Single Cell Creatures

Have you ever imagined which living creature was the first to be on Earth? Well, the answer is it was a unicellular organism, probably a bacterium. Unicellular organisms also known as single celled organisms, are believed to be the oldest form of life on Earth. These are organisms that consist of a single cell, unlike a multicellular organism that consists of multiple cells. Unicellular organisms do not have conscious thought, the sort you find in humans and other complex animals, due to the fact that single celled organisms do not have a nervous system.

It was believed that due to the fact that single celled organisms have neither a brain nor a nervous system, they do not have the ability to make complex decisions or the ability to memorize. However, scientists say they have recently discovered what they are calling signs and symptoms of complex decision making in a single celled organism, giving a new existence to an idea that was brushed off and not taken seriously over a century ago.

The single celled organism, named Stentor roeselii, is what sparked the interest of the scientists. This aquatic unicellular organism is a free-living ciliate species of the genus Stentor. It is a common and widespread protozoan, found throughout the world in freshwater ponds, lakes, rivers and ditches.

Scientists have found that Stentor roeselii responds differently over a period of a time to the same stimulus. This particular ability of the organism is evidence that it can make choices, or at least does whatever the single-celled equivalent of changing one’s thoughts are. It is not completely accurate to say that a creature without any type of nervous system is actively thinking, however, the discovery challenges many of scientists’ assumptions of animal intelligence.

Scientists started their research on the single celled organism to understand its behavior better. Multiple unicellular organisms were put through a ‘Poke Test’ where they were provided with the same stimulus over a period of time. It was observed that other organisms regularly responded less to repeated stimuli. Stentor roeselii, however, first bent far from the source of the stimulus, but later changed its procedures and flapped its cilia in defense, contracted, or floated away. This behavior is different from other similar single celled organisms.

The probability that the organism would pick one method over some other was almost a 50-50 split, suggesting that some biological mechanism is selecting one over the other almost like it is flipping a coin to choose. Saying that Stentor roeselii can make choices is a vague, rather than precise, explanation. However, until scientists keep probing the complex behavior of the organism, this may be the most accurate way to explain what is going on.

Insect Life on Mars

Can life really exist anywhere else in the universe other than Earth? Does this presence of life prove the existence of aliens? Till now, Mars is the only planet that has shown some kind of signs of the possibility of the existence of life on it. Research on this very topic has been going on for many years. Many found signs of life and many others disregarded those studies. But now, after countless studies on the topic, it is largely believed that there might really be some kind of life that exists on the red planet.

Emeritus William Romoser, a professor at Ohio University, has been conducting detailed research and study on this very topic. He claims that Mars has always had some kind of life on it. Romoser supports his claim by showing internet images taken of the planet where he highlights what looks like an insect on Mars.

There are still many kinds of research going on about the topic. The studies which have already been completed conclude that there is apparent diversity among the Martian insect-like fauna which shows many similarities with the insects found on Earth. The images taken of the Red Planet show the existence of life-forms that look somewhat similar to reptiles and bee-like insects. The pictures show the existence of Martian insects, even though they are blurry, they show different body parts of the insect. On Earth, an insect is identified by the presence of three regions of its body, the presence of a single pair of antennae and around six legs. These characteristics should likewise be valid enough to identify an organism as an insect, even if found on another planet. The insect-like forms which can be seen in the photos taken of Mars somewhat match these characteristics and hence, labelling them as insects should not be incorrect.

Some researchers do not agree with Romoser on his findings. They say that the proof which the professor is providing is not authentic enough. The ‘insects’ which he has highlighted can just merely be rocks or blips on the images. There is no proper believable image proof for the discovery which he claims to have made. They also say that one cannot simply believe such a big claim just because of something which is just a guess and was found in a blurry picture. They refuse to come to terms with the fact that the insect-like forms which he discovered in the pictures really are insects on Mars. They can even be shadows if one wants to call it that.

Although it has not yet been proven whether life really exists on Mars or not, the results of this research should spark the interest of other researchers and organisations to study this topic in more detail and hopefully in years to come, we might possibly get an answer to the most anticipated question ‘Does life exist on another planet?’

Venus Exploration

Every day, we hear stories and news of scientists willing to explore areas that are beyond a layman’s imagination. Now, scientists are planning a mission to Venus. Yes, Venus, the planet which is close to the Sun. It is believed that the planet is not bearable to humans mainly because of the high temperature and other toxic conditions including thick sulphuric acid clouds. However, scientists from NASA are on a mission to explore the planet in the hope of providing us with the most astonishing discoveries. Just like they discovered water while exploring the moon.

You might not be aware of the fact that Venus has been explored several times before. However, it is from the times when social media was non-existent and hardly any news went viral as it does now. Also, the explorations were largely carried out with the help of unmanned spacecraft so no one really has visited the planet personally before.

The existence of thick carbon dioxide clouds created many problems for the missions carried out in the past, making it very difficult for telescopes to penetrate further and this somehow defeated the real purpose of the mission.

NASA’s still don’t know how long it would take to implement a manned mission to Venus since the required technology is not yet available to the scientists. So that means, there is not only a lot of research to do, but the team also needs to figure and invent the right technology to turn the impossible into possible.

If the technology is unable to fulfil the mission properly then how could humans get to the final destination? Well, that depends on how well NASA research and plan out the entire process including the invention of technology that will help them reach their goals. With so many advancements in technology and research methods, we sincerely hope that scientists find the answers soon and that their technology will unveil some mind-boggling discoveries on Venus.

Electricity from Snow?

Scientists from the United States have developed a technology that allows you to receive electricity from snow. The device can be installed permanently, or attached to a bicycle wheel or shoe sole.

In 2019, it is difficult to surprise anyone with solar or wind power stations, electric energy recovery systems in electric vehicles or wireless charging systems which can recharge a smartphone.

However, researchers from California have gone further and created a technology that allows electricity to be generated directly from the snow. According to Science Alert, Nanotech Energy has developed a device that can generate electricity from contact with snow.

The system became possible due to the triboelectric effect i.e. the creation of an electric charge created by friction generated between certain materials. The smallest particles of snow carry a positive electrical charge, and scientists needed to use a suitable negatively charged material to create electricity. Silicon turned out to be such a material.

The device that the company developed is called a Triboelectric Nanogenerator (TENG). Nanotech Energy printed the main electrode on a 3D printer and used silicon as the triboelectric layer that collects electricity.

It is reported that with the help of such a device it is possible to produce electricity both from simple snowfall as well as by attaching the electrode to vehicles or clothing.

A chemist at the University of California explained that static electricity comes from one material that can attract electrons and another material that can give them away. “In this way, you can create electricity out of thin air.”

True, there’s not so much “electricity from nothing”: TENG can generate an instantaneous electromagnetic energy density of up to 0.2 mW/m2, open circuit voltage up to 8 Volts and current density up to 40 μA/m2. In comparison, for bright room lighting, you need an incandescent lamp with an electromagnetic energy density of 20 W/m2.

Nanotech Energy suggests using TENG as a small weather station for real-time weather monitoring, which will be able to provide information on snowfall speed, rainfall, wind direction, etc. In addition, the device can be something like a fitness bracelet for athletes in winter sports, and help them track the movement of the body and its performance.

However, Science Alert also writes that in the future, TENG could be installed in solar panels and used during snowfalls when solar activity is not so high. Given that about 46 million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface are subject to snowfall every year, this technology has a chance of scale and growth.

Harnessing electricity from snow by the triboelectric effect is not the first such technology of its kind. Previously, researchers also showed devices that can produce electricity from rain, physical movements, friction of car tires, and walking on a wooden surface.

Humans Produce More CO2 Than Volcanoes

Every year, humanity releases 100 times more carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere than all the volcanoes on the planet together. This is one of the key findings of a study of carbon stocks in the world that the Deep Carbon Observatory has conducted over the past decade. According to Newsweek, scientists have estimated that there are 1.85 billion gigatons of carbon on Earth. It exists in various forms in soil, in gases and in liquids. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans accounts for 1% of the total matter reserves, that is 43,500 gigatons.

“Carbon, the basis of all living forms and an important source of energy for humanity, is moving across the planet from the mantle to the atmosphere. To maintain a stable future, it is imperative that we understand the full carbon cycle”, said Marie Edmondson of the University of Cambridge, who participated in the DCO program.

One of the mechanisms how carbon enters the Earth’s atmosphere is provided by volcanoes. Magma contains dissolved gases, including carbon dioxide. When a volcano erupts, these substances enter the atmosphere.

The DCO team found that every year, due to the activities of people, 40-100 times more carbon dioxide rises into the air than all the volcanoes on the planet. According to scientists, volcanoes and other magmatic processes spew about 300-400 million tons of carbon dioxide. The publication recalls that mass extinctions are associated with the eruption of volcanoes on Earth, in particular the one that happened 252 million years ago. Then 96% of marine species on the planet died.

Atmospheric CO2 exceeded 415 parts per million for the first time in history. Specifically, it has reached 415.26 parts per million according to the records. Remember that the consensus among experts puts the “safe” limit at 350 ppm.

However, as usual when we talk about climate change, the problem is not the concentration, but the trend. To get an idea, when scientists started recording in 1959, the figures were at 315 ppm and most of the growth has occurred in recent years. According to the United States Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), three of the four largest increases in atmospheric CO2 have occurred in the last four years.

Although, in a way, we are getting used to this type of news, put in perspective the figures give vertigo. As Eric Holthaus explained, we humans have never known a world like this. We have to go back many years in time to find similar CO2 concentrations: about three million years according to the most precise models.

And as the World Meteorological Organization pointed out at the end of 2018, “there are no indications of investment in this trend, which is triggering long-term climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification and a greater number of phenomena extreme weather”.

Therefore, it is much better understood how it is possible that the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity (IPBES) stated that more than one million species were at risk of extinction due to pollution and climate change.

Water Discovered On Another Planet

The universe we live in is vast beyond our wildest imagination, we know that it is infinite and the planet we live on is the only planet suited for life. But, Earth is just one of billions of planets that thrive in the vast universe.

To believe that Earth is the only planet suited to support life amongst is foolish. For years intellectuals have argued that there may exist a planet with conditions somewhat similar to Earth on which life could bloom but so far we have been unable to find it. Until recently, when a planet that goes by the name K2-18b fell under the sight of NASA’s Kepler telescope.

K2-18b is by far the first planet to be discovered that could potentially host life. Lying in the Goldilocks Zone in the Leo constellation, where liquid water has been found, at an ideal temperature to potentially host living organisms in addition to suitable gases that wrap around the planet. First discovered by NASA in 2015, it is approximately 110 lightyears away and behaves much like the Earth, with a few exceptions. For example; the Earth revolves around the sun while K2-18b revolves around a red dwarf that is much cooler than the Sun and only warms up the planet to 10 degrees Celsius. Orbiting at a distance of 14 miles from the dwarf, the planet is said to complete the orbit in approximately 33 days, compared to Earth which completes one orbit in approximately 365 days.

The most important aspect of determining whether a planet can sustain life or not is by determining if there is water present on the planet. Water compromises about 70% of the Earth, without it, life cannot survive let alone thrive. So, to find a planet that could potentially support life, water is the first priority. 2 years after K2-18b’s discovery, NASA’s sole objective was to search for water on the planet. They found that every time the planet moved in front of the dwarf, the wavelength absorbed by the water dropped. Similarly, as the planet crossed, the wavelength rose. For NASA, this confirmed the presence of water vapors. Further studies show that K2-18b is much bigger than Earth nearly twice the size and has a temperature ranging from 0 to 40 degrees Celsius which is optimal in regards to supporting life. In addition to that, studies show that it may be made up of 50% water.

Knowing that another planet besides Earth exists that can support life is an exciting prospect, but with more than a hundred lightyears between the Earth and its equal, we are not inhabiting it anytime soon. But, maybe one day.