Our Solar System Is a Rare Gem

first_imgAs if in time for the upcoming film release of The Privileged Planet (see 06/24/2004 headline), Philip Ball wrote a line for Nature Science Update that would have dismayed Carl Sagan and a host of SETI researchers: “Earth-like planets may be more rare than thought… In cosmic terms, our solar system could be special after all.”  The opinion is coming from research on extrasolar planets that suggests they were formed by a different process than what formed ours.  If that is so, according to Martin Beer, our solar system may be highly unusual and “there won’t necessarily be lots of other Earths up there.”  Ball comments,Ever since Copernicus displaced the Earth from the centre of the Universe, astronomers have tended to assume that there is nothing special about our place in the cosmos.  But apparently our planetary system might not be so normal after all.  Is it just chance that makes Jupiter different from other extrasolar planets?  Beer and his colleagues suspect not.Ball suggests that our solar system was formed by accretion of planetesimals, whereas the extrasolar planets seen so far were formed by a rapid disk instability process.  The observations show 110 Jupiter-class objects with wildly eccentric orbits or orbits too close to the star; in either case, rocky planets in the habitable zone could not exist.  In contrast, our Jupiter is far from the sun, and both Earth and Jupiter have nearly circular orbits.  More observations will be required to discern whether there really are two methods for making solar systems, and for determining “how unusual we really are.”    An article on Astrobiology Magazine makes a similar statement.  “On the evidence to date, our solar system could be fundamentally different from the majority of planetary systems around stars because it formed in a different way.  If that is the case, Earth-like planets will be very rare.”  Space.Com has a similar report.It was common for magazine and newspaper articles in the Sagan era to claim as matters of fact, “We are nothing special,” and to drone in weary prose set to timeless Vangelis music about how we are lost in space, drifting aimlessly on a tiny speck of insignificant dust in a vast, uncaring universe.  The data so far are not supporting that point of view.  Also, to set the record straight, Copernicus did not displace Earth from the center of the universe, because medieval cosmologists never put it there to begin with (see 06/24/2004 headline).    It’s refreshing to see Philip Ball and some others starting to change their tone and recognize the extraordinary congruence of improbable factors that make our planet beautiful.  Next step is to help them cure their bad habit of talking like eyewitness news reporters, and treating speculative theories as historical facts.  Most of the following fairy tale from the NSU article, for instance, is built on imagination, not fact:The planets in our Solar System were put together from small pieces.  The cloud of gas and dust that surrounded our newly formed Sun agglomerated into little pebbles, which then collided and stuck together to form rocky boulders and eventually mini-planets, called planetesimals.  The coalescence of planetesimals created rocky planets such as Earth and Mars, and the solid cores of giant planets such as Jupiter, which then attracted thick atmospheres of gas.Recent observations are showing that stars blast away their dust disks in short order, far too rapidly for the formation of planets, even if the rest of the fairy tale were true.  But then, small bits of dust and rock do not stick together; they bounce.  What’s more, it takes a pretty large body to have enough gravity to start attracting material around it, and then it has to stop attracting material in time to avoid being dragged into the star.  So there are multiple improbabilities in getting a solar system to form.  Even the showcase of planetary evolution, Tau Ceti, is now looking too hostile to be considered a planet garden (see 07/06/2004 headline).  If you don’t accept the Design viewpoint, you have to thank your lucky star: the sun.(Visited 12 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

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Is Adenine Additive?

first_imgA paper in PNAS argues that adenine can form in plausible prebiotic conditions.1  Does this add to the story of chemical evolution leading to life on Earth?    Some chemists at the University of Georgia explored the chemical steps necessary to form adenine (one of the bases used in DNA).  Adenine has been found in extraterrestrial environments.  They found that ammonia or water can act as a catalyst to get the incipient molecule past some of the energy hurdles of ring formation.  After describing their investigation in detail, they remarked, “Finding a viable, thermodynamically feasible, step-by-step mechanism that can account for the formation of adenine did not prove to be easy.”  Nevertheless, they felt that their success will motivate others to find how the remaining DNA bases could have formed naturally.    The authors went far beyond merely elucidating the mechanism behind the formation of adenine in meteorites or interstellar space.  They explicitly claimed that it contributes to understanding how life originated:Our report provides a more detailed understanding of some of the chemical processes involved in chemical evolution, and a partial answer to the fundamental question of molecular biogenesis.  Our investigation should trigger similar explorations of the detailed mechanisms of the abiotic formation of the remaining nucleic acid bases and other biologically relevant molecules.In fact, the first line in the paper is, “How did life begin?  The presence of biomolecules was a prerequisite, but the origin of even the simplest of these remains a fascinating but unsolved puzzle.”  Understanding the origin of adenine, to them, thus would constitute progress in the story of life’s origin.1.  Roy, Najafian and Schleyer, “Chemical evolution: The mechanism of the formation of adenine under prebiotic conditions,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published online before print October 19, 2007; 10.1073/pnas.0708434104.Did you notice the logical trick?  It is one question to account for the observed extraterrestrial formation of a chemical, but quite another to suggest it is relevant to the origin of life.  This presupposes naturalism—the very question that ought to be up for debate.    If that is what they wanted to do (prove naturalism) they should have stated their presuppositions and goals objectively, but they didn’t.  They snuck their presuppositions into the paper as if nobody would notice or care.  Well, we care.  We are not going to let them suggest that explaining adenine has anything to do with supporting philosophical naturalism, any more than would explaining water, dust, plasma or the laws of nature.  This is like a Democrat claiming, “We explained the mechanism of voting machines, therefore President Bush stole the election.”  Voters used voting machines, but that has no bearing on the very different question of how they were used.  They might as well explain the chemical pathway of a component of a computer chip as support for the belief that computer software wrote itself.  Adenine is a substrate used in life for coded messages.  Just like understanding the chemistry of paper and ink says nothing about the origin of the message in a book, understanding the chemistry of adenine says nothing about the genetic code.  Is a cathode-ray tube aware that Survivorman is playing through its electrons?  Did the CRT organize itself for this purpose?  Neither does adenine form for the purpose of self-organizing into a living system.    We must not allow materialists to invoke the chemistry lab as support for their philosophy.  That is called begging the question.  Only by assuming that life is no more than chemistry can they make that connection.(Visited 9 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

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Man Climbs Glass Like a Gecko

first_imgBio-inspired technologies are starting to reach the market.Gecko PadsA heavy man with a pack climbed up a sheet of glass, and it wasn’t Spider-Man.  It was a volunteer testing out new dry adhesive technology inspired by gecko toes.  “During testing, an operator climbed 25 feet vertically on a glass surface using no climbing equipment other than a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles,”  a press release from DARPA states.  “The climber wore, but did not require, the use of a safety belay.”DARPA’s Z-Man program has demonstrated the first known human climbing of a glass wall using climbing devices inspired by geckos. The historic ascent involved a 218-pound climber ascending and descending 25 feet of glass, while also carrying an additional 50-pound load in one trial, with no climbing equipment other than a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles….The goal of the program is to develop biologically inspired climbing aids to enable warfighters carrying a full combat load to scale vertical walls constructed from typical building materials.“The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the Animal Kingdom, so it was natural for DARPA to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the maneuver challenges that U.S. forces face in urban environments,” said Dr. Matt Goodman, the DARPA program manager for Z-Man. “Like many of the capabilities that the Department of Defense pursues, we saw with vertical climbing that nature had long since evolved the means to efficiently achieve it. The challenge to our performer team was to understand the biology and physics in play when geckos climb and then reverse-engineer those dynamics into an artificial system for use by humans.”Geckos can climb on a wide variety of surfaces, including smooth surfaces like glass, with adhesive pressures of 15-30 pounds per square inch for each limb, meaning that a gecko can hang its entire body by one toe. The article describes how gecko toes can cling to many surfaces, without glue, using atomic (van der Waals) forces from billions of tiny spatulae on its feet.  One can see many practical applications in the consumer market for this capability.  In addition to “reversible adhesives for potential biomedical, industrial, and consumer applications” mentioned by DARPA, many a kid would love to play Spider-Man or Gecko-Man.Eye CameraAnother example of biomimetics coming to market was announced by IEEE in a press release: “Sony Creates Curved CMOS Sensors That Mimic the Eye.” Coming soon to a camera or smartphone camera near you will be curved detectors that do a better job at light collection.The retinas of humans and other animals line the curved inner surface of the eye. Now, in a bit of biomimicry, Sony engineers reports that they have created a set of curved CMOS image sensors using a “bending machine” of their own construction.The result is a simpler lens system and higher sensitivity, Kazuichiro Itonaga, a device manager with Sony’s R&D Platform in Atsugi-shi, Japan reported on Tuesday at the Symposium on VLSI Technology in Honolulu, Hawaii.There are several advantages to a curved, retina-like sensor: (1) better light collection, (2) better sensitivity at the edges, and (3) less noise per pixel.  “All told, the curved systems were 1.4 times more sensitive at the center of the sensor and twice as sensitive at the edge, according to the Sony engineers.”PhysOrg said no dates have been provided for when the curved sensors will appear in Sony products, but the buzz is that it could be soon.  One photography blog said it promises to be “an impressive leap forward in digital imaging technology.”  Perhaps it would be better described as an impressive leap backward to technology that was already there.Other Biomimetics NewsSpider venom inspires bee-safe pesticide (Science Magazine)It’s springtime for the artificial leaf at Caltech (Nature)Understanding mussels’ stickiness could lead to better surgical and underwater glues (American Chemical Society)The NaysayerAre humans better inventors than nature?  “Simply copying nature is no way to succeed at inventing,” David Taylor challenged on The Conversation.  “Just ask Leonardo da Vinci” whose attempts to copy bird flight never got off the ground.  Taylor sees “bio-inspired engineering” only as a heuristic start.  “At some point you have to give up the love affair, dump nature and move on,” he says.  “The problem is that simply copying nature doesn’t work.”  In human engineering design, he argues, we cannot endure the failure rate nature tolerates, like fractured bones or breaking tree limbs.  Some designs that inspire engineers don’t scale well, he adds.  A tiny mite that runs faster than a cheetah in terms of body lengths per second.  Humans, though, are more interested in absolute speed, not relative speed, so that knowledge is not very practical for engineers.  “Nature can be a wonderful muse, an excellent starting point in the development of a new engineering device or material, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that nature has already solved your problems for you,” he ends.  While he may have a point, the gold rush from engineers bringing bio-inspired devices to market may leave him muttering to himself in their dust.Let’s see Taylor do anything that nature does better.  Let’s see him invent something that mimics a living organism, that develops itself from an internal program, lives off the environment, and makes copies of itself.  If the efficiency, robustness and optimization of nature’s designs were not so good, then whole university departments and companies would not be rushing to copy them.  The better way to express his point is that human engineers have to make compromises that nature does not.  We have to take shortcuts to make cheap imitations of nature’s designs.We apologize for cluttering the Amazing Facts award with DARPA’s dumb remark, “nature had long since evolved the means to efficiently achieve it.”  We cannot take responsibility for the bad habits of our sources. 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India fined for slow over-rate in Cape Town Test

first_imgThe India have been fined for maintaining a slow over-rate during the second innings against South Africa in the ongoing third and last Test in Cape Town, an ICC release said on Thursday.ICC Match Referee Andy Pycroft imposed the fine after Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side was ruled to be three overs short of its target when time allowances were taken into consideration. In accordance with the ICC code of conduct regulations governing minor over-rate offences, players are fined 10 per cent of their match fees for every over their side fails to bowl in the allotted time, with the captain fined double that amount. As such, Dhoni was fined 60 per cent of his match fee while his players received 30-per-cent fines.If Dhoni is found guilty of two further minor over-rate offences in Tests over the next 12 months, he will receive a one-match suspension as per the provisions of the ICC code of conduct.last_img read more

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Border Patrol agent shot at near San Ysidro Port of Entry

first_img Categories: Local San Diego News FacebookTwitter Posted: September 9, 2018 SAN YSIDRO (KUSI) — A U.S. Border Patrol agent was shot at Sunday while sitting in his marked patrol car near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.It happened shortly after 2:15 a.m. about one-and-a-half-miles west of the border crossing, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.The agent was not wounded and then drove to a safer location after the shooting, CBP officials said. Several bullet holes were found on the driver’s side of the vehicle.CPB officials then contacted their Mexican counterparts about the attack.Mexican authorities took two people into custody.The FBI also was investigating the shooting. September 9, 2018 KUSI Newsroom KUSI Newsroom, Border Patrol agent shot at near San Ysidro Port of Entrylast_img read more

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Last San Diego roller skating rink faces closure

first_imgLast San Diego roller skating rink faces closure March 5, 2019 KUSI Newsroom, Posted: March 5, 2019 KUSI Newsroom center_img Categories: Local San Diego News FacebookTwitter 00:00 00:00 spaceplay / pause qunload | stop ffullscreenshift + ←→slower / faster ↑↓volume mmute ←→seek  . seek to previous 12… 6 seek to 10%, 20% … 60% XColor SettingsAaAaAaAaTextBackgroundOpacity SettingsTextOpaqueSemi-TransparentBackgroundSemi-TransparentOpaqueTransparentFont SettingsSize||TypeSerif MonospaceSerifSans Serif MonospaceSans SerifCasualCursiveSmallCapsResetSave SettingsSAN DIEGO (KUSI) – It could be the end of an era for thousands of people who love old school roller skating.That’s because the one and only skating rink in San Diego could be disappearing.Skateworld has been open for 45-years but the land is owned by the City of San Diego, and they just sold it to a developer. Updated: 12:29 PMlast_img read more

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