Making a drug is like trying to pick a lock at the molecular level. There are two ways in which you can proceed. You can try thousands of different keys at random, hopefully finding one that fits. The pharmaceutical industry does this all the time – sometimes screening hundreds of thousands of compounds to see if they interact with a certain enzyme or protein. But unfortunately it’s not always efficient – there are more drug molecule shapes than seconds have passed since the beginning of the universe.
In the past few decades, there has been an explosion in the number of extra-solar planets that have been discovered. As of April 1st, 2018, a total of 3,758 exoplanets have been confirmed in 2,808 systems, with 627 systems having more than one planet. In addition to expanding our knowledge of the Universe, the purpose of this search has been to find evidence of life beyond our Solar System.
We all know we should exercise regularly, but it can be difficult to fit exercise into our busy schedules. Most people can only exercise before or after work, so it’s worth examining whether the time of day we exercise affects outcomes such as weight loss and sleep.
For centuries, human beings have wondered about the possibility of other Earths orbiting distant stars. Perhaps some of these alien worlds would harbor strange forms of life or have unique and telling histories or futures. But it was only in 1995 that astronomers spotted the first planets orbiting sunlike stars outside of our solar system.
In the search for life beyond Earth, scientists have turned up some very interesting possibilities and clues. On Mars, there are currently eight functioning robotic missions on the surface of or in orbit investigating the possibility of past (and possibly present) microbial life. Multiple missions are also being planned to explore moons like Titan, Europa, and Enceladus for signs of methanogenic or extreme life.
Astronomers first noticed an enigmatic object, dubbed “Sagittarius A*”, at the very heart of our Milky Way galaxy in the 1960s – the earliest days of radio and infrared astronomy. But just how extraordinary this source was only became clear three decades later, when it was identified as a supermassive black hole with the mass of whopping four million suns.
This past weekend, a lot of attention was focused on the Tiangong-1 space station. For some time, space agencies and satellite trackers from around the world had been predicting when this station would fall to Earth. And now that it has safely landed in the Pacific Ocean, many people are breathing a sigh of relief. While there was very little chance that any debris would fall to Earth, the mere possibility that some might caused its share of anxiety.
Although radically different in terms of their content and feel, the range of dream states are just as complex as waking states. If we look across an individual’s lifetime, we find that children’s dreams are very different from adults’ dreams. Children tend to dream of emotional interactions with family members, friends and scary animals, while adults dream of other adults. Dreams of young adults are filled with social interactions between the dreamer and current friends and significant others. Men’s dreams differ substantially from women’s dreams, with women dreaming equally often of men and women, and men dreaming more often about other men. Older adults tend to dream more about creative works, legacies and enduring concerns, while the dreams of dying people are filled with numbers of supernatural agents, other-worldly settings and images of reunions with a loved one who has died. Dreams that transport the child into the social world of his caretakers during early life gently escort the dreamer into the arms of his loved ones when life is nearing an end. Dreams accompany us literally from the cradle to the grave.
More than halfway across the universe, an enormous blue star nicknamed Icarus is the farthest individual star ever seen. Normally, it would be much too faint to view, even with the world’s largest telescopes. But through a quirk of nature that tremendously amplifies the star’s feeble glow, astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope were able to pinpoint this faraway star and set a new distance record. They also used Icarus to test one theory of dark matter, and to probe the make-up of a foreground galaxy cluster.
Roughly 65 million light-years away from Earth is a galaxy called NGC 1052-DF2 (DF2 for short). But DF2 may as well be called F-U, because that’s what it’s saying to scientists who thought they understood galaxies, dark matter, and really anything about our universe.
Astronomer Ed Shaya was in his office looking at data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope in 2012 when he noticed something unusual: The light from a galaxy had quickly brightened by 10 percent. The sudden bump in light got Shaya instantly excited, but also nervous. The effect could be explained by the massive explosion of a star -- a supernova! -- or, more troublingly, a computer error.
Thanks to the many missions that have been studying Mars in recent years, scientists are aware that roughly 4 billion years ago, the planet was a much different place. In addition to having a denser atmosphere, Mars was also a warmer and wetter place, with liquid water covering much of the planet’s surface. Unfortunately, as Mars lost its atmosphere over the course of hundreds of millions of years, these oceans gradually disappeared.
Since time immemorial, philosophers and scholars have sought to determine how existence began. With the birth of modern astronomy, this tradition has continued and given rise to the field known as cosmology. And with the help of supercomputing, scientists are able to conduct simulations that show how the first stars and galaxies formed in our Universe and evolved over the course of billions of years.
Some might say it’s paranoid to think about an asteroid hitting Earth and wiping us out. But the history of life on Earth shows at least 5 major extinctions. And at least one of them, about 65 million years ago, was caused by an asteroid.
Mathematical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking was best known for his work exploring the relationship between black holes and quantum physics. A black hole is the remnant of a dying supermassive star that’s fallen into itself; these remnants contract to such a small size that gravity is so strong even light cannot escape from them. Black holes loom large in the popular imagination – schoolchildren ponder why the whole universe doesn’t collapse into one. But Hawking’s careful theoretical work filled in some of the holes in physicists’ knowledge about black holes.
Astronomers have made the most precise measurement to date of the rate at which the universe is expanding.But there’s also some unsettling news: The new number remains at odds with independent measurements of the early universe’s expansion, which could mean that there is something unknown about the makeup of the universe.
For decades, ever since the Pioneer and Voyager missions passed through the outer Solar System, scientists have speculated that life might exist within icy bodies like Jupiter’s moon Europa. However, thanks the Cassini mission, scientists now believe that other moons in the outer Solar System – such as Saturn’s moon Enceladus – could possibly harbor life as well.
In 2006, Nature published a paper describing how stem cells could be used to restore sight in blind mice. This study, and similar subsequent studies, created a lot of excitement about the potential of stem cells to cure blindness in humans. Fast forward 12 years and we still don’t seem to be quite there – one notable human clinical trial in Japan was stopped in 2015 due to a risk of tumour development in a patient’s eye. So are we any closer to using stem cell therapies to treat blindness, or will we always be “ten years away”?
Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, is currently a leading candidate for scientists searching for the ingredients for extraterrestrial life. One new study shows how microorganisms could survive there, living off of methane.
When we finally find life somewhere out there beyond Earth, it’ll be at the end of a long search. Life probably won’t announce its presence to us, we’ll have to follow a long chain of clues to find it. Like scientists keep telling us, at the start of that chain of clues is water.
Finding past or present microbial life on Mars would without doubt be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. And in just two years’ time, there’s a big opportunity to do so, with two rovers launching there to look for signs of life – Mars2020 by NASA and ExoMars by the European Space Agency and Roscosmos.
It has been theorized that a world could be habitable even if doesn't orbit a star. After the expulsion of moons from solar systems, moons and planets could be close enough to create tidal heating, potentially making a rogue moon habitable.
Researchers mimicked the conditions of space to test if the building blocks of life could be formed. The results showed that organic molecules could originate from space radiation interacting with icy surfaces.
The planet Proxima b, which is in our closest neighboring star system, has given the space exploration project "Breakthrough Starshot" a reachable target. We don't know if Starshot will reveal a habitable planet for humans, but it will definitely require us to master our own solar system.
People rarely enjoy meeting a jellyfish. On the beach they appear limp, amorphous, and blistered in the sun. In the water it’s often a brush of a tentacle on exposed skin followed by a sting. They hardly evoke the serene elegance of a turtle or the majesty of a breaching humpback whale. But despite making a poor first impression, jellyfish are among the most unusual animals on Earth and deserve a second chance to introduce themselves.
The search for extra-solar planets has turned up some very interesting discoveries. Aside planets that are more-massive versions of their Solar counterparts (aka. Super-Jupiters and Super-Earths), there have been plenty of planets that straddle the line between classifications. And then there were times when follow-up observations have led to the discovery of multiple planetary systems.
We have accomplished a lot in our (relatively) short time on Earth. We’ve sent humans to the Moon and to live in space, developed massive and sophisticated telescopes to see the farthest reaches of the cosmos, and even rocketed rovers to Mars and probes to the edge of our solar system. However, a number of organizations have taken humanity’s voyage into the final frontier a step farther. NASA, the European Space Agency, and the research collective behind the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have been working tirelessly to find out if we are alone, once and for all.