. It is not a recommended pet.

Sources:

The Search for Alien Life: We Have Been Looking in the Wrong Places

SETI Initiative. Source: Traces Online.

Humanity has pondered the existence of alien life for centuries. However, it has been in just the past 100 years or so that modern science has backed some of this thinking. Scientists of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s believed that objects appearing on the surface of Mars were canals constructed by aliens. Particularly, astronomer Percival Lowell believed this concept and promoted it in works such as the book Mars As the Abode of Life (1908).

This belief in the scientific community led to a huge amount of pop culture based around the concept of extraterrestrials. This has resulted in some people even believing in the existence of aliens like the ones in the movies. Who knows? They could be out there. But some wonder how probable their existence is.

With aliens constantly being depicted in entertainment, even after the Martian alien canal hypothesis was busted, scientists considered communicating with otherworldly life forms. The first scientists looking for a close encounter believed the best bet was to use radio waves as the communication medium. The first of such proposed experiments was conducted in 1960 by astronomer Frank Drake.

One of the most eye-opening quotes about extraterrestrial alien life comes from the book Time for the Stars by Alan Lightman. The author states, “Are we alone in the universe? Few questions are more profound… Extraterrestrial contact would forever change the way we view our place in the cosmos” (Lightman 21).

Drake would definitely not be the last scientist to attempt to summon a response from an alien. But this was the first modern example of tests which would now be referred to as part of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In 1980, to bring more of a public interest to SETI, the legendary astrophysicist, astronomer, and astrobiologist Carl Sagan and several others formed The Planetary Society. In more recent years, other programs with goals similar to SETI’s have been established such as METI, messaging extraterrestrial intelligence.

Apart from radio waves, humans have tried other ways of communicating with hypothetical aliens. One example is a plaque which was attached to the Pioneer 10 probe in 1972. This plaque would be a unique kind of “message in a bottle,” except the ocean it was doomed to drift in was far more vast than any sea on Earth. It was inquired of Carl Sagan about sending such a message several months before the scheduled departure of the craft. So Sagan went to work, and assisting him with this undertaking was none other than Frank Drake, the man who had conducted the first modern SETI tests in 1960. The fruit of numerous labors and laborers, the Pioneer 10 plaque that was sent into space depicted a man and a woman and several objects. Through the imagery, the scientists were trying to give any aliens who might see this plaque an idea of what humans are like and where Earth is located.

This could be the first big mistaken researchers are making. They are looking to make contact. They are putting their faith in a sci-fi movie concept. What these scientists are attempting to do is call up and have a conversation with an alien or, better yet, a race of aliens. This is not to say that SETI is pointless, but it might not be the most opportune method for seeking alien life.

Perhaps scientists should strive to discover life in its simpler forms. As Lee Billings of Scientific American states in a recent article, if you were able to travel to another planet it is likely “you would find a planet dominated by microbes rather than charismatic megafauna.” Many scientists are now suggesting microscopic organisms could be more plentiful throughout the cosmos than macroscopic creatures.

Microbes Are a Realistic Form of Alien Life. Source: Joi Ito’s PubPub.

A specific search for such minuscule life forms is not a new practice. Bacteria are, of course, microbes. Astrobiologists like Richard Hoover and Dave McKay have examined certain meteorites. Some of the microscopic structures found embedded in or on the space relics resemble bacteria. They have released their findings in past years. They have admitted that even though the fossilized structures appear to be remnants of bacteria there is still some skepticism as to whether those structures are alien in origin. This is because bacteria from Earth could have been attached to the meteorites once they entered our atmosphere.

So how do scientists narrow down the search for alien life even further? Billings’ piece may give us the best idea available at the moment. He informs his readers that one of oxygen’s properties is that it tends to descend from an atmosphere in the form of mineral oxides. It does not remain in its gaseous phase for long. Because of its nature, in an atmosphere such as Earth’s, the oxygen has to be reinstituted on a regular basis.

Astrobiologists have to accept oxygen may be one of the least familiar elements they come upon when studying potential life-supporting bodies. For example, atmospheric chemist David Catling has said the atmosphere of a world dominated by microscopic life could be largely comprised of methane and carbon dioxide gases. Keeping this in mind, this will hopefully narrow down the most likely planet candidates for life.

Marijuana farm in Colorado. Credit: Pixabay.

Marijuana Scientists Are Getting High Wages

Marijuana farm in Colorado. Credit: Pixabay.

Marijuana farm in Colorado. Credit: Pixabay.

Marijuana has almost always been a controversial topic in public and in the scientific community as well. It makes headlines, and is, of course, the craving of many addicts. Many renowned authors have sampled the cannabis drug in the hopes of improving or embellishing their creative writings. Such writers include Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Jack Kerouac, Carolyn Cassady, and William S. Burroughs.

The recreational use of the drug also assisted in feeding the Hippie Movement of the 1960’s and ’70’s. It has been the subject of much discussion, resulting in several publications dedicated solely to this purpose such as The High Times and Dope Magazine. However, marijuana does seem to have some healthful pros going for it when applied properly in certain circumstances. Among a number of benefits, it has been known to protect the brain following a stroke, to control some kinds of muscle attacks, and even to reduce the spread of cancerous cells.

The historical record places the date of one of the earliest medicinal uses of cannabis in the 2700’s BC in China. Emperor Shen Nung who reigned during that time wrote that it was employed to help with ailments such as rheumatism and malaria. In the 16th century AD, it was introduced in the Americas. Since then, practically anything having to do with weed makes headlines. In particular, current information relating to the legalities of the drug makes for hot news.

California, the Golden State, is the eighth state to make the recreational use of marijuana legal as of January 1, 2018. Now Hollywood stars (and all the others who want to) are free to openly smoke weed whenever they please. But medical marijuana is a different animal in the legal game because, as it has already been stated, it can improve or safeguard human health in some cases. Medical marijuana is currently legal to use in 29 of the 50 states.

A lot of “dough” can be made off of dope. Those in the business of growing and providing pot can definitely make a decent income from it. But many of the people doing this have found their banks will not allow their cannabis cash to be deposited. This is because marijuana is illegal under federal law. (The banks are operated by the federal government.) So I would not advise anyone to go down that type of career path. If pot fascinates you, there are other job opportunities which are growing more popular as they are in demand.

One such open career choice is for cannabis researchers, sometimes referred to as “weed scientists.” By the year 2020, it is predicted the marijuana science industry will be employing about 300,000 individuals. Simple tasks such as bud trimming can pay anywhere from $8 to $12 per hour. More experienced positions for marijuana scientists are comprised of tasks like teaching, conducting research, and even formulating regiments for biological control agents. In order to go into this profession, one has to have a valid interest in topics like weed science (duh), soil science, and agriculture. An aspiring weed scientist will require a BS degree in an area such as agronomy, horticulture, or soil science. The specific type of education required will depend on the kind of work one wants to go into.