Could an alien virus arrive from outer space and wipe out the human race? It may sound like the plot of a B-movie, but an international group of scientists is now formally exploring the possibility for the very first time.
In a study published in the journal Astrobiology next month, the group sets out its belief that while NASA continues to focus its search for extraterrestrial life on the hunt for other alien microorganisms, space viruses remain critically under-researched. The team, led by biologist Kenneth Stedman of Portland State University, is calling for scientists to develop strategies to detect these viruses – and to see if they can spread to humans from outer space.
“More than a century has passed since the discovery of the first viruses,” Stedman said in a statement. “Entering the second century of virology, we can finally start focusing beyond our own planet.”
Viruses are infectious agents that replicate inside the living cells of other organisms. They can infect anything, from animals and plants to microorganisms like bacteria. The team behind the study believes that because more viruses exist on Earth than any other cellular organism, they should exist on other planets, too. The pursuit to find these astronomical agents has led Steadman, along with colleagues Aaron Berliner and Tomohiro Mochizuki from UC Berkeley and Tokyo Institute of Technology respectively, to create a new discipline in astrobiology known as “astrovirology.”
“With this paper, we hope to inspire integration of virus research into astrobiology and also point out pressing unanswered questions in astrovirology, particularly regarding the detection of virus biosignatures and whether viruses could be spread extraterrestrially,” Stedman said.
Speaking to Gizmodo, Stedman tried to allay fears about the future discovery of viruses in outer space. “Viruses have a bad rap. If we find viruses on other planets it is an indication of life, not something to be scared of,” he said.
A new study claims that most of the iron used in weaponry and artefacts dating from the Bronze Age is, in fact, of extraterrestrial origin. It further explains how our ancient ancestors were able to use the metal without access to smelting.
The new research, led by French scientist Albert Jambon and published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, used geochemical analyses to differentiate Earthly and extraterrestrial metals found in a range of Bronze Age artefacts from across the world. By studying the ratios of iron, cobalt and nickel found within the artefacts, researchers created a system to differentiate iron produced through smelting of ore, and ‘pre-made’ iron of meteoric origin.
For context, meteorites were already recognized as a major source of iron, but the scientific community was still on the fence as to the extent to which meteoric iron contributed to Bronze Age iron artefact construction. Iron weapons crafted during the Bronze Age were extremely rare and prized possessions (kind of like Valyrian steel in the Game of Thrones).
The Iron Age began around 1200 BCE while The Bronze Age played out 2,000 years prior, so anyone who boasted iron weapons or jewelry had a significant military or economic advantage over their contemporaries.
Jambon performed non-destructive chemical analyses of samples using a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer in situ in the museums where the Bronze Age artefacts are currently stored. The objects studied include: “beads from Gerzeh (Egypt, −3200 BCE); a dagger from Alaca Höyük (Turkey, −2500 BCE); a pendant from Umm el-Marra (Syria, −2300 BCE); an axe from Ugarit (Syria, −1400 BCE) and several others from the Shang dynasty civilization (China, −1400 BCE); and even the dagger, bracelet, and headrest of Tutankhamun (Egypt, −1350 BCE).”
Terrestrial iron ore must be reduced, removing the oxygen contained within, before it can be crafted into weapons and other objects. But the meteoric iron was already in a metallic state, and was thus ready for use, without the need for any anachronistic innovations such as smelting, which marked the beginning of the Iron Age.
Celestial bodies like meteorites, asteroids and comets are created when planets shatter and break up. “When large celestial bodies like our planet are forming, nearly all nickel drifts towards the molten iron core,” write the study’s authors, indicating that mining techniques common during the Bronze Age would not have gone down far enough to extract significant quantities of nickel or iron.
Space Plasma Physicist, Queen Mary University of London
Sept 1, 2017
Art and science are often seen as complete opposites: art is subjective, while science aims to discover objective facts about nature.
But more and more, we are realising that there are commonalities between the two. While technical skills are often attributed to scientific endeavours, there is clearly technical skill required in creating artworks. And while art is all about imagination and creativity, so too is devising an experiment or new analysis technique to test some hypothesis. You might not realise how much time I, as a scientist, have to spend trying to make my figures as clear and aesthetically pleasing as possible.
Given these overlaps, art-science collaborations have become more common. In the world of physics, these have often involved artists discussing scientific ideas with current researchers which then lead to artworks, be they paintings, sculptures, interpretive dances, or whatever. In fact, various research institutions, such as the CERN and the European Space Agency, and even some university physics departments, have artists in residence. Such collaboration should be encouraged and can benefit both parties: the scientist may gain new insights or be reminded of the bigger picture by talking with artists, and artists can broaden the range of their work by expressing different ideas based in science.
But if a piece of art is inspired by science, it isn’t always apparent to audiences. It’s not always easy to see the original scientific concepts in the artworks themselves. Sometimes these concepts get lost in translation: naturally the onus isn’t on communicating science but in creating something entertaining, thought provoking or of beauty.
However, with the wealth of data being created nowadays, such as from long-running space missions, city traffic cameras, and places like Google and Facebook, new ways of collaborating with scientists are emerging. And art which explicitly incorporates real data has the potential to create more transparency in such collaborations.
Sound, space and film
My own research concerns sound in space. This sound isn’t audible to the human ear: it’s incredibly weak and much lower in pitch than our ears can detect.
Normally, therefore, we just study the data by looking at these oscillations (or figures from some analysis of them). But just like an orchestra consists of many different instruments which can be played in a variety of styles, there are many different types of sounds present in the space around the Earth which often occur simultaneously.
Separating these out using a computer can be very difficult, but the human auditory system excels at such tasks. That’s why I made some of these measurements audible, releasing them online and asking the public what they thought space “sounds like”. The idea being that this could help re-contextualise the data for researchers, potentially bringing new insights, but also identifying events for future study in the research. The responses were incredibly varied, ranging from things whizzing by, to whistling, static, and even insects fighting.
As I’d created this audible version of the data I use in research, I thought that there must be something else that could be done with it. And so I decided to run a film competition, challenging filmmakers to be inspired by these sounds and incorporate them into shorts in some way. I decided to keep the brief really open with no limit on genre or topic, only that the films had to use some of the space sounds (which they were free to modify in any way) somewhere in them. I had no idea how this community would take to such a challenge or what on Earth (or more technically, off it) the results would be.
I was really impressed with the number of film submissions we actually got. They were all so different and the quality was so high, which made the judging process very difficult indeed. My team of judges and I have managed to whittle the entries down to seven short films for cinematic screening at a special film festival in London.
One young filmmaker from Manchester, Aaron Howell, decided that the whooshing sounds present in the data evoked movement and was able to mould these around a fast-paced contemporary dance performance. Another team of London filmmakers took the concept of “space sound effects” quite literally and came up with a scenario that would fit well with the space sounds – a man tending to his garden.
Others manipulated the sounds more. For example, Jesseca Simmons, a young filmmaker from Chicago, was able to bring out a sense of being underwater and convey the experience of a fish by playing with the space sounds, something I would never have thought of.
The sounds took on an incredibly creepy vibe in a Brazilian short film, in which filmmaker Victor Galvão coupled his unnerving audio composition with 35mm slides found in a medical archive to make something really unique. These are just a few examples of films selected from the competition.
It’s weird to think that all those diverse and disparate ideas clearly link back to audible data recorded in space. One filmmaker got back to me with an interesting perspective on the project as a whole:
Taking raw data out of context and using it as a key creative element in the creation of art is a way of providing a fresh look at a scientific inquiry. Art can be a mirror whose reflection can reset context and provide the listener with a different perspective than might otherwise be encountered. My hope is that the result of this competition will be a number of submissions that stimulate a wider audience to think about how science is more than just the collection of raw data, and that understanding can come from looking at results from a new vantage.
Whether the project will actually do that remains to be seen, but hopefully this will also inspire other scientists to open up their data in useful ways for artists, musicians and filmmakers. The potential results, as I myself have witnessed, are quite simply unimaginable.
The Space Fence: Covert Agenda Explained In this exciting episode Dark Journalist Daniel Liszt welcomes back Chemtrails Expert Elana Freeland. Her classic book, Chemtrails HAARP & The Full Spectrum Dominance of Planet Earth, is the definitive book on these suppressed subjects. Her new book, Under An Ionized Sky: Chemtrails & Space Fence Lockdown, is the first major in-depth examination of the murky covert program that has been under development since the 1980s under the Reagan Administration where it was a major aspect of the SDI Star Wars Program.
Roots of the Space Fence: SDI Star Wars When President Reagan announced that the US would be pouring vast resources into a major weaponization of Space with what he called the ‘Strategic Defense Initiative’ or ‘Star Wars’ it was widely assumed that it was meant as a missile shield program to deflect Nuclear Missile Launches from Russia. It’s true purpose may have had just as much to do with protecting the world from ‘An Alien Threat’ as Reagan suggested in a UN Speech, that would bring the world together to fight a common enemy.
An Ionized Atmosphere: Space Fence Deployment When the Soviet Union Fell ion December 26th, 1991, it was widely assumed that the SDI program was abandoned along with this historical event. In fact it appears that all of the research around Star Wars was reintegrated into a covert initiative for building a Space Fence that would serve as a Major Global Surveillance and Control Grid. What was missing in the 1980s to realize this vision, came along in the 1990s with the development HAARP and the successful efforts to Ionize the Atmosphere. With this being achieved over the last two decades, the conditions are perfect for the full deployment of The Space Fence and all of its terrifying implications of worldwide dominance over communications and a new paradigm of Space being Weaponized.