“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.
Why Extraterrestrial Life May Not Seem Entirely Alien –The zoologist Arik Kershenbaum argues that because some evolutionary challenges are truly universal, life throughout the cosmos may share certain features, reports Dan Falk for Quanta. “Granted, science hasn’t yet found any aliens to study, but Kershenbaum says that there are certain things we can still say about them with reasonable certainty. Topping the list: They evolved.”
Origin of Life: Lightning Strikes May Have Provided Missing Ingredient for Earth’s First Organisms, reports Singularity Hub–“One particular problem that has long faced scientists who study the origin of life is the source of the elusive element, phosphorus. Phosphorus is an important element for basic cell structures and functions. For example, it forms the backbone of the double helix structure of DNA and the related molecule RNA.”
Strange microbe “breathes” nitrates using a mitochondria-like symbiont –A relatively recent symbiosis is reminiscent of the ‘powerhouse of the cell, reports Ars Technica. Deep in Switzerland’s Lake Zug swims a microorganism that has evolved a strange way to “breathe.” A team of researchers discovered a novel partnership between a single-celled eukaryote—an organism with a clearly defined nucleus holding its genome—and a bacteria that generates energy for its host. But instead of using oxygen to do so, it uses nitrate.
What Is Life? Its Vast Diversity Defies Easy Definition –Scientists have struggled to formulate a universal definition of life. Is it possible they don’t need one? asks Carl Zimmer for Quanta. “Scientists’ efforts to develop a good working definition for life have been stymied by the existence of puzzling cases like snowflakes that have some attributes of life, red blood cells that lack some attributes, and organisms like tardigrades that can seem inanimate for long intervals.
A forgotten Cold War experiment has revealed its icy secret. It’s bad news for the planet, reports Sarah Kaplan for The Washington Post. “At first, Andrew Christ was ecstatic. In soil taken from the bottom of the Greenland ice sheet, he’d discovered the remains of ancient plants. Only one other team of researchers had ever found greenery beneath the mile-high ice mass. But then Christ determined how long it had been since that soil had seen sunlight: Less than a million years. Just the blink of an eye in geologic terms.”
New strains of bacteria found on the International Space Station –Three unknown species have been discovered growing on the ISS, but don’t break out the anti-bac wipes just yet, reports BBC Science Focus.
Microsoft’s Mesh Will Let Us Beam Ourselves to Work as Holograms, reports Singularity Hub. “Unveiled last week at the company’s Ignite conference, with the tag line “here can be anywhere,” the mixed reality platform promises to make remote interactions feel more lifelike than they ever have. A promotional video for the technology shows real-time holograms of people being beamed in to work alongside others, and 3D data popping up in midair.”
8 Minutes of Fire: Watch NASA Test Its Giant New Moon Rocket –A test earlier this year of the Space Launch System core stage was marred by errors, so the agency will conduct a do-over, reports The New York Times.
This year’s largest near-Earth asteroid to pass by on Sunday –During its approach, the asteroid 2001 FO32 will pass by at about 124,000km/h – faster than the speed at which most asteroids encounter Earth, reports BBC Science Focus.
Why does DNA spontaneously mutate? Quantum physics might explain, reports Live Science. “In a recent study, published Jan. 29 in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, researchers show that a quantum phenomenon called proton tunneling can cause point mutations by allowing positively charged protons in DNA to leap from place-to-place. This, in turn, can subtly change the hydrogen bridges that bind the two sides of DNA’s double helix, which can lead to errors when it’s time for DNA to make copies of itself.”
Lightning Strikes May Have Sparked Life on Earth, New Study Proposes –Lightning could have been a major source of the element phosphorus, which is necessary for life, on early Earth, reports Becky Ferreira for Motherboard/Vice Science.
If You Look at Your Phone While Walking, You’re an Agent of Chaos –An experiment by Japanese researchers revealed how just a few distracted walkers really can throw off the movements of a whole crowd, reports The New York Times.
NASA’s Last Rocket –The United States is unlikely to build anything like the Space Launch System ever again. But it’s still good that NASA did, reports The New York Times.
Quantum Mischief Rewrites the Laws of Cause and Effect –Spurred on by quantum experiments that scramble the ordering of causes and their effects, some physicists are figuring out how to abandon causality altogether, reports Natalie Wolchover for Quanta.
Your free twice-weekly fix of stories of space and science –a random journey from Planet Earth through the Cosmos– that has the capacity to provide clues to our existence and add a much needed cosmic perspective in our Anthropocene epoch.