There are many bizarre things in Australia, but few go even close to the pink lake Hillier.
Lake Hillier is a pink-coloured lake on Middle Island in Western Australia – the largest island from the Recherche Archipelago, a group of about 105 islands. A narrow strip of land composed of sand dunes covered by vegetation separates it from the ocean. The tiny lake only spans 600 meters wide, but the pink color is just unmistakable – and downright weird. What you’re seeing around it is a ime of white salt and a dense woodland of Paperbark and Eucalypt trees. The first reported sighting dates back to the journals of Matthew Flinders, a British navigator and hydrographer in 1802. Nobody knows exactly why it’s pink! The flamboyant rose pink color does not alter when you take the water and put it into a container, and many biologists believe this is all caused by a combination of low nutrient concentrations and bacteria (Dunaliella salina & Halobacterium, to be more precise).
The scientist who has given a “sixth sense” to laboratory animals by allowing them to detect invisible infrared light has promised an even bigger revolution in the research field he has pioneered.
Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist working at Duke University in the United States, said that he has created a way of allowing animals to communicate with each other through artificial aids connected directly to their brains.
Algae-like structures inside a Sri Lankan meteorite are clear evidence of panspermia, the idea that life exists throughout the Universe, say astrobiologists
On 29 December 2012, a fireball lit up the early evening skies over the Sri Lankan province of Polonnaruwa. Hot, sparkling fragments of the fireball rained down across the countryside and witnesses reported the strong odour of tar or asphalt. Over the next few days, the local police gathered numerous examples of these stones and sent them to the Sri Lankan Medical Research Institute of the Ministry of Health in Colombo. After noticing curious features inside these stones, officials forwarded the samples to a team of astrobiologists at Cardiff University in the UK for further analysis. The results of these tests, which the Cardiff team reveal today, are extraordinary. They say the stones contain fossilised biological structures fused into the rock matrix and that their tests clearly rule out the possibility of terrestrial contamination.
In total, the Jamie Wallis at Cardiff University and a few buddies received 628 stone fragments collected from rice fields in the region. However, they were able to clearly identify only three as possible meteorites. The general properties of these three stones immediately mark them out as unusual. One stone, for example, had a density of less than 1 gram per cubic centimetre, less than all known carbonaceous meteorites. It had a partially fused crust, good evidence of atmospheric heating, a carbon content of up to 4 per cent and contained an abundance of organic compounds with a high molecular weight, which is not unknown in meteorites. On this evidence, Wallis and co think the fireball was probably a small comet.
The most startling claims, however, are based on electron microscope images of structures within the stones (see above). Wallis and co say that one image shows a complex, thick-walled, carbon-rich microfossil about 100 micrometres across that bares similarities with a group of largely extinct marine dinoflagellate algae.
They say another image shows well-preserved flagella that are 2 micrometres in diameter and 100 micrometres long. By terrestrial standards, that’s extremely long and thin, which Wallis and co interpret as evidence of formation in a low-gravity, low-pressure environment.
Wallis and co also measured the abundance of various elements in the samples to determine their origin. They say that low levels of nitrogen in particular rule out the possibility of contamination by modern organisms which would have a much higher nitrogen content. The fact that these samples are also buried within the rock matrix is further evidence, they say.
Wallis and co are convinced that the lines of evidence they have gathered are powerful and persuasive. “This provides clear and convincing evidence that these obviously ancient remains of extinct marine algae found embedded in the Polonnaruwa meteorite are indigenous to the stones and not the result of post-arrival microbial contaminants,” they conclude.
There’s no question that a claim of this kind is likely to generate controversy. Critics have already pointed out that the stones could have been formed by lightning strikes on Earth although Wallis and co counter by saying there was no evidence of lightning at the time of the fireball and that in any case, the stones do not bear the usual characteristics of this kind of strike. What’s more, the temperatures generated by lightning would have destroyed any biological content.
Nevertheless, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and Wallis and co will need to make their samples and evidence available to the scientific community for further study before the claims will be taken seriously. If the paper is taken at face value, one obvious question that arises is where these samples came from. Wallis and co have their own ideas: “The presence of fossilized biological structures provides compelling evidence in support of the theory of cometary panspermia first proposed over thirty years ago,” they say.
This is an idea put forward by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, the latter being a member of the team who has carried out this analysis. There are other explanations, of course. One is that the fireball was of terrestrial origin, a remnant of one of the many asteroid impacts in Earth’s history that that have ejected billions of tonnes of rock and water into space, presumably with biological material inside. Another is that the structures are not biological and have a different explanation.
Either way, considerably more work will have to be done before the claims from this team can be broadly accepted. Exciting times ahead!
An international team of astronomers has announced the discovery of a very rare Type Ibn supernova on the outskirts of a bright elliptical galaxy located about 780 million light-years away. “This supernova is one-of-a-kind. And it’s definitely in the wrong neighborhood,” said Dr. Nathan Sanders of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Based on the presence of helium and other features, the object, dubbed PS1-12sk, is classified as a very rare Type Ibn supernova – only the sixth such example found out of thousands of supernovae.
A new subclass of ‘Type Ibn,’ characterized by intermediate-width He I emission, has emerged since the discovery of the supernova SN 1999cq. Although the origin of these supernovae is unclear, the most likely cause seems to be the explosion of a massive star that previously ejected massive amounts of helium gas. That origin was supported by the fact that the five previous Type Ibn supernovae were all found in galaxies like the Milky Way that are actively forming stars.
PS1-12sk is different. The site of the explosion shows no signs of recent star formation, and a supernova from a massive star has never before been seen in a galaxy of this type.
“It could be that we simply got very lucky with this discovery. But luck favors the prepared,” said co-author Dr Alicia Soderberg, also of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The finding suggests that the host galaxy might be hiding a star factory, allowing it to form massive stars where none were expected. Alternatively, PS1-12sk might have an entirely different origin such as a collision of two white dwarfs, one of which was helium-rich.
“Is this a runaway star from another star formation site? Is it a very local bit of star formation? Is it a different way for such a supernova to occur? None of these seems very likely so we have a real puzzle,” said Dr. John Tonry of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.
A new discovery could rewrite the history books on the Milky Way. According to a new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, our galaxy absorbed a smaller satellite galaxy several million years ago.
At some point in the next decade, if advances in biotechnology continue on their current path, clones of extinct species such as the passenger pigeon, Tasmanian tiger and wooly mammoth could once again live among us. But cloning lost species—or “de-extinction” as some scientists call it—presents us with myriad ethical, legal and regulatory questions that must be answered, such as which (if any) species should be brought back and whether or not such creatures could be allowed to return to the wild. Such questions are set to be addressed at the TEDx DeExtinction conference, a day-long event in Washington, D.C., organized by Stewart Brand’s Revive & Restore project. Brand previewed the topics for discussion last week at the TED2013 conference in Long Beach, Calif.
Scientists are actively working on methods and procedures for bringing extinct species back to life, says Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore and co-organizer of the TEDx event. “The technology is moving fast. What Stewart and I are trying to do with this meeting is for the first time to allow the public to start thinking about this. We’re going to hear from people who take it quite seriously. De-extinction is going to happen, and the questions are how does it get applied, when does it get used, what are the criteria which are going to be set?”
Cloning extinct species has been tried before—with moderate success. An extinct Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo, (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) was born to a surrogate mother goat in 2009, nine years after the last member of its species was killed by a falling tree. The cloned animal lived for just seven minutes. Revive & Restore itself has launched a project to try to resurrect the passenger pigeon, which went extinct in 1914.
Lightning struck the Sahara desert about 15,000 years ago, and left a sign of its presence behind. The heat from the lightning reached a little over 1,800C and melted certain elements in the soil until they fused together.
For ages now, Mauritia has been hiding. The small, precambrian continent once resided between Madagascar and India, before splitting off and disappearing beneath the ocean waves in a multi-million-year breakup spurred by tectonic rifts and a...