This Week’s “Planet Earth Report” — Terrifying Quark Discovery to Edward Snowden’s Alien Contact Theory

 
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This week's link to 9 headline stories from around the world on the threats, opportunities, and dangers facing our fragile planet –along with an occasional dash of humor, popular culture, and a conspiracy theory from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

 

 

The Key to Survival on Mars Is Religion, Argues Scientist –Martian colonists will be desperate for a reason to live.

 

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By 2030, humans are expected to live on Mars. They’ll set up agricultural systems on the Red Planet, oxygen-pumping shelters, and experiments — beginning life as a multiplanetary species on a harsh planet where they will very likely develop a mental illness and eventually die. It will not be a pleasant experience.

Konrad Szocik, Ph.D., a cognitive scientist and professor of philosophy at the University of Technology Rzeszow in Poland, has been thinking a lot about how life could be less miserable for future Mars colonists. His working theory is at once both radical and antiquated: introduce a new religion to the children born on Mars. If a new religion arises on its own in Mars, he reasons, all the better. The adults who make up the first wave of colonists will have to bear the burden of implementing this new religion but will receive none of the benefits of this new religion. However, Szocik argues, their initial sacrifice will be what ultimately allows Martian settlements to thrive.

 Szocik, who has written extensively on this topic, tells Inverse he began to consider the role of religion while contemplating “how the first groups of astronauts on Mars will establish cooperation in such extremely hard environment when we have problems with cooperation on Earth.” He reasoned that because some theories posit that religion has helped maintain cooperation in society on Earth, a religion invented and applied to Mars colonists would likely have the same effect. Instead of Noah’s Ark, he says, child colonists might learn about a spacecraft — providing them with an origin story that will give purpose to their lives.

NASA crewmembers are blessed by a Russian Orthodox priest before leaving for the ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft. “I think that we should seriously prepare and equip the future Martian astronauts with an appropriate system that enables coping with stress and fear,” says Szocki. “Unfortunately, NASA and others think of Mars colonies in terms of nuts and bolts.”

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NASA Scientists Mapping Greenland Produced Surprising – and Worrying Results

 

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 Greenland, the world’s largest island and home to its second largest ice sheet, is a land of ragged cliffs, breathtaking fjords and unimaginable amounts of water on either side of the freezing point. It has also, until now, been something of a mystery.

 Greenland drew some pointed attention during the world wars and the Cold War, thanks to its strategic location. But it is only today, thanks to rapid climate change, that scientists are beginning to take the full measure of all the earth, rock and ice in a place that’s now raising seas by nearly a millimeter every single year.

Two new studies of Greenland, using sophisticated technologies and large scientific teams to pull together and process the data, have now gone further in taking the full measure of the island through that ever-so-basic scientific act: mapping.

The first, a comprehensive seabed mapping project, relying in part on new data from NASA’s OMG (“Oceans Melting Greenland”) mission, concludes that the Greenland ice sheet is far more exposed to the planet’s warming oceans than previously known — and has more ice to give up than, until now, has been recognized.

The massive study, published last month in Geophysical Research Letters, pulls together a large number of data records to provide a comprehensive map of the shape of the seabed around and lying beneath Greenland’s glaciers, based on state of the art soundings taken by ships and other data sources.

The research — which pulls together a body of evidence that has now been accumulating for a while — measures the depth and contours of the ocean floor both beneath liquid water in Greenland’s fjords and beneath ice in places where the ocean may someday flow. The work was led by Mathieu Morlighem of the University of California at Irvine, with no less than 31 other authors from institutions in the United States, Canada, Britain and across Europe.

The researchers have found that Greenland contains more total ice above sea level than previously thought — the entire ice mass is capable of raising sea levels by 24.3 feet, about three inches more than previously realized.

Still more significant is how much of that ice is vulnerable to warm water that reaches the bases of the ice sheet’s deeper glaciers. The new research finds that “between 30 and 100% more glaciers are potentially exposed to [warm Atlantic water] than suggested by previous mapping, which represents 55% of the ice sheet’s total drainage area.” In other words, more than half of Greenland’s ice lies in or flows through areas that could be influenced by warming seas.

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Israeli Scientists "Terrified" –Discover Subatomic Quark Explosion Theoretically More Powerful Than Hydrogen Bomb

 

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Two teeny tiny particles can theoretically collide to create a "quarksplosion" with eight times more energy than the reaction that powers hydrogen bombs, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature. In fact, the paper's co-authors told Live Science, they very seriously considered not publishing the discovery, since the collision creates so much energy.

 Let's make one thing very clear: This is all theoretical work, although it's based on real experimental results from the Large Hadron Collider, a particle-smashing machine in Europe. And while it's a pretty cool discovery to think about, there's no way anyone can harness these powerful explosions to do any harm—they're simply too tiny.

 "If I thought for a microsecond that this had any military applications, I would not have published it," Marek Karliner, a particle physicist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, told Live Science.

 The new paper was inspired by a discovery at the Large Hadron Collider earlier this year of what scientists call a "doubly-charmed" particle. Charmed doesn't mean it was blessed by a fairy godmother—it actually refers to one of the six different types of quarks. Quarks are a fundamental ingredient of matter that can't be broken down any further. But the six different types are all different sizes, and scientists hadn't realized that two charm quarks, which are relatively big, could be stuck together in the same particle. The doubly-charmed discovery made them reconsider that belief.

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Is China Ground Zero for a Future Pandemic?

 

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 Yin Shuqiang, a corn farmer in hardscrabble Sichuan province, sits on a rough-hewn wooden bench, surrounded by concrete walls. The only splash of color in his house is a crimson array of paper calligraphy banners around the family altar. It displays a wooden Buddhist deity and a framed black-and-white photograph of his late wife, Long Yanju.

Yin, who is 50 and wearing a neat gray polo shirt, is thumbing through a thick sheaf of medical records, pointing out all the ways physicians and traditional healers failed his wife. She was stricken by vomiting and fatigue this past March, but it took more than a week to determine she’d been infected by H7N9, an influenza virus that had jumped across the species barrier from birds to humans. By the time doctors figured out what was wrong with her, it was too late.

Long’s case is part of an ominous outbreak that began in China and could, according to experts in Asia and the United States, evolve into a pandemic. H7N9 first spread from birds to humans in 2013. Since then, there have been five waves of the virus. The fifth wave began in October 2016. By September 2017, it had infected 764 people—far more than any of the four preceding waves. Health officials recently confirmed that there have been 1,589 total cases of H7N9, with 616 of them fatal. “Anytime you have a virus with a 40 percent mortality rate,” says Tim Uyeki, the chief medical officer for the influenza division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “that’s very, very serious.”

So far, the only verified means by which patients have acquired the virus is through direct exposure to infected animals. But if H7N9 were to mutate further and develop the ability to pass readily from person to person, it could spread rapidly and kill millions of people worldwide. The potential for disaster has normally cautious medical researchers expressing concern, even suggesting that H7N9 might rival the fierce influenza virus that caused the 1918 pandemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million people.

Guan Yi, a virus expert and noted flu hunter at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health, has predicted that H7N9 “could be the biggest threat to public health in 100 years.” Specialists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this past June that out of all the novel influenza strains they’d recently evaluated, H7N9 has the highest potential “to emerge as a pandemic virus and cause substantial human illness.”

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Earth’s Mysterious Multi-Million-Year Cycles of Giant Impacts, Massive Volcanism and Planetary Death.

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A new out-of-this-world theory links mass extinctions with exotic astrophysics and galactic architecture. The 100-kilometer-wide Manicougan Crater in Canada was produced by a 5-kilometer-wide space rock smacking into Earth about 215 million years ago. A similar larger impact some 66 million years ago is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs. Some researchers believe giant impacts cyclically occur, driven by our solar system's movement through a disk of dark matter in the Milky Way. 

Every once in a great while, something almost unspeakable happens to Earth. Some terrible force reaches out and tears the tree of life limb from limb. In a geological instant, countless creatures perish and entire lineages simply cease to exist.

 The most famous of these mass extinctions happened about 66 million years ago, when the dinosaurs died out in the planet-wide environmental disruption that followed a mountain-sized space rock walloping Earth. We can still see the scar from the impact today as a nearly 200-kilometer-wide crater in the Yucatan Peninsula.

 But this is only one of the “Big Five” cataclysmic mass extinctions recognized by paleontologists, and not even the worst. Some 252 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic mass extinction wiped out an estimated nine of every ten species on the planet—scientists call this one “the Great Dying.” In addition to the Big Five, evidence exists for dozens of other mass extinction events that were smaller and less severe. Not all of these are conclusively related to giant impacts; some are linked instead to enormous upticks in volcanic activity worldwide that caused dramatic, disruptive climate change and habitat loss. Researchers suspect that many—perhaps most—mass extinctions come about through the stresses caused by overlapping events, such as a giant impact paired with an erupting supervolcano. Maybe the worst mass extinctions are simply matters of poor timing, cases of planetary bad luck.

 Or maybe mass extinctions are not matters of chaotic chance at all. Perhaps they are in fact predictable and certain, like clockwork. Some researchers have speculated as much because of curious patterns they perceive in giant impacts, volcanic activity and biodiversity declines.

 In the early 1980s, the University of Chicago paleontologists David Raup and Jack Sepkoski found evidence for a 26-million-year pattern of mass extinction in the fossil record since the Great Dying of the Permian-Triassic. This 26-million-year periodicity overlaps and closely aligns with the Big Five extinctions, as well as several others. In subsequent work over the years, several other researchers examining Earth’s geological record have replicated Raup and Sepkoski’s original conclusions, finding a mass-extinction periodicity of roughly 30 million years that extends back half a billion years. Some of those same researchers have also claimed to detect similar, aligned periodicities in impact cratering and in volcanic activity. 

 Every 30 million years, give or take a few million, it seems the stars align to make all life on Earth suffer. Yet for want of a clear mechanism linking all these different phenomena together, the idea has languished for years at the scientific fringe.

 It may not be a fringe idea much longer. According to Michael Rampino, a geoscientist at New York University, dark matter may be the missing link—the mechanism behind Earth’s mysterious multi-million-year cycles of giant impacts, massive volcanism and planetary death.

(Image credit: with thanks to Elenarts)

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Conspiracy Theorists Are Electrified About a Rumored National Power Outage

 

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In an interesting coincidence, the U.S. Department of Defense will simulate a catastrophic national power outage on Nov. 4, the same day “antifa” demonstrators are planning a purported national “day of rage” that has some on the right all worked up.

 Only some people don’t think it’s such a coincidence. Infowars, for one, expressed skepticism about the timing, and as fast as you can say Grover’s Mill, a conspiracy was born. “U.S. Electrical grid going down Nov. 4-6???” read one tweet on Oct. 29. Another panted “ANTIFA BLACK OUT NOV. 4TH PLANS CIVIL WAR.” On the Army Military Radio Auxiliary System Facebook page, one man from Columbia, Louisiana, asked: “How will this affect me? I live in the country. I know how to use oil lamps.”

 OK, first, calm down, people: This is just an exercise, courtesy of the U.S. Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM). No one is even actually touching the grid, except perhaps for the squirrels that routinely frolic on power lines across the country.

 This is one of four exercises NETCOM will hold this year, out of the hundreds the Department of Defense runs on tabletops and in the field around the world in any given year. These games all have different storylines, depending on what the military is practicing or testing. In this case, NETCOM came up with a fictional coronal mass ejection, or solar storm, as a way to test the Army Military Radio Auxiliary System, also known as MARS. MARS, a network of amateur radio operators across the country—think guys with a ham radio in the garage—would in theory still function if a solar storm took down the entire U.S. grid system, landlines, cellphones, and the internet.  

 Eric Hortin, a public affairs officer at NETCOM ,confirmed that the exercise will have no effect on anyone’s phones, computers, or lights in real life. None. So, put away the oil lamps. Moreover, NETCOM came up with the scenario a year ago, and it’s likely that no one there had heard of “antifa” then. “We’ve had close to 500 calls about this just since yesterday,” Holtin said Thursday.

 The faux conspiracy does highlight a more interesting question, however: Is the scenario actually feasible? Could a solar storm wipe out the entire U.S. power grid system? Or more to the point, could a manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) do so? The question is more than academic, given that in September, North Korean state media specifically claimed the country could generate a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) from a nuclear blast.

 The bad news: The scenario is feasible. Solar storms, and “space weather” more broadly, are a real thing. The most famous severe geomagnetic disturbance in North America was the 1859 Carrington Event, which fried telegraph lines. More recently, a 1989 solar storm caused a nine-hour power outage in Quebec, and the National Academies of Science noted in 2008 that a “space weather Katrina” was “not inconceivable.” In other words, no one is really sure how likely a truly catastrophic solar storm is, or even what the effects would be. Indeed, the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission has adopted standards to mitigate the impacts of geomagnetic disturbances.

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Genetic Engineering Can Save the Galápagos

 

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In the Galápagos, invasive species are driving native animals to extinction. Some conservationists are asking whether genetic manipulation is the solution. Invasive species have been a problem in the Galápagos Islands since mariners first arrived there. Hundreds of introduced species of plants, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals live in the archipelago, displacing and in some cases preying on native species. 

 Eradicating invasive species can be a brutal job. On the island of Floreana, a plan to eliminate the rodents that raid the nests of native birds and reptiles calls for 400 tons of rat poison, requiring weeks of dislocation for pets, livestock and perhaps children.

 Genetic manipulation—for example, tweaking sex inheritance in rodents to produce an all-male, and thus reproductively doomed, population—is being discussed as a safer alternative to poison and bullets. But what are the risks? And would it even work?

Read more…

 

Cosmic-Ray Particles Reveal Secret Chamber in Egypt's Great Pyramid

 

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Researchers use muon detectors to find a hidden 30-meter-long space, which could help reveal how the 4,500-year-old monument was built.  Physicists have used the by-products of cosmic rays to reveal a large, previously unidentified chamber inside the 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. The find is the first discovery since the nineteenth century of a major new space inside the pyramid.

 Egyptologists have been quick to dismiss any idea of finding lost treasure in the 30-metre-long void. “There’s zero chance of hidden burial chambers,” says Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol, UK, who studies ancient Egyptian tombs. But experts hope that the finding will lead to significant insights into how this spectacular pyramid was built.

 The Great Pyramid was constructed by the pharaoh Khufu (also known as Cheops), who reigned from 2509–2483 bc. Constructed from limestone and granite blocks, and rising to 139 metres, it is the oldest and largest of the Egyptian pyramids and one of the most impressive structures to survive from the ancient world.

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Edward Snowden's NSA Whistleblower "Alien Contact is Real"

 Edward Snowden  thinks aliens may be trying to talking to Earth now, during our limited technology phase of human civilization, but we're missing it. 

 

 

 

 

 

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