Scientists have discovered a warm and rocky “second Earth” circling a star, a find they believe dramatically boosts the prospects that we are not alone.
The planet is the most Earth-like ever spotted and is thought to have perfect conditions for water, an essential ingredient for life. Researchers detected the planet orbiting one of Earth’s nearest stars, a cool red dwarf called Gliese 581, 20 light years away in the constellation of Libra.
Nigel Willmott at the Guardian asks if Richard Dawkins is the new Martin Luthor:
But one man does not make a revolution – political or intellectual; Luther tapped into all the sources of dissatisfaction in his world and very quickly found enthusiastic adherents. And what is interesting about Dawkins is that there seems to be a growing following for his uncompromising views. Over the past two or three years, for instance, Dawkins’ assaults on religion have generated more letters to the Guardian by far than any other single topic. As the religious communities have united to counterattack, secularists and members of the scientific community have become increasingly strident about “superstitious belief in unverifiable beings in the sky”. From being passive a-theists, they are becoming active anti-theists; no longer just critics of the existing religious superstructure of our world, but iconoclasts seeking to radically change or abolish it.
Remember a few years ago when we reported a shark that was born to a virgin mother? Here’s an update:
Scientists have solved the mystery of how a baby shark appeared in a tank of females without the help of a male: it was a virgin birth. The bonnethead shark was born through “parthenogenesis”, a process where an egg develops into an embryo without being fertilised by sperm.
Virgin births, possible in some birds, amphibians, reptiles and bony fishes, are extremely rare. It had never before been confirmed in cartilaginous fish, such as sharks and rays. The birth, in 2001, astonished scientists as placental animals, including this shark, were thought to need genetic material from sperm and egg to produce viable young.
(Thanks Ulysses Lazarus).
Good story for sure, except that the study in question had nothing to do with mobile phones and was actually investigating the influence of electromagnetic fields, especially those used by cordless phones that work on fixed-line networks, on the learning ability of bees. The small study, according to the researchers who carried it out too small for the results to be considered significant, found that the electromagnetic fields similar to those used by cordless phones may interrupt the innate ability of bees to find the way back to their hive.
The standard big bang theory says the universe began with a massive explosion, but the new theory suggests it is a cyclic event that consists of repeating big bangs.
“People have inferred that time began then, but there really wasn’t any reason for that inference,” said Neil Turok, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge, “What we are proposing is very radical. It’s saying there was time before the big bang.”
Under his theory, published today in the journal Science with Paul Steinhardt at Princeton University in New Jersey, the universe must be at least a trillion years old with many big bangs happening before our own. With each bang, the theory predicts that matter keeps on expanding and dissipating into infinite space before another horrendous blast of radiation and matter replenishes it. “I think it is much more likely to be far older than a trillion years though,” said Prof Turok. “There doesn’t have to be a beginning of time. According to our theory, the universe may be infinitely old and infinitely large.”