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Astronomer Wonders If We’ve Looked Hard Enough For Signs of Long Extinct Alien Life


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Astronomer Wonders If We’ve Looked Hard Enough For Signs of Long Extinct Alien Life

Yesterday 5:20pm

Image: NASA, JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus is the latest target in the perennial excitement around finding extraterrestrial life. Its warm subterranean ocean is thought to contain all the right ingredients to harbor alien microbes, which would arguably be the biggest scientific discovery in human history. While finding microbes—even biosignatures on places like Mars—would be incredible, perhaps we’re overlooking something critical in the search for life in our solar system, specifically intelligent life. Take that, tiny microbes.

A new paper from astronomer Jason Wright, Prior Indigenous Technological Species, poses the question: Have we exhausted our options in searching for signs of extremely old, intelligent life? Contrary to what this outlet or this outlet or this outlet claims, Wright’s paper does not offer any evidence or proof of an ancient alien civilization—instead, it ruminates on whether or not there’s a chance we’re overlooking some critical clue in our hunt.

“There is zero evidence for any prior indigenous technological civilizations,” Wright told Gizmodo. “My paper asks, have we completely foreclosed the possibility, or is there a chance that there could be some evidence we overlooked? [And] if we have overlooked something and we find it in the future, what are the chances it could have come from a prior indigenous technological species versus an interstellar one?”

Wright suggests the idea of looking for “technosignatures” within our solar system—traces left behind from life that hypothetically would have existed millions to billions years ago. While Mars has long been a favorite in the hunt for signs of extinct life, there’s growing evidence that Venus could have been habitable in the very distant past—some models suggest that in the distant past, the planet had liquid water oceans for up to 2 billion years, which is long enough for life to evolve.

Technosignatures, however, are a bit different from the “biosignatures” astronomers will be looking for on places like Mars or eventually, within theTRAPPIST-1 system.

“A ‘biosignature’ is any sort of indication that life exists somewhere,” Wright explained. “Astrobiologists hope to look for biosignatures in the atmospheres of other planets on on Mars or Europa, things like oxygen or other products of biology and metabolism. A ‘technosignature’ is evidence of technology.” An example of a technosignature would be an artificial radio signal from a distant star. In our own solar system, Wright suggests it might be worth looking for signs of alien space mining activity, or even underground settlements. “We might conjecture that settlements or bases on [rocky moons or asteroids] would have been built beneath the surface for a variety of reasons, and so still be discoverable today,” he writes.

Because we’re living in the era of Ancient Aliens, it might seem natural to compare this to the “ancient astronaut” idea the show explores. For those who have not seen a meme in the last five years, the idea is that a group of intelligent extraterrestrials visited Earth thousands of years ago and helped them achieve various feats of science and engineering. But according to Wright, his paper suggests “quite the opposite.”

“‘Ancient’ means something very different to an astronomer than to a historian,” he said. “We think ‘billions of years,’ but in history ‘ancient’ means “thousands of years.” These aliens, if they ever truly existed, would not have influenced humanity at all, since they would have gone extinct long before our ancestors roamed Earth.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

So if technosignatures from intelligent life are somewhere out there in the solar system, where could they be? Unfortunately, searching here on our Pale Blue Dot would be pretty inefficient because, well, people. And plate tectonics.

“The Earth (and humanity) destroys evidence of technology very efficiently in most cases,” Wright explained. “Millions of humans lived and used tools on the Earth for tens of thousands of years but archaeologists can only recover and recognize tiny fraction of their tools. If such a species lived millions of years ago very little of their technology would be detectable today.”

Still, not all hope is lost for finding technosignatures of past alien civilizations on Earth. In his paper, Wright suggests studying the oldest rocks on Earth and looking for unnatural isotope ratios—something that would provide us with even the smallest hint of technologically adept life that existed before humans. And while finding technosignatures on our planet might be tricky, places like the Moon or Mars might offer a more pristine record of the distant past.

“Work on Earth could show that there has never been a prior tree of complex life, that there are no signs of recognizable technology in the geological record (say, evidence of prior fossil fuel burning or nuclear reactions), and that we would have seen such evidence if it existed,” Wright said. “The surfaces of the Moon and Mars are ancient, so if we can show that there is nothing on or just beneath them that would indicate technology that would make it pretty unlikely anything was ever there.”

In short, if we’re going to embark on an alien scavenger hunt, we might as well pursue all our options.

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RIP Cassini: A Look Back At the Doomed Probe’s Most Stunning Saturn Pictures


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RIP Cassini: A Look Back At the Doomed Probe’s Most Stunning Saturn Pictures

4/04/17 10:37am

Photo of Saturn by Cassini, taken on December 18, 2012. (Image: NASA)

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Today, NASA will announce the details regarding its Cassini spacecraft’s Grand Finale—a resplendent ending to its 20-year-long adventure in space, which will begin later this month. From late April to September 15th, Cassini will perform 22 dramatic dives between Saturn and its rings. Then, the brave little orbiter will plunge itself into Saturn’s atmosphere and burn up like a meteor—all while sending information back to Earth.

The orbiter, which launched on October 15th, 1997, reached the Saturn system in 2004. Since then, it’s beamed back countless gigabytes of data and breathtaking photos, enabling the publication of more than 3,000 scientific reports, according to NASA. It’s had a good run, but now, it must die—Cassini is running out of fuel, and scientists fear that if it crashes into one of Saturn’s 62 moons, the orbiter could contaminate them.

To be fair, going out in a blaze of glory (literally) is the most dignified way to go. Before she leaves us forever, let’s take a look back at some of Cassini’s greatest hits:

View of Saturn’s moon, Titan (December 4th, 2015)

Image: NASA

Saturn and its moon, Tethys. Tethys isn’t that small—Saturn’s just huge. (November 26, 2012)

Image: NASA

Spinning vortex on Saturn’s north pole, AKA “The Rose.” (April 29, 2013)

Image: NASA

Saturn and its large son (read: moon), Titan. (August 29th, 2012)

Image: NASA

Saturn and five of its moons. (September 12, 2011)

Image: NASA

Saturn’s tiny moon, Pan, AKA the “dumpling moon.” (March 7th, 2017)

Image: NASA

View from within Saturn’s shadow. (February 3rd, 2016)

Image: NASA

Enceladus’ north pole. (October 15th, 2015)

Image: NASA

Saturn’s moon, Helene. She’s small. (September 17th, 2010)

Saturn’s “Death Star” Moon, Mimas. (October 22nd, 2016)

Of course, some rings. (May 23rd, 2005)

Image: NASA

RIP Cassini (1997-2017)

This Video of Cuttlefish Trying to Bang Will Scar You For Life


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This Video of Cuttlefish Trying to Bang Will Scar You For Life

Today 5:22pm

Dramatic video of two male cuttlefish fighting over a female consort (Aegean Sea, 2011). Credit: Derya Akkaynak and Justine Allen

When you hear “cuttlefish,” naturally, you think “cuddly,” right? Turns out these charming little cephalopods can—and will—throw down if they have to, especially when it involves mating. In a newly-released video, two male cuttlefish suitors duke it out for a lady, and there’s nothing that can prepare you for the violent ending.

The video was captured in on May 2nd, 2011, when a team of scientists from Brown University was scuba diving in Turkey. The researchers were observing European cuttlefish in their natural habitat, filming a male and a female swimming together after some nice cuttlefish sex. Sounds pretty relaxing, but then, a second male interrupted the happy couple to try and mate with the female, and things turned brutal very quickly. The ensuing altercation has everything—scorned lovers, jealousy, ink, and one hell of a plot twist. It’s also the first time this sort of behavior has been captured on video in the wild.

“We were surprised at how violent and aggressive the behaviors actually were,” co-author Justine Allen, an adjunct Instructor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, told Gizmodo. “This has been observed in the laboratory before, but never in the wild. And when it has been observed in the laboratory, the fighting usually doesn’t get this aggressive…so for there to be so much ink and fighting was really one of the most surprising parts.” Allen and her team’s analysis of the video footage was published today in The American Naturalist.

“Cephalopods are really squishy and vulnerable and tend to avoid physical fighting, because if they get scarred on their bodies, they have a hard time performing camouflage or signaling to each other,” she said. Who can’t relate to being squishy and vulnerable?

Check out the video below, provided by Brown University, and try not to cry:

This Crazy Person Loves to Cover His Hand With the World’s Grossest Bugs


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This Crazy Person Loves to Cover His Hand With the World’s Grossest Bugs

Today 11:14am

GIF: YouTube / InsecthausTV

Do you have hobbies? Maybe cycling or carpentry or something low key? Well, this guy has a cooler hobby than you.

Adrian Kozakiewicz loves to cover his hand with gnarly bugs, film it, and then put the videos on YouTube. His channel, InsecthausTV, is one of the most fucked up and fascinating things you’ll see on the internet this week. There are also videos of insects crawling around on the counter, but the bugs-on-hand videos really are the best.

The young, Germany-based entomology enthusiast claims to be “one of the largest insect breeders in Europe,” and his social media game is strong. Not only is there the nasty YouTube channel, but the 20-year-old also keeps a well-stocked Facebook page, an Instagram account with over 160,000 followers, and a Snapchat. Now for some highlights from all of the above.

First, we’ve got the descriptively titled “INSECTS ON MY HAND !” It’s just all kinds of sinister little shits crawling on Kozakiewicz’s hand:

Now here’s “Biggest Snail in the World !” If you know the species, let us know in the comments.

Still not gnarly enough? Check out “Giant Fighter Crickets.”

Still not impressed? How about Idolomantis diabolica?

Now, let’s tone it down with some living leaves known as Phylllium giganteum.

My personal favorite, however, is Eurycantha calcarata, a species that resembles a spiky turd with thick legs.

Adam Clark Estes

Senior editor at Gizmodo.