“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.
Life as We Know It Hinges on One Very Small Decimal, reports The Atlantic. –he fine-structure constant has no dimensions or units. It’s a pure number that shapes the universe to an astonishing degree—“a magic number that comes to us with no understanding,” as Richard Feynman described it. Paul Dirac considered the origin of the number “the most fundamental unsolved problem of physics.”
How Climate Change Is Ushering in a New Pandemic Era –A warming world is expanding the range of deadly diseases and risking an explosion of new zoonotic pathogens from the likes of bats, mosquitoes, and ticks, reports Jeff Goodell for Rolling Stone.
A New Theorem Maps Out the Limits of Quantum Physics –The result highlights a fundamental tension: Either the rules of quantum mechanics don’t always apply, or at least one basic assumption about reality must be wrong, reports Quanta.
Gaia Space Observatory –“Reveals Our Solar System’s 230 Million-Year Milky Way Orbit is Speeding Up.” The third early data release from the European Space Agency’s Gaia Space Observatory launched in 2013 delivers data for just over 1.8 billion sources. Initial findings include the first optical measurement of the acceleration of the Solar system’s orbit through the Milky Way.
Japan’s Journey to an Asteroid Ends With a Hunt in Australia’s Outback –The Hayabusa2 mission cements Japan’s role in exploring the solar system, but finding its asteroid cargo presented one last challenge, reports The New York Times.
Alaska islands may be part of single, massive volcano –Preliminary analysis of a far-flung island cluster suggests that what we thought were several small, independent volcanoes might actually be a single eruptive behemoth, reports National Geographic. The behemoth in question is marked by a semi-circular cluster of peaks in the Aleutian Islands known as the Islands of the Four Mountains (IFM). Long thought to be independent volcanoes, the six peaks—including Herbert, Carlisle, Cleveland, Tana, Uliaga, and Kagamil—may actually be a series of connected vents along the edge of a much larger volcanic caldera.
Our Solar System is Rare –“Big Question is What Makes It So Special That It Harbors Life?” “We can see that in our own civilization. We have been to the moon and on Mars we have several robots already. But there aren’t a whole lot of UFOs from the billions of Earth-like exo-planets in the habitable zones of the stars, so life and technological civilizations in particular are probably still fairly scarce.”
How AI Bumblebee Brains Could Usher in a New Era of Navigation, reports Luke Dormehl for Digital Trends –“Building a honeybee brain in silicon could help develop sophisticated navigation tools that could be lightweight, ultra-low-powered, and orders of magnitude more efficient than the deep learning approaches,’ said David Rajan, CEO of Opteran. The company’s technology could power future drones, autonomous vehicles, and various robots.”
Physicists in China challenge Google’s ‘quantum advantage’ –Photon-based quantum computer does a calculation that ordinary computers might never be able to do, reports Nature.
Motherboard Science Presents: Humans 2020 –“We are honoring 20 scientists, engineers, and visionaries who helped make this dark year a little brighter,” reports Becky Ferreira.
China’s Chang’e 5 is bringing back the first moon rocks in 44 years, reports New Scientist.–Chang’e 5 landed in an unexplored area of the moon called Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms. “It’s a region where there are these really volcanically young landforms, and we currently don’t have samples in the Apollo samples or the Russian samples that have anything like that, so these samples will really enable some new science,” says Kerri Donaldson Hanna at the University of Central Florida.
There are weird volcanoes everywhere we look in the solar system, reports New Scientist. Bizarre volcanoes that ooze ice magma or explode like geysers reveal the geological rumblings beneath other worlds. Some might even provide the spark for alien life.
The cosmos may be studded with black holes so tiny they could slip in between atoms, a new theory suggests, reports Live Science. And we could be making these teensy singularities all the time at the world’s largest atom smasher, a new study shows. If we could make these objects, they could be a window into the mysterious nature of gravity. If a microscopic black hole does make an appearance in the data, it would mean that what we think of as the universe is just a small bubble embedded in a much larger framework — and we would have to completely rewrite our understanding of gravity.
Why losing Arecibo is a big deal for astronomy –The giant radio telescope had special features that aren’t easily replaced, reports Science News. In August and November, two cables supporting a 900-metric-ton platform of scientific instruments above Arecibo’s dish unexpectedly broke. After assessing the damage, the National Science Foundation, which funds Arecibo, announced that the telescope could not be safely repaired and would be torn down. But before the telescope could be dismantled, the entire instrument platform crashed down into the dish on December 1.
The Voyagers Found a Small Surprise in Interstellar Space –The spacecraft are still feeling the sun billions of miles from home, reports The Atlantic. A team of scientists has detected sudden bursts of cosmic rays around the Voyagers. The bursts, they report, are caused by shock waves emanating from solar eruptions that spew particles out at a million miles an hour. The shock waves take more than a year to reach the Voyagers, but when they do, they excite cosmic-ray electrons nearby. Scientists have observed similar phenomena closer to home, around Earth and our planetary neighbors, but never in interstellar space.
Lack of Sleep Could Be a Problem for AIs, reports Scientific American. Some types of artificial intelligence could start to hallucinate if they don’t get enough rest, just as humans do.
The unseen man-made ‘tracks’ on the deep ocean floor, reports BBC Future –“Humanity has left many signatures on the surface of the Earth, but these long-lived features on the seafloor go largely unseen. Occasionally they are lit by the spotlights of remote submersibles, but afterwards they return to darkness. They have been there for decades. Like the footsteps and tracks that astronauts left on the Moon, they are still visible now, with nothing to wash them away.”
Revealed: Isaac Newton’s attempts to unlock secret code of pyramids, reports The Guardian. Unpublished notes show he believed ancient structures held key to the apocalypse –“These are really fascinating papers because in them you can see Newton trying to work out the secrets of the pyramids,” Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s manuscript specialist, told the Observer. “It’s a wonderful confluence of bringing together Newton and these great objects from classical antiquity which have fascinated people for thousands of years. The papers take you remarkably quickly straight to the heart of a number of the deepest questions Newton was investigating.”
Light-based Quantum Computer Exceeds Fastest Classical Supercomputers, reports Scientific American –The setup of lasers and mirrors effectively “solved” a problem far too complicated for even the largest traditional computer system.
Neanderthal Y chromosome is closer to us than thought, reports CNRS –DNA analysis has revealed that, between 150,000 and 350,000 years ago, the Y chromosome of the Neanderthals was totally replaced by that of a population from which Homo sapiens is descended..
Is Anyone on Earth Not an Immigrant? asks Live Science –As scientists find more ancient human DNA, sample more modern DNA and develop more ways to analyze this genetic material, it’s revealing a lot about how early humans moved — and moved and moved — around the world, coming to inhabit nearly every swath of land.So after thousands and thousands of years of nearly constant migration, are there any people out there who have never left the spot where it’s thought Homo sapiens evolved? Put another way, is there anybody on Earth who isn’t an immigrant?
Recent Planet Earth Reports