Visiting the dead on Google Street View

Over at OK Whatever, Jessie Schiewe tells of people who have looked up family addresses on Google Street View and found ghostly images of their dead loved ones in the midst of their everyday lives -- mowing the lawn, grabbing the mail, washing the car. From OK Whatever:

...For most people, finding dead relatives in Google Street View can be a great comfort. The father-in-law of a Reddit user called lovelyriver2929 was elated when he discovered his late-wife standing in front of their home in one of the photos taken of their address.

“He goes and looks at it sometimes,” she wrote. “He loves it because it was just her doing something completely normal on a completely normal day.”

For some people, it’s a reminder of what their loved ones looked like before they got sick, when they were still healthy enough to go outside and wash the car or mow the lawn. Sometimes these are even the last known images to be taken of a person.

“My grandpa died in 2017 and no one had any pictures with him from recent years. He only took photos when he was holding babies, and all us grandkids are in our teens and 20s,” one Reddit user wrote. “But I did this same thing and found a Google Street View photo of him mowing his front lawn from 2016. It was really good to see him doing something he loved to do and was always doing when he was here.”

And then sometimes, the ghosts vanish. Read the rest

WATCH: single-celled zygote becomes a newt

In Jan van IJken's "Becoming", a single cell becomes a complete organism in "six pulsing minutes of timelapse." (More of IJken's work is featured at Aeon) Read the rest

Who Americans spend their time with

Dan Kopf's Who Americans spend their time with is a chart—six of them—that show the number of hours a day people spend with n over the course of their lives. Together they tell a story. The sixth is a gut-punch. But not, perhaps, if you're introverted.

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This video will show you how to live so long, you'll be the oldest person alive on the planet.

It's complicated.

Connecticut kills death penalty

Judges struck down the state's death penalty, commuting 11 doomed killers' sentences to life imprisonment, notwithstanding the fact the state hasn't actually executed anyone since 1960 except Michael Ross.

The divided, 4-3 ruling cited factors that have come up in other states to abolish the death penalty including racial and economic disparities in its use, the costs involved with appeals, the cruelty of the wait for execution and the risk of executing innocent people.

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Father and son take same photo for 27 years

Quite moving, really.

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LIFE revisits 1950s "fad" for Confederate flags

LIFE photo editor Liz Ronk and writer Eliza Berman looked through their archives, writing with clear-eyed hindsight of LIFE's Truman-era collection of Confederate flag photos. Read the rest

Your name in the Game of Life

A great one-shot site: punch your name in and watch it explode into a mass of wiggling cellular automata. Read the rest

Planetary overprotection: Have we made ourselves Mars' helicopter parents?

We've talked here before about the Office of Planetary Protection and efforts to make sure that we Earthlings don't contaminate the rest of the galaxy with our bacteria, viruses, and other assorted detritus. Now, some scientists are arguing that we've done this job too well, effectively barring ourselves from exploring the parts of Mars that are most likely to be hospitable to life precisely because they could also be hospitable to tagalong life from Earth. Read the rest

Two good reasons to question the claim that alien life has been found in Earth's atmosphere

First, neither the authors of the paper, nor the journal its published in, have the best track record for careful work, well-documented research, or non-hyperbolic results. More important, the actual paper, itself, makes claims it can't back up. Case in point, says Phil Plait, the alien in question is a particle the authors assume is part of a diatom — a single-celled plant. The paper actually says "assume", and, from the sounds of things, they haven't even checked out that basic, important idea with a diatom expert. Read the rest

Are you dead yet? Letter sent to pensioners to confirm existence

From the BBC: "A letter sent to about 4,000 retired people in Jersey asking if they still exist has been described as offensive by some of those who received it. ... The department said it wanted to make sure money was not paid into the accounts of people who had died." [via Arbroath] Read the rest

Why raindrops don't kill mosquitoes

For a mosquito, every summer storm is like a million Volkswagen Beetles falling from the sky. How do they survive the deadly deluge? Meghan Cetera explains at Popular Science. Read the rest

Meet Pando, the world's oldest living organism

Pando is 80,000 years old. Pando is grove of aspen trees in Utah. Tremble before Pando. Read the rest

Some planets are harder to leave than others

At his Psychology Today blog, Michael Chorost delves into a question about exoplanets that I've not really thought much about before — how easy they would be to leave.

Many of the potentially habitable exoplanets that we've found — the ones we call "Earth-like" — are actually a lot bigger than Earth. That fact has an effect — both on how actually habitable those planets would be for us humans and how easily any native civilizations that developed could slip the surly bonds of gravity and make it to outer space.

The good news, says Chorost is that the change in surface gravity wouldn't be as large as you might guess, even for planets much bigger than Earth. The bad news: Even a relatively small increase in surface gravity can mean a big increase in how fast a rocket would have to be going in order to leave the planet. It starts with one equation — SG=M/R^2.

Let’s try it with [exoplanet] HD 40307g, using data from the Habitable Exoplanet Catalog. Mass, 8.2 Earths. Radius, 2.4 times that of Earth. That gets you a surface gravity of 1.42 times Earth.

... it’s amazingly easy to imagine a super-Earth with a comfortable gravity. If a planet had eight Earth masses and 2.83 times the radius, its surface gravity would be exactly 1g. This is the “Fictional Planet” at the bottom of the table. Fictional Planet would be huge by Earth standards, with a circumference of 70,400 miles and an area eight times larger.

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The infrastructure of longevity — a systems-level perspective of living to 100

I really enjoyed reading a recent story in The New York Times Magazine about attempts to understand extreme longevity — the weird tendency for certain populations to have larger-than-average numbers of people who live well into their 90s, if not 100s.

Written by Dan Buettner, the piece focuses on the Greek island of Ikaria, and, in many ways, it's a lot like a lot of the other stories I've read on this subject. From a scientific perspective, we don't really understand why some people live longer than others. And we definitely don't understand why some populations have more people who live longer. There are lots of theories. Conveniently, they tend to coincide with our own biases about what we currently think is most wrong with our own society. So articles about extremely long-lived populations tend to offer a lot of inspiring stories, some funny quotes from really old people, and not a lot in the way of answers.

Buettner's story has all those elements, but it also proposes some ideas that were, for me, really thought provoking. After spending much of the article discussing the Ikarian's diet (it's low in meat and sugar, high in antioxidants, and includes lots of locally produced food and wine) and their laid-back, low-stress way of life, Buettner doesn't suggest that we'll all live to be 100 if we just, individually, try to live exactly like the Ikarians do. In fact, he points out that other communities of long-lived individuals actually live differently — Californian Seventh-Day Adventists, for instance, eat no meat at all and don't drink, and they live with the normal stresses of everyday American life. Read the rest

We have the technology to look for life on Mars

The Curiosity rover can do a lot of things, but nobody is expecting her to find direct evidence of life on Mars. In fact, the hunt for life on the Red Planet has been a pretty stunted one. The last time we really looked was during the Viking missions, which tried to find chemical "footprints" that would exist if there had once been life on Mars, but that could end up on that planet for other reasons, as well. What we got back was a less-than-enthralling "Outlook Hazy. Try Again Later."

Ever since, we've contented ourselves with searching for indirect evidence — assessing the planet for signs that it might once have had the conditions necessary for life to happen. That's important, and it will make direct evidence of life more believable if we ever do find it, but it's not quite the same thing.

But now, DNA sequencing tools have become portable enough (and drilling technology has become powerful enough) that some scientists and Craig Ventner think we could send a probe to Mars which could find buried traces of actual DNA protected in the dirt and sequence that DNA on site.

It's also possible that life hitched a ride between Earth and Mars in their early days. Asteroid impacts have sent about a billion tonnes of rock careering between the two planets, potentially carrying DNA or its building blocks. That could mean that any genetic material on Mars is similar enough to DNA that we have a chance of finding it using standard tests.

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New study suggests "arsenic life" is actually a phosphate glutton

Remember arsenic life? In 2010 NASA researchers thought they'd found evidence that certain bacteria could use arsenic in their DNA where all other forms of life on Earth use phosphate. Then it turned out their research was really flawed. Then it turned out they were wrong. In general, there was a to-do.

Fast forward to this month, when scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel published a study in which they were trying to figure out how bacteria can tell the difference between phosphate and arsenate and "know" to prefer the phosphate. They used phosphate-collecting proteins from four different species of bacteria in their research, including the one that had been at the center of the arsenic life controversy. And along the way, they discovered a fun twist to that story. Read the rest

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