“Planet Earth Report” provides descriptive links to 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.
Noah’s Spaceship–A craft built to save Earth’s biodiversity from a planetary crisis would be far tinier—but vastly more far-reaching—than the biblical Ark, reports Harvard’s Avi Loeb for Scientific American. There are many existential threats to life on Earth: a global pandemic even more deadly than COVID-19, a runaway greenhouse effect similar to what happened on Venus but with our own finger on the trigger; an impact by a giant asteroid bigger than the one that killed the dinosaurs; explosions of nearby stars in the form of supernovae or gamma-ray bursts; or the inevitable brightening of the sun within a billion years, which would boil all the oceans on Earth. An exchange about these threats with a Harvard colleague, Stephen Greenblatt, inspired Loeb to ponder what a modern Noah’s Ark might look like.
Is the Pandemic Spurring a Robot Revolution? asks Singularity Hub. “Are robots really destined to take over restaurant kitchens?” This was the headline of an article published by Eater four years ago. One of the experts interviewed was Siddhartha Srinivasa, at the time Professor of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and currently Director of Robotics & AI for Amazon.
Intelligent Life Really Can’t Exist Anywhere Else –Hell, our own evolution on Earth was pure luck reports Popular Mechanics. In newly published research from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, scientists study the likelihood of key times for evolution of life on Earth and conclude that it would be virtually impossible for that life to evolve the same way somewhere else.
Everything You Need to Know About mRNA, the COVID-19 Vaccine’s Secret Weapon –Pfizer and Moderna both use this tech in their breakthrough vaccines. But how does it work? And is there a catch? asks Popular Mechanics.
“Anomaly” –Could a Strange Star Signal a Civilization Billions of Years Beyond Sapiens. “It’s worthwhile to not just do what was done 60 years ago, but also to keep an eye out for very unusual things,” says SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak. “The universe has been around for three times as long as the Earth has been around, so there could be aliens out there that are very, very much more advanced than we are—not just 1,000 years, but millions and billions of years ahead.”
“The Big Bang Vanishes” –Scientists Doubt Most Famous Scientific Theory Since Einstein’s Relativity. “The Big Bang theory says nothing about what banged, why it banged, or what happened before it banged,” observed MIT theoretical physicist and cosmologist Alan Guth, who pioneered the the theory that the universe dramatically expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second after the Big Bang.
Sorry to Burst Your Quarantine Bubble–Pod means something different to everyone, and that’s a problem, reports The Atlantic.
Americans’ social lifelines are beginning to fray. As the temperature drops and the gray twilight arrives earlier each day, comfortably mingling outside during the pandemic is getting more difficult across much of the country. For many people, it’s already impossible
Contemplating the End of Physics –Has physics reached the limits of what we can discover — or are the possibilities only just beginning? asks Robbert Dijkgraaf for Quanta. s physics finished? The 21st century is often called the age of biology. Or artificial intelligence. Or any other emerging field. This relegates physics to the previous century — the golden days when the revolutions of relativity and quantum mechanics shook the world, and the discoveries of elementary particles led to a string of Nobel Prizes. Nowadays, people worry about a “desert scenario,” where no new particles will be found for many decades to come, if ever.
Did Viruses Create the Nucleus? The Answer May Be Near, reports Quanta. –An unorthodox symbiotic theory about the origin of eukaryotes’ defining characteristic may soon be put to the test. No one knows exactly how the nucleus evolved and created that division. Growing evidence has persuaded some researchers, however, that the nucleus might have arisen through a symbiotic partnership much like the one believed to have produced mitochondria. A crucial difference, though, is that the partner responsible for the nucleus might not have been a cell at all, but a virus.
“Powering the Universe?” –Relic Light of the Big Bang Reveals an Exotic Unknown Force. Cosmologists speculate based on hints of twisted light that offer clues to an exotic substance called “quintessence”that could be the unknown force accelerating the expansion of the universe, with implications not only for cosmology, but also for fundamental physics — the standard model of particle physics does not predict its existence.
How Iceland hammered COVID with science –The tiny island nation brought huge scientific heft to its attempts to contain and study the coronavirus. Here’s what it learned, reports Nature.
Scientists Detect Hints of Strange New Physics in The Universe’s Background Radiation, reports Science Alert. Throughout all known space, between the stars and the galaxies, an extremely faint glow suffuses, a relic left over from the dawn of the Universe. This is the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the first light that could travel through the Universe when it cooled enough around 380,000 years after the Big Bang for ions and electrons to combine into atoms.
The Search for Dark Matter Is Dramatically Expanding, reports Charlie Wood for Quanta. –Physicists plan to leave no stone unturned, checking whether dark matter tickles different types of detectors, nudges starlight, warms planetary cores or even lodges in rocks.
Dangerous ‘naked’ black holes could be hiding in the universe, reports Live Science. –What if some black holes are naked — completely lacking such frontiers? As far as we can tell, singularities are always wrapped in event horizons, but a more detailed look at the math of general relativity suggests that doesn’t have to be the case. If such naked black holes dot the universe, new research reveals how we might be able to detect one: by looking at the ring of light surrounding it.
The prolific cookbook author James Beard helped shape the nation’s culinary identity—for better and for worse, reports The Atlantic.
Moby-Dick and the Galápagos Tortoises –What Herman Melville left out of his classic novel, reports Scientific American.
The demons and devils that haunt scientists’ imaginations –Strange beasts stalk a history of thought experiments, reports Nature.The workings of powerful computers, the processes of evolution, the market forces that drive the global economy. To conceptualize such unseen forces, researchers have long invoked thought experiments involving demons, devils, golems or genies.
The COVID Science Wars –Shutting down scientific debate is hurting the public health, reports Scientific American, As in the cholera wars of the 1890s, different theories about the spread of COVID-19 and methods for reducing the death rate have been marked not only by by scientific conflicts, but also by an increasing distrustful public, political upheavals and even riots.