NASA Returns to the Moon

The first mission of NASA’s Artemis program, CAPSTONE, is on its way to the moon. The mission of the microwave-sized probe is to test the peculiar elliptical orbit around the moon that is planned for the Lunar Gateway, a facility that has come under some criticism.

It will also test deep-space navigation technology, using the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that has been in service since 2009. However, CAPSTONE’s real importance is the launch company that sent it on its way.

CAPSTONE, which is short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, was launched by a company called Rocket Lab from a facility located in New Zealand. Rocket Lab has launched a number of small satellites into Earth orbit on its two stage Electron rocket.

CAPSTONE is the company’s first deep-space mission. It may be the first of many. For instance, Rocket Lab is planning to launch a private probe to Venus in 2023.

According to an analysis published by NBC News, Rocket Lab proposes to be a competitor to SpaceX. It’s not there yet. A satellite launched on an Electron costs about $10,000 per pound as opposed to about $1,200 per pound on a SpaceX Falcon 9. Unlike Falcon 9, Electron is not reusable, although Rocket Lab is experimenting with catching the first stage midair with a helicopter to return it intact for reuse. The rocket is powered by 3D-printed Rutherford engines.

However, according to a recent presentation, Rocket Lab already has a new rocket, the Neutron, in development. The company describes it as a “rocket for 2050 – built today.” It incorporates some impressive technology that should make it far cheaper to operate than anything flying today. These technologies include:

  • Carbon composite materials that are stronger and lighter and, using a new process called “automatic fiber placement” cheaper to manufacture than anything currently in use for rockets
  • Retractable fairings, the part of the rocket that protects the payload during launch, which remain attached but open and close as needed
  • Archimedes rocket engines that can be reused over and over again with a minimum of refurbishment and repair
  • The ability to land the first stage back at the launch site, without using a drone barge at sea

The Neutron will be designed to launch constellations of small satellites, similar to the SpaceX Starlink. It can also be used to launch heavier satellites to geostationary orbit, planetary probes to deep space and even crewed spacecraft.

Clearly, Rocket Lab is gunning for SpaceX with an urgency and an eye for innovation that thus far commercial space rival Blue Origin, whose New Glenn is still in development, has not been able to accomplish.

Neutron, however, is not scheduled to fly earlier that 2024. SpaceX is still developing the Starship, the absolute beast of a rocket that is designed to deliver 100 metric tons anywhere in the solar system, using in-space refueling. Even so, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had best look to his laurels.

So far, SpaceX has dominated the space launch industry. It has lowered the cost of launching payloads into space by orders of magnitude. The company is taking cargo and crew to and from the International Space Station. The first Americans back to the moon will ride to the lunar surface on board a SpaceX rocket. Musk’s dreams of settling Mars seem within the realm of possibility.

The rise of Rocket Lab, as exemplified by the launch of CAPSTONE to the moon, suggests that the SpaceX dominance may be coming to an end. In the over-all scheme of things, this new competition is a good thing. Competition in the launch business will mean even lower costs and expanded capabilities as humankind begins to realize the immense opportunities that space offers.

The rise of Rocket Lab also represents a warning for other launch companies, including legacy firms such as United Launch Alliance and would-be upstarts such as Blue Origin. Talking about or playing at innovation will not cut it anymore. To quote a line from “Star Wars,” “Do or do not. There is no try.”

The histories of other industries are littered with the wreckage of once proud companies that lost the innovation race. It looks like Rocket Lab does not propose to be one of those when the history of the commercial launch industry is written.

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts and Demons

Does it take a specific type of brain to experience paranormal anomalies. Some scientists think so—but that can go two ways.

On the one hand, researchers specialized in parapsychology—the psychological study of the paranormal—have spent decades studying whether and how these anomalies exist in nature, outside of the human body, and how some people might be more prone to experiencingthem. More specifically, they want to know if some people have unique “abilities” that allow them to, say, see ghosts, spirits, and any other entities that might exist outside of the person experiencing it (i.e. not in their mind).

On the other hand, skeptical scholars from the field of neuroscience and cognitive psychology have been trying to show that it’s more about how some people process reality, subjectively, in their brain. Some people might just be wired to produce these experiences in their mind, even though they may not be real.

“We need parapsychology because if there were telepathy, clairvoyant, psychokinesis, precognition, ghosts, any of these things, then science has to be radically overthrown.”

— Susan Blackmore, University of Plymouth

While you might assume that parapsychology revolves around ghostbusters, spoon bending, and levitating magicians, that’s not exactly the case. Parapsychology, also called “psi,” is an academic branch of psychology studied in universities and research facilities across the globe. Scientists from this field believe more academic, experimental, theoretical, and analytical research will show that what science knows about the nature of the universe is largely incomplete.

“There is more than enough data and research at this point to make a reliable claim that oddities to mainstream science do, in fact, occur,” Brian Laythe, director of the Institute for the Study of Religious and Anomalous Experience and member of the Parapsychological Association, told The Daily Beast. In fact, there’s more than a century’s worth of peer-reviewed research on these topics. Laythe said that it’s statistically unlikely that the hundreds of PhDs producing said research are all fraudulent or incompetent. “Where people fight over is the meaning and interpretation of those findings, which in bulk are theology and philosophy driven, as opposed to issues of analytical science.”

Yet, critics argue that parapsychology procedures and methods aren’t in line with rigorous scientific standards, the results are just too flimsy, and crucially, that many of these experiments aren’t replicable, which cuts at the core of how science is validated.

And there’s one big issue that persists: There are no valid theories to support most of the findings. Some theories are more based in physics, others are focused on consciousness—but parapsychologists are having a hard time finalizing which ones explain it all. Of course, this often happens across all scientific disciplines, Laythe notes, but skeptics disagree.

“We need parapsychology because if there were telepathy, clairvoyant, psychokinesis, precognition, ghosts, any of these things, then science has to be radically overthrown,” Susan Blackmore, a visiting psychology professor at the University of Plymouth and parapsychologist-turned-skeptic told The Daily Beast. “I’m glad there are other people doing it. And then of course, I’m not terribly surprised. They don’t find any reliable findings. They don’t have any theory that works. They don’t have any findings that contribute to any kind of theoretical progress. So they’re always just asking the same question.”

There’s a lot of value in learning and understanding what these experiences are like for people—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an already existing medical explanation which can justify them.

That’s what Michiel Van Elk, a professor of cognitive psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, is taking a stab at. The self-described “humble skeptic” has a lab focused on cognitive differences that he believes are at the basis of why people believe and experience the paranormal. According to his research, paranormal believers are more inclined to trust their intuition and emotions, and are less guided by analytical reflection. They appear to perceive more “illusory agents” in random motion displays, meaning that they might have a bias for seeing shapes and objects when there aren’t ones.

“And we identified that paranormal believers had a stronger self-attribution bias, where in a random card guessing game, they more often took credit for positive outcomes, which were in fact caused by chance, than skeptics,” Van Elk told The Daily Beast. “These findings fit with the broader view that paranormal believers are prone to a range of cognitive biases, but at the same time, that these biases may well be adaptive for fostering mental health and self-esteem.”

Charlotte Dean, a researcher at the department of psychology at University of Hertfordshire in the U.K., recently published a meta-analysis of 71 studies over the past three decades that explored links between belief in paranormal phenomena and cognitive function. Most of the findings are in line with the hypothesis that experiencing paranormal activity is linked to specific cognitive traits, Dean told The Daily Beast.

“Believers are typically characterized by an intuitive thinking style. So that’s that kind of gut feeling. And they’ll go with that to try and explain something that they otherwise can’t explain,” Dean said. “Whereas people who are skeptical of the paranormal tend to be more analytical. So they will go through every different way of solving a problem before they come to a conclusion. And we refer to that as being kind of ‘cognitively flexible.’”

According to Dean, however, research like this isn’t in complete dissonance with the field of parapsychology. Parapsychologists tend to agree, to a certain extent. Sure, some people are more prone to paranormal experiences, and neurology-related traits, beliefs, and socio-cultural environments facilitate that experience. But they say it’s not entirely correct to say that only cognitive traits or neurology is responsible for paranormal experience.

“While not without value, this approach adopted in isolation seems akin to acknowledging that some people who claim to be ill are prone to hypochondria,” Chris Roe, a parapsychology professor at University of Northampton, told The Daily Beast. “And then proceeding to adopt a model of human illness that focuses only on factors that affect hypochondria or susceptibility to placebo effects. [The British] National Health Service would be in a very sorry state indeed.”

“There is some evidence that people who have more paranormal experiences have more communication between the hemisphere, for example, and more potential for crosstalk.”

— Christine Simmonds-Moore, University of West Georgia

A proclivity to paranormal experiences is distributed among the population, according to Christine Simmonds-Moore, a parapsychologist at the University of West Georgia. But that doesn’t rule out the existence of anomalies. For example, parapsychological research has shown that the concept of transliminality, a thin boundary structure between the conscious, unconscious, and environment, is a strong predictor of haunting experiences because it enables people to access paranormal experiences.

“There is some evidence that people who have more paranormal experiences have more communication between the hemispheres [of the brain], for example, and more potential for crosstalk,” Simmonds-Moore told The Daily Beast. “There’s more permeability between areas of the mind and between people and the environment and social others, and potentially paranormal information” with the information being outside of the human brain experiencing it.

She argues that different frameworks of science could be applied to examine the same thing, and sometimes both could be true. “I appreciate ideas that suggest that reality might be both physical and mental and that there might be a third aspect that contributes to both,” Simmonds-Moore said. She thinks research should explore paranormal experiences both using cognitive psychology, and what is known from that, and parapsychology. “Sometimes, there might be a bit of both, normal and paranormal, going on,” said Simmonds-Moore. “Reality is complex.”

Species Thought Extinct for 100 Years Found Alive

A rare Galápagos species, the “fantastic giant tortoise”, long thought extinct, has been officially identified for the first time in more than a century in what scientists called a “big deal” for the famed islands’ embattled biodiversity.

The animal is the first Chelonoidis phantasticus to be seen since a male specimen was discovered by the explorer Rollo Beck during an expedition in 1906. The newcomer has been named Fernanda, after the Fernandina Island, a largely unexplored active volcano in the western Galápagos Archipelago that she calls home.

“Everything that we knew about this species said it was extinct,” said Stephen Gaughran, an ecology and evolutionary biology researcher at Princeton University and one of the lead authors of the study that announced the finding, published on Thursday in the journal Communications Biology. “So it’s a big deal for a species that we thought was extinct for a hundred years to suddenly appear here.”

When Fernanda was discovered in 2019, roaming inside a vegetation clump among the solidified lava of the islet, it gave hopes to researchers that the rare phantasticus species wasn’t extinct after all, but it took DNA testing to confirm their hope.

Researchers at Princeton sequenced the genome of both the 1906 and the 2019 tortoise, matching them as members of the same species of fantastic giant tortoise, significantly genetically different from the other 13 species of tortoise found in the Galápagos.

All giant Galápagos tortoises are all listed on the IUCN Red List from vulnerable to critically endangered, with one species already extinct.

Fernanda is probably 50 or older but is smaller than the typical giant tortoise, probably due to the lack of vegetation on the arid, volcanic island. This was one of the reasons scholars initially doubted Fernanda was a native phantasticus species, as well as the lack of the species’ flared shell and saddleback shape.

Zoologists also initially thought that the 1906 specimen must have been transplanted to Fernandina Island. Although tortoises don’t swim, it’s not uncommon for them to float and be carried from island to island during extreme weather events or through human intervention, Gaughran said. “It seemed like a more likely explanation that a random tortoise just ended up there from a different island,” he said.

The discovery, however, suggests that however Fernanda got to the island, she might not have been alone, and that there could have been populations of the tortoise on the island at some point.

“These findings are extremely exciting from both evolutionary and conservation perspectives,” said Michael Russello, a biodiversity researcher at the University of British Columbia who was not involved in the study. “Fernandina is a challenging island to traverse, but this finding does suggest a comprehensive survey may be warranted to search for other individuals”, because there’s now “a glimmer of hope that the species may yet survive”.

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There are deeper conservation implications to the discovery of Fernanda, according to Danielle Edwards, a Galápagos tortoise expert from University of California Merced, who was not involved in the study. There’s debate about whether these Galápagos tortoises are species or subspecies. “Biology is messy and speciation is a continuum,” said Edwards. So, finding another tortoise that is genetically similar to Fernanda, and making the most of these new analysis methods would be crucial to learn more about the mysterious history of these island inhabitants, she said.

Recent expeditions found the tracks of two or three other tortoises that could be from the same species, which, if confirmed, could spur local organizations to consider a captive breeding and repatriation program.

“If we only have Fernanda, it’s exciting to have found her. But if she doesn’t have another tortoise to breed with, then there’s nowhere to go,” said Gaughran. “If there are at least a few of these tortoises still living on that island, then that opens up the possibility of trying to really revive the species.”

Scientists Reverse Aging in Mice – Look to Start Trial with Humans

In molecular biologist David Sinclair’s lab at Harvard Medical School, old mice are growing young again.

Using proteins that can turn an adult cell into a stem cell, Sinclair and his team have reset aging cells in mice to earlier versions of themselves.

In his team’s first breakthrough, published in late 2020, old mice with poor eyesight and damaged retinas could suddenly see again, with vision that at times rivaled their offspring’s.

“It’s a permanent reset, as far as we can tell, and we think it may be a universal process that could be applied across the body to reset our age,” said Sinclair, who has spent the last 20 years studying ways to reverse the ravages of time.

“If we reverse aging, these diseases should not happen. We have the technology today to be able to go into your hundreds without worrying about getting cancer in your 70s, heart disease in your 80s and Alzheimer’s in your 90s,” Sinclair told an audience at Life Itself, a health and wellness event presented in partnership with CNN.

“This is the world that is coming. It’s literally a question of when and for most of us, it’s going to happen in our lifetimes,” Sinclair told the audience.

“His research shows you can change aging to make lives younger for longer. Now he wants to change the world and make aging a disease,” said Whitney Casey, an investor who is partnering with Sinclair to create a do-it-yourself biological age test.

While modern medicine addresses sickness, it doesn’t address the underlying cause, “which for most diseases, is aging itself,” Sinclair said.

“We know that when we reverse the age of an organ like the brain in a mouse, the diseases of aging then go away. Memory comes back; there is no more dementia.

“I believe that in the future, delaying and reversing aging will be the best way to treat the diseases that plague most of us.”

A reset button

In Sinclair’s lab, two mice sit side by side.

One is the picture of youth, the other gray and feeble.

Yet they are brother and sister, born from the same litter – only one has been genetically altered to age faster.

If that could be done, Sinclair asked his team, could the reverse be accomplished as well?

Japanese biomedical researcher Dr. Shinya Yamanaka had already reprogrammed human adult skin cells to behave like embryonic or pluripotent stem cells, capable of developing into any cell in the body.

The 2007 discovery won the scientist a Nobel Prize, and his “induced pluripotent stem cells,” soon became known as “Yamanaka factors.”

However, adult cells fully switched back to stem cells via Yamanaka factors lose their identity.

They forget they are blood, heart and skin cells, making them perfect for rebirth as “cell du jour,” but lousy at rejuvenation.

You don’t want Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” to become a baby all at once; you want him to age backward while still remembering who he is.

Labs around the world jumped on the problem.

A study published in 2016 by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, showed signs of aging could be expunged in genetically aged mice, exposed for a short time to four main Yamanaka factors, without erasing the cells’ identity.

But there was a downside in all this research: In certain situations, the altered mice developed cancerous tumors.

Looking for a safer alternative, Sinclair lab geneticist Yuancheng Lu chose three of the four factors and genetically added them to a harmless virus.

The virus was designed to deliver the rejuvenating Yamanaka factors to damaged retinal ganglion cells at the back of an aged mouse’s eye.

After injecting the virus into the eye, the pluripotent genes were then switched on by feeding the mouse an antibiotic.

“The antibiotic is just a tool. It could be any chemical really, just a way to be sure the three genes are switched on,” Sinclair said.

“Normally they are only on in very young developing embryos and then turn off as we age.”

Amazingly, damaged neurons in the eyes of mice injected with the three cells rejuvenated, even growing new axons, or projections from the eye into the brain.

Since that original study, Sinclair said his lab has reversed aging in the muscles and brains of mice and is now working on rejuvenating a mouse’s entire body.

“Somehow the cells know the body can reset itself, and they still know which genes should be on when they were young,” Sinclair said.

“We think we’re tapping into an ancient regeneration system that some animals use – when you cut the limb off a salamander, it regrows the limb. The tail of a fish will grow back; a finger of a mouse will grow back.”

That discovery indicates there is a “backup copy” of youthfulness information stored in the body, he added.

“I call it the information theory of aging,” he said.

“It’s a loss of information that drives aging cells to forget how to function, to forget what type of cell they are. And now we can tap into a reset switch that restores the cell’s ability to read the genome correctly again, as if it was young.”

While the changes have lasted for months in mice, renewed cells don’t freeze in time and never age (like, say, vampires or superheroes), Sinclair said.

“It’s as permanent as aging is. It’s a reset, and then we see the mice age out again, so then we just repeat the process.

“We believe we have found the master control switch, a way to rewind the clock,” he added. “The body will then wake up, remember how to behave, remember how to regenerate and will be young again, even if you’re already old and have an illness.”

Science already knows how to slow human aging

Studies on whether the genetic intervention that revitalised mice will do the same for people are in early stages, Sinclair said.

It will be years before human trials are finished, analysed and, if safe and successful, scaled to the mass needed for a federal stamp of approval.

While we wait for science to determine if we too can reset our genes, there are many other ways to slow the aging process and reset our biological clocks, Sinclair said.

“The top tips are simply: Focus on plants for food, eat less often, get sufficient sleep, lose your breath for 10 minutes three times a week by exercising to maintain your muscle mass, don’t sweat the small stuff and have a good social group,” Sinclair said.

The epigenome literally turns genes on and off.

What controls the epigenome?

Human behaviour and one’s environment play a key role. Let’s say you were born with a genetic predisposition for heart disease and diabetes.

But because you exercised, ate a plant-focused diet, slept well and managed your stress during most of your life, it’s possible those genes would never be activated.

That, experts say, is how we can take some of our genetic fate into our own hands.

The positive impact on our health from eating a plant-based diet, having close, loving relationships and getting adequate exercise and sleep are well documented.

Calorie restriction, however, is a more controversial way of adding years to life, experts say.

Cutting back on food – without inducing malnutrition – has been a scientifically known way to lengthen life for nearly a century.

Studies on worms, crabs, snails, fruit flies and rodents have found restricting calories “delay the onset of age-related disorders” such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Some studies have also found extensions in life span: In a 1986 study, mice fed only a third of a typical day’s calories lived to 53 months – a mouse kept as a pet may live to about 24 months.

Studies in people, however, have been less enlightening, partly because many have focused on weight loss instead of longevity.

For Sinclair, however, cutting back on meals was a significant factor in resetting his personal clock: Recent tests show he has a biological age of 42 in a body born 53 years ago.

“I’ve been doing a biological test for 10 years now, and I’ve been getting steadily younger for the last decade,” Sinclair said.

“The biggest change in my biological clock occurred when I ate less often – I only eat one meal a day now. That made the biggest difference to my biochemistry.”

Additional ways to turn back the clock

Sinclair incorporates other tools into his life, based on research from his lab and others. In his book “Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To,” he writes that little of what he does has undergone the sort of “rigorous long-term clinical testing” needed to have a “complete understanding of the wide range of potential outcomes.”

In fact, he added, “I have no idea if this is even the right thing for me to be doing.”

With that caveat, Sinclair is willing to share his tips: He keeps his starches and sugars to a minimum and gave up desserts at age 40 (although he does admit to stealing a taste on occasion).

He eats a good amount of plants, avoids eating other mammals and keeps his body weight at the low end of optimal.

He exercises by taking a lot of steps each day, walks upstairs instead of taking an elevator and visits the gym with his son to lift weights and jog before taking a sauna and a dip in an ice-cold pool. “I’ve got my 20-year-old body back,” he said with a smile.

Speaking of cold, science has long thought lower temperatures increased longevity in many species, but whether it is true or not may come down to one’s genome, according to a 2018 study.

Regardless, it appears cold can increase brown fat in humans, which is the type of fat bears use to stay warm during hibernation. Brown fat has been shown to improve metabolism and combat obesity.

Sinclair takes vitamins D and K2 and baby aspirin daily, along with supplements that have shown promise in extending longevity in yeast, mice and human cells in test tubes.

One supplement he takes after discovering its benefits is 1 gram of resveratrol, the antioxidant-like substance found in the skin of grapes, blueberries, raspberries, mulberries and peanuts.

He also takes one gram of metformin, a staple in the arsenal of drugs used to lower blood sugars in people with diabetes.

He added it after studies showed it might reduce inflammation, oxidative damage and cellular senescence, in which cells are damaged but refuse to die, remaining in the body as a type of malfunctioning “zombie cell.”

However, some scientists quibble about the use of metformin, pointing to rare cases of lactic acid buildup and a lack of knowledge on how it functions in the body.

Sinclair also takes 1 gram of NMN, or nicotinamide mononucleotide, which in the body turns into NAD+, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide.

A coenzyme that exists in all living cells, NAD+ plays a central role in the body’s biological processes, such as regulating cellular energy, increasing insulin sensitivity and reversing mitochondrial dysfunction.

When the body ages, NAD+ levels significantly decrease, dropping by middle age to about half the levels of youth, contributing to age-related metabolic diseases and neurodegenerative disorders.

Numerous studies have shown restoring NAD+ levels safely improves overall health and increases life span in yeast, mice and dogs. Clinical trials testing the molecule in humans have been underway for three years, Sinclair said.

“These supplements, and the lifestyle that I am doing, is designed to turn on our defenses against aging,” he said.

“Now, if you do that, you don’t necessarily turn back the clock. These are just things that slow down epigenetic damage and these other horrible hallmarks of aging.

“But the real advance, in my view, was the ability to just tell the body, ‘Forget all that. Just be young again,’ by just flipping a switch. Now I’m not saying that we’re going to all be 20 years old again,” Sinclair said.

“But I’m optimistic that we can duplicate this very fundamental process that exists in everything from a bat to a sheep to a whale to a human. We’ve done it in a mouse. There’s no reason I can think of why it shouldn’t work in a person, too.”

Scientists to Open 830 Million-Year-Old Cystal Containing Ancient Life. Is It Safe?

The tiny remnants of prokaryotic and algal life were found in an ancient halite crystal on May 11. Announced by researchers at the Geological Society of America, the tiny creatures were found within microscopic bubbles of liquid in the crystal, known as fluid inclusions. These miniscule bubbles function as microhabitats for the colonies to live in.

Now the scientists plan to crack these crystals open, discovering whether life is still going inside.

For those concerned about the consequences of bringing 830-million-year-old microorganisms into the 21st Century, researchers insist the process will not be the “bad b-movie” plot it sounds like.

Study author Kathy Benison, a geologist at West Virginia University, told NPR: “It does sound like a really bad B-movie, but there is a lot of detailed work that’s been going on for years to try to figure out how to do that in the safest possible way”.

Researchers used several imaging techniques to study fluid inclusions in a chunk of halite from the 820-million-year-old Brown Formation in central Australia.

The organic solids and liquids discovered were consistent in size, shape, and fluorescent response to cells of prokaryotes and algae.

The most widely known form of prokaryotic organism is bacteria.

The crystal

The ancient crystal (Image: Schreder-Gomes et al. / Geology)

This shows that microorganisms can stay well preserved in halite over a period of hundreds of millions of years.

The researchers add this has implications for the search for alien life.

Similar biosignatures may be discovered in chemical sediments from Mars, were large salt deposits have been identified as evidence of ancient liquid reservoirs.

Previously, living prokaryotes have been extracted from halite dating back 250 million years, making the possibility of them reaching 830 million seem conceivable.

The researchers wrote: “Possible survival of microorganisms over geologic time scales is not fully understood,’ the researchers wrote in their study.

“’It has been suggested that radiation would destroy organic matter over long time periods, yet Nicastro et al. (2002) found that buried 250 million-year-old halite was exposed to only negligible amounts of radiation.

“Additionally, microorganisms may survive in fluid inclusions by metabolic changes, including starvation survival and cyst stages, and coexistence with organic compounds or dead cells that could serve as nutrient sources.”

Biologist Bonnie Baxter of Westminster College in Salt Lake City, who wasn’t involved in the study, reassured concerned onlookers that the study was not going to bring about the end of the world as we know it.

She told NPR: “An environmental organism that has never seen a human is not going to have the mechanism to get inside of us and cause disease.

“So I personally, from a science perspective, have no fear of that.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Has A Scary Theory On How The World Will End

Neil deGrasse Tyson always seems to have a theory about something. As he should, since he’s the most recognizable astrophysicist on planet Earth. He’s been on countless television shows, hosts his own podcast about all things space and science, and has a Bachelor of Arts in Physics from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia.

In March 2021, Tyson appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to promote his latest book, “Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going.” The book focuses on the really big questions about the universe and our place within it.

Tyson begins his conversation with Colbert by discussing how it will all end — “all” being the universe. Colbert interrupts and asks him to explain how the Earth will end in one easy sentence, and Tyson obliges. According to the famed astrophysicist, the sun will eventually expand, and Earth will get so hot that the oceans boil off and evaporate into space.

The planet will become a burning husk that gets pulled to the sun’s surface and vaporizes. So, buy stock in sunscreen.

But this is boring to Tyson, apparently, because he says scientists already know how the Earth ends. The bigger questions, like how the universe ends, are what keep him up at night.

Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Big Rip

Tyson explains the “Big Rip” theory is based on cosmic expansion, which says the universe continues to expand after the “Big Bang,” and all of the energy and matter within it has remained constant. As the universe expands, the density of all that energy and matter must become thinner.

Tyson says scientists don’t really know why it’s happening, but they know dark energy is causing it to happen, and it is measurable. The expansion rate will eventually outstrip the gravitational forces that hold things together, even overcoming the molecular bonds that hold our bodies together.

Those forces will continue to gain strength as the universe expands because as it gets bigger, more vacuum is created. This dynamic will continue until it “rips” or separates our molecules and atoms apart, including the very fabric of space and time.

During the same interview, Tyson dips briefly into the wildly confusing topic of the multiverse and the fact that there might be layers of them stacked on top of each other. Because the existence of a single multiverse, let alone layers of them, isn’t a maddening enough topic. 

Mutant Piglet Born with Two Bodies but One Head Stumps Scientists

A deformed piglet born with one head and two bodies has left scientists flummoxed.

The odd creature was dead when it was born at Sao Miguel do Oeste, Santa Catarina state, southern Brazil last week.

Footage of the corpse shows the creature has just one head but two distinct bodies from the chest down.

The piglet was born with four arms – two at the front and two on its back – and what looks like an undeveloped second head emerging from its back.

Now scientists from the Centre for Wildlife Studies at the University of West Santa Catarina are trying to uncover its secrets.

A pig with two bodies, one head and eight legs was born in the west of Santa Catarina, Brazil

A pig with two bodies, one head and eight legs was born in the west of Santa Catarina, Brazil (Image: @jacksonpreuss/CEN)

The experts now know that the beast is actually two sows united by the skull and chest and sharing a single heart.

Ultrasound and X-ray scans have revealed that only from the abdomen down do they each have separate organs, like kidneys and bladders.

Biologist and professor Jackson Preuss said: “We can say they are Siamese twins joined at the head and thorax, sharing a single heart and, from the abdomen, a separation takes place.”

Preuss explained such cases are rare and such animals rarely survive.

The conjoined twins have yet to undergo a necropsy to find out more about them.

Preuss believes the pigs’ genetic malformations may be environmental in origin and may have even been caused by microorganisms.

However, he says it could also have been caused by inbreeding.

Scientist Claims He’s Solved Bermuda Triangle Mystery

A scientist has claimed he has solved the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle – saying the supernatural is most probably not to blame.

Karl Kruszelnicki has theorised that there was no mystery to begin with, insisting the reason why so many planes and ships vanish without a trace in the area has nothing to do with aliens or the lost city of Atlantis.

The Australian scientist believes that the huge number of disappearances can be explained by nothing more supernatural than human error, bad weather, and the fact it’s so busy with planes and boats.

The so-called Devil’s Triangle covers a 700,000 square-kilometre area of ocean and is a particularly busy patch of sea – so the disappearances are not out of the ordinary.

He said: “It is close to the Equator, near a wealthy part of the world – America – therefore you have a lot of traffic.

“According to Lloyd’s of London and the US Coastguard the number that go missing in the Bermuda Triangle is the same as anywhere in the world on a percentage basis.”

Mr Kruszelnicki, who has a fellowship at Sydney University, also said there were simple explanations for the loss of Flight 19 which started the speculation about the Bermuda Triangle.

This was a flight of five US Navy TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that set off from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on December 5, 1945, for a routine two-hour training mission over the Atlantic.

After losing radio contact with their base, all five planes vanished, and no trace of them or their 14 crew members was ever found.

Spookily, it was later claimed, a PBM-Mariner seaplane dispatched that night on a search-and-rescue mission to find Flight 19 disappeared too, along with its 13 crew.

Speculation about Flight 19 was huge, especially after 1964, when the writer Vincent Gaddis advanced his theories in an article entitled The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.

Kruszelnicki also offered simple explanations for the loss of Flight 19.

For a start, he said, despite suggestions the patrol vanished in ideal flight conditions, there were actually 15m waves which would’ve had a huge impact.

Mr Kruszelnicki added that the only truly experienced pilot in the flight was its leader, Lieutenant Charles Taylor, and his human error may well have played a part in the tragedy.

Radio transcripts from before the patrol vanished, he added, made it clear that Flight 19 had become unsure of its position.

They show Lt Taylor thought his compass had malfunctioned and that he was above the Florida Keys, but later analysis by ground staff showed he was to the southeast, near an island in the Bahamas.

Mr Kruszelnicki said he overruled a junior pilot who said they should turn west, and insisted the patrol fly east, unwittingly taking them further into the Atlantic, above deep water where it might be harder to find sunken planes or bodies.

The search-and-rescue seaplane was sent on a rescue mission but vanished – but Mr Kruszelnicki said it was seen to blow up in the air. ‘The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.’ Pic: delreycarlos/Getty Images

By 1977 the Bermuda Triangle had gained such mass appeal that Steven Spielberg included references to it in his avowedly fictional film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which depicted the crews of Flight 19 as having been abducted by aliens.

It is now possible to go online and find theories that dismiss such absurd notions as planes and ships disappearing into some sort of black hole or time warp within the Bermuda Triangle.

New theories are constantly being put forward, some with a kernel of scientific truth to them.

Some have attributed Bermuda Triangle disappearances to explosive releases of methane gas, trapped as methane hydrate inside an icy crystalline cage of water molecules beneath the cold seabed of the deep ocean.

Such blowouts, it has been suggested, could release a giant plume of gas that could cause the sea to bubble like it was boiling, sinking ships because the resulting foam was much less dense than the water on which vessels normally floated.

The gas could also rise into the sky, producing a mixture of methane that would explode on contact with a hot aeroplane engine exhaust.

One United States Geological Survey scientist consulted on this theory admitted a gas hydrate blowout could indeed sink ships in the manner described.

Whatever you believe about the Bermuda Triangle, there’s no denying it is certainly a mysterious place.

Doctors Plan Womb Transplant to Allow Transgender Women to Carry Babies

A surgeon has told how he is planning the world’s first womb transplant on a transgender woman who was born male.

The organs would be taken from a dead donor or from another woman who decided to become a man and had their wombs removed in the process.

This would mean that the person could fall pregnant through IVF – although the operation has never officially been performed successfully yet.

“Every transgender woman wants to be as female as possible,” said Dr Narendra Kaushik, who runs a busy surgery in new Delhi.

“And that includes being a mother. The way towards this is with a uterine transplant, the same as a kidney or any other transplant.

“This is the future. We cannot predict exactly when this will happen but it will happen very soon.

“We have our plans and we are very very optimistic about this.”

Dr Kshuik said that around 20 per cent of his patients are from overseas, with many flying from the UK.

Business is booming at his Olmec clinic in New Delhi, with the surgeon recently opening a purpose-built centre to meet demand.

It comes as India is now surpassing Thailand as the destination of choice for this kind of surgery.

“Many of our patients tell us that their sexual partners don’t even notice that they weren’t born with female sex organs,” said Dr Kaushik.

“And that’s our aim, to make it so that they live as normal a life as possible as a woman. We aim for an aesthetic ideal”

Womb transplants, which cost thousands of pounds, are still considered to be an experimental procedure.

There has only been one well-known case of a trans woman having a uterus transplant – but she died just months later after suffering complications.

It cannot actually connect the woman’s uterus to the fallopian tubes, so the op doesn’t lead to anyone becoming pregnant naturally.

But experts claim it is theoretically possible to impregnate a trans woman using IVF, with the embryo being implanted.

In 2017, doctors said medical advances mean it’s theoretically possible for trans women to give birth after a successful operation. The surgeon runs a busy clinic (

Image: Adrian Addison)

In 2017, Dr Paulson, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said: “There would be additional challenges, but I don’t see any obvious problem that would preclude it. I think it would be possible.”

Previously Surgeon Christopher Inglefield, founder of the London Transgender Clinic, claimed the procedure is ‘essentially identical’ to that of ‘cis-women’ -aka females born in that gender.

Mr Inglefield said: “This pioneering birth is extremely important for any trans female who would like to carry her own child.

“Because once the medical community accept this as a treatment for cis-women with uterine infertility, such as the congenital absence of a womb, then it would be illegal to deny a trans-female who has completed her transition.

“There are clearly anatomical boundaries when it comes to trans women but these are problems that I believe can be surmounted and the transplant into a trans-female is essentially identical to that of a cis-female.”

Professor Simon Fishel is Britain’s leading fertility expert who was involved in the research that led to the birth of the first ‘test-tube baby’ Louise Brown in 1978.

“Womb transplants have already been carried out in Denmark, though from one woman to another woman. Never to a man,” he said.

“Now just suppose you can find a spot for the donated womb in a man and create a blood supply and the correct endocrine environment then, theoretically – it is possible.”

“Yes it’s strange, but strange things happen” added Professor Fishel.

“I know, for example, of a case whereby the conceiving male used his mother as a surrogate to have his child with a donor egg. So his own mother gave birth to his son… who was also his brother by birth.” When Jennifer Gobrecht was 17, doctors told her that she would never carry her own child. (

Image: Handout via Kate Graham Freelance)

Professor Robert Winston one of Britain’s most famous medical experts thanks to presenting several TV series on the BBC such as Child of Our Time, dubbed the treatment “very dangerous.”

“The problems are huge, it would be a hugely difficult operation,” he said. “And you still don’t have a functioning cervix or vagina to allow the birth canal.

“The risk of death to the patient would be very high. Both from the operation to allow the transplantation and also from the pregnancy. It would simply not be ethically acceptable.”

Isabella Thalund, 33, flew from Denmark to Delhi last year to have an operation carried out by Dr Kaushik. While she doesn’t want kids herself, she said it is the dream for many.

“For a lot of transgender women, this would definitely be a dream come true,” she said. “Even for people who saved semen before transitioning, the fact they can never undergo motherhood is still a sore point. Isabella Thalund, 33,visited the clinic last year (

Image: Adrian Addison)

“As to whether it should be made available well, couples and single women can get help with conceiving. I don’t really consider this all that much different.

“Just last year we implanted the heart of a pig into a human, just to give this person perhaps a few more years to live.

“There’ll definitely be a huge debate and I don’t imagine the surgery would be offered in places like the US, for example. But in Asian countries, where regulation isn’t as heavy? It could definitely happen there.”

Professor Fishel has spent his entire career helping people have babies and has often been involved in the ethical debate.

“Ethics is a complex issue because, in the end, you’re talking about ‘whos3 ethics?’ Ethics is quite subjective, it might be religious, etc,” he said.

“But people talk about ‘rights’, don’t they. ‘I was a man, I’m now a woman. If it’s medically safe I have the right to try to have a baby.’ The question then comes down to the professionalism of the doctor, and you do get maverick doctors.

“But it would be grossly irresponsible to just shoot this off first in humans without testing it on animals. And that research has not yet, to my knowledge, been done. It’s bordering on madness to even try.”

There has only ever been one documented case of a transgender woman having a uterus transplant – but she died from complications just months later.

Danish artist Lili Elbe was the first trans woman to have a womb transplant in 1931 – aged 48, with the hopes she could have children with her fiance.

But she died just three months later after suffering a cardiac arrest brought on by a post-surgical infection.

In 2020, American Jennifer Gobrecht gave birth to a baby boy– after having a womb transplant from a deceased donor.

She was the second in her country and thought to be just the third in the world to give birth after having the procedure

.Jennifer, who found out that she would never be able to carry a baby as a teen, was born without a uterus.

She was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, meaning she had functional ovaries, but an underdeveloped or, in her case, absent uterus.

The groundbreaking procedure to transplant a new uterus into her body allowed Jennifer to experience pregnancy and childbirth and welcome her first baby – named Benjamin – into the world.

At the time, she told the Mirror: “I never thought in a million years that we would be here. For me to be the one who carried our child was an incredible experience, just pure joy. That he was finally here was a miracle.”

Original Article:

Dolphins Seen Playing with Anaconda Perplexes Researchers

Two Bolivian river dolphins were seen swimming around and playing in the Tijamuchi River in Bolivia. The unusual part? They were carrying a Beni anaconda, an apex predator, in their mouths.

Researchers captured the rare encounter in August 2021 in photos and described it in a paper published last month in the journal Ecology.

The research team spotted a group of dolphins immediately upon arriving to the site and began taking photos. Only when they reviewed their first images did they realize the dolphins were carrying the snake, according to the study.

The researchers said it became clear the dolphins were playing with the snake rather than trying to eat it, in part because the interaction lasted for at least seven minutes.

At one point, they observed the adult males each holding onto the anaconda and swimming in unison. Upon reviewing the photos later, the researchers realized the dolphins had erect penises, which also supported the idea that it was a playful interaction.

Playing is a well-documented behavior in mammals and dolphins generally, but the encounter was the first-ever recorded between a Bolivian river dolphin and a Beni anaconda.

The researchers said many questions remained and offered possible alternative explanations for the behavior, including predation.

Beni anacondas are large semi-aquatic snakes, generally reaching more than 6 feet long, and typically have no known predators. Other than one record of cannibalism, there’s no published record of an animal eating a Beni anaconda.

Because the snake was submerged for much of the encounter, the researchers said it most likely died.

The researchers said it was also possible the adult male dolphins were teaching the juvenile dolphins that were present about the Beni anaconda, or that the dolphins were engaged in an attempt at courtship. They said male Amazon river dolphins have been observed in the past carrying objects in what appeared to be an attempt aimed at females.

Diana Reiss, a marine mammal scientist at Hunter College who was not part of the study, told The New York Times the dolphins may have been sexually stimulated by the anaconda: “It could have been something to rub on.”

Original Article: 2 male dolphins were seen playing with an anaconda while sexually aroused in a perplexing encounter captured by researchers (

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