This Week’s “Planet Earth Report” –Alien Life Does Not Exist, to China’s ‘Ghost’ Satellite to the Flat-Earth Movement

 

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This week's link to 10 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 an intriguing conspiracy theory or two.

 

A Key Evolutionary Step May Mean Intelligent Alien Life Doesn’t Exist in the Universe

 

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Shortly after Earth’s formation, the planet was barren of life. Then, proteins combined in just the right way, and life appeared. For billions of years, it was simple and uninteresting, oceans full of simple, single-celled organisms floating for millennia after millennia. Suddenly, life got a lot more interesting. Organisms became more complex, with more than one cell. And they got much bigger — 10,000 times bigger by volume, Nick Lane, professor of evolutionary chemistry at University College London, wrote in his 2015 book The Vital Question.

The importance of this step — of this sudden increase in size and complexity — cannot be overstated. Without it, complex life (like humans, for example) would not exist.

How exactly this step happened is one of the big questions in evolutionary biology. There are a number of theories about how, exactly, life got so much more complicated. One of the prevailing theories, from Lane himself, focuses on energy. Here’s the thinking: Cells need more energy to build more complex structures. To do that, according to Lane’s theory, single-celled organisms merged with bacteria we now know as mitochondria, which have an electrical charge and bring power to the cell. It’s possible, though unlikely, for the two bacteria to fit together, and even less probably that the two were able to survive and live symbiotically. This occurrence that made possible all other forms of complex life is rare, to be sure.

But in Lane’s opinion, it only happened once.

“It comes down to one merger between two cells that made one cell, then everything comes from that. You, me, the redwood tree or the hummingbird, a fungus, a piece of algae growing in a pond, every form of life we can see with our naked eyes and many that we can’t come from that single cell,” Nick said in an episode of the science podcast Radiolab on his work.

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The Earth's 'Warming Pause' Isn’t Over—It Never Began

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Just weeks after one group of scientists officially declared an end to the global warming pause, the so-called hiatus, another group has returned to the argument. They argue that there never was a pause in global warming. There was instead a global misperception that warming slowed between 1998 and 2012, but only because of gaps in the data, in particular from the Arctic, the fastest-warming region of the planet.

“We recalculated the average global temperatures from 1998 to 2012 and found that the rate of global warming had continued to rise at 0.112°C per decade instead of slowing down to 0.05°C per decade as previously thought,” said Xiangdong Zhang, of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that their new estimates suggest that the Arctic had warmed by more than six times the global average during the first dozen or so years of this century.

The argument about the apparent slowdown in the rate of increase in global warming—that warming slowed but never stopped—provides a case study of science in action.

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Hawking’s COSMOS Institute Is Using a Supercomputer to Uncover the Nature of Space and Time

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The history of the universe still has many mysteries we have yet to fully understand. A new collaboration between HPE's newest supercomputer and Stephen Hawking's research group COSMOS hope to answer some of these questions.

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) supercomputer, the new Superdome Flex, is more than an impressive, technological marvel. It’s a tool capable of unlocking some of the most complex mysteries of the universe, and Stephen Hawking’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology (COSMOS) will be using the computer to do exactly that.

 

 

The supercomputer’s high-speed memory can hold a staggering 48 terabytes of data. Because this data is stored in the newly-designed memory system instead of a more traditional storage system, the computer can process enormous amounts of data at lightning speed. This is great news for COSMOS, as they plan to sort through 14 billion years of data with the goal of filling in gaps in our knowledge of the physical history of the universe.

This computer might be just the beginning of this quest for knowledge, as it’s merely the precursor to “The Machine,” — HPE’s highly anticipated “ultimate vision” for computing. Their prototype will supposedly be able to store 160 terabytes of data in memory and can be built in a similar way to the Superdome Flex. Until this ambitious model becomes a more realistic option, Professor Hawking’s research group will use the immense capabilities of their existing supercomputer in their quest to discover more about the universe

COSMOS has already been making use of one HPE supercomputer and has been utilizing supercomputing power since 1997, their recent project is a natural progression for the researchers. Still, they hope that the latest advancement will allow them to achieve more than they ever have before.

With the Superdome Flex, COSMOS intends to create the most detailed 3-dimensional map of the early universe to date. They hope to show the location and position of cosmic bodies like supernovas, black holes, galaxies, and much more. The project is officially named “Beyond the Horizon – Tribute to Stephen Hawking. It was dubbed as such because “Hawking is a great theorist but he always wants to test his theories against observations. What will emerge is a 3D map of the universe with the positions of billions of galaxies,” said Professor Shellard in a Cambridge press release.

Data from the ESA’s Euclid probe, set to launch in 2020, will support these efforts, allowing the team to gain better insight into what researchers refer to as the “dark universe.” The team hopes that this combination of data will also allow them to more deeply peer into, and understand dark matter and dark energy, and their influence on the geometry, structure, and inner workings of the universe.

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Searching for the Origins of Life Thousands of Feet Underwater

 

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 A journey to the deep seafloor offers clues to how life flourished on Earth—and how it might evolve elsewhere in the universe. By our third day at sea, we’d found it: a dozen bare and jagged piles of rock surrounded by ocean the color of Windex. It was smaller than I had imagined, all told about twice the size of a soccer field. There was no white sand, no volcanic peaks, no palm trees, none of the trappings of other tropical island chains at this latitude, just razor-sharp umber peaks iced in a thousand years of bird shit—the whole of it resembling a kind of sinister Gilligan’s Island.

But we didn’t motor from the coast of Brazil more than a thousand kilometers (620 miles) across the Atlantic on a beach holiday or three-hour tour. We came to explore the waters deep below the sunlit surface. We came to collect clues from this place, known as the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago, about how life on Earth first began—and how alien life might evolve on other planets in the solar system.

These are big, serious questions, and we’ve brought a big, serious team to investigate them, including a crew of more than 40 geologists, microbiologists, geophysicists, biologists, engineers, deep-ocean divers, and deckhands from a dozen nations. The team will spend the next two weeks aboard the MV Alucia—a 56-meter (184-foot) research vessel operated through the Dalio Ocean Initiative—scanning the ocean floor, sampling rocks, analyzing water samples, and diving research submarines a thousand meters beneath the surface.

Nobody has ever explored these deep waters, and no one on the team knows what we’ll find.

“It’s a unique area, and so it might host some unique life systems,” says Frieder Klein, a marine geologist, who’s leading the scientific team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Klein is standing barefoot on Alucia’s top deck in cargo shorts and a faded MC5 T-shirt, squinting in the noonday sun. A few hundred meters to the north, waves crash and fizz on the shores of the 15 bite-sized rock islets.

Klein tells me that below us, millions of years ago, the tectonic plates of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge began splitting apart. This gap has widened by about a finger’s width every year since, which is why Europe and North America are now separated by nearly 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) of ocean. Over the course of this very slow process, mantle rock, which usually lies hidden 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) below the crust, has been forced to the surface.

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How Google Hit its Staggering Goal of 100% Wind and Solar Energy

 

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Google is now 100 percent powered by wind and solar energy. The company announced on Thursday that a series of new clean energy purchases mean it now has over three gigawatts of capacity at its disposal — enough to match all of its energy demands in 2017. With this goal, Google claims it is now the largest corporate purchaser of renewables on the planet.

The company set itself the target last December. From the period between 2010 and 2016, wind energy dropped in price by 60 percent and solar by 80 percent. Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure Urs Hölzle said that this proved “renewables are increasingly becoming the lowest cost option.”

Google pushed itself over the line thanks to three key purchases. Sam Arons, the senior lead of energy and infrastructure at Google, explained on his LinkedIn page that the company has invested in 535 megawatts worth of wind capacity. That covers two lots of 98 megawatts from Avangrid in South Dakota, 200 megawatts with EDF in Iowa, and 138.6 megawatts from GRDA in Oklahoma. The new purchases form part of over 20 commitments worldwide to buy renewable energy, covering countries like Sweden, Chile and Norway.

“With solar and wind declining dramatically in cost and propelling significant employment growth, the transition to clean energy is driving unprecedented economic opportunity and doing so faster than we ever anticipated,” says Gary Demasi, Google’s director of global infrastructure.

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Elon Musk’s Giant Battery is Now Delivering Power to South Australia

 

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The world’s largest lithium-ion battery was delivered just 63 days after signing. The world's largest lithium-ion battery is now live in South Australia after being delivered a few weeks ago, easily beating the promise Elon Musk made of "100 days or it's free." The South Australian Government notes that for the first time, clean wind energy can be siphoned to the grid 24/7 improving the system’s reliability, whether the wind is blowing or not. The 100MW battery farm has enough storage capacity to power more than 30,000 homes.

The launch today comes after a regulatory testing period that examined the battery's ability to both charge to, and from, Australia's National Energy Market and act as a generator. The NEM incorporates 40,000km of transmission lines and cables around Australia. Tesla powerpacks were connected to Neoen's Hornsdale windfarm, several hours north of Adelaide. According to Hornsdale Power Reserve, the battery takes up less than 10,000 square meters of land.

“The completion of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery in record time shows that a sustainable, effective energy solution is possible,” Tesla said in a statement. “We are proud to be part of South Australia’s renewable energy future, and hope this project provides a model for future deployments around.

 

Robots Could Force 375 Million People to Switch Occupations by 2030

 

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So says a new report by the think tank McKinsey Global Institute, which predicts how labor demand will shift in 45 countries as a result of new technologies. The headline finding of the report (PDF) is that 400 million to 800 million people around the world will be displaced from jobs between now and 2030. That’s not a particularly surprising finding: after all, we know that technology is already destroying many kinds of jobs.

But there are a couple of interesting nuggets hiding in the study. First, the research predicts that rich nations like America will find 25 percent of work automated by then, while poorer ones, like India, will see as little as 9 percent taken up by machines. That’s because the latter countries lack the cash to invest in automation, and at any rate still have lots of cheap labor to make use of. As Wired points out, that means that their middle classes will continue to prosper for longer than those in developed nations.

The report also suggests that plenty of jobs will actually be created for those displaced from their work as money from improved productivity is reinvested into new kinds of industry. The upshot of that though, as Axios notes, is that as many as 375 million people will be pushed out of jobs—that’s 14 percent of the global workforce—and have to take up work in totally different occupations.

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European Space Agency Wants to Build Earth-Monitoring Drone Satellites

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On Tuesday, the European Space Agency announced that it’s working on developing aerial vehicles that operate like satellites but fly at altitudes similar to standard aircraft. In the agency’s own words, these High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites would bridge that “‘missing link’ between drones and satellites,” and serve as unmanned aerial vehicles that continuously monitor the earth from a fixed position inside our atmosphere for months at a time.

According to ESA’s press release, the most fruitful altitude would be 12.4 miles (20 kilometers), which would position these pseudo-satellites above commercial airline traffic and clouds, as the weather conditions there allow for the UAVs to remain stationed in one place without much issue. Reportedly, from this vantage point, the vehicles can monitor terrain up to 310 miles (500 kilometers) away, as well as communicate with stations on the ground via high-bandwidth, or utilize the navigation services of satellites floating nearby.

In the ESA's own words, HAPS "are stratospheric platforms that stay over a fixed point on Earth from weeks to months. Compared to ground-based systems, towers or aircraft, HAPS operate quasi-stationarily at an altitude of approximately 12.4 miles (20 kilometers). This allows them to complement or extend the capabilities of satellites in the domains of Earth Observation, Telecommunication, and Navigation with the potential to further integrate with ground-based infrastructure."

 

Scientists Reveal the Mystery About the Origin of Gold

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An international group of scientists, with the participation of the University of Granada (UGR), has shed new light on the origin of gold, one of the most intriguing mysteries for Mankind since ancient times and which even today doesn't have an answer that convinces the scientific community.

Their work, which has been recently published in the renowned Nature Communications journal, has established that the gold came to the Earth's surface from the deepest regions of our planet. Thus, the Earth's set of internal movements would have favored the ascent and concentration of the precious metal.

The researchers have found evidence of said process in the Argentinean Patagonia, which in addition represents the first register of gold found under the South American continent, specifically at a depth of 70 kilometers.

The researchers belong to various universities from Chile, Australia and France, and among them there's also José María González Jiménez, a Ramón y Cajal researcher from the Department of Mineralogy and Petrology at the University of Granada.

The UGR researcher reminds that the interior of the Earth is divided into three large layers: crust, mantle and core. "The minerals we extract and which support our economy are located in the crust. And, although we are experts in taking advantage of them, we still know very little about their true origin. The search for gold has motivated migrations, expeditions and even wars, but its origin is one of the main questions in the field of mineral deposits genesis".

The mantle is the layer separating the nucleus from the crust in which we all live, and its upper limit is located at about 17 kilometers under the oceans and 70 kilometers under the continents. "This distance is unreachable for Mankind, since we don't possess the means for reaching the mantle and thus knowing more about it in a direct way yet", the UGR researcher notes.

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Whoever Own AI Owns the World

 

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Russian president Vladimir Putin has joined the war of words concerning the international race to develop artificial intelligence. Speaking to students last Friday, Putin predicted that whichever country leads the way in AI research will come to dominate global affairs.

“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” said Putin, reports RT. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

The development of artificial intelligence has increasingly become a national security concern in recent years. It is China and the US (not Russia) which are seen as the two frontrunners, with China recently announcing its ambition to become the global leader in AI research by 2030. Many analysts warn that America is in danger of falling behind, especially as the Trump administration prepares to cut funding for basic science and technology research.

Although it’s thought that artificial intelligence will help boost countries’ economies in a number of areas, from heavy industry to medical research, AI technology will also be useful in warfare. Artificial intelligence can be used to develop cyber weapons, and control autonomous tools like drone swarms — fleets of low-cost quadcopters with a shared ‘brain’ that can be used for surveillance as well as attacking opponents.

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What is China's New Ghost Spy Satellite?

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Experts reportedly say that the new spy satellite has been designed to track "invisibles" such as stealth aircrafts and warships. China is reportedly racing to develop an entirely new kind of spy satellite that will be able to spot and track targets from space that are currently invisible to even the most advanced radar satellites. The new spy satellite will reportedly be developed using ghost quantum imaging, which experts say will allow Beijing to track stealth aircraft and warships, including the US B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

The new satellite is expected to completely revolutionise warfare, according to scientists involved in the project. The satellite will reportedly be equipped with two cameras and a quantum sensor, allowing it to spot any target illuminated by any light source like the sun, the moon or even a light bulb. The satellite will also be able to identify and monitor stealth bombers such as B-2s taking off at night.

The South China Morning Post reported that quantum ghost imaging can attain unprecedented sensitivity as it can identify even the most minute amounts of light from a dim target. The technology can also spot a target's interactions with light in surrounding areas.

 

Bitcoin Is a Delusion That Could Conquer the World

 

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The cryptocurrency’s current price is completely unreal. Then again, so is money. A bar of gold. A disk of iron. A chain of beads. A card of plastic. A slip of cotton-linen paper. These things are worthless. One cannot eat them, or drink them, or use them as a blanket. But they are valuable, too. Their value comes from the simplest thing. People believe they are money, and so they are.

If every currency is a consensual delusion, then bitcoin, a digital cryptocurrency that changes hands over the internet, feels more like a consensual hallucination on psychedelic drugs. The concept of bitcoin was born in a detailed white paper published in late 2008 by a pseudonymous “Satoshi Nakamoto.” By 2013, one bitcoin was worth $12. As of this writing, it’s worth more than $10,000. Its value has doubled in the last two months alone. For any currency’s value to increase by 100 percent in eight weeks is, to use a technical term, bonkers. If the Japanese yen or American dollar did the same, their economies would plunge into an infernal deflationary spiral.

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The Flat Earth Movement is Booming in the U.S.

The U.S. flat-Earth movement is booming, according to new data that shows more Americans scoured the internet for flat-Earth theories in the last 12 months than ever before. Is NASA covering up the truth? Since mid-2017, a string of news stories propelled the flat-Earth movement’s traffic into the digital stratosphere.

The Economist tracked how often Americans searched for the words “flat Earth” through Google from 2013 to today. Beating even Kylie Jenner’s famous chemtrail theory, the numbers have been growing since mid-2014.

 

In September, long-term flat-Earth evangelist and rapper B.o.B announced he was starting a crowd-funding project to map the Earth’s shape with satellites. Soon after, the first annual Flat Earth International Conference brought 500 believers together in North Carolina.

In the last two weeks, 61-year old limousine driver “Mad” Mike Hughes announced he would prove the Earth was flat once and for all by flying a $20,000 homemade rocket over California. The launch—which was due to take place last Saturday—has been postponed according to The Washington Post.

Most recently, Neil DeGrasse Tyson shared a photoshopped image of the moon on Twitter to undermine flat-Earthers. The image shows the bizarre shadow a flat Earth should cast on the moon, he explains with the caption: “A Lunar Eclipse flat-Earther’s have never seen.”

 

 

 

 

Scientists Find That Smartphone Addiction Alters Your Brain Chemistry

 

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Many of us find it difficult to go even a few hours without looking at our smartphone or accessing the internet. Now, a new study has found that addiction to these technologies might cause a chemical imbalance in the brain.

A study presented at the 2017 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America has found that young people who are addicted to smartphone usage display an imbalance in their brain chemistry. A group of researchers from Seoul’s Korea University carried out the study, which was led by neuroradiology professor Hyung Suk Seo. They used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to investigate the chemical composition of teenagers who had been diagnosed as having an addition to their smartphones or the internet.

Nineteen youths – nine male and ten female with a mean age of fifteen and a half – were compared with healthy control subjects of the same gender. Twelve of the group received cognitive behavioral therapy, based on a similar program designed to help people addicted to video games.

Standardized tests helped the scientists determine how severe each subject’s addiction was. They were quizzed on how their usage affected their day-to-day activities, ranging from social life to sleeping pattern.

The teenagers who were addicted to their smartphones and the internet, were found to have higher scores for tests that tracked depression, anxiety, the severity of insomnia, and their impulsivity. These subjects were given MRS examinations both before and after their behavioral therapy, while the control patients were examined once to establish a baseline.

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Punk Band to UFOs –Blink-182's Tom DeLonge to Publish Book About UFOs

 
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Former band member’s forthcoming non-fiction book, Sekret Machines: Gods, is ‘designed to shake people up, to make them question their assumptions. In the wake of a complicated public split from a famous pop-punk group, many musicians might make their first step into book publishing a tell-all autobiography. Not for former Blink-182 member Tom DeLonge, whose book about UFOs will be out on 7 March.

DeLonge co-wrote the non-fiction book, Sekret Machines: Gods, with the occult expert Peter Levenda. It is based on interviews with intelligence officers, scientists, engineers and military officials. According to a press release, it will be “an eye-opening investigative journey to the heart of the UFO phenomenon”, as well as transcending “the speculation of journalists, historians and others whose conclusions are often either misinformed or only tease around the edges”.

“Sekret Machines: Gods is the opening salvo on the complacency of human institutions where the UFO Phenomenon is concerned,” says Levenda. “It’s designed to shake people up, to make them question their assumptions.”

DeLonge said Levenda’s expertise aided the project: “It was his ability to frame an esoteric thesis that gave me the ammunition to speak clearly on the subject matter, and that got me in the door.”

According to Rolling Stone, DeLonge has been interviewing aerospace industry officials, the US Department of Defense and Nasa. “It’s very hard to think, ‘How did this guy in a band get access like that?’” he said. “It sounds crazy. But it’s because I can speak to a very specific audience. I earned their trust. I knew my material.”

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