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An Astrobiologist Seeks to Explain Whether There Are Other ‘Beings’ Amongst Us – Qrius

Posted: January 17, 2020 at 2:45 am

Samantha Rolfe, University of Hertfordshire

Life is pretty easy to recognise. It moves, it grows, it eats, it excretes, it reproduces. Simple. In biology, researchers often use the acronym MRSGREN to describe it. It stands for movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition.

But Helen Sharman, Britains first astronaut and a chemist at Imperial College London, recently said that alien lifeforms that are impossible to spot may be living among us. How could that be possible?

While life may be easy to recognise, its actually notoriously difficult to define and has had scientists and philosophers in debate for centuries if not millennia. For example, a 3D printer can reproduce itself, but we wouldnt call it alive. On the other hand, a mule is famously sterile, but we would never say it doesnt live.

As nobody can agree, there are more than 100 definitions of what life is. An alternative (but imperfect) approach is describing life as a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution, which works for many cases we want to describe.

The lack of definition is a huge problem when it comes to searching for life in space. Not being able to define life other than well know it when we see it means we are truly limiting ourselves to geocentric, possibly even anthropocentric, ideas of what life looks like. When we think about aliens, we often picture a humanoid creature. But the intelligent life we are searching for doesnt have to be humanoid.

Sharman says she believes aliens exist and theres no two ways about it. Furthermore, she wonders: Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not. Its possible theyre here right now and we simply cant see them.

Such life would exist in a shadow biosphere. By that, I dont mean a ghost realm, but undiscovered creatures probably with a different biochemistry. This means we cant study or even notice them because they are outside of our comprehension. Assuming it exists, such a shadow biosphere would probably be microscopic.

So why havent we found it? We have limited ways of studying the microscopic world as only a small percentage of microbes can be cultured in a lab. This may mean that there could indeed be many lifeforms we havent yet spotted. We do now have the ability to sequence the DNA of unculturable strains of microbes, but this can only detect life as we know it that contain DNA.

If we find such a biosphere, however, it is unclear whether we should call it alien. That depends on whether we mean of extraterrestrial origin or simply unfamiliar.

A popular suggestion for an alternative biochemistry is one based on silicon rather than carbon. It makes sense, even from a geocentric point of view. Around 90% of the Earth is made up of silicon, iron, magnesium and oxygen, which means theres lots to go around for building potential life.

Silicon is similar to carbon, it has four electrons available for creating bonds with other atoms. But silicon is heavier, with 14 protons (protons make up the atomic nucleus with neutrons) compared to the six in the carbon nucleus. While carbon can create strong double and triple bonds to form long chains useful for many functions, such as building cell walls, it is much harder for silicon. It struggles to create strong bonds, so long-chain molecules are much less stable.

Whats more, common silicon compounds, such as silicon dioxide (or silica), are generally solid at terrestrial temperatures and insoluble in water. Compare this to highly soluble carbon dioxide, for example, and we see that carbon is more flexible and provides many more molecular possibilities.

Life on Earth is fundamentally different from the bulk composition of the Earth. Another argument against a silicon-based shadow biosphere is that too much silicon is locked up in rocks. In fact, the chemical composition of life on Earth has an approximate correlation with the chemical composition of the sun, with 98% of atoms in biology consisting of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. So if there were viable silicon lifeforms here, they may have evolved elsewhere.

That said, there are arguments in favour of silicon-based life on Earth. Nature is adaptable. A few years ago, scientists at Caltech managed to breed a bacterial protein that created bonds with silicon essentially bringing silicon to life. So even though silicon is inflexible compared with carbon, it could perhaps find ways to assemble into living organisms, potentially including carbon.

And when it comes to other places in space, such as Saturns moon Titan or planets orbiting other stars, we certainly cant rule out the possibility of silicon-based life.

To find it, we have to somehow think outside of the terrestrial biology box and figure out ways of recognising lifeforms that are fundamentally different from the carbon-based form. There are plenty of experiments testing out these alternative biochemistries, such as the one from Caltech.

Regardless of the belief held by many that life exists elsewhere in the universe, we have no evidence for that. So it is important to consider all life as precious, no matter its size, quantity or location. The Earth supports the only known life in the universe. So no matter what form life elsewhere in the solar system or universe may take, we have to make sure we protect it from harmful contamination whether it is terrestrial life or alien lifeforms.

So could aliens be among us? I dont believe that we have been visited by a life form with the technology to travel across the vast distances of space. But we do have evidence for life-forming, carbon-based molecules having arrived on Earth on meteorites, so the evidence certainly doesnt rule out the same possibility for more unfamiliar life forms.

Samantha Rolfe, Lecturer in Astrobiology and Principal Technical Officer at Bayfordbury Observatory, University of Hertfordshire

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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An Astrobiologist Seeks to Explain Whether There Are Other 'Beings' Amongst Us - Qrius

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Scientists Create "Living Concrete" That Can Heal Itself – Futurism

Posted: January 17, 2020 at 2:43 am

Its Alive!

Scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder have created whatThe New York Timescalls a living concrete, teeming with photosynthetic bacteria, that can grow itself and regenerate itself much like a living organism.

The concrete is a mixture of gelatin, sand, and cyanobacteria that cools similarly to Jell-O, the Times reports. The resulting structure was able to regenerate itself three times after researchers cut it apart, suggesting apotential breakthrough in the nascent field of self-assembling materials.

The living concrete, which the Colorado scientists made in partnership with DARPA, starts out as a sickly green color that fades as the bacteria dies off, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Matter.

It really does look like a Frankenstein material, UC Boulder engineer and project leader Will Srubar told the NYT.

Even as the color fades, the bacteria survive for several weeks and can be rejuvenated resulting in further growth under the right conditions.

DARPA is particularly interested in a self-growing material that it can use to assemble structures in remote desert areas, or potentially even in space, according to the NYT.

If the living concrete can scale up to that level, it could reduce the amount and weight of materials that space agencies will need to launch.

Theres no way were going to carry building materials to space, Srubar told the NYT. Well bring biology with us.

READ MORE: Bricks Alive! Scientists Create Living Concrete [New York Times]

More on materials: Scientists Create Material With Living Metabolism

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Scientists Create "Living Concrete" That Can Heal Itself - Futurism

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Scientists: Ocean Warming at the Rate of Five A-Bombs per Second – Futurism

Posted: January 17, 2020 at 2:43 am

After analyzing data from the 1950s through 2019, an international team of scientists determined that the averagetemperature of the worlds oceans in 2019 was 0.075 degrees Celsius (.135 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the 19812010 average.

That might not seem like a significant amount of warming, but given the massive volume of the oceans, an increase even that small would require a staggering influx of heat 228 sextillion Joules worth, according to the scientists study, which was published in the journalAdvances in Atmospheric Sciences on Monday.

Thats a hard number to contextualize, so one of the scientists behind the study did the math to put it into an explosive frame of reference by comparing it to the amount of energy released by the atomic bomb the United States military dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

The Hiroshima atom-bomb exploded with an energy of about 63,000,000,000,000 Joules, author Lijing Cheng from the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a press release. The amount of heat we have put in the worlds oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions.

That averages out to four Hiroshima bombs worth of energy entering the oceans every second for the past 25 years. But even more troubling, the rate isnt holding steady at that alarming figure its increasing.

In 2019, ocean warming was equivalent to about five Hiroshima bombs of heat, every second, day and night, 365 days a year, study author John Abraham, from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, told Vice.

And in case atomic bombs are still too abstract of a comparative unit, the 2019 rate is equivalent to every person on Earth constantly pointing 100 hair dryers at the oceans, Abraham told Vice.

The less technical term is: Its a shit-ton of energy, he said and its already having a hugeimpacting the environment.

Ice is melting faster, causing sea levels to rise. Dolphins and other marine life are dying because they cant adapt quickly enough. Even the increase in the amount of water evaporating into the atmosphere due to the heat is negatively impacting on our planet.

It makes hurricanes and typhoons more powerful, and it makes rainfall more intense, Abraham told Vice. It puts our weather on steroids.

And remember, the rate is increasing meaning that every moment we delay taking action to slow or reverse the warming, the situation is only going to get worse.

READ MORE: 5 Hiroshima Bombs of Heat, Every Second: The Worlds Oceans Absorbed Record-Level Heat Last Year [Vice]

More on ocean warming: Scientists: Warming Oceans Will Lead to Catastrophic Future

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Scientists: Ocean Warming at the Rate of Five A-Bombs per Second - Futurism

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Tullio Crali: A Futurist Life review a head-on revelation – The Guardian

Posted: January 17, 2020 at 2:43 am

The Italian painter Tullio Crali ought not to be quite such a head-on revelation. After all, his astonishing vision of a solo pilot nose-diving straight into a canyon of skyscrapers, light shattering round his helmeted head, is one of the great masterpieces of futurist art. Yet this riveting survey at the Estorick Collection comes as a surprise from first to last, and not only because it is his first in Britain.

Crali (1910-2000) is a strange case, in life as in art. He grew up in Zadar, on what is now the Croatian coast, but which once belonged to Italy. His family moved to north-eastern Italy in 1922, and it was there, at the age of 15, that he created his first futurist work after reading an article about the movement.

Crali fell hard for the futurist manifesto, with its addiction to motion, speed, modernity and roaring machinery from the espresso maker to the Gatling gun, the aeroplane to the hurtling motorcar, notoriously described by Marinetti, futurist leader, as more beautiful than the victory of Samothrace.

But Cralis own painting of a car rushing round a bend is more sophisticated than anything by his contemporaries. The vehicle itself is long gone, leaving only the hint of a wheel among magnificent curving vectors of black, cream and red scintillating traces of its fast departure.

And though he was as committed as his colleagues to the plane as ultimate futurist symbol, Cralis aeropittura, as they are called, are frequently more original. A terrific painting at the start of this show, called Tricolour Wings (1932), has the plane ascending in sudden stages, scattering its target markings up through the sky like urgent thought bubbles. The planes geometry, repeated as if in stop-start motion, perfectly describes the sharp sensation of sudden uplift, catching at each new thermal current. And the sky around it running all the way from hyperreal clouds to gracious, Titianesque beauty amounts to a painted collage.

Indeed, though you could never mistake him for anything else, Crali often seems the odd man out of the futurist gang. For one thing, he is a tremendous colourist. Planes rise into moonlight-blue skies or descend through lavender mists. The scarlet stripes of a biplane burn like a cigarette among pearl-grey clouds. And in a work such as Broken Engine, the polished wood of the slowing propeller shines gold against smoke and slate-blue heavens, its deco sheen ineffably glorified.

What is more, there is an undeniably human aspect to Cralis art. People get into the picture. There are two vast seamen at the prow of a gigantic battleship, trying to steer the ship through a storm with their muckle hands. A female figure raises her shapely arms like elegant wings and the blue air around her vibrates. He can paint the most complicated machinery steam-driven pistons in a shipyard, or high-rising cranes and there will be an intimation of human beings moving about below.

Crali himself kept on moving. He left Italy after the second world war for an art school in Paris, remaining there for almost a decade. His drawings of the city describe the brasseries, stairwells and metal chairs of the Jardin du Luxembourg, the shadows along the Seine embankment: Paris, in his words, as mysterious, deep and moody. In the 60s he quit Paris for Cairo, then back to Italy, eventually ending up in Milan.

But somehow Cralis art stands still, as the man does not. In the late 1980s he is still painting aeroplanes as if they were brand new inventions, still showing solo pilots swooping about in glass cockpits. It is as if the international space race never happened.

And his devotion to futurism never seems to waver, even though Marinetti died in 1944 and the movement had its final meeting in 1950. It is hard to decipher Cralis own politics from anything he wrote or painted; the curators of this show emphasise his belief in futurism as an aesthetic rather than political ideology. But the association with Mussolinis fascism can hardly be ignored.

So perhaps that is why his later career lies in shadow. The Estorick is showing a number of Cralis Sassintesi startling collages of stones, seaweed and assorted bric-a-brac found on beaches and presented upright, on canvases. These appear entirely novel. And every now and again they hit the mark, when Crali takes some sea-carved rock and twists it out of kilter, so that it suddenly looks like a rushing futurist figure.

But he is at his best when most liberated from the movement. One of the most beautiful works in this show is a landscape of Ostia in late evening sun, as the shadows of hill and vale deepen, and rays of dying light arch between earth and sky. Translucent green patches stand for trees and clouds, and everything meets at the vanishing point of the ocean, radiant and serene perhaps the most beautiful scene Crali ever painted.

Tullio Crali: A Futurist Life is at the Estorick Collection, London, from 15 January until 11 April

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MIT Suspends Another Professor for Epstein Ties – Futurism

Posted: January 17, 2020 at 2:43 am

Busted

MIT has placed tenured mechanical engineering professor Seth Lloyd on administrative because of a failure to disclose ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the deceased and disgraced financier accused of sex trafficking and other crimes.

Over the years, Epstein donated $225,000 to Lloyds research and also gave him a personal gift of $60,000, according to an extensive report about Epsteins connections to MIT that the university released Friday. Lloyd hid the source of the donations by processing them through various administrators ultimately tainting his research by linking it to Epsteins disgraceful legacy.

The news about Lloyd and his subsequent suspension is just the latest in a string of grim revelations regarding MITs ties to Epstein. While Lloyd admitted to having visited Epstein in prison, Epsteins influence on the university extended far beyond one engineering professor.

Joi Ito, the since-resigned director of the MIT Media Lab also accepted and obscured the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Epstein and millions more that were funneled through Epsteins company. Computer scientist Richard Stallman also resigned in the wake of controversy surrounding off-color comments he made about the scandal.

As news about Epsteins contributions to MIT continued to break, university president Rafael Reif vowed to donate an amount equivalent to Epsteins donations to a charity supporting victims of sexual abuse.

So far, Reif has committed to donating $850,000. But as InsideHigher Ed reports, he hasnt yet determined what organization its going to support.

READ MORE: More Epstein Fallout at MIT [Inside Higher Ed]

More on Epstein and MIT: Bizarre MIT Meeting About Jeffrey Epstein Ends in Tears, Yelling

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MIT Suspends Another Professor for Epstein Ties - Futurism

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This Meaty-Looking "Steak" Is Made From Peas and Seaweed – Futurism

Posted: January 17, 2020 at 2:43 am

Cut Above

A number of startups have already managed to create plant-based alternatives to ground meats like hamburger. Creating a plant-based version of whole cuts of meats, however, has proven far more challenging.

But now, Spanish startup Novameat has unveiled a plant-based steak it says is the most realistic yet and it costs about the same as what youre likely to pay for a traditional cut of beef.

Novameats Steak 2.0 certainly looks like the steak youd find at the grocery store, but its actually made out of a mix that include peas, seaweed, and beetroot juice.

The company used a 3D printer to produce thin fibers out of the ingredients, thereby giving its Steak 2.0 the meaty appearance that meat eaters are used to seeing in their steaks.

Novameat may have nailed the look of steak, but founder Giuseppe Scionti told The Guardian that the company still hasnt locked down the taste though it expects to reach a final formulation within the next few months.

Currently, Novameat spends $1.50 producing 50 grams of its Steak 2.0, or about $13.60 per pound, which isnt too far from what you might pay for a cut of beef at the store.

Novameat is working to bring that cost down by scaling up production. If it can do that and perfect the flavor of Steak 2.0 it might not be long before fake steak reaches the mainstream, just like the plant-based burgers, nuggets, and meatballs that came before it.

READ MORE: Most realistic plant-based steak revealed [The Guardian]

More on plant-based meat: KFC to Begin Selling Meatless Fried Chicken

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This Meaty-Looking "Steak" Is Made From Peas and Seaweed - Futurism

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