“Planet Earth Report” provides summaries of headline news by leading science journalists about the extraordinary discoveries, technology, people, and events changing our knowledge of Planet Earth and the future of the human species. Our caffine-inspired curation team scours the world, doing your work for you –all in one place.
Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Was Great for Bacteria –The smoldering crater left by the apocalyptic space rock became a nice home for blue-green algae within years of the impact. “The asteroid moved 24 times faster than a rifle bullet as it struck Earth some 66 million years ago,” writes Shannon Hall for New York Times Science. Its supersonic shock wave flattened trees across North and South America, and its heat wave sparked incomprehensibly large forest fires. The event lofted so much debris into the atmosphere that photosynthesis shut down. The non-avian dinosaurs disappeared. And nearly 75 percent of all species were extinguished. At the point of impact, the picture was even more dire. The space rock left a sterile crater nearly 20 miles deep in what is now the Gulf of Mexico. Not a single living thing could have survived.
“Do Living Creatures Need Cell Membranes?” –Saturn’s Titan May Harbor the Answer. “Do living creatures would need cell membranes to survive,” ask Hilda Sandström and Martin Rahm with the Initiatives on Cosmic Origins at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, probing two of the most central questions in astrobiology –“what are environmental and chemical limits of life?” This unsolved mystery led them to explore the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon, Titan, often described as harboring conditions similar to early Earth, using computer modeling to determine whether “polarity-inverted” membranes dubbed “azotosomes” –hypothetical structures that lack the phosphorus and oxygen found in membranes on Earth but contain nitrogen– could self-assemble under Titan’s extreme environment.
Scientists Are Rapidly Finding Weird Materials Older Than the Solar System on Earth –First, scientists found stardust crystals dating back seven billion years. Just weeks later, writes Becky Ferreira for Motherboard/Vice, another team has reported finding more “presolar” compounds in an unexpected place. Scientists have detected grains of stardust that are older than the Sun inside a gigantic meteorite that fell in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1969, according to a study published on Monday in Nature Astronomy. The discovery comes within weeks of another study that identified the oldest material on Earth inside a separate meteorite that also landed on our planet in 1969, this time in Australia.
“Extraterrestrial Technosignatures” –AI of the Future Could Reveal the Incomprehensible. “If AI identifies something our mind cannot understand or accept, could it in the future go beyond our level of consciousness and open doors to reality for which we are not prepared? What if the square and triangle of Vinalia Faculae in Ceres were artificial structures?” asked Spanish clinical neuropsychologist Gabriel G. De la Torre about the application of artificial intelligence to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and the identification of a possible technosignature –a square structure within a triangular one in a crater on the dwarf planet Ceres.
The New Video of One of the Scariest Places on Earth –For the first time, scientists have a clear view of the line where the giant Thwaites Glacier is leaking water into the ocean. Earlier this week, writes Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic, researchers published the first images of the place where this behemoth glacier, which is both one of the world’s largest and most vulnerable, sits on the deep seafloor and bleeds water into the ocean. In other words, they have made a film of sea-level rise in progress, showing ice from the land becoming water in the ocean. But this may understate the importance of these visuals. Thwaites is one of a handful of glaciers in the world that could really matter in our lifetime: If it collapses, it could do so rapidly, cataclysmically spiking global sea levels during the next few decades.
Never-before-seen details of the sun’s surface revealed by new telescope –The spectacular photos show a pattern of turbulent, “boiling” gas covering the sun. Inside visible cell-like structures, reports Reuters, each around the size of the U.S. state of Texas, hot plasma can be seen rising before cooling off and sinking below the surface in dark lanes, as part of a process called convection.
The CIA’s Infamous, Unsolved Cryptographic Puzzle Gets a ‘Final Clue’ –“Even once it’s cracked, it’s gonna be a riddle, something that’s still controversial and hard to figure out,” the creator of the Kryptos puzzle sculpture says. Almost exactly 30 years ago, the artist and sculptor Jim Sanborn was devising an encrypted code for his sculpture complex at the new CIA headquarters, writes Mordechai Rorvig for Motherboard/Vice. The centerpiece of the complex, called Kryptos, is an eight-foot tall sculpture of a copper scroll, with four paragraphs of letters cut from the metal. At first glance, the letters seem to be gibberish. But cryptologists, including NSA experts and the American scientist James Gillogly, gradually decrypted the first three paragraphs of the text. But the full solution has eluded cryptographers, and the 74-year-old Sanborn has just released a new clue in order to help hobbyists solve it.
Inside Skinwalker Ranch, a Paranormal Hotbed of UFO Research –-Locals say the ranch has been plagued by strange creatures and cattle mutilations, writes MJ Banias for Motherboard/Vice. It’s also been used for government UFO research. So what’s really happening there? The HISTORY channel has greenlighted a new nonfiction Series “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” (WT) from Executive Producer of “The Curse of Oak Island” for release this year.
A Twist in the 2,000-Year-Old Mystery of Herculaneum –Scientists have long thought that the 340 victims of Mount Vesuvius died instantly. But a new analysis suggests they suffered a slower demise, writes Alla Katsnel and Sapiens for The Atlantic. When Mount Vesuvius, on the west coast of Italy, first began its volcanic rumblings in A.D. 79, ash and white pumice deluged the surrounding region, including the famous city of Pompeii. Several hours later, the volcano belched up another phase of its eruption: a series of steaming toxic clouds of gas and rock, called pyroclastic surges, that heaved down the mountainsides, engulfing Pompeii and the nearby seaside town of Herculaneum.
The Five: Large Telescopes –As the most detailed images of the sun are released this week, The Guardian looks look at other huge telescopes and their discoveries, including the Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope, Gran Telescopio Canarias, WM Keck Observatory twin telescopes, Hobby-Eberly Telescope, and the The South African Large Telescope –the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, and claims to be one of the darkest observatory locations in the world, far away from city light pollution. It can detect objects as faint as a candle on the moon and was jointly responsible for detecting the first white dwarf pulsar in 2016.
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope Ends 16-Year Mission of Discover, including Earth-size worlds orbiting another star, a new ring around Saturn and many more wonders in space. On Thursday, writes Adam Mann for the New York Times, NASA’s Spitzer space telescope signed off and went silent. But even during its final week of operation, the spacecraft was making one-of-a-kind observations.
Cool Discovery Could Finally Explain Gigantic Ice Rings Found on Siberian Lake –The appearance of large ice rings on Lake Baikal in southern Siberia has confounded scientists since they were first discovered in the early 2000s, writes George Dvorsky for Gizmodo. Recent investigations into the ice rings have resulted in a plausible explanation, but there’s still much to learn about these unusual features. Russia’s Lake Baikal is the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake. It’s home to many varieties of fish not seen anywhere else in the world, and even an endemic freshwater seal population. And it also features strange ice rings, which were first spotted in the early 2000s through MODIS satellite imagery.
Scientists Discovered a Mysterious New Aurora Borealis on the Edge of Space –The trippy “dunes” were identified in a largely unexplored region of Earth’s atmosphere, and we’d have to send a spacecraft up to understand how they form. These “dunes,” so named because of their wavy shape, writes Becky Ferreira for Motherboard/Vice, offer a rare window into a layer of Earth’s atmosphere that is often called the “ignorosphere” because it is so challenging to study that it has ended up neglected. The dunes themselves are just as mysterious as the atmospheric region they inhabit, though the study presents potential explanations for their appearance.