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Category Archives: Futurism
NASA is actively searching exoplanets for signs of "industrialized civilization."Garbage Day
A team of NASA scientists is taking a clever approach to hunting for alien life: scanning exoplanets for signs of air pollution.
Just as pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and greenhouse gases in Earths atmosphere are an indication of human activity below, a team of NASA researchers are now looking for pollutants on other, potentially-habitable exoplanets as a new alien technosignature, meaning a sign of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization. Their study, posted online and accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, is the first to add nitrogen dioxide as a potential technosignature giving scientists a new tool in the search for life.
The idea of sniffing out aliens based on their pollution isnt a new one. But adding nitrogen dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels in power plants or vehicle engines, helps broaden the search.
Therefore, observing [nitrogen dioxide] on a habitable planet could potentially indicate the presence of an industrialized civilization, lead study author Ravi Kopparapu, a researcher at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press release.
The problem is that many worlds might have naturally-occurring nitrogen dioxide in their atmospheres, especially since it can be given off by volcanic activity. So part of the new study was finding a way to model the amount of nitrogen dioxide there should be on a given exoplanet.
If we observe more [nitrogen dioxide] than our models suggest is plausible from non-industrial sources, study coauthor and Goddard researcher Giada Arney said in the release, then the rest of the [nitrogen dioxide] might be attributed to industrial activity.
READ MORE: NASA Study: To Find an Extraterrestrial Civilization, Pollution Could Be the Solution [NASA]
More on technosignatures: NASA Funds Harvard Hunt for Alien Technological Civilizations
If a rover lands on Mars, and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?A New Visitor
After a seven month journey through the solar system, NASAs Perseverance rover is set to weather the infamous Seven Minutes of Terror as it makes its entry, descent, and landing on Mars next week.
When it gets there, it wont be alone. Already waiting on the Red Planets surface will be NASAs InSight probe. In fact, InSight will attempt to hear Perseverance land, Universe Today reports. Its specialized instruments are sensitive enough, at least in theory, to pick up the descent sound and impact Perseverancewill make when touching down.
According to the InSights team at NASA, the landing is a rare event that offers a special opportunity to test the landers seismometers, since we know exactly when Perseverance will land.
InSight has already detected hundreds of marsquakes during its two year stay on Mars. It hasnt, however, had the chance to record a more substantial impact event from a meteorite.
The landing is a long way away, so the most important thing that will determine whether we hear anything is how noisy it is on the day, InSight team member Ben Fernando told Universe Today.
In addition to listening to Perseverance making impact with the ground just over 2,000 miles away, InSight will also attempt to detect the sonic boom created by the capsule plummeting through the thin Martian atmosphere.
According to Fernando and his teams preprint outlining the experiment, the researchers arent sure the sound will travel far enough.But a detection of a seismic event created by InSights impact with the ground is a distinct possibility,and would be of enormous scientific value, the paper reads.
And poetically, the project symbolizes the fact that no future visitor to Mars to will truly be alone.
READ MORE: InSight is Going to Try and Hear Perseverance Land on Mars From 3,452 km Away [Universe Today]
More on Perseverance: A Guy Who Drives NASAs Mars Rover Is Dishing About the Experience
Image by Kuhlmann /MSC/Victor Tangermann
In a chat with Derek Mullers popular YouTube channel Veritasium, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said that the world is facing two big threats: climate change and bioterrorism.
Gates predicted that investing very little in a system to stop an epidemic would end in disaster during a 2015 TED Talk, almost five years before the current coronavirus pandemic. If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, its most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war, Gates said at the time.
He turned out to be correct. So far, the coronavirus has claimed over two million lives globally.
The next outbreak could be even worse,he says and it could come from a source intentionally trying to seed disaster.
Also related to pandemics is something people dont like to talk about much, which is bioterrorism, that somebody who wants to cause damage could engineer a virus, Gates said during his interview on the Veritasium channel.
So that means the chance of running into this is more than just the naturally caused epidemics like the current one, he added.
But that doesnt mean we cant prepare ourselves for the next pandemic. Death tolls could be greatly reduced substantially, Gates argued, if we invest in research and increase testing capabilities.
We dont know when the next one will strike, or whether it will be a flu, a coronavirus, or some new disease weve never seen before, Gates wrote in his annual Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation letter late last month.
But what we do know is that we cant afford to be caught flat-footed again, he wrote. The threat of the next pandemic will always be hanging over our heads unless the world takes steps to prevent it.
Its unusual for Gates to call out bioterrorism as a threat specifically. As he points out himself, its a taboo subject [good phrasing] that gets little mainstream attention.
The issue has been highly politicized during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with world leadersincluding former US president Donald Trump spreading conspiracy theories that COVID was engineered in a lab.
In reality, theres been plenty of evidence that it wasnt. Most recently, a team send by the World Health Organization to China to find the source of the virus earlier this month concluded that it was extremely unlikely that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China.
But that doesnt mean the next pandemic wont be caused by a bad actor, Gates argued. In fact, the looming threat of an intentionally caused epidemic should only reinforce our commitments to prepare for the next big threat.
A team of researchers may have spotted evidence for a new planet orbiting one of the closest starsto our own solar system, in the star system Alpha Centauri, The Guardian reports.
It could end up being the first time weve ever imaged a planet orbiting a nearby star but for now, the sighting orbiting Alpha Centauri A, referred to as a planet candidate, came in the form of a bright spot that may end up being something else entirely.
We detected something, Pete Klupar, chief engineer of the Breakthrough Initiatives, told The Guardian. It could be an artefact in the machine or it could be a planet, or it could be asteroids or dust.
Alpha Centauri is a triple star system consisting of three stars named Alpha Centauri A, B, and C. Since 2016, astronomers have found evidence for at least two potentially habitable exoplanets in orbit of Alpha Centauri C, a red dwarf better known as Proxima Centauri.
Now, the new research suggests that Alpha Centauri A could host at least one potentially habitable exoplanet of its own.
The team used a new instrument called NEAR (New Earths in the AlphaCen Region) attached to the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Chilean desert, which is operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
In total, the team analyzed about 100 hours of data collected in May and June of 2019.
A different instrument called a coronagraph was able to block out the light emanating from Alpha Centauri itself to get a better glance of any celestial objects orbiting it.
Were trying to see a flashlight right next to a lighthouse, Klupar told The Guardian.
In their paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, the team outlined their new approach to observing much smaller mass exoplanets located in nearby stellar systems by blocking out the thermal background created by the host star.
The new approach allows them to spot potential Neptune-sized planets (meaning about four times the size of Earth) in the Centauri star system. The technique is an order of magnitude more sensitive than state-of-the-art exoplanet imaging mass detection limits, according to the paper.
It would be an unusual place for such an exoplanet.
A lot of people say planets cant form in this kind of binary and thats one reason we are cautious about claiming it is actually a planet, but if it is, it would be about the size of Neptune, Klupar said.
Most excitingly, such an exoplanet would be orbiting its star in the habitable zone, the area around a star in which temperatures could allow for the existence of liquid water, and therefore life.
But if history is any indicator, theres a good chance the exoplanet may not be much more than a blip in the data. Scientists claimed they had found a small planet around Alpha Centauri B in 2012, but it turned to be nothing more than stellar noise, as Scientific American pointed out.
The new discovery could also turn out to be photons leaking into the instruments optics.
Now, scientists have the task of observing the possible exoplanet again after several Earth months have passed. A new position around its host star could make it easier to study and eliminate the possibility that its a dust cloud.
The timing is such a shame, Debra Fischer, exoplanet detection specialist at Yale University, who was not involved in the research, told the Scientific American. If its in the habitable zone around Alpha Centauri A, thats an Earthlike orbit, so observing six months later would probably have nailed it.
READ MORE: Is It a Planet? Astronomers Spy Promising Potential World around Alpha Centauri [Scientific American]
More on Alpha Centauri: Sorry Folks: Signal From Nearest Star Not Alien Civilization, Scientists Say
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Astronomers May Have Spotted a New Planet Around the Nearest Star - Futurism
Scientists found something ghastly embedded in the edges of dying stars.Hello, Clarice
Researchers have discovered chunks of planet corpses embedded in the atmosphere surrounding dead stars the ghastly remnants of star systems that may have once looked somewhat like our own.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, a team of European scientists detail how they examined data from the Gaia space observatory to identify the elemental composition of the atmospheres surrounding four white dwarf stars, where they discovered unambiguous evidence of metals typically found in terrestrial planets. In other words, it appears that the stars in question are wearing the remains of their former planets, like a serial killer dressing themselves in a victims skin.
Each of the white dwarves they studied was once at the center of its own solar system, like our very own Sun. But then they began to die, tearing apart their planets with an apocalyptic gravitational pull. When that happened, the researchers building on previous Warwick research surmise that the planets crust became absorbed into the atmosphere of the dying stars.
Comparing all these elements together against different types of planetary material in the solar system, we found that the composition was distinctly different from all but one type of material: continental crust, Mark Hollands, the lead author of the study and an astrophysicist at the University of Warwick, told Live Science.
So will the Earths Sun pull a Hannibal Lecter and wear the Earth one day? Not likely.
Hollands collaborator and fellow Warwick researcher Boris Gaensicke says that Earth will most likely get swallowed by the Sun when it becomes a red giant, leaving little trace behind.
I wouldnt bet on those alien astronomers detecting the lithium of all the defunct Teslas in the solar white dwarf, Gaensicke told Live Science. But, there is a good chance that they could see asteroids, comets, moons, or even Mars being gobbled up.
READ MORE: White dwarfs wear the crushed corpses of planets in their atmospheres [Live Science]
More on stars:Astronomers May Have Spotted a New Planet Around the Nearest Star
It was an otherwise non-notable day in October 2017 when Canadian astronomer Robert Weryk made an astonishing discovery.
Thanks to data from the University of Hawaiis Pan-STARRS1 telescope at the Kaleakala Observatory in Hawaii, Weryk spotted an unusual object, oblong and approximately the size of a football field, screaming through the solar system at 196,000 miles per hour. Strangest of all was that it seemed to be accelerating slightly, pushed by an invisible force that has yet to be fully explained.
Its highly unusual trajectory caused it to slingshot past our Sun, leading scientists to believe that the space object later dubbed Oumuamua, or scout in Hawaiian was the first ever visitor from outside our solar system to be observed directly.
Over the last three years, countless attempts have been made to explain Oumuamuas unprecedented characteristics. Some speculated that it was hydrogen iceberg, while others suggested it was a traveling space rock covered in a layer of organic sunscreen.
To Avi Loeb, astrophysicist and professor of science at Harvard University, the answer could be a tantalizing one. His controversial argument is that Oumuamua may have been a probe sent by an extraterrestrial civilization an explanation thats garnered enormous attention in the media and, unsurprisingly, proved divisive among experts.
In his new book, titled Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, Loeb explores his provocative hypothesis, using the story of Oumuamua to lay the groundwork of a much greater conversation: the struggle to be taken seriously within a scientific community that has historically held the discussion surrounding the search for the existence of terrestrial intelligence at arms length.
During an interview with Futurism, Loeb argued that scientists explanations fell short of explaining Oumuamuas many quirks and eccentricities. The scientific community advocated for something that we have never seen before, he said.
One example of this was what Loeb referred to as the dust bunny hypothesis, which theorized that Oumuamuas odd trajectory could be explained by a very low density.
The problem with that is I dont think something of the size of a football field that is a dust bunny would survive a journey of millions of years through interstellar space, Loeb said, vacuuming up that hypothesis. I mean, I just dont think that it can hold itself together.
To Loeb, scientific explanations that attempted to squeeze Oumuamua into an existing scientific framework just didnt make sense.
The point is, you cant on the one hand say its natural, Loeb argued, and then whenever you try to actually explain it with natural processes, you come up with something that we have never seen before.
And thats how he ended up at aliens.
At the root of Loebs alien theory is that Oumuamua may have been a solar sail sent to us from another star system.
In the simplest terms, a solar or light sail is a form of spacecraft propulsion that turns the low pressure of solar radiation into movement. Earthling scientists have already experimented with the concept; in 2019, the non-profit Planetary Societylaunched a craft called LightSail-2,which uses 340 square feet of an extremely thin layer of reflective polyester film to gradually propel itself.
To Loeb, a solar sail being pushed by starlight could explain Oumuamuas unexpected acceleration. If its solid and isnt a dust bunny, the astrophysicist concluded that the interstellar visitor must also be shockingly thin perhaps, according to his calculations, less than a millimeter thick.
To the astronomer, the solar sail conclusion was following footsteps, just like detective Sherlock Holmes. When you rule out all other possibilities, whatever youre left with must be the truth.
That conclusion is a stretch to many astronomers in the field, who have repeatedly challenged Loebs conclusion.
In a 2019 study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, an international team of researchers argued that they found no compelling evidence to favor an alien explanation for Oumuamua.
Oumuamuas properties are consistent with a natural origin, University of Maryland astronomer Matthew Knight, co-author of the study, toldReuters at the time, and an alien explanation is unwarranted.
Their argument was that Oumuamua is a planetesimal, or a small fragment of a planetary building block that just happened to drift through our star system.
Weryk,who discovered the object in the first place, had no kind words for Loebs hypothesis. Honestly, thats a bit of wild speculation, he told the CBC in 2018.
I think its a remnant from another solar system, Weryk added. Its just something that happened to run into us, and we were very lucky to have been operating the telescope that night and looking in that direction.
These rebuttals appear to have only emboldened Loebs investigations into the alien origins of Oumuamua as well as leading him to make a passionate plea to the scientific community, as outlined in his book, to take SETI research seriously.
To Loeb, its all about reading the stars with an open mind.
My guiding principle is modesty, he told Futurism. If we are not arrogant, if we are modest, we would say that life, the way we have it, must be common.
We now know from the Kepler satellite data that about half of the Sun-like stars have a planet like the Earth, roughly at the same distance, so that it can have liquid water and the chemistry of life as we know it, Loeb said, referring to the habitable zone of a star system within which life can theoretically could be supported.
So we know that the dice was rolled billions of times in the galaxy, he said. And if you arrange for similar circumstances like we have on Earth, you would get a similar outcome.
To Loeb, this simple calculation is conservative, not speculative, and that it should be the mainstream view. But proposing that we are not alone in the universe is seen as a fringe view and the mainstream claims there should be a taboo.
The scientific community can address a topic even if other people address it in a way that is not scientific and doesnt make much sense, Loeb argued.
So my point is the existence of the literature on science fiction or the existence of unsubstantiated UFO reports should not eliminate this subject from being part of the mainstream discussion, he added.
In fact, Loeb contended that it is less speculative than other areas of study, from the study of dark matter to multiverse and string theories.
All of these hypothetical concept for which we have no basis, he said. And you have communities of hundreds of scientists working on giving each other awards and honors and so forth, he added in a slightly derisive tone.
To him, the refusal to believe we are not alone in the universe is a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies.
When you put blinders on, youre not searching for anyone else, you might think that youre special, he said.
The only way to break that taboo, to break that state of mind, is to find evidence for others, Loeb argued. But, if you dont search, you will never find it, closing the cycle.
Worst of all, a lack of funding for SETI research only ends up deterring young people from entering this field, Loeb said.
So the search for life beyond the Earth must go on and Loeb has plenty of ideas on how to do so.
Arguably the most ambitious plan hes involved with, a project called Breakthrough Starshot, is a proof-of-concept interstellar probe project by Breakthrough Initiativesthat involves sending an army of small light sails called Starchips as far as Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our own at just over four light years away.
TheCentauri system contains a promising planetary candidate called Proxima b, a tantalizingly Earth-like planet.
Four light year may not sound like much on paper, but the distances that the sails would have to cover are immense. Rather than harnessing the solar radiation from the Sun, the project is investigating if we can shoot an extremely powerful laser at these spacecraft from here on Earth to provide enough acceleration.
Its an endeavor that involves near-insurmountable hurdles. In fact, Loeb isnt sure if the Starshot project will materialize in his lifetime and Breakthrough Initiatives estimates that it could take 20 years for the mission to reach Alpha Centauri after launch.
But I think we have to do it as a civilization, Loeb told Futurism. We have to go in that direction and consider how to visit other stars, because currently all our eggs are in one basket here on Earth and we cant ignore the risk from a catastrophe.
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Avi Loeb and the Great Unknown - Futurism