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The Declaration of White Independence: Fourth Political Theory

A unilateral assertion offered to and for consideration by the European Descended People of the fifty united States of America and all ...

14 July 2018

This is How Nationalists Ought to Do It

17 May 2018

The first stars formed when the universe was less than 2% its current age

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is not your standard, run-of-the-mill telescope. Instead, ALMA, which is located in the high-and-dry Atacama Desert of northern Chile, is a radio telescope made up of 66 high-precision antennas that operate in perfect harmony. When ALMA’s antennas (which range from 7 to 12 meters in diameter) are configured in different ways, the array is capable of zooming in on some of the most distant cosmic objects in the universe, as well as capturing images that are clearer than those produced by the Hubble Space Telescope.

First starlight

In a new study set for publication tomorrow in the journal Nature, an international team of astronomers used this impressive array to observe an extremely distant galaxy called MACS1149-JD1. Within the galaxy, the team was surprised to discover faint signals of ionized oxygen that were emitted almost 13.3 billion years ago (or 500 million years after the Big Bang).

This is not only the most distant detection of oxygen ever made by any telescope, but more importantly, the discovery of the ancient oxygen serves as clear evidence that stars began forming just 250 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was less than 2 percent its current age.

Before the first stars kicked on, the universe was a relatively boring place, consisting primarily of radiation leftover from the Big Bang, as well as hydrogen, helium, and a trace amount of lithium. However, many of the heavier elements we take for granted today (such as carbon and oxygen) did not exist before the first stars. This is because stars are the burning crucibles that convert hydrogen and helium into larger elements, so without stars, there is no oxygen.

“I was thrilled to see the signal of the distant oxygen in the ALMA data,” said lead author Takuya Hashimoto, a researcher at Osaka Sangyo University and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, in a press release. “This detection pushes back the frontiers of the observable universe.”

One of the most burning questions on astronomers’ minds is: When did the first galaxies emerge from total darkness? This period, commonly referred to as ‘cosmic dawn,’ is of particular interest because it marked the transition from a hot, dense, and nearly homogeneous universe to the universe we are more familiar with today — one filled with stars, planets, nebulae, and people.

“Determining when cosmic dawn occurred is akin to the Holy Grail of cosmology and galaxy formation,” said co-author Richard Ellis, an astronomer at University College London, in a press release. “With these new observations of MACS1149-JD1, we are getting closer to directly witnessing the birth of starlight! Since we are all made of processed stellar material, this is really finding our own origins.”

29 April 2018

What's a Greater Leap of Faith: A Creator or the Multiverse?

Paradigm Shift: Transudationism

The Declaration of White Independence

'White Holes' May Be the Secret Ingredient in Mysterious Dark Matter

White holes, which are theoretically the exact opposites of black holes, could constitute a major portion of the mysterious dark matter that’s thought to make up most of the matter in the universe, a new study finds. And some of these bizarre white holes may even predate the Big Seed, the researchers said.

Black holes possess gravitational pulls so powerful that not even light, the fastest thing in the universe, can escape them. The invisible spherical boundary surrounding the core of a black hole that marks its point of no return is known as its event horizon. [Images: Black Holes of the Universe]

A black hole is one prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Another is known as a white hole, which is like a black hole in reverse: Whereas nothing can escape from a black hole’s event horizon, nothing can enter a white hole’s event horizon.

Previous research has suggested that black holes and white holes are connected, with matter and energy falling into a black hole potentially emerging from a white hole either somewhere else in the cosmos or in another universe entirely. In 2014, Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist at Aix-Marseille University in France, and his colleagues suggested that black holes and white holes might be connected in another way: When black holes die, they could become white holes.

In the 1970s, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking calculated that all black holes should evaporate mass by emitting radiation. Black holes that lose more mass than they gain are expected to shrink and ultimately vanish.

However, Rovelli and his colleagues suggested that shrinking black holes could not disappear if the fabric of space and time were quantum — that is, made of indivisible quantities known as quanta. Space-time is quantum in research that seeks to unite general relativity, which can explain the nature of gravity, with quantum mechanics, which can describe the behavior of all the known particles, into a single theory that can explain all the forces of the universe.

In the 2014 study, Rovelli and his team suggested that, once a black hole evaporated to a degree where it could not shrink any further because space-time could not be squeezed into anything smaller, the dying black hole would then rebound to form a white hole.

“We stumbled onto the fact that a black hole becomes a white hole at the end of its evaporation,” Rovelli told Space.com.

Black holes nowadays are thought to form when massive stars die in giant explosions known as supernovas, which compress their corpses into the infinitely dense points known as singularities at the hearts of black holes. Rovelli and his colleagues previously estimated that it would take a black hole with a mass equal to that of the sun about a quadrillion times the current age of the universe to convert into a white hole. [Supernova Photos: Great Images of Star Sproutings]

However, prior work in the 1960s and 1970s suggested that black holes also could have originated within a second after the Big Seed, due to random fluctuations of density in the hot, rapidly expanding newborn universe. Areas where these fluctuations concentrated matter together could have collapsed to form black holes. These so-called primordial black holes would be much smaller than stellar-mass black holes, and could have died to form white holes within the lifetime of the universe, Rovelli and his colleagues noted.

Even white holes with microscopic diameters could still be quite massive, just as black holes smaller than a sand grain can weigh more than the moon. Now, Rovelli and study co-author Francesca Vidotto, of the University of the Basque Country in Spain, suggest that these microscopic white holes could make up dark matter.

Although dark matter is thought to make up five-sixths of all matter in the universe, scientists do not know what it’s made of. As its name suggests, dark matter is invisible; it does not emit, reflect or even block light. As a result, dark matter can currently be tracked only through its gravitational effects on normal matter, such as that making up stars and galaxies. The nature of dark matter is currently one of the greatest mysteries in science.

The local density of dark matter, as suggested by the motion of stars near the sun, is about 1 percent the mass of the sun per cubic parsec, which is about 34.7 cubic light-years. To account for this density with white holes, the scientists calculated that one tiny white hole — much smaller than a proton and about a millionth of a gram, which is equal to about the mass of “half an inch of a human hair,” Rovelli said — is needed per 2,400 cubic miles (10,000 cubic kilometers).

These white holes would not emit any radiation, and because they are far smaller than a wavelength of light, they would be invisible. If a proton did happen to impact one of these white holes, the white hole “would simply bounce away,” Rovelli said. “They cannot swallow anything.” If a black hole were to encounter one of these white holes, the result would be a single larger black hole, he added. As if the idea of invisible, microscopic white holes from the dawn of time were not wild enough, Rovelli and Vidotto further suggested that some white holes in this universe might actually predate the Big Seed. Future research will explore how such white holes from a previous universe might help to explain why time flows only forward in this current universe and not also in reverse, he said.

Rovelli and Vidotto detailed their findings online April 11 in a paper submitted to the Gravity Research Foundation’s annual contest for essays on gravitation.

15 March 2018

All disk galaxies rotate once every billion years

In a study published March 9 in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers announced the discovery that all disk galaxies rotate about once every billion years, no matter their size or mass.

“It’s not Swiss watch precision,” said Gerhardt Meurer, an astronomer from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), in a press release. “But regardless of whether a galaxy is very big or very small, if you could sit on the extreme edge of its disk as it spins, it would take you about a billion years to go all the way round.”

“Discovering such regularity in galaxies really helps us to better understand the mechanics that make them tick,” he said. “You won’t find a dense galaxy rotating quickly, while another with the same size but lower density is rotating more slowly.”

To carry out the study, the researchers measured the radial velocities of neutral hydrogen in the outer disks of a plethora of galaxies — ranging from small dwarf irregulars to massive spirals. These galaxies differed in both size and rotational velocity by up to a factor of 30. With these radial velocity measurements, the researchers were able to calculate the rotational period of their sample galaxies, which led them to conclude that the outer rims of all disk galaxies take roughly a billion years to complete one rotation. However, the researchers note that further research is required to confirm the clock-like spin rate is a universal trait of disk galaxies and not just a result of selection bias.

28 February 2018

Signal detected from 'cosmic dawn'

For the first time, astronomers have detected a signal from stars emerging in the early universe some 14 billion years ago.

They may also have detected mysterious "dark matter" at work.

Using a radio antenna not much bigger than a refrigerator, astronomers discovered that primordial suns began to shine about 180 million years after the Big Seed, when the universe was created.

"Finding this minuscule signal has opened a new window on the early universe,” said astronomer Judd Bowman of Arizona State University, the lead author of a study published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature.

Telescopes cannot see far enough to directly "see" such ancient stars, Bowman said, but the stars can be detected by the faint radio waves they emitted.

In order to reduce unwanted radio waves from our noisy Earth and across the galaxy, researchers chose a remote spot in the Western Australian desert to set up equipment to detect those faint signals from the early universe.

It's basically as difficult as “being in the middle of a hurricane and trying to hear the flap of a hummingbird’s wing,” said Peter Kurczynski, a National Science Foundation program officer who supported the study.


  • Observations indicate the Big Seed occurred about 13.8bn years ago
  • After which, conditions cooled and neutral hydrogen atoms formed
  • The period before the first stars is often called the 'Dark Ages'
  • When the first stars ignite, they start to change their environment
  • These giants also forge the first heavy elements in big explosions
  • 'First Light', or 'Cosmic Renaissance', is a key epoch in history
  • The Renaissance likely peaks around 560m years after the Big Seed


"These researchers with a small radio antenna in the desert have seen farther than the most powerful space telescopes, opening a new window on the early universe,” he said.

The signal also showed unexpectedly cold temperatures and an unusually pronounced wave, the Associated Press reported. Astronomers said the best explanation was likely the elusive, so-called "dark matter," a substantial part of the universe for which scientists have been searching for decades.

“If confirmed, this discovery deserves two Nobel Prizes” for both capturing the signal of the first stars and potential dark matter confirmation, Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb, who wasn’t part of the research team, told AP.

01 February 2018

Whirling Galaxies Are Orderly and Neat, Defying Chaotic Dark Matter Cosmology

Astronomers have discovered that the smaller satellite galaxies around Centaurus A are engaged in a coordinated dance that seems out of sync with our understanding of the large-scale structure of the universe.

The discovery, described in the journal Science, could push physicists to redefine our understanding of dark matter, that mysterious stuff that forms the universe’s cosmic web.

Unlike normal matter, dark matter doesn’t interact with other matter. It can’t be seen or touched. And yet we know it must be there because there’s so much of it that its gravitational influence affects the spinning of galaxies. There’s more than five times as much dark matter as there is normal matter — normal matter being the stuff that makes up the stars, the galaxies, Earth and every living thing that inhabits it.

There are a lot of theories to explain what dark matter is. Currently, the prevailing idea is that “cold dark matter” forms giant clumps connected by dark matter filaments in a cosmic web.

Large galaxies like the Milky Way are surrounded by large spherical “halos” of dark matter. These galaxies also typically have a sizable coterie of smaller satellite galaxies around them. According to our understanding of dark matter, those satellite galaxies should be distributed all around their galactic host, said study coauthor Marcel Pawlowski, an astrophysicist at UC Irvine.

“They should be rather randomly distributed and move in more or less random directions if we believe our current understanding of cosmology — but they don’t really,” Pawlowski said.

Take our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Out of 11 satellite galaxies with known velocities, eight seem to orbit in a tight disc that’s perpendicular to the plane of the spiral galaxy. (There could be more galaxies; we just can’t see them.) The same pattern seems to apply to a number of the satellites around our galactic neighbor, Andromeda: 15 out of 27 surveyed galaxies are arranged in a narrow plane around the host galaxy.

But many scientists figured that the Milky Way (and Andromeda) must be the exception rather than the rule.

“Many astronomers have been concerned about drawing conclusions from the nearest galaxy systems: The census of Milky Way satellite galaxies might be affected by the gas and stars in the Galaxy’s disk, and it is not currently possible to measure motions perpendicular to the plane of satellites in Andromeda, meaning its long-term stability remains unknown,” Michael Boylan-Kolchin of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the study, wrote in a commentary.

For this paper, an international team of researchers looked outside of our own neighborhood for answers. They focused on the galaxy Centaurus A, which lies about 13 million light years away. Centaurus A is an elliptical galaxy that’s also surrounded by an array of satellites. Perhaps studying its companions would shed light on whether the Milky Way was the exception or the rule.

Using archived data, the researchers looked at velocity data for 16 of the known satellite galaxies around Centaurus A. They found that 14 of them appeared to be moving in a common plane around the larger galaxy, not at random. That plane appears to be roughly perpendicular to the dusty disk that surrounds the elliptical galaxy.

Under the current dark matter model, this sort of alignment is supposed to be a one-in-a-thousand sort of event, the scientists said. So what does it mean that the three galaxies that scientists have looked at so far all share the same supposedly rare pattern?

Perhaps these systems were all created by galaxies merging together, which could potentially explain their movement patterns without coming into conflict with our understanding of dark matter, scientists said.

If not, it could mean that our ideas about dark matter need to be tweaked — or perhaps even revised entirely, Pawlowski said. Perhaps dark matter doesn’t exist, and there are simply changes to the behavior of gravity in different situations that make it seem like some kind of invisible mass is at work. But modifying models of how gravity works is much easier said than done.

“We kind of know where we have our problems — we just haven’t figured out how to solve them,” he said. “I think we should be more open-minded and consider alternative approaches.”

One of the next steps, he added, would be to continue surveying more large galaxies and their satellites to see which configuration is truly more prevalent than the other.

“We really want to understand it in a global sense,” he said.

In any case, any change that moves our understanding forward would be welcomed by the physics community, Boylan-Kolchin said.

“Perhaps most excitingly, any potential resolution of the puzzle of satellite planes is interesting,” he wrote. “At worst, we improve our understanding of galaxy formation; at best, we are led to a deeper understanding of the laws of physics.”

New Study Links Human Consciousness to a Law That Governs the Universe

Our species has long agonized over the concept of human consciousness. What exactly causes it, and why did we evolve to experience consciousness? Now, a new study has uncovered a clue in the hunt for answers, and it reveals that the human brain might have more in common with the universe than we could have imagined.

According to a team of researchers from France and Canada, our brains might produce consciousness as something of a side effect of increasing entropy, a process that has been taking place throughout the universe since the Big Seed

Their study has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review E.

The concept of entropy is famously confusing, and the definition has evolved over time. Essentially, entropy is a thermodynamic property that refers to the degree of disorder or randomness in a system. It can be summed up as the description of a system’s progression from order to disorder.

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy can only remain constant or increase within a closed system — a system cannot move from high entropy to low entropy without outside interference. A common example that demonstrates entropy is an ice cube melting — the cube is in a state of low entropy, but as it melts and disorder grows, entropy increases.

Many physicists think that the universe itself is in a constant state of increasing entropy. When the Big Seed occurred, the universe was in a state of low entropy, and as it continues to gradually spread out, it is growing into a higher entropy system. Based on this new study, our brain may be undergoing something similar, and consciousness happens to be a side effect of the process.

To see how the concept of entropy could be applied to the human brain, the researchers analyzed the amount of order in our brains while we’re conscious compared to when we’re not. They did this by modeling the networks of neurons in the brains of nine participants, seven of whom had epilepsy.

They looked at whether or not neurons were oscillating in phase with one another as this could tell them if the brain cells were linked. They compared observations from when patients were awake, when they were asleep, and when patients with epilepsy were having seizures.

The researchers found that the participants’ brains displayed higher entropy when fully conscious. “We find a surprisingly simple result: normal wakeful states are characterized by the greatest number of possible configurations of interactions between brain networks, representing highest entropy values,” the team wrote in the study.

This finding prompted the researchers to suggest that consciousness might be a side effect of a system working to maximize information exchange. In other words, human consciousness emerges due to increasing entropy.

While the team’s theory is exciting and will likely lead to further research exploring a potential link between human consciousness and entropy, it is far from conclusive. The study’s sample size was exceptionally small, so they’ll need to replicate their results on larger groups and different types of brain states. Still, it provides a fascinating explanation for human consciousness and may be the clue that eventually helps us fully understand the strange phenomenon.

30 January 2018

What would it have been like to witness the Big Seed?

Something wonderful happened about 13.8 billion years ago. Everything in the universe was created in an instant as an infinitesimally small point of energy: the Big Seed. We know that this event happened, as the universe is constantly expanding and galaxies are moving away from us. The more we peer into the past, the smaller it gets – that’s how we know it must have once been infinitesimally small, and that there must have been a beginning.

But of course there weren’t any humans around to see how it all started. What would it have been like – what would we have seen and felt? Now new research posted on the open science repository ArXiv, has investigated the amount of light available in the newborn universe to offer some clues.

The universe may seem dark and cold now, but there is a lot of light around. Humans can see some of this, but there’s also light at frequencies that we can’t see. The night sky, for example, appears dark but in fact glows at a frequency of light invisible to human eyes. Still, we can see this light using microwave detectors and it is a light that fills space and is practically exactly the same wherever we look.

The light that fills space now only warms the universe to on average 2.7 degrees above absolute zero – or -270°C. In the future, as the universe continues to expand at an ever-increasing rate, the light will dilute away and the cosmic weather forecast predicts that the temperature will slowly approach the coldest possible temperature of -273°C.

However, run the clock back and it turns out that we arrived here from much warmer climes. In the past, when the universe was smaller and more compressed, the light that filled space was squeezed to higher frequencies and hotter temperatures.

Almost everyone has experienced the physics behind this cooling: when you use a spray can of deodorant it feels cold because the gas has cooled as it expands. This is similar to what happened to the light in the universe as it expanded. That means that if we go all the way and start at the beginning we’ll find that the night sky would have looked and felt very different to what we are now so familiar with.

    … and there was light

In the Big Seed, space was suffused with light. A fraction of a second after the event, the universe was over a million trillion times smaller than an atom. It was also hot: a septillion (one followed by 24 zeroes) times hotter than the centre of the sun.

From this small and hot beginning, the expansion and cooling started. In this early stage, the universe was extremely bright and at frequencies of light that humans cannot see. There were no stars, only a uniform and formless soup of particles. In opening your eyes to the night sky – if such a thing were possible in the moment before you burned up – you would have been instantly blinded by the intensity of the light (even light outside visible frequencies can harm our eyes).

In the Big Seed, space was suffused with light. A fraction of a second after the event, the universe was over a million trillion times smaller than an atom. It was also hot: a septillion (one followed by 24 zeroes) times hotter than the centre of the sun.

From this small and hot beginning, the expansion and cooling started. In this early stage, the universe was extremely bright and at frequencies of light that humans cannot see. There were no stars, only a uniform and formless soup of particles. In opening your eyes to the night sky – if such a thing were possible in the moment before you burned up – you would have been instantly blinded by the intensity of the light (even light outside visible frequencies can harm our eyes).

This would have been the case until the universe became tolerable to human eyes after about 1.2m years. At this point, there were atoms around. They began to form about 370,000 years after the Big Seed. This may seem like a long time, but it isn’t really when you consider that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old. At this time, the sky would have glowed with the colour and temperature of a candle (the hottest part of a candle is 1,400°C). So while we could have read by the light of the night sky, we would still have been burnt to a crisp while doing so.

The sky would have glowed, slowly becoming dimmer and redder for another 4.6m years, before finally becoming black to human eyes. There were still no stars, so the night sky would have been uniformly and totally dark. However it would have still been very hot and baked any human observer with heat like a very hot oven.

… and there was Light

As the universe continued to expand, the sky would have remained dark but the temperature would have become more tolerable. It would take another 4.3m years, until the universe was about 10m years old, for the temperature to become bearable – about the same as a sauna. Then another 1m years to reach the temperature of a nice cup of tea, or a warm bath.

You could have worn summer clothes for another 5m years, but it would have started to get a bit chilly around 15m years after the Big Seed, and a jumper would be required. Freezing temperatures – minus figures – began at about 16m years. After about 110m years, the universe had cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen.

But if you could have somehow survived these freezing temperatures and an ever cooling universe, then after about 150m years the night sky would have changed. From its uniform and formless beginnings, matter was slowly clumping together, because of gravity, in the dark. In the clumps of matter, a twinkling would have appeared and, at least in some small patches, like the one we now live in, light and warmth returned for a second time. This was when the first stars began to form, and our familiar night sky was born.

08 January 2018

Supercomputer simulations: Closing in on the story of our cosmic origins

Prof Romeel Davé, Chair of Physics at the University of Edinburgh explores how supercomputer simulations help to reveal how galaxies like our Milky Way arose from the Big Seed

Why does the Universe look the way it does? This fundamental question has captivated humankind from the earliest days, spawning creation myths in every culture passed down through generations. Today, modern telescopes show us a fascinatingly complex Universe highlighted by billions of galaxies in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours.

A modern creation story must account for this stunning diversity of galaxies and its emergence from the Big Seed. Galaxy formation simulators like myself use supercomputers to build an origins story based on the principles of physical laws rather than mythology. It is an epic challenge that will be a defining achievement for forthcoming generations.

Galaxy formation simulations aim to recreate the evolution of the Universe from the Big Seed until today using only the laws of physics and powerful supercomputers. Such simulations concurrently model the evolution of dark matter, dark energy, gas (in various ionization states), heavy elements, stars and black holes, starting from the glass-smooth state seen as the Cosmic Microwave Background, using the equations of gravity, hydrodynamics, radiation and nucleosynthesis.

The result is a model Universe representing galaxies, intergalactic gas and black holes. By comparing to state-of-the-art observations and identifying successes and failures of model predictions, theorists like myself iteratively improve our models to better constrain the physical processes that give rise to galaxies and other cosmic systems.

The role of galaxy formation simulations in astrophysics has grown exponentially in recent times, owing both to their fidelity and range of applicability. They have emerged as an essential synergistic complement to observational studies. New billion-dollar telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope, while immensely powerful, are intrinsically limited to detecting only one portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Simulations are required to assemble these multi-wavelength datasets into a coherent physical scenario for how the observed objects came to be. Today, virtually no large extragalactic survey project gets approved without a dedicated simulation modelling component.

Galaxy formation simulations have improved dramatically in their realism and sophistication over the past decade, driven by synergistic observations and ever-faster computers. Modern simulations utilise millions of CPU hours on leading supercomputers. The Illustris (U.S.), EAGLE (Europe) and my group’s Mufasa (Africa) simulations, among others, now achieve unprecedented levels of realism.

We are constantly improving such simulations by employing a multi-scale approach to connect sub-parsec scale processes, such as star formation and black hole accretion with megaparsec-scale structure driven by dark matter and dark energy. Despite impressive progress, the task remains far from finished. The daunting range of physical and temporal scales remains impossible to simulate simultaneously even on the world’s largest supercomputers and it remains far from clear that we have identified (let alone understand) all the relevant physical processes for growing galaxies.

Perhaps the longest-lasting legacy of galaxy formation simulations is that they provide, for the first time, a full 3-D movie of how our Universe came to be. The impact of being able to visualise how galaxies like our own Milky Way and stars like our Sun emerged from the Big Seed cannot be overstated for both scientists and the general public. Combined with chemistry and biology that takes us from the formation of the Earth until human life today, we are closing in on completing humankind’s first scientifically accurate story of our cosmic origins.

12 December 2017

Life's building blocks observed in spacelike environment

Where do the molecules required for life originate? It may be that small organic molecules first appeared on earth and were later combined into larger molecules, such as proteins and carbohydrates. But a second possibility is that they originated in space, possibly within our solar system. A new study, published this week in the Journal of Chemical Physics, from AIP Publishing, shows that a number of small organic molecules can form in a cold, spacelike environment full of radiation.

Investigators at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada have created simulated space environments in which thin films of ice containing methane and oxygen are irradiated by electron beams. When electrons or other forms of radiation impinge on so-called molecular ices, chemical reactions occur and new molecules are formed. This study used several advanced techniques including electron stimulated desorption (ESD), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and temperature programmed desorption (TPD).

The experiments were carried out under vacuum conditions, which both is required for the analysis techniques employed and mimics the high vacuum condition of outer space. Frozen films containing methane and oxygen used in these experiments further mimic a spacelike environment, since various types of ice (not just frozen water) form around dust grains in the dense and cold molecular clouds that exist in the interstellar medium. These types of icy environments also exist on objects in the solar system, such as comets, asteroids and moons.

All of these icy surfaces in space are subjected to multiple forms of radiation, often in the presence of magnetic fields, which accelerate charged particles from the stellar (solar) wind toward these frozen objects. Previous studies investigated chemical reactions that might occur in space environments through the use of ultraviolet or other types of radiation, but this is a first detailed look at the role of secondary electrons.

Copious amounts of secondary electrons are produced when high-energy radiation, such as X-rays or heavy particles, interact with matter. These electrons, also known as low-energy electrons, or LEES, are still energetic enough to induce further chemistry. The work reported this week investigated LEEs interacting with icy films. Earlier studies by this group considered positively charged reaction products ejected from ices irradiated by LEEs, while the work reported this week extended the study to include ejected negative ions and new molecules that form but remain embedded in the film.

The research group found that a variety of small organic molecules were produced in icy films subjected to LEEs. Propylene, ethane and acetylene were all formed in films of frozen methane. When a frozen mixture of methane and oxygen was irradiated with LEEs, they found direct evidence that ethanol was formed.

Indirect evidence for many other small organic molecules, including methanol, acetic acid and formaldehyde was found. In addition, both X-rays and LEEs produced similar results, although at different rates. Thus, it is possible that life's building blocks might have been made through chemical reactions induced by secondary electrons on icy surfaces in space exposed to any form of ionizing radiation.

02 December 2017

Pluto, Other Faraway Worlds May Have Buried Oceans

Our solar system may harbor many more potentially habitable worlds than scientists had thought.

Subsurface oceans could still slosh beneath the icy crusts of frigid, faraway worlds such as the dwarf planets Pluto and Eris, kept liquid by the heat-generating tug of orbiting moons, according to a new study. 

"These objects need to be considered as potential reservoirs of water and life," lead author Prabal Saxena, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. "If our study is correct, we now may have more places in our solar system that possess some of the critical elements for extraterrestrial life."

Underground oceans are known, or strongly suspected, to exist on a number of icy worlds, including the Saturn satellites Titan and Enceladus and the Jovian moons Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. These oceans are kept liquid to this day by "tidal heating": The powerful gravitational pull of these worlds' giant parent planets stretches and flexes their interiors, generating heat via friction. 

The new study suggests something similar may be going on with Pluto, Eris and other trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs).

Many of the moons around TNOs are thought to have coalesced from material blasted into space when objects slammed into their parent bodies long ago. That's the perceived origin story for the one known satellite of Eris (called Dysnomia) and for Pluto's five moons (as well as for Earth's moon). 

Such impact-generated moons generally begin their lives in relatively chaotic orbits, team members of the new study said. But over time, these moons migrate to more-stable orbits, and as this happens, the satellites and the TNOs tug on each other gravitationally, producing tidal heat.

Saxena and his colleagues modeled the extent to which this heating could warm up the interiors of TNOs — and the researchers got some intriguing results.

"We found that tidal heating can be a tipping point that may have preserved oceans of liquid water beneath the surface of large TNOs like Pluto and Eris to the present day," study co-author Wade Henning, of NASA Goddard and the University of Maryland, said in the same statement.

As the term "tipping point" implies, there's another factor in play here as well. It's been widely recognized that TNOs could harbor buried oceans thanks to the heat produced by the decay of the objects' radioactive elements. But just how long such oceans could persist has been unclear. This type of heating peters out eventually, as more and more radioactive material decays into stable elements. And the smaller the object, the faster it cools down.

Tidal heating may do more than just lengthen subsurface oceans' lives, researchers said.

26 November 2017

Space dust may transport life between worlds: cosmic speciation

Life on our planet might have originated from biological particles brought to Earth in streams of space dust, a study suggests.

Fast-moving flows of interplanetary dust that continually bombard our planet’s atmosphere could deliver tiny organisms from far-off worlds, or send Earth-based organisms to other planets, according to the research.

The dust streams could collide with biological particles in Earth’s atmosphere with enough energy to knock them into space, a scientist has suggested.
Such an event could enable bacteria and other forms of life to make their way from one planet in the solar system to another and perhaps beyond.

The finding suggests that large asteroid impacts may not be the sole mechanism by which life could transfer between planets, as was previously thought.

The research from the University of Edinburgh calculated how powerful flows of space dust – which can move at up to 70 km a second – could collide with particles in our atmospheric system.

It found that small particles existing at 150 km or higher above Earth’s surface could be knocked beyond the limit of Earth’s gravity by space dust and eventually reach other planets.

The same mechanism could enable the exchange of atmospheric particles between distant planets.

 Some bacteria, plants and small animals called tardigrades are known to be able to survive in space, so it is possible that such organisms – if present in Earth’s upper atmosphere – might collide with fast-moving space dust and withstand a journey to another planet.

The study, published in Astrobiology, was partly funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

“The proposition that space dust collisions could propel organisms over enormous distances between planets raises some exciting prospects of how life and the atmospheres of planets originated. The streaming of fast space dust is found throughout planetary systems and could be a common factor in proliferating life,” says Professor Arjun Berera.


A new species can evolve in as few as two generations, researchers have found, shattering the orthodox position that speciation is a process that occurs slowly over a long time.

Ironically, the case study that led to this startling conclusion – detailed in a paper in the journal Science – concerns the finches of the Galapagos islands, the very collection of birds that helped Charles Darwin formulate his theory regarding the role of natural selection in evolution.

A team of researchers led by Leif Andersson from Uppsala University, in Sweden, report the emergence of a new species of finch, dubbed Big Bird, arising from an initial cross breeding between two species, the large cactus finch (Geospiza conirostris) and the medium ground finch (Geospiz fortis). From a first chance encounter, a new lineage which boasts a unique beak shape, unique vocalisations, and the inability to breed with other finch species emerged.

The Big Bird today comprises only about 30 individuals – all fiercely inbred, but meeting the definition of distinct species, nonetheless.

The case study is watertight because the set-up for the foundation mating between the two originator species was observed by a pair of scientists from Princeton University, who were visiting the Galapagos island of Daphne Major at the time.

The year was 1981 and evolutionary biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant had been studying the finches of the island group. When they noticed a strange bird with a largish beak and unusual song on Daphne Major, therefore, they knew immediately it was not one of the three finch species native to the place.

"We didn’t see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived,” recalls Peter Grant. “He was so different from the other birds that we knew he did not hatch from an egg on Daphne Major.”

It turned out the intruder was from a species resident on Espanola Island, more than 100 kilometres away. Unable to return and thus find a mate from its own species, the finch somehow managed to mate successfully with a local girl.

Isolation is a critical step in speciation. The successful interbreeding would never have happened had not the male finch been somehow massively blown off course and – remarkably – found landfall on another tiny speck in the Pacific. Thus, if not for outrageous fortune, the cactus finch and the ground finch would not have challenged another fundamental definition of “species” – the inability to produce fertile offspring with a member of a different species.

For the resultant offspring, however, the results were potentially dire. The baby finches were neither one nor the other, and developed with beaks and calls that were unmatched among the resident species. Like isolated populations of humans have occasionally been known to do, therefore, and perhaps equally unwisely, they turned for attention to their own siblings.

The Grants, having taken an initial blood sample from the outsider, continued to monitor the little population of Big Birds, taking blood from the subsequent six generations.

Now, Andersson and his colleagues from Uppsala have analysed the DNA collected from each of those generations. They conclude that the Big Birds quickly developed unique structural characteristics with which they were able to forge an entirely new environmental niche that did not put them in competition with the more numerous resident finch species.

“It is very striking that when we compare the size and shape of the Big Bird beaks with the beak morphologies of the other three species inhabiting Daphne Major, the Big Birds occupy their own niche in the beak morphology space,” says co-author Sangeet Lamichhaney.

“Thus, the combination of gene variants contributed from the two interbreeding species in combination with natural selection led to the evolution of a beak morphology that was competitive and unique.”

He adds that a naturalist visiting Great Daphne today and unaware of the Big Birds’ history would have no reason to think the species was anything but ancient and firmly rooted on the island.

With only small numbers and a shallow genepool, of course, there is no guarantee of the new species’ robust and continued survival. Andersson notes that this type of emergence may have happened many times before, the results lost after a few generations to extinction.

“We have no indication about the long-term survival of the Big Bird lineage, but it has the potential to become a success, and it provides a beautiful example of one way in which speciation occurs,” he says.