Watchful eyes, thoughtful mind

Earth and us ….. past, present and future ….. connected?

Here we go again … December 3, 2009

Filed under: biology,chemistry,geology,oceanography,unconventional — Radiance @ 10:00 AM

03_32_ATP_and_ADP_cycleTechnological advances have a peculiar way about them. They always seem to progress in steps of exponential growth followed by a period of lull. This trend is closely followed by our ability to learn new things about the world around us. And so human beings, particularly scientists, go through alternating periods of “discovery frenzy” and complacency that there’s nothing more left to explain. We had hit such a complacent period a few decades ago as regards origin and evolution of life on our planet. But now we’re in the “discovery frenzy” stage for the same and hence getting disillusioned about many theories and principles that we thought were invincible. Many new discoveries using newest and (so far) most accurate techniques are making it more than clear that the question of “how life originated on Earth?” is far from settled.

Nick Lane, the first Provost’s Venture Research Fellow at University College London and author of Life Ascending: The ten great inventions of evolution, has written a detailed article in the New Scientist on 19th October, 2009 about an alternative theory for origin of life. This is only the latest one in the long line of many such that came before it but didn’t survive the scientific scrutiny. It is based on not-so-conventional ideas of Peter Mitchell who was initially dismissed by his contemporaries but won a Nobel in 1978. Geochemist Mike Russell of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California is rethinking the origin of life and finds Mitchell’s ‘Chemiosmosis’ a valid candidate. The following text from Lane’s article explains the idea,

Before Mitchell, everyone assumed that cells got their energy using straightforward chemistry. The universal energy currency of life is a molecule called ATP […] generated from food by a series of standard chemical reactions. Mitchell thought otherwise. Life, he argued, is powered not by the kind of chemistry that goes on in a test tube but by a kind of electricity. The energy from food, […] is used to pump […] protons, through a membrane. As protons accumulate on one side, an electrochemical gradient builds up across the membrane. Given the chance, the protons will flow back across, releasing energy that can be harnessed to assemble ATP molecules. In energy terms, the process is analogous to filling a raised tank with buckets of water, then using the water to drive a waterwheel.

lst cityEven though this seems a counterintuitive and roundabout way to produce energy to power life, there is a growing body of evidence of this process occurring everywhere in nature. Aided with the latest knowledge of fellow biologists and using a logical process of elimination, author Lane reaches a baffling conclusion. The common ancestor of all life on Earth was something with components of a modern cell but no walls or boundaries. Now that’s a stunner! But nature has never failed to provide us evidence for the most unexpected and hence broaden the horizons of our knowledge. So along came the surprise discovery of alkaline hyrdrothermal vents just off the mid-Atlantic ridge in 2000. It turns out that the combination of their peculiar structure and the chemical conditions of atmosphere and ocean the on the early Earth provide a perfect toolkit for the production of DNA, RNA, an ATP prototype, all without the requirement for a wall or boundary. I have only given an outline of what Nick Lane’s article describes in a great detail. So if my summary makes you curious, go read the full article.

I’ll end this post with the apt ending Nick Lane provides to his article,

Many details have yet to be filled in, and it may never be possible to prove beyond any doubt that life evolved by this mechanism. The evidence, however, is growing. This scenario matches the known properties of all life on Earth, is energetically plausible – and returns Mitchell’s great theory to its rightful place at the very centre of biology.

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Anything we can do, nature can do September 3, 2009

Filed under: geology,minerology,nature — Radiance @ 10:00 AM
[Image source: Discover magazine 80 beats blog]
The 80 beats blog of the Discover magazine reports another one of those scenarios where our illusion of one-upmanship has been shattered by nature.

In chunks of rock quarried from a Russian mountain range, physicists have found perfect “quasicrystals,” a type of material that researchers previously thought could only be created in a lab. […] Quasicrystals were first created in the lab in 1984, and physicist Paul Steinhardt, a coauthor of the current study, says the hunt for naturally occurring quasicrystals began about 10 years ago. […] One of those samples was a mineral called khatyrkite that contained tiny grains of an alloy made of aluminium, copper, and iron, and which was found in the Koryak Mountains in Siberia. As researchers explain in their study, published in Science, the khatyrkite’s diffraction patterns almost exactly matched those of synthetic quasicrystals made in the lab.

Scientists are yet to understand the natural forces and processes behind formation of these crystals. Understanding these processes will help in synthesis of new materials.

TED Tuesday: Uncharted oceans August 18, 2009

Filed under: biology,geology,mystery,oceanography,TED — Radiance @ 10:00 AM
Ocean explorer Robert Ballard takes us on a mindbending trip to hidden worlds underwater, where he and other researchers are finding unexpected life, resources, even new mountains. He makes a case for serious exploration and mapping. Google Ocean, anyone?



Oldest surface on Earth July 9, 2009

Filed under: earth,geology,history — Radiance @ 12:00 AM
This is a quick post to share with my readers something that I found fascinating. An article in LiveScience by Robert Roy Britt on 5th May 2009 tells us,

A new study of ancient “desert pavement” in Israel’s Negev Desert finds a vast region that’s been sitting there exposed, pretty much as-is, for about 1.8 million years, according to Ari Matmon and colleagues at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

I was trying to imagine how those scientists must have felt to stand on that desert pavement and realise that they were standing on the most primitve Earth we could find today. I don’t know about them but I would find it very exhilerating!

Sunday Spotlight: Mystery of the Sphinx June 21, 2009

Filed under: archaeology,egyptology,geology,mystery,sunday spotlight — Radiance @ 12:00 AM
The documentary on YouTube:

Author and lecturer, John Anthony West delivered a seismic shock to archaeology in the early 1990’s when he and Boston University geologist Robert Schoch revealed that the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt, showed evidence of rainfall erosion. Such erosion could only mean that the Sphinx was carved during or before the rains that marked the transition of northern Africa from the last Ice Age to the present interglacial epoch, a transition that occurred in the millennia from 10,000 to 5000 BC. The Emmy award-winning documentary produced on this research, Mystery of the Sphinx, was released in 1993 and was a runaway success. I came across the same recently on YouTube and this blog entry is about some completely-radical-for-the-time facts that this documentary put forth and the active research that is still carried out regarding this theory today.
Few of the discoveries and contentions in the said documentary that I found particularly interesting and were very shocking to the archaeological community at the time are,
  • The Sphinx was built before Egypt became a desert, which would be 9,000 to 10,000 years ago.
  • All the monuments in Egypt show wind erosion except the Sphinx, the Sphinx enclosure and the temple, all of which show water erosion.
  • The water erosion is not caused by the floods of the Nile but by constant and intense rainfall.
  • The weathering is found beneath the granite repairs carried out, in the limestone from which the Sphinx is made. Thus it is not an erosion that has occurred in modern times.
  • Based on this observation, the 9,000 to 10,000 years old age of Sphinx is confirmed by Palaeoarchaeology.
  • The whole Sphinx was not carved out at the same time out of the limestone bedrock. The front of the Sphinx’s body is older than the back.
  • Zahi Hawwas and Mark Lehner, both prominent Egyptologists, confidently state that the face of the Sphinx matches well with that of the pharaoh Khafre (the alleged commissioner of the Sphinx). James Romano, Curator of the Egyptian collection, Brooklyn Museum, mentions that statues made by Egyptians showed the features of the person very accurately, including facial defects. However, Detective Frank Domingo of NYPD found that Sphinx did not portray pharaoh Khafre at all. It has, in fact, features of an African person, possibly female.
  • Objects can be levitated using interfacing sound waves. In the region of interface, there are produced “sound wells” in which objects can be confined. The experiments at the time could only levitate small pebbles. (My note: For levitating huge stone blocks, the wavelength of the sound waves would have to be large and hence, frequency very low, i.e., infrasonic sound. Wikipedia gives some interesting facts about its effect of human behaviour, “Infrasound has been known to cause feelings of awe or fear in humans. Since it is not consciously perceived, it can make people feel vaguely that supernatural events are taking place.”)
  • The face of the Sphinx is not proportional to the rest of the body but much smaller. Since the rest of the body was covered with sand for most of its lifetime, the face could have been carved and re-carved (my note: without any sense of proportion of the rest) over the millennia.
  • Pharaoh Khafre repaired the Sphinx, which was already ancient and degraded by his time, and did not commission its building.
  • This theory could also point at existence of Atlantis civilisation, civilisation on Mars and its connection with Earth.

What I also found interesting in this documentary is that there are a few instances where the prominent personalities being interviewed exemplify the typical thinking of archaeologists. And that precisely shows why theories as revolutionary as that of John Anthony West and Dr. Schoch get the kind of unwelcoming response that they get. James Romano, Curator of the Egyptian collection, Brooklyn Museum, says at one point, “…..if we take the alternative view, see what we are stuck with…..”. So because we would have to make the effort of rebuilding the whole castle, lets just deny that we stumbled upon its foundations! He goes on to make a statement which epitomises the fundamental on which we base all branches of research today, “Culture evolves in a linear fashion.” This is something I personally do not agree with and I’m excited to find that John Anthony West also believes in the “cyclic form” of life.


Sunday spotlight: The Land of No Horizon May 31, 2009

Filed under: astronomy,earth,geology,sunday spotlight,unconventional — Radiance @ 12:00 AM
A few months back I read the book ‘The land of no horizon’ (ISBN: 978-0-646-41057-9, 2001) written by Kevin J. Taylor and Matthew J. Taylor, a father and son team, who researched on this project for 12 years before authoring this very logical and greatly explanatory (with numerous simple illustrations) book. This book marries two controversial and now almost-discredited theories, ‘expanding Earth‘ (vs. universally accepted theory of plate tectonics) and ‘hollow Earth’ (vs. the universally accepted inner core-outer core-mantle-crust model). These two theories have been shown to have severe flaws in them when considered by themselves. However, this book does a fantastic job of entwining these two theories to produce a logically sound hypothesis of “expanding hollow Earth” with its inner Sun. I am not a geologist to give an expert opinion on whether this hypothesis can be considered as a valid theory. However, as a scientist who thinks logically, most of the arguments, explanations and examples that are put forth in this book seem very plausible.
The authors don’t just stop at proposing this new model for Earth’s geology. What impressed me most about this book is the fact that using this theory, the authors have successfully (in my humble opinion) explained historical/mythical and scientific phenomena. They show us (through simple text and illustrations) how the imbalance between inner and out atmosphere and oceans would cause (and thus explain) the ancient, cataclysmic deluge mentioned in various religious texts that wiped out the mankind from the face of Earth. In fact, going back a step, they explain how the life on inside of the Earth would progress more rapidly than the outside and therefore, how WE could be the hybrid between primitive apes on the outside and intelligent beings on the inside. The name of the book is what the inside Earth would be, the land of no horizon! The authors also go on to explain (and are reasonably successful at) some astronomical observations such as the “red spot on Jupiter” with help of the same “expanding hollow planet” hypothesis applied to gas planets (like Jupiter, Saturn etc.).
The upside of the book is its simple, layman language and absence of unnecessary scientific and technological jargon. In addition, large number of simple and neat illustrations would make this book very readable and understandable to anyone who is able to think logically and ready to face unconventional, new ideas without prejudice. One downside of the book, I thought, was that it starts out in a fashion which leads you to believe its going to explain much more (e.g.: UFO observations) than it actually ends up doing. However, what it does explain is definitely significant.
The authors (following the new age trend) have started their own website to further promote and continue research on this topic. The website is very informative as well, with the blog having articles about earlier (and failed) hollow Earth theories, information about the authors, overview of the book, Expanding Earth animation etc. This is what the website has to say about the theory/book,
“The Expanding Earth idea has been around for a long time, but science has not considered it worthy of genuine investigation because a driving force was missing. This is where the Hollow Earth theory comes in. A new understanding of Gravity gives rise to an expanding, hollow Earth and once and for all neatly solves the drifting continent phenomenon.”
All in all, whether it survives the serious scientific scrutiny in the end or not, the Expanding Hollow Earth theory is definitely something worth reading (and considering).

Future is here May 21, 2009

Filed under: future,geology,linguistics,technology — Radiance @ 12:00 AM
Like many other countries that use nuclear power, the US does not recycle its nuclear waste. Yucca Mountains in Nevada is chosen to be the national repository of all the nuclear waste produced. It is estimated that this waste will remain hazardously radioactive for about 10K years. Hence it is essential to have a system in place to warn all the future human generations and any other possible intelligent species that would roam the Earth in next 10K years of the imminent dangers of the repository being disturbed. As the Office of civilian radioactive waste management (OCRWM) website mentions, “The [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] NRC requires that the monuments or markers “accurately identify the location of the repository, be designed to be as permanent as practicable and convey a warning against intrusion into the underground repository, because of risk to public health and safety from radioactive wastes.” It goes on to say, however, “ ….. but the designs will not be final for some time because they will not be approved by the NRC until shortly before the repository is to be permanently sealed and closed.”, which could another 50 to 300 years.
However, in 2002, the Desert Space Foundation held an exhibition called ‘Universal warning sign: Yucca Mountain’, which comprised of winning designs in a variety of media that engage the challenge of creating an effective universal warning sign/permanent marker for the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mt., Nevada. How does one communicate with earthlings (yes, I’m not just saying humans) from the future? Sounds like a question from a sci-fi novel, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what all the participants in this challenge had to think about. Even though this challenge and exhibition were held about 7 years ago, I still find the concept relevant today and for a long time to come. If we think of this question in a general context, I’m sure it will be a very intriguing thought process. Would they understand our script and language? Probably not! Would even the symbols we use for radioactive, biohazard or any other concept have the same significance after all these years? Who knows!
Some of the entries to this challenge were very creative, some peculiar (why UFO?) and some which curiously made me think of all the cosmically aligned ancient megaliths around the world! While most entries focused on driving people away from the site by inducing fear and uneasiness, only one design (*thinking megaliths*) tried to educate the people who would visit the site of the dangers. Once again, as I said before, I feel this challenge and the entries for it are much thought provoking for humans of any era. Because future is always staring us in the face.