bizarre

Were There Alien Civilizations?

This is not a new question in the world, or even this show. 55 years ago astronomer Frank Drake came up with an equation that weighed the odds for aliens. This is equation is something we explore in episode 022. But what's happened in-between now and then? Now two astronomers have tweaked the formula to come up with a slightly different spin. NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is helping, too. link

Woody Sullivan (University of Washington) and Adam Frank )University of Rochester) published their complicated findings recently in the May 2016 issue of Astrobiology. They slightly alter the question - not if they exist, but if they did. They say:

“While we do not know if any advanced extraterrestrial civilizations currently exist in our galaxy, we now have enough information that they almost certainly existed at some point in cosmic history,” (Adam Frank)

According to them, there’s an astronomically high chance that other technological civilizations have risen and fallen elsewhere in the universe at some point in its 13.8 billion-year history.

How did they arrive at this conclusion? Well, by deconstructing the Drake equation. Here's how they use the equation:

  • They start out with an estimate of 20 sextillion stars in the observable universe (2 x 1022).
  • There appears to be at least one planet for every star (1.0).
  • And about one-fifth of those planets appear to orbit in habitable zones (0.2).

That gives you an estimate of habitable planets in the universe: 4 sextillion, or 4 x 1021

hen the astronomers add a bit of a twist to the equation:

How low do you have to set the chances that a habitable planet gives rise to a signal-beaming civilization, in order to reduce what you get when you do the multiplication (planets times probability) to just one world? The number would have to be one chance in 4 sextillion, or 2.5 x 10-22. Pretty low contact rates, huh?

In a press release after their explosive conclusion, Frank says: “To me, this implies that other intelligent, technology-producing species very likely have evolved before us, Think of it this way: Before our result you’d be considered a pessimist if you imagined the probability of evolving a civilization on a habitable planet were, say, one in a trillion. But even that guess, one chance in a trillion, implies that what has happened here on Earth with humanity has in fact happened about 10 billion other times over cosmic history!”

Is it just a numbers game, or is this a breakthrough?

 

The above image is from Flickr User Kevin Gill and is licensed under Creative Commons.

The Permafrost is Melting...and Life Forms are Waking Up

Sound like an episode of the X-Files? It might as well be. After several millennia dozens of ancient viruses, bacteria, plants, and yes, even animals are being 'woken up' after being (naturally) cryogenically frozen. link

For a quick refresher, what the heck is cryofreezing any way? Well, it's a little more than what science fiction makes it out to be. It is a real, natural processes that has unbelievable preservative powers. And the results are stunning. Scientists have had success in the last few years, even bringing and budding flowers that were cryogenically frozen.

Cryogenically frozen organic material acts like an interesting window into the world of the past. But, unlike a window, they're not just for looking out of. Through analyzing these ancient remnants, scientists may be able to learn about how species will cope with change in the future. Not to mention, the melting of the permafrost has helped created a new field of  science: resurrection ecology.

It may even give the ability to recreate evolution and evolutionary processes in years or months instead of thousands of years and millennia. Being able to compare current structures to their permafrost cousins could allow for this to happen.

Not to mention, through this, we may be able to help endangered or near-endangered species gain a genetic upper-hand through the study of evolutionary processes.

This photo comes from Flickr user Gabriel Caparó and is licensed under creative commons.

This Strange Fossil Finding is Right out of the World of Dr. Seuss (or a Horror Movie)

In early May, scientists announced and released a discovery in southern China of  reptilian fossils from roughly 242 million years ago. The only catch? It looks so outlandish and silly it's a wonder it isn't a hoax! link

The animal has been dubbed the "Atopodentatus", and if you recognize the "dent" in the name as it relates to teeth, you might realize how big of a deal this creature's mouth is. It is a bewildering, crocodile-sized plant-eating sea-dweller. The creature was first discovered in 2014, and, originally, it was thought to have a mouth like a flamingo's beak. However, the new fossil findings from May suggest something a little more...odd.

Paleontologist Nicholas Fraser said, "On a scale of weirdness, I think this is up there with the best. It kind of reminds me of some of the Dr. Seuss creations,"

It used its chisel-like teeth which lay along the edge of its blunt and hammer-shaped snout, to scrape algae off of hard underwater surfaces like rocks. After the scraping section, "Atopodentatus" quickly opens its mouth to create suction before closing its jaws and filtering the plant material through its densely packed, needle-sharp teeth. This is similar to how baleen whales strain krill from sea water.

Atopodentatus was roughly 9 feet long, lived in the shallow sea around China's Yunnan province alongside fish and marine reptiles. It lived during he Triassic Period shortly after the biggest mass extinction in Earth's history.

 

This photo is from Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under Creative Commons.

There's a Bird that Thinks it's a Chainsaw

As we know from TV, movies, and the news, Australia is home to many strange creatures. But more than creepy crawlies, Australia is also home to a wide array of birds. The Superb Lyrebird is one of the greatest representatives of Australia's amazing animals. link

Scientifically known as 'Menura novaehollandiae' the Superb Lyrebird is one of the largest of the Passerines. The Passerines are a group of birds that comprises over 50% of all known bird species. The Passerines are commonly known as perching birds and, mistakenly, song birds.

Visually, the Superb Lyrebird looks like a cross between a pheasant and a peacock, due to their size and the fact that the males have an impressive plume. But it isn't any old plumage, in fact, it is two diftinct kinds of plumage: lace-like feathers and two outer-feathers that are curled, and resemble a greek lyre. But their plumage isn't the only impressive thing about them, their amazing ability to mimic sounds also makes them a notable species.

As young chicks, lyrebirds mainly imitate their parents’ vocalizations but as they continue to mature, their repertoire of sounds increases as they experience a broader environment. Their ability to mimic plays an important role in their ability to find a mate. During their mating season (June-August) males showcase their collection of sounds to put on a wonderful show for the females. His ability to mimic is parallel to his level of fitness, one of the main factors in finding a suitable mate.

So how does the bird sound like a chainsaw? Well,as tourism, humans, and construction begins to invade many of the the Superb Lyrebirds habitats their talents for mimicking have grown. Not only that, but the Lyrebirds have actually grown to include manufactured sounds they pick up into their mating rituals!

Sound a little nuts? Check out this video to hear it for yourself!

This picture is from Flickr User Dave Hosford and is licensed under Creative Commons.