Science Vibes
Daily science vibes

Humanity is fascinated by the possibility of alien life in space. Some could argue that it’s the fundamental motivation for pushing the boundaries of our own existence through space exploration. It’s an interesting concept that many people believe, but more importantly, it’s a concept that you can’t explain away. In fact, when you start to do some research and actually get a sense for just how expansive the universe truly is, it’s actually hard not to believe it yourself.

This is why Tabby’s star is so interesting to astronomers and amateur astronomers alike. When the star was first presented over a year ago, interest was piqued because of the rumor of an alien megastructure surrounding it. Even though this rumor has been largely dispelled, the star has some weird, mysterious activity that’s keeping astronomers focused.

The reason the star is so interesting is that it displays unusual dips in starlight. However, after more than a year of study, no one has found anything alien-like around the star at all. What we do know is that because of its unusual light activity, it’s a star like we’ve never found before.

Andrew Siemion, Director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center, and Co-Director of Breakthrough Listen, has been paying close attention the star’s activity.

“The Breakthrough Listen program has the most powerful SETI equipment on the planet, and access to the largest telescopes on the planet,” he explains in a recent statement, “We can look at it with greater sensitivity and for a wider range of signal types than any other experiment in the world.”

Let’s look at some facts. Fact number one: the universe is huge. Not only is it huge, but it’s actually still expanding and getting even more huge. We know this because the continuous expansion of the universe makes itself evident through constant change. Galaxies are getting further away and more spread out, and we can even see changes happening within the Milky Way as well. I remember from my astronomy 101 class in undergrad, complete with textbook verification, that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth.

Simply, mind boggling.

Fact number two: NASA already has a team in place where their sole purpose is to find other planets with similar conditions to Earth. This means water, distance from a central star, and the existence of an ozone layer, just to list a few qualities. The Kepler mission, as it’s been called, has found thousands of Earth-like planets as of this May, and more are sure to follow.

These findings come from a very limited scope in regards to our technology. As our technology continues to develop, so will our ability to discover even more planets similar enough to Earth.

My point here is that to claim humanity is the only intelligent life in the universe, you’re basically buying a lottery ticket and claiming you’re the winner before they even choose the numbers. It’s just not very likely when you consider the size and scope of the universe we live in, let alone our own galaxy. It’s no wonder that finds like Tabby’s star get people and astronomers interested. We want to know who else is out there, and if there is other life, we want to make contact.

The reliance we place on fossil fuels has taken its toll. Many of the environmental issues we’re faced with today come as a result of our inability to move away from fossil fuels like coal as a means for energy. Although companies and innovators are coming up with ways to combat harmful air pollution, global warming, and other environmental problems, we’ll never really have a solution until we’re able to rely on renewable energy to power our daily lives. Until we’re able to substitute renewable energy for fossil fuels, any solutions we create will only be covering up the real problem.

However, we are making giant steps in the right direction, and renewable energy is becoming more prevalent throughout the global community. Over 500,000 solar panels were installed each day last year, and renewables finally passed coal in order to become the largest source of power capacity on a global scale. The International Energy Agency, or IEA, reported that renewables accounted for more than half of the new power capacity around the planet. Solar and wind power are responsible for leading this drive away from fossil fuels more than any other forms of renewable energy.

Installation of environmentally friendly energy sources was up a total of 15 percent in 2014, which forced the IEA to change its predictions for renewables. They predicted the use of renewables to increase by only 13 percent between 2015 and 2021, underestimating how quickly countries would start following suit. The movement is largely driven by Asia, with China in the captain’s chair, but India and the United States have been contributing significantly. Europe, once thought to be the leader of the renewable energy movement, is falling behind.

“I am pleased to see that last year was one of records for renewables and that our projections for growth over the next five years are more optimistic. However, even these higher expectations remain modest compared with the huge untapped potential of renewables. The IEA will be working with governments around the world to maximize the deployment of renewables in coming years,” explains IEA Executive Director Dr. Faith Birol in a statement.

Although the new capacity added has accounted for a record 153 Gigawatts of renewable power, this type of electricity generation is only expected to make up around 28 percent of all generation globally by 2021. Green, environmentally friendly energy is the fastest growing source of electricity generation in the world, but we’re still falling short in regards to meeting the Paris Climate Agreement, and we won’t be able to keep the planet below a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit warming temperature.

This increase in the use of renewable energy, especially solar and wind power, isn’t only driven by the looming Paris Climate Agreement, it’s also driven by human safety. In Asia, the main concern is air pollution and population health, not meeting the terms of the agreement. Diversifying the energy supply while improving energy security also plays a role in the renewable rise.

As we move forward, we will continue to see a shift in power markets being led by renewables. The market for these types of renewable energies is getting more competitive, which means costs will continue to drop. It’s never been a better time to invest in something real, renewable, and vital.

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The universe is massive. NASA has a team of astronomers tasked only with the responsibility to find planetary objects close to our relative location in the Milky Way. Unfortunately, technology will only allow us to see so far into space; sometimes that’s enough. The existence of a massive planetary object was proposed earlier this year, and the evidence can be found in the impact it has on our Solar System as a whole.

The forces of gravity can be felt for millions of miles, depending on the size of an object in orbit. Orbit itself is caused by the gravitational pull of a relatively nearby body, which could be anything from a star to a super massive black hole. In fact, the gravitational pull from certain objects is so strong that time as we know it is affected. This is the primary way we know of the existence of massive objects in space even if they’re millions of miles away.

There have been two new studies published that provide even more evidence for a massive planet that exists at the edge of our Solar System. The planetary object named Planet Nine was first introduced to us earlier in 2016, but it still hasn’t been directly observed. Considering that the object is 70 times further from the Sun than the Earth, it’s understandable why observations have been limited.

What’s interesting is that astronomers have started studying the potential effects this planetary object could have on the Solar System as a whole. Researchers from the California Institute of Technology, including the original proposers of Planet Nine, suggest that the six-degree tilt in the Sun is actually caused by the gravitational pull of Planet Nine itself.

“Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, the Solar System has no choice but to slowly twist our alignment,” explained the lead author of the research Elizabeth Bailey in a recent statement.

In another study published by the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the focus is on four minor objects in the Kuiper belt. These four objects, including the minor planet Sedna, have orbits that are not random. Researchers believe that their movements are caused by a massive object with properties very similar to what is expected of Planet Nine.

“We analyzed the data of these most distant Kuiper Belt objects, and noticed something peculiar, suggesting they were in some kind of resonances with an unseen planet. Our paper provides more specific estimates for the mass and orbit that this planet would have, and more importantly, constraints on its current position within its orbit,” explains lead author Renu Malhotra from the University of Arizona also in a recent statement.

Research is still inconclusive when it comes to the definitive existence of Planet Nine, but evidence is mounting. Astronomers are now searching the outer edges of the Solar System for even more evidence, but they estimate an actual observation of Planet Nine won’t be possible for another three years or so.

Although we don’t know for sure that Planet Nine exists, it’s still a testament to how large the universe is that something can be included in our solar system without us knowing for decades. It forces us to ask, what else is out there?

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The further we push out into space and our Solar System, the more questions get raised about the possibility of alien life. The universe is massive, beyond massive, which means that the chances for intelligent life being out there are pretty good. I mean, how could humanity be the only species able to evolve this far? We already know there are millions of other Earth-like planets out there revolving around similar stars at similar distances. Intelligent life just makes sense statistically. That’s why when Tabby’s star was discovered in October of 2015, people started freaking out.

In short, astronomers noticed a weird pattern of light which was nothing scientists had ever seen in space before. Typically, a star’s brightness dips by approximately 1 percent when a planet passes in front of it, but in this particular case, it dipped by almost 22 percent. That means there is something huge out there interfering with the star’s brightness.

Personally, I’m picturing the Death Star.

What makes this find even more interesting is that now astronomers are looking for unusual dips in brightness like the case with Tabby’s star. It seems like it isn’t the only one, and there could be even more ‘alien megastructures’ out there in the deep reaches of space.

EPIC 204278916, which was detected by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft in 2014, has a relatively similar size to that of our Sun, but only half the mass. For the past two years, the star has been watched by a team of astronomers led by Simone Scaringi of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. After careful observation, they discovered something even weirder than the light patterns of Tabby’s star.

Scientists have reported that the star, who’s name I don’t want to type out again, has been showing dips in brightness of up to 65 percent for almost an entire month, 25 days to be precise. The question is, what kind of massive structure, planet, or anything else could be causing this star’s brightness to dip such an incredible amount? Considering it’s only supposed to dip by 1 percent.

There are four possible explanations for the major dip in light seen from the star. The first one suggests that the dimming could be caused by vast swarms of comets around the star, which are all contributing to the reduced light seen here on Earth.

The second theory states that the star spins so fast that it becomes oblate, meaning that its radius is greater at the equator than it is at the poles. As a result, the poles seem to be hotter and brighter than the equator, which makes the star seem dimmer than it really is.

The third theory, which happens to be the least probable, suggests that there could be something like a massive construction of solar panels encircling the star. This is more along the lines of the ‘alien megastructure’ theory.

However, the fourth hypothesis was proposed by the same German astronomers who made the first observations of the star in 2014. They believe that a dust disk could be responsible for the major dips in light. If the disk is oriented in the right position relative to Earth, meaning it’s edge is in a direct line with our planet, then it could be blocking the amount of light we see from the star itself. The star is young, only about 11 million years old, so the presence of a disk would make sense based on what we typically see with new stars.

Only time will tell if the star is blocked by a protoplanetary disk of dust, or if we need to find the next Luke Skywalker as our last source of hope.

When I became a dog owner, I didn’t think I was going to be one of those people who saw their relationship with their dog as a legitimate connection. From the outside, those people seem weird; we all think it. But now that I’ve been responsible for my dog for the last three years, I’ve come to realize how inescapable that feeling is. Even though I have a girlfriend, I have a loving family, and I’m surrounded by good friends, I can’t help but think my dog knows me the best. Needless to say, it’ll be devastating when my dog is gone, like it is for most dedicated pet owners.

The problem is that most dogs just don’t live that long. If your dog lives around 15 years, that’s considered a pretty long lifespan for your furry friend. Some of the large breeds, Great Danes in particular, are only expected to live around seven years, and that’s the average. When you know you’re going to be connected to this dog emotionally from the moment they’re yours, this can definitely put a strain on the decision to even get one at all.

However, a seven-year-long study led by the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London found that a drug called pimobendan delays the onset of heart failure linked to mitral valve disease, or MVD, in dogs for an average of 15 months. When multiple heart valves become damaged or infected, blood flow to and from the heart isn’t as easy; this is what causes MVD. This is the most common heart disease for dogs, especially small dogs.

Most dogs who suffer from heart disease die within two years of its start, but this drug could counteract the condition long enough for at least another year. Though it has to be proven through various scans and ultrasounds that a dog has MVD before a veterinarian can prescribe the owner the drug. This can be a problem because heart disease will rarely make itself apparent through physical symptoms, other than a heart murmur. Another reason why owners should make going to the vet a regular occurrence.

Around one in every 25 dogs will show signs of heart disease. In the United Kingdom alone, over 250,000 dogs likely suffer from the disease, MVD. If this statistic gets bumped up to a more global scale, the number of dogs and owners who could benefit from this drug increases drastically.

Unfortunately, many dog owners don’t even realize that this problem exists. The fact that this particular disease effects smaller breeds rather than large breeds, breeds that typically have heart problems, makes the issue even worse.

This study was actually terminated early because it was deemed unethical to withhold the drug from dogs in the placebo group. The evidence was so conclusive that no further research was even necessary to draw an in-depth conclusion. For pets, this type of study was unprecedented in the field because it was already up to the standards of human medical trials.

Due to the study’s findings, we can all expect to have a few more great moments with our furry companions. No drug will be able to give us the time that we’d like, but that’s just a part of life. All we can do is give our dogs the best possible lives, and all the bones, they could ever want.

 

There are some radical changes going on in the farming industry all over the world. The push to go completely organic has never been stronger, which is healthy for plants, soil, and especially us as consumers. Even the entire Indian State of Goa is going completely organic, and they’ve recently created a plan that will actually pay for farmers to make the healthy switch. But for a desert farm in Australia, simply growing crops organically wasn’t enough.

Using coconut husks, 23,000 reflective solar powered mirrors, and desalinated water, Sundrop Farms in Port Augusta, Australia – a desert and mostly barren area – has worked some agricultural magic. Without using pesticides, needing to rely on rainfall, or having to use fossil fuels to power their 20-hectare farm, they’ve been able to grow food in an entirely new way. Their methods could revolutionize the agricultural industry as we know it.

As populations around the world rise, the demand for food will as well. This is a problem that we’ve been trying to solve and deal with for years, and it looks like we’re on the right path. Although waste needs to be reduced in order to have a truly positive impact on the future, there are ways we can create more food sustainably without overtaxing our precious resources.

The biggest issues farmers have with growing pesticide free, organic crops are water, land, and energy. Eliminating our dependence on these resources while using traditional farming practices will help us grow more food for more people.

Climate change, biotech company land grabs, floods, and droughts aren’t really concerns for innovative famers willing to adapt. Sundrop Farm’s ability to grow and cultivate crops during extreme weather patterns has already been demonstrated. Only a few short weeks ago, that area of Australia was caught in a once-in-50-year storm that posed a serious problem for the region. However, the farm was able to take the force of the wind, and continue operating despite a huge blackout as a result of the storm.

The farm treats brackish water from Spencer Gulf in order to avoid the need for groundwater for their crops. This is a technique that California famers need to adopt as they continue to suffer from the effects caused by drought. Water use in modern farming is excessive, and it takes California farmers 15 gallons in order to grow just a handful of almonds.

Sundrop also grows crops hydroponically, which reduces the need for water and eliminates the need for soil at all. Using mirrors in order to redirect the powerful sun, all they need is some light and seawater in order to make their operation a success. And by success, I mean 17,000 metric tons of food every year.

Not only do they take advantage of the resources they have, but they also don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and they use bugs to destroy the pests that normally harm crops. They also only grow non-GMO produce to supply grocery stores in Australia.

Although this is enough to get anyone excited, they also have a year-round growing season, which they create by heating the greenhouse in the winter through 39 megawatts of energy harnessed from solar power.

Admittedly, the farm was expensive to build, about 200 million dollars to be exact. But the entrepreneurs who started the operation believe the initial costs to be worth it, and they see it as a long-term investment since it’s completely sustainable.

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Life on Mars has been a topic of conversation for decades. We’re fascinated by the possibility of life on other planets, especially one as close to Earth as Mars. Since the 1970s, we’ve been trying to figure out if Mars is actually hospitable enough to house other lifeforms, and what we’ve found might actually surprise you. We already know that Mars was once closer to the Sun than it is today, and that liquid water was prevalent throughout the majority of the planet’s life. Astronomers believe that a planet must be in what they call the habitable zone in order to sustain the necessary properties for life.

Mars was once included in this zone, but due to the constant expansion of the universe, is now outside the boundaries. The same fate is destined for Earth as well, but this is only expected significantly further into the future.

A new paper published in the journal called Astrobiology reviews the last four decades of analysis of the Red Planet, and concludes that the possibility for life is more substantial than many scientists think. The new research is based on the experiments from the Viking Mars Landers in the late 1970s. The experiments were designed to focus on metabolic signatures, which are chemicals produced by living organisms. Although they found some interesting chemical signatures, they deemed the results inconclusive in 1976.

The same scientists worked on a new study, which reexamined data collected during the Viking experiments in conjunction with recent results from other missions that explored water, methane, and other organic compounds. They concluded that non-biological explanations for the Viking data didn’t satisfy their questions, but that the biological hypothesis is still strong.

During the experiments, they used Martian soil that was injected with a drop of diluted nutrient solution that included a radioactive carbon isotope. The air above the samples was closely watched, and the researchers were able to detect the radioactive isotope in the carbon dioxide from the samples. However, when the results were repeated a week later, they couldn’t find the same signature. Basically, this indicates that the chemical reaction didn’t depend on a living organism.

This suggests that there is an oxidizing agent that’s turning the compounds into carbon dioxide. Peroxide-modified titanium dioxide produces similar results to the findings of the Viking landers, which means that the possibility for life on Mars has to be strongly considered. Even if the experiments don’t provide the proof you need, the finds don’t lie. There still isn’t any definitive proof of life existing on the Red Planet, but the possibility isn’t questionable.

“Even if one is not convinced that the Viking Labeled Release results give strong evidence for life on Mars, this paper clearly shows that the possibility must be considered,” explains Chris McKay, Senior Editor of Astrobiology and an astrobiologist with NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California in a statement.

Microbial life isn’t the life that comes to mind when we think of alien encounters, but it’s life nonetheless. It’s a major step in the right direction when it comes to answering questions the Red Planet inspires us to ask. Humans will always search for other lifeforms throughout the universe, and if there’s even a small possibility that we could find some on our red neighbor, we have to look.

Elon Musk and Tesla are doing some great things in terms of renewable energy. If you aren’t familiar with Musk’s master plan part two, you should go to Tesla’s website and check it out for yourself. Not only does he plan on making homes 100 percent sustainable through the use of solar energy, but he plans to do the same thing with his automobiles. Soon, you’ll be able to meet all of your renewable energy needs through one company.

However, making sustainable homes and cars isn’t enough for the super entrepreneur, and he’s recently powered an entire island in the South Pacific Ocean using solar energy. The island of Ta’u and its 600 residents now have their electricity nearly 100 percent supplied by a micro grid of battery storage systems and a single solar power plant.

The entire project took under a year to implement and it now consists of a 1.4 megawatt micro grid of 5,328 solar panels. Although the island is close to being a sun-soaked paradise, that’s technically enough energy to keep them powered for three days total, even without the sun.

The project is a result of the continued collaboration between SolarCity and Tesla, which is behind his new solar panels and sustainable energy plans for the United States. As the two companies merge, they are continuing to push the boundaries of solar power and it’s use in everyday life.

The project was funded by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the United States Department of Interior. The locals are hoping it will sort out their decades of struggle with unreliable electricity due to their isolation, and end blackouts entirely.

In a SolarCity blog post, local grocery store owner Keith Ahsoon describes the impact of the project on the island.

“I remember growing up using candlelight. And now, in 2016, we were still experiencing the same problems. I recall a time they weren’t able to get the boat out here for two months. We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all our electricity. Water systems here also use pumps, everyone in the villages uses and depends on that.”

Best of all for the residents of the island is that their bills will drastically decrease in cost. SolarCity claims that the project isn’t a glimpse into the future, but an example of what is possible right now, in the present.

Both SolarCity and Tesla hope that other islands will begin following suit, and although this is a small project relative to the global energy crisis, it’s a major step in the right direction.

It’s important to understand that solutions to the energy crisis and our addiction to fossil fuels exist. Solar power and renewable, sustainable energy sources aren’t reserved for the future; we are capable of making the necessary changes right now. What starts with an island in the South Pacific will grow to involve entire regions, countries, and then the rest of the world. We need more ideas and more entrepreneurs willing to put forth the time and money for the sake of the globe.

Perhaps one of the most interesting correlations between intelligence and language is cursing. Have you ever heard of the late comedian George Carlin? He once said, “there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are 7 of them that you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is!” He was known for being vulgar, vile, rude, crude, and lewd, his own words, and many critics didn’t praise him for it. However, one thing that everyone can agree on is that he was a master of language and brilliant with words. He’s been called a comedic genius, but he swore a lot.

This isn’t supposed to mean that everyone who swears is secretly a genius. Many times, it can mean the opposite, but there is a connection between people who swear and their intellect that science can’t ignore. This is worthy of note since the myth is that people who swear are dumb or dimwitted. According to scientific studies, this myth not grounded in any fact.

Psychologists Kristin Jay of Marist College and Timothy Jay of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts were able to debunk this myth through their research. Both researchers initially hypothesized that there is no correlation between swearing and intellect, as most people would typically believe.

The study was published in the journal called Language Sciences, and it may effectively rid the world of the popular myth that cursing reflects a below average intellect. Both researchers made the following conclusion, detailed in the journal.

“A voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies. People who use taboo words understand their general expressive content as well as nuanced distinctions that must be drawn to use slurs appropriately. The ability to make nuanced distinctions indicates the presence of more rather than less linguistic knowledge, as implied by the POV or poverty of vocabulary view.”

This conclusion is supplemented with a brief look at three main observations taken from their experiments:

Taboo fluency is correlated with neuroticism and openness.

People who swear a lot often possess a rare, unique talent for self-expression.

Advanced knowledge and practice of taboo words indicates a presence of extensive verbal knowledge, per previous research on the topic.

Essentially, these observations mean that taboo words a part of language just like any other words. People who have more of a grasp on language tend to have higher intelligence levels than those who don’t. Moreover, taboo or curse words rely a great deal on slang, slurs, or hidden meanings, which means that demonstrating a keen ability to use these words would result in a higher level of intelligence rather than a lower level due to the complexity of their usage.

What’s important to note from the study is that someone who curses isn’t dumb or unintelligent like your parents might have you believe. If anything, someone who curses a lot and accurately may have a better understanding of the English language than your parents.

Words are just sounds until they’re given meanings. We have plenty of apparently acceptable substitutions for most of the commonly used curse words today, so what’s the difference?

“You’re crazy – that never happened.” “You’re imagining things again.” “It’s all in your head.” “You know you have a bad memory.” Does your partner say things like this to you on a regular basis? Do you often start questioning your own perception of reality, even your own sanity, within your relationship? If so, your partner may be using what mental health professionals call, “gaslighting.”

The term comes from the 1938 stage play, “Gas Light,” and the 1944 film adaptation of the same name. The premise in both stage and film adaptations involves a husband’s attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home, and then he denies that the light changed when his wife points it out.

It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity.  This gives the abusive partner a lot of power; and we all know that abuse is about power and control.  Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.

Gaslighting usually happens very gradually in a relationship.  In fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first.

Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed.  They can lose all sense of what is actually happening. Then, they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, creating a very difficult situation from which  to escape.

Knowing about gaslighting can help bring awareness and even prevent it from happening in the future. If you notice your significant other, or even a friend or family member, causing you to doubt yourself constantly and trying to make you think something’s wrong with you in many ways, there is probably something wrong with your relationship.

Don’t let people manipulate you.  Trust your own judgment and decisions. Don’t let someone else change your perception of who you are, and stay true to yourself and who you want to be.