“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.
Evidence Builds That an Early Mutation Made the Pandemic Harder to Stop –Scientists were initially skeptical that a mutation made the coronavirus more contagious. But new research has changed many of their minds reports The New York Times.
“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.”
Can a Computer Devise a Theory of Everything? –It might be possible, physicists say, but not anytime soon. And there’s no guarantee that we humans will understand the result, reports Dennis Overbye for the New York Times. “Once upon a time, Albert Einstein described scientific theories as “free inventions of the human mind.” But in 1980, Stephen Hawking, the renowned Cambridge University cosmologist, had another thought. In a lecture that year, he argued that the so-called Theory of Everything might be achievable, but that the final touches on it were likely to be done by computers. “The end might not be in sight for theoretical physics,” he said. “But it might be in sight for theoretical physicists.”
Controversial New Theory Says Human Consciousness Is Electromagnetic, reports Caroline Delbert for Popular Mechanics –“The University of Surrey’s Johnjoe McFadden “posits that consciousness is in fact the brain’s energy field,” the university says in a statement, making McFadden’s dualism a question of matter and energy, the institution says—not the classic “body and mind” distinction. Throughout history, philosophers around the world have tried to account for the special-seeming nature of human beings within the world or even, some fear, the entire universe.”
Coronavirus deaths reach ominous levels unseen since early in the pandemic, reports The Washington Post.–“Unless we have a sea change in public attitudes and greater adherence to public health control measures, we’re likely to see things worsen,” said Sten H. Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health.
Pandemic Crowds Bring ‘Rivergeddon’ to Montana’s Rivers –As urbanites flock to forests and rivers to escape coronavirus threats, trailheads are cramped with parked cars and fishing on the Madison River is like a Disneyland ride, reports The New York Times.
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. Ever since astronomers reached a consensus in the 1980s that most of the mass in the universe is invisible — that “dark matter” must glue galaxies together and gravitationally sculpt the cosmos as a whole — experimentalists have hunted for the nonluminous particles.
The Astrophysics Lab of the Future in Being Built in a Garage, reports Inverse. –The first-of-its-kind lab will help solve some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.
Deep Frozen Arctic Microbes Are Waking Up, reports Scientific American –“Thawing permafrost is releasing microorganisms, with consequences that are still largely unknown. n the last 10 years, warming in the Arctic has outpaced projections so rapidly that scientists are now suggesting that the poles are warming four times faster than the rest of the globe. This has led to glacier melt and permafrost thaw levels that weren’t forecast to happen until 2050 or later. In Siberia and northern Canada, this abrupt thaw has created sunken landforms, known as thermokarst, where the oldest and deepest permafrost is exposed to the warm air for the first time in hundreds or even thousands of years.”
“The Anthropocene at 36,000-foot Depths” –Mercury and Carbon-14 from Nuclear Weapons Testing in ‘Pristine’ Marianas Trench. “Deep-sea trenches have been viewed as pristine ecosystems unsullied by human activities, but recent studies have found traces of anthropogenic lead, carbon-14 from nuclear weapons testing, and persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs in organisms living in even the deepest part of the ocean.”
The Trillion-Transistor Chip That Just Left a Supercomputer in the Dust –The smaller, the better is a trend that’s given birth to the digital world as we know it. So, why on earth would you want to reverse course and make chips a lot bigger? Well, while there’s no particularly good reason to have a chip the size of an iPad in an iPad, such a chip may prove to be genius for more specific uses, like artificial intelligence or simulations of the physical world, reports Singularity Hub.
The Weirdest Objects in the Universe –With a new encyclopedia, seekers for intelligent life ask astronomers to reexamine the sky, reports Air & Space
Climate Change Is Intensifying the Tsunami Threat in Alaska –As glaciers retreat and permafrost thaws, massive landslides threaten coastal communities. Those, in turn, could trigger giant sea waves, reports Wired.
Scientists Want to Build a Giant Moon Telescope to See Into the Deep Past, reports Becky Ferreiria for Motherboard/Vice.The Ultimately Large Telescope. A gigantic liquid telescope built in a crater on the Moon might be able to glimpse the very first stars born in the universe, which have eluded detection so far, reports a new study.
Weird ‘gravitational molecules’ could orbit black holes like electrons swirling around atoms, reports Paul Sutter for Space.com–a team of researchers has shown that a special kind of particle can exist around a pair of black holes in a similar way as an electron can exist around a pair of hydrogen atoms — the first example of a “gravitational molecule.” This strange object may give us hints to the identity of dark matter and the ultimate nature of space-time.
When Einstein Tilted at Windmills –The young physicist’s quest to prove the theories of Ernst Mach, reports Nautil.us
From the Farside –An eagle-eyed Google Earth devotee thinks there’s something odd going on in Antarctica. The self-proclaimed “Earth watchman” claims he spotted an air vent on top of a “metallic shield” in a no-fly zone on the icy continent. The keen observer posted a video on YouTube titled “HUGE Cave Opening Covered With an Iron Dome in Antarctica! – Appears to go DEEP Underground.” Reports the NY Post.
The Most Famous Paradox in Physics Nears Its End, reports George Musser for Wired –“In a series of breakthrough papers, theoretical physicists have come tantalizingly close to resolving the black hole information paradox that has entranced and bedeviled them for nearly 50 years. Information, they now say with confidence, does escape a black hole. If you jump into one, you will not be gone for good. Particle by particle, the information needed to reconstitute your body will reemerge.”
Will the Coronavirus Evolve to Be Less Deadly?–-asks Singularity Hub. “Scientists might have already observed evolutionary change in the virus, though apparently in the direction of increased transmissibility, not of lower virulence. A team led by Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, published a paper in the journal Cell in July showing that a strain carrying a mutation identified as D614G appeared to be replacing the initial strain that first emerged out of Wuhan, China. Korber and her team suggested that, on the basis of their research—conducted in cells in culture—the new strain seemed to be more infectious than the original.” While the paper notes in its limitations that “infectiousness and transmissibility are not always synonymous,” Korber says the findings are consistent with higher transmissibility.
Why It’s a Big Deal If the First Covid Vaccine Is ‘Genetic’, reports Megan Molteni for Wired –“The active ingredient inside [Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine] shot is mRNA—mobile strings of genetic code that contain the blueprints for proteins. …Up until now, this technology has never been approved for use in people. A successful mRNA vaccine won’t just be a triumph over the new coronavirus, it’ll be a huge leap forward for the science of vaccine making.”
The Plan to Turn Scrapped Rockets Into Space Stations reports Wired. –“[Nanoracks CEO Jeffrey] Manber’s vision is to create an extraterrestrial chop shop where astronauts are replaced by autonomous robots that cut, bend, and weld the bodies of spent rockets until they’re fit to be used as laboratories, fuel depots, or warehouses.”
The Dolphin Myth That Refuses to Die –Brazil’s pink river dolphins have long gotten blamed for all sorts of heinous crimes, reports The Atlantic.
Image Credit: NASA