Octopi are not from space, but disappointment is real

The pretty far reaching study we blogged last week, about Octopi coming from outer space, is really most likely, probably, near certainly not true.


For evidence of the panspermia hypothesis, the authors wrote in their new paper, skeptics need only look to the octopus.

Octopuses have complex nervous systems, camera-like eyes and a capacity for camouflage that evolved suddenly and without precedent in their family tree, according to the study authors. The genes for these adaptations, the authors wrote, do not seem to have come from octopus ancestors, but "it is plausible then to suggest [these traits] seem to be borrowed from a far distant 'future' in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large."

In one theory laid out in the paper, the authors posit that fertilized octopus eggs crashed into the sea aboard an icy comet at the onset of the Cambrian explosion. Another explanation, they propose, could be that an extraterrestrial virus infected a population of early squid, causing them to evolve rapidly into octopuses as we know them today.

Other researchers were not quick to embrace this theory. "There's no question, early biology is fascinating — but I think this, if anything, is counterproductive," Ken Stedman, a virologist and professor of biology at Portland State University, told Live Science. "Many of the claims in this paper are beyond speculative, and not even really looking at the literature."

For example, Stedman said, the octopus genome was mapped in 2015. While it indeed contained many surprises, one relevant finding was that octopus nervous system genes split from the squid's only around 135 million years ago — long after the Cambrian explosion.

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Look at this comet's terrifically chaotic surface

Landru79 created this spectacular GIF from images captured in 2016 on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko by the European Space Agency lander Philae deployed by the Rosetta probe. The video is significantly sped up, compressing 25 minutes into a few seconds of intense action. But what exactly are we looking at in this pandemonium? From New Scientist:

Much of this apparent “snow” wouldn’t actually be visible if you were standing on 67P’s surface. It is made of cosmic rays – charged subatomic particles that flit across the universe. As they hit the camera’s sensors, they register as streaks of light.

Some of bright specks are actually snow – dust and ice particles floating above the comet’s surface. And many of them are stars behind the rocky cliffside on 67P’s surface.

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A small star grazed our solar system 70,000 years ago

Some new calculations suggest that a small red-dwarf star -- accompanied by a smaller brown dwarf -- flew so close to our solar system 70,000 years ago that it passed through the Oort Cloud.

This blows my mind.

That is dementedly close to Earth! I mean, viewed one way, the Oort Cloud -- the ring of icy material that surrounds the solar system, and which is the likely source of the comets we see on Earth -- is very far away: 0.8 light-years. But considered in terms of interstellar enormitude, that's basically our backyard. Consider that the original Voyager space probe will probably enter the Oort Cloud in 300 years.

Or to put it another way, an object made by humans will, in just a few generations, be chilling in the same region that not too long ago saw another damn star swing by. And yeah, 70,000 years is, in cosmological time, not that long ago at all.

In fact, our ancestors may have seen the star as it swung through the neighborhood. As a press release by the scientists notes:

Currently, Scholz’s star is a small, dim red dwarf in the constellation of Monoceros, about 20 light years away. However, at the closest point in its flyby of the solar system, Scholz’s star would have been a 10th magnitude star – about 50 times fainter than can normally be seen with the naked eye at night. It is magnetically active, however, which can cause stars to “flare” and briefly become thousands of times brighter.

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List of meteorites that hit people, houses, and other objects

Courtesy the International Comet Quarterly, here's a list of meteorite strikes that focuses on situations where the meteorite hit something -- ranging from houses to cars to mailboxes and even a dog. There are a surprising number of tragic deaths; I can't imagine what the odds are of being maimed or killed by a meteorite, but it's got to be awfully high.

A sample from the list:

(CC-licensed photo via Pixabay) Read the rest

Neither Huxleyed, nor Orwelled: living in the Phildickian dystopia

Political scientist and sf fan Henry Farrell (previously) argues persuasively that the dystopian elements of our everyday life are best viewed through the lens of Philip K Dick (whose books repeatedly depicted a world of constructed realities, whose true nature was obscured by totalitarians, conspiracies, and broken computers) and not Orwell or Huxley, whose computers and systems worked altogether too well to be good parallels for today's janky dystopia. Read the rest

Scientists model the climate in Game of Thrones

Jon Snow from Game of Thrones

[Hi everyone! I'd like to re-introduce you to Clive Thompson, who will be writing posts for Boing Boing. You may remember Clive from his guestblogging stint here a few years ago. Clive is a journalist and book author -- he's a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and a columnist with Wired and Smithsonian. He's working on his next book right now, about "how programmers think", and he's online as @pomeranian99 at Twitter and Instagram, or at his site ​I'm very excited to have him join us! -- Mark]

The climate in Game of Thrones is incredibly weird, not least because of the strange timing of the oddly-long seasons. A group of climate scientists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff, and Southampton decided to figure out what's going on by making a climate model of the world -- based on the weather data they could scrounge from George R. R. Martin's novels. They wrote it up as a mock academic paper authored by the GoT character "Samwell Tarly".

Their/his key finding? The only way to create a model that behaves like the world described in the books is to assume the planet in Game of Thrones "tumbles" as it orbits its sun:

One way that seasons can be made to last longer is to allow this tilt of the spinning axis to change throughout the year, so that the Earth ‘tumbles’ on its spin axis, a bit like a spinning top. If the Earth ‘tumbles’ exactly once in a single year, then the spin axis always points towards (or away) from the Sun, and the winter (or summer) is then permanent (Figure 3(b)).

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The fascinating history of the first commercial jetliner

The de Havilland Comet, unveiled in 1952 to great acclaim, was beset with technical problems that grounded the entire fleet by 1954. One of the big design flaws? Square windows. Read the rest

NASA playlist of the incredible "sounds of space"

In the vacuum of space, there's no way for sound to travel. But that doesn't mean space is silent. Spacecraft capture radio emissions that can be converted into sound we can hear. Indeed, NASA recently posted a fantastic collection of space audio on Soundcloud and it's wonderfully haunting:

Here are descriptions of some of the recordings:

• Juno Captures the 'Roar' of Jupiter: NASA's Juno spacecraft has crossed the boundary of Jupiter's immense magnetic field. Juno's Waves instrument recorded the encounter with the bow shock over the course of about two hours on June 24, 2016.

• Plasma Waves: Plasma waves, like the roaring ocean surf, create a rhythmic cacophony that — with the EMFISIS instrument aboard NASA’s Van Allen Probes — we can hear across space.

• Saturn's Radio Emissions: Saturn is a source of intense radio emissions, which were monitored by the Cassini spacecraft. The radio waves are closely related to the auroras near the poles of the planet. These auroras are similar to Earth's northern and southern lights. More of Saturn's eerie-sounding radio emissions.

• Sounds of Jupiter: Scientists sometimes translate radio signals into sound to better understand the signals. This approach is called "data sonification". On June 27, 1996, the Galileo spacecraft made the first flyby of Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, and this audio track represents data from Galileo's Plasma Wave Experiment instrument.

• Sounds of a Comet Encounter: During its Feb. 14, 2011, flyby of comet Tempel 1, an instrument on the protective shield on NASA's Stardust spacecraft was pelted by dust particles and small rocks, as can be heard in this audio track.

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Scientists discover "interstellar object" hurtling through our solar system

Astronomers have discovered what seems to be the first "interstellar object" speeding through our solar system at 15.8 miles per second. Discovered October 19 with the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, the object, dubbed A/2017 U1, is less than a quarter-mile in diameter. While scientists say it's most likely an asteroid or perhaps a comet from elsewhere in our galaxy, they can't be certain of its composition or where it may have come from until they collect more telescope data. (Members of UFO cults, please report for duty.) From NASA:

"This is the most extreme orbit I have ever seen," said Davide Farnocchia, a scientist at NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It is going extremely fast and on such a trajectory that we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back."

The object approached our solar system from almost directly "above" the ecliptic, the approximate plane in space where the planets and most asteroids orbit the Sun, so it did not have any close encounters with the eight major planets during its plunge toward the Sun. On Sept. 2, the small body crossed under the ecliptic plane just inside of Mercury's orbit and then made its closest approach to the Sun on Sept. 9. Pulled by the Sun's gravity, the object made a hairpin turn under our solar system, passing under Earth's orbit on Oct. 14 at a distance of about 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) -- about 60 times the distance to the Moon.

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Earth faces comet catastrophe, in this week’s tabloids

J. Edgar Hoover killed President Kennedy, O.J. Simpson aims to murder Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner, and JonBenet Ramsey’s babysitter tells all, in this week’s reality-divorced tabloids.

JonBenet’s babysitter Kristine Griffin tells the ‘Globe': “The parents didn’t do it - but I know who did.” But she refuses to identify the killer. So much for telling all.

O.J., weeks from going free on parole, is “hell-bent on revenge,” claims the ‘National Enquirer,’ which is a step back from recent tabloid stories that claimed Simpson plans to murder everyone who ever doubted his innocence. Incapable of inventing a motive for O.J.’s murderous rage, a dubiously unnamed source muses: “O.J. blames Kris for everything. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s all her fault.”

Why would FBI director Hoover put a hit out on JFK? “He was being fired for blackmailing prez,” reports the ‘Globe,’ helpfully adding: “Lee Harvey Oswald was on his payroll!” How did they slip that conspiracy past the Warren Commission? Hoover blackmailed the Commissioners with dirt on every one of the investigators. It sounds obvious once it’s explained, doesn’t it?

You have to admire the ‘National Examiner’ for its story on actress Betty White explaining why, at 95, “I’ll never get plastic surgery.” Presumably it’s because the chance to look 20 years younger doesn’t sound that appealing. Why would she want to compete with a bunch of 75-year-old actors when she has the 95-year-old market locked up?

The ‘Examiner’ has come late to the tabloid realization that the British Royal family rarely sue, no matter how egregious the story, and this week devotes its cover to “William Catches Camilla Cheating!” Naturally, the Queen “has demanded Charles get an immediate divorce from his power-hungry wife - and banish her from the kingdom forever.” As if it’s an episode of 'Game of Thrones.’ It’s a shame that this same affair claim appeared in May, 2015, in the ‘Globe,’ which alleged that Charles and Camilla had an explosive fight over her fling with an unnamed British actor. Read the rest

Would you kill to stop an asteroid panic? I asked the creators of Salvation

In six months, a large asteroid is going to hit Earth. It's likely that everyone is going to die. Only a few people know about it, and they are desperately trying to stop it from slamming into the planet. That's the premise of Salvation, a new suspense thriller TV series premiering on CBS this Wednesday, July 12, 2017. Carla and I got an early look at the first episode, and we both loved it for the premise, sense of urgency, moral issues explored, and hints that more is unfolding than meets the eye. Our friends Elizabeth Kruger and Craig Shapiro created the show, so I grabbed them for a quick interview to ask them about what went into making a series that deals with people secretly trying to save humankind.

Mark: What's the conflict in Salvation?

Liz: An asteroid is going to collide with Earth in 186 days, and if our government and/or others don't come up with new technology to solve the problem, we're going to go the way of the dinosaurs. Adding to that conflict is other countries that are also looking into how to solve the problem, and what do you do if the world itself cannot agree on how to solve a problem? And if you solve it on one side of the world what problems does it create for the other side of the world?

Mark: So if the different countries' solutions don't necessarily work in harmony with each other, they could actually conflict with each other. Read the rest

Making a better World War II

My twin brother and I grew up during World War II, and then in its long aftermath, when we lived with our military family in occupied Japan and Germany. WWII was the central pivot of the 20th Century. Before it, there were seven world powers; after, two.

I later was a postdoc working with renowned physicist Edward Teller, who told me many inside stories about the Manhattan Project that built the nuclear (“atomic”) bombs. My natural, science fictional instincts tinkered with the many what-if notions about how the war might have been different, and one became concrete in my mind: what if we’d gotten the bomb earlier? Read the rest

2017: the medium-disastrous projection (as told by Charlie Stross)

Charlie Stross has concluded his three-part, wrist-slittingly hilarious projection of the likely (?) outcomes of 2017, which starts with the death of Queen Elizabeth and a massive economic collapse in the UK, and ends when President Pence gets stomach flu and is replaced, once again, by the disgraced President Trump, whose fingers are itching to press the nuclear button. Read the rest

Alex Jones deletes video promoting 'Pizzagate' conspiracy theory

Unpleasant logorrheic Alex Jones removed one of his videos in which he claimed "Pizzagate is real," and that “it needs to be investigated” after one of his fans went to DC's Comet Ping Pong and fired his gun inside the restaurant. Read the rest

Earth and Space claws at the imagination, yet remains elegantly real

Since Daguerre's first images of the moon in 1839, we have sought to capture the essence of the heavens above us through photography. We built observatories equipped with bigger mirrors and better cameras in the hopes that we will be able to see farther and yet more clearly. When those proved to be insufficient, we detached our telescopes from their earthly housings and set them in orbit.

Of course, looking away, out there, was not enough. We needed to be able to look back at where we are, and from where we came. So we sent astronauts into orbit and probes to comets and rovers to distant planets. And we stared at the photographs we collected in the hopes that they could tell us something more, something else, that maybe they could unlock just one more little mysterious corner of the universe.

As Bill Nye says in his preface, "I hope you appreciate the inherent beauty of each image. But I further hope that each picture and caption whets your curiosity about the science behind the astronomical phenomena."

He needn't worry. This collection claws at the imagination, invoking visions of starships and space flight, of wormholes and black holes and tesseracts and timeslips, and yet remains elegantly, effortlessly real. These are composite images, true, compiled from raw data sent back by those telescopes and probes, but that does nothing to lessen their beauty.

A small bit of clear, easily understood text accompanies each image, explaining the context of what it is we are seeing, whether a nebula or our own sun. Read the rest

Blueprint-style map of alternative music

You're looking at Dorothy Studio's beautiful map of the history of alternative music, available as a poster from their website. Read the rest

Rosetta space probe sends last photo before striking comet to complete its mission

Here's the last image from Europe's space probe Rosetta, taken 50m from the surface of 67P. Read the rest

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