Today’s stories range from What Ancient DNA Reveals About Life in Africa 20,000 Years Ago to What Ancient Mass Extinctions Tell Us about the Future to Frank Drake on What Intelligent Aliens Would Mean, and much more. The 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.
Before his death in 2018, Stephen Hawking predicted that the world’s mounting population will consume enough energy to render the world a “ball of fire” within 600 years. Speaking via video in 2018 at Beijing’s Tencent WE Summit, Hawking declared that humans must “boldly go where no one has gone before” if they wish to survive another million years.
At present, our Solar System is in its twentieth orbit of the Milky Way near the inner edge of a spiral feature known as the Orion Arm or, less poetically, the Local Arm. The ghostly arms are not permanent features of a disc galaxy like the Milky Way. Rather, they are concentrations of gas and dust where stars form, produced by disturbances within the Milky Way, or on occasions by a jolt from outside, such as a supernova or the passage of the Solar System through one of the dusty gas clouds that congregate in spiral arms.
“As we put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and temperatures rise, we are quickly rewinding the climate clock to climate states not seen in human history,” wrote acclaimed University of Wisconsin paleo-climatologist Jack Williams in an email to The Daily Galaxy. “We can expect that over the next few decades, climates will most resemble those of the warm Pliocene, roughly three million years ago, or perhaps even the hothouse Eocene, 50 million years ago.”
In the blink of a geological eye, nearly 600 million years ago, a massive ice age radically altered the planet’s climate, resulting in a “Snowball Earth,” also known as the Cryogenian Period, severely constricting the oxygen supply on the planet. Scientists at the University of Southampton have proposed that changes in Earth’s orbit may have allowed complex life to emerge and thrive during the most hostile climate episode the planet has ever experienced.
“Driving through the lonely, windswept ranchlands of southwestern North Dakota, we got out of our field vehicle, passed through through a rickety gate in a flimsy barbed-wire fence, and entered a postage-stamp-sized plot of eroded landscape. Soon we were digging out fossil fish that died 66 million years ago choking on melt-glass spherules thrown into the atmosphere by the meteor impact 1800 miles to the south in Yucatan, Mexico, that had killed the dinosaurs, opening the way for mammals, and eventually humans, to take over the terrestrial world,” planetary scientist Mark Richards wrote to The Daily Galaxy in an email about what was one of the defining events in the history of planet Earth.
Editor, Jackie Faherty, astrophysicist, Senior Scientist with AMNH. Jackie was formerly a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Aside from a love of scientific research, she is a passionate educator and can often be found giving public lectures in the Hayden Planetarium. Her research team has won multiple grants from NASA, NSF, and the Heising Simons foundation to support projects focused on characterising planet-like objects. She has also co-founded the popular citizen science project entitled Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 which invites the general public to help scan the solar neighbourhood for previously missed cold worlds. A Google Scholar, Faherty has over 100 peer reviewed articles in astrophysical journals and has been an invited speaker at universities and conferences across the globe. Jackie received the 2020 Vera Rubin Early Career Prize from the American Astronomical Society, an award that recognises scientists who have made an impact in the field of dynamical astronomy and the 2021 Robert H Goddard Award for science accomplishments.