Over the holidays it's best to avoid any arguments, whenever possible. But if you can't, you may want to bring some scientific ammunition for your side of the discussion.

It turns out that if you want to convince someone that your explanation for something is the best way to explain it, you might want to tack on some useless (though accurate) information from a tangentially related scientific field.

It turns out that when you tack on additional information from a respected field of study, people think that makes an explanation more credible.

That strategy can be devised from the findings of a recent study conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers that was published in the journal Cognition.

And while this is a new finding, it's just one of several cognitive biases we have in favor of certain types of explanations. We think longer explanations are better than short ones and we prefer explanations that point to a goal or a reason for things happening, even if these things don't actually help us understand a phenomenon.

As the authors behind this most recent paper note, previous research has also shown that we prefer explanations of psychology when they contain "logically irrelevant neuroscience information," something known as the "seductive lure effect."

As former Tech Insider correspondent Drake Baer put it covering an earlier study on the same topic, "if you're trying to explain why someone did something, you can count on neurobabble to make you sound more convincing." All those references to the brain sound like they can really explain the ways our minds work, even if neuroscience is still a field we know little about.

human brain connectome

Explanations that refer to what's going in in the brain are super appealing. Human Connectome Project, Science, March 2012.

But until now, researchers haven't known if this argument-winning strategy was limited to using neuroscience to "explain" psychology or if it could be used to explain other areas of science as well. The UPenn team theorized people might in general prefer arguments that refer to more fundamental science, even if those references don't contribute to the explanation. They call this type of argument a reductive explanation (reducing one science to more fundamental parts).

To test this theory, the researchers created a hierarchy of sciences, going from least to most fundamental: social science, psychology, neuroscience, biology, chemistry, and finally physics. They recruited undergraduate students and people from Amazon's Mechanical Turk work marketplace and presented them with a survey designed to figure out whether useless reductive information made them consider explanations "better."

In each case, the researchers offered four possible explanations for a scientific concept: a good explanation, a good explanation that included the additional reductive information, a bad explanation, and a bad explanation that included reductive information.

marco rubio donald trump debate

Should we add "used useless reductive information to support an argument" to debate bingo? REUTERS/Mike Stone

As a general rule, their hypothesis panned out — people think explanations that have useless information containing details about a more "fundamental" science are usually better.

But there are some interesting exceptions and additional takeaways here.

  • Good explanations matter, and were rated better than bad explanations (even if the bad explanations had reductive information).
  • Adding useless reductive information made the biggest difference when researchers added neuroscience to an explanation of psychological science.
  • Participants trusted psychology the least and — in the one exception to the general rule — didn't think adding psychological explanations to social science made those explanations more credible (though these particular findings weren't statistically significant).
  • Study participants actually considered neuroscience more rigorous and prestigious than the sciences considered more fundamental by researchers (biology, chemistry, and physics). This could explain the big effect that neuroscience explanation has when added to explanations of psychological science.
  • Mechanical Turk respondents thought the explanations with reductive information were better than undergraduates thought they were. That information made a big significant difference for them, but it was less of a big deal for undergraduates. Different groups of people are going to evaluate information in different ways, and neither of these groups of people can accurately represent the way the entire population evaluates information.
  • People who were better at logical reasoning were better at evaluating explanation accurately (they gave less credence to reductive information). The researchers think this could mean that philosophers who have studied logic are less susceptible to this cognitive bias.
  • People who knew more about science were also better at telling good explanations from bad explanations.

So the next time you read an explanation of something, check to see if the author is adding useless information to support an argument, making you more inclined to believe them for all the wrong reasons.

And if you want to convince someone of something, you can see if adding some background scientific details helps sway the argument your way. Just try to rely on a science other than psychology.

 

Author: Kevin Loria
Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-convince-people-of-something-2016-12

Categorized in Science & Tech

Just before Thanksgiving this year, a coalition of meteorologists, climatologists, biologists, ecologists, and other researchers took up a new ritual of thankfulness: tweeting the small and large ways NASA data has helped them understand planet Earth, and attaching the hashtag #ThanksNASA.

For the most part, the scientists avoided mentioning politics or political figures. But context is everything. Bob Walker, a senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, had just told The Guardian that the incoming administration planned to strip NASA's earth science programs of funding.

"We see NASA in an exploration role, in deep space research," Walker told The Guardian's Oliver Milman. "Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission."

In the past, the Guardian story notes, Walker has described earth science as "politically correct environmental monitoring."

In reality, earth science goes far beyond direct climate change research — and includes everything from the health of oceans to the threat of devastating solar storms in the upper atmosphere.

Dozens of scientists, including the 13 researchers who spoke to Business Insider for this story and many more who reached out on Twitter and by email, said they were rattled and dismayed by the news.

Several said that cutting earth science would represent a radical change from the mission NASA has carried out for nearly six decades.

"If you go to the Space Act that founded NASA in 1958 and then was amended under President Reagan in 1985, the very first responsibility ascribed to NASA is to understand the Earth and the atmosphere," said Waleed Abdalati, who directs the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado and served as chief scientist at NASA from 2011-12.

"It shows up before putting people in space."

Indeed, it does. The beginning of Section 102(c) of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 begins to lay out the role of NASA:

"(c) The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives:

"(1) The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;

"(2) The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;

"(3) The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies and living organisms through space."

So far, NASA has carried out that mission with gusto under six Republican administrations and five Democratic ones. The agency's trove of satellite data and analysis is the largest in the world and, critically, available freely on the internet for any scientist or interested person to access.

Some researchers said they didn't recognize how much NASA data they used until it was threatened they could lose it all.

"I started going back and trying to think about what I use in my day-to-day work," said Peter Gleick, a hydrologist who looks at the movement of water all over the world to understand and predict droughts and flooding. "The truth is, I didn't fully comprehend the incredible diversity of products that I use that originated with a NASA satellite or an observing platform or a data archive."

The notion of losing that, researchers told Business Insider, had seemed impossible — that is, until they read the news.

Just days before the Guardian piece with Walker's statement was published, NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, who declined to be interviewed again for this story, told Business Insider that he thought NASA climate research was safe from political tampering because it was too intimately connected to the agency's other critical earth science missions.

It doesn't seem to have occurred to most people that earth science itself might be in jeopardy.

The end of an era?

arctic sea ice melting

The 2015 Arctic sea ice summertime minimum was 699,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, shown here as a gold line in this visual representation of a NASA analysis. NASA via Reuters

Walker's proposal would ax or redirect more than 34% of NASA's $5.2 billion 2017 science budget request, and almost 10% of its $18 billion overall budget request. This would spell an end to the period that researchers across the world and across a wide range of disciplines refer to simply as "the satellite era" — not the time since Sputnik launched, but the decades of high-quality, consistent, and regular data on the global environment from space.

Marshall Shepherd, who directs the University of Georgia's Department of Atmospheric Sciences and has worked on satellites for NASA in the past, said that the moment a satellite's sensor goes dark without another of the same type to replace it, crucial scientific information will be lost.

An unbroken record is necessary to understand how the past and present fit together, and to make firm judgments about the future.

"If you're trying to detect change in something, you need long and continuous uninterrupted records of things like the sea ice or sea level rise or Greenland's ice sheet," Shepherd said. "By shutting those off, you are literally shutting off your long-term record of the diagnostics of the planet."

goes r_spacecraft_sep

The NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite provides images of storms and helps predict weather forecasts, warnings, and longer-term forecasting. NASA

Julienne Stroeve, a researcher with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said those gaps would undermine our ability to make even basic judgments about the health of the planet.

"You need the [satellites] to consistently be processed with the same type of sensors over and over again to have a long-term data record, otherwise you have these data gaps and these long-term uncertainties, and you have no idea what the long-term changes really are," she said.

Looking for alternatives

It's all well and good that NASA has the most complete sources of earth science data in the world. But what's really important, researchers said, is how easy it is to access.

"This is not politically correct to say in Europe, but the US is much better than Europe about sharing data with the whole world," said Jon Saenz, a professor of applied physics at the University of the Basque Country in Spain.

Other agencies tend to tie up their data behind red tape and bureaucracy, Saenz said. He said that if he had to rely on the European Space Agency's limited, difficult-to-access data for his work checking climate model predictions against reality, he'd be "more or less blind" — particularly in the vast, uninhabited stretches of the globe like the Pacific, which are vital for understanding the world climate.

RPSAVz

Some scientists said that if the satellite era in their field ended, they would still be able to continue their work. Instead of satellites, they said, they would use a combination of often lower-quality, more difficult-to-access data from satellites operated by other countries and increased data collection at the ground level.

But that can be difficult and even dangerous work, often with much weaker and more uncertain results.

Ulyana Nadia Horodyskyj is a glaciologist who operates a scientific outreach program in Nepal and analyzes lakes that form on melting glaciers high in the Himalayas. If those lakes grow too large or their natural dams become too weak, the dams can burst and flow down-mountain, threatening tens of thousands of lives.

Horodyskyj brings together images and measurements from NASA's Landsat satellites with observations taken on long hikes around the edges of glacial lakes to advise the Nepalese government on how to address the threat.

Without Landsat, "we would be flying blind," she told Business Insider. "We need those eyes in the sky to complement our ground efforts."

Juanita van Zyl is the geographic information system manager at a company called Manstrat in South Africa. She provides information to the South African government and other companies about droughts, wildfires, and grazing conditions in the country. She said she uses data from NASA to help her clients understand where to move resources.

"South Africa isn't a big country," she said. "But when we are in a drought situation like we are in now, the government can only give out so much money out to help subsistence farmers and commercial farmers. Remote sensing is tremendously important in telling them where to send money."

She said the state of the US presidential election in the spring led her to look for ways to build redundancy into her data sources.

"It's scary to think that something might happen and you won't have access to the data anymore," she said.

But — unique among scientists interviewed for this story — the data sets she studies happen to be replicated by a European data set called Copernicus. After some preparation efforts over the course of the last year, she said she's confident that if NASA earth science were to go dark tomorrow, she would be able to keep up a similar level of quality in her work.

No other scientist interviewed for this story said the same

'Like poking out your eyes while driving your car at high speed'

hurricane matthew carolina

North Carolina residents wade through floodwaters after Hurricane Matthew. Reuters

Some scientists said that without NASA earth science, it would likely be impossible for them to work. Huge swaths of the planet go entirely unmeasured on the ground. Only satellites have the bird's-eye view to place weather events in their full context.

Researchers said that entire fields of study would be left hobbled or unable to function without NASA earth science research and data. Here's a sampling:

Global rainfall

Steve Nesbitt, a researcher at the University of Illinois who works on a NASA mission to measure rainfall all over the world, said that without NASA data, he'd have nothing to study.

He could try to use ground measurements, he said, but it would be nowhere near as sufficient for the scope of his research.

"If you were to try to measure global precipitation on the ground — I mean currently I can fit all of the rain gauges on the globe in the area of about a basketball court," he said.

Farmers rely on Nesbitt and his colleagues' work to measure and model global rainfall to decide how to plant and water their crops. Businesses rely on it to make decisions about production. ("Things like 'How many snow shovels are we going to sell in Buffalo?'" he said.) The US and global transportation systems rely on a deep understanding of atmospheric conditions and long-term weather patterns.

Arctic sea ice

Stroeve, the NSIDC researcher, said that NASA satellites have been necessary to show how dramatically the Arctic has warmed and melted since the 1990s.

"You have one record-low sea-ice year after another," she said. "It doesn't fit long-term trends."

The work Stroeve and her colleagues have done over the span of decades is critical to understanding the radical transformation underway at the top of the world. And there are major economic and diplomatic consequences of those results, as countries and corporations vie for new shipping routes and exposed resources.

She said her work is to observe and report hard numbers on what's happening in the world, and that she finds it baffling that politicians would declare that task political.

The health of oceans

Ajit Subramaniam is a Columbia University professor who tracks microscopic plant life in the ocean.

Those tiny floating life-forms produce up to 40% of the world's oxygen and form the basis of the aquatic food web. Understand them, and you can make judgments about the health of a whole fishery. Satellites can track those microscopic plants by watching how the colors of the sea surface change. And Subramaniam said a satellite can examine in two minutes an area that a ship moving 10 mph would take 11 years to cover.

Without Subramaniam's research, fishers, governments, and conservation groups would lose necessary information about sea life. And deadly algae blooms, an increasingly serious threat to human life along coastlines, would become harder to spot and predict.

Sea level rise

Jokulsarlon Lagoon iceland glacier

Peter Neff, a glaciologist at the University of Rochester who travels regularly to the Antarctic, said ground observations would never tell you the full story of what's going on with ice sheets in that part of the world.

Unlike Arctic ice, which floats on water, Antarctic ice sits on land. If those ice sheets were to collapse, global sea levels could change dramatically.

On the surface, Antarctica's ice still looks pretty still and stable. But ice-penetrating NASA satellites and airplane-mounted sensors show that far below the surface, some are melting at a rate of hundreds of meters a year and risking collapse.

"We never thought these kinds of changes happen year to year," Neff said. "It's dumbfounding how much data NASA produces and how quickly they release it. They fly over an area and the next day the data is available."

Neff's research helps us understand the health of massive glaciers with behavior we still don't fully understand but that lock up enough water to drive up global sea levels on the order of meters, not inches.

And none of them would be able to do their work without NASA satellite data.

Other agencies can't pick up the slack

Walker, Trump's adviser who wants to shutter NASA earth science, told The Guardian that other US agencies would be able to pick up where NASA leaves off.

"My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing NASA programs," he said. "But future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies. I believe that climate research is necessary, but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing. Mr. Trump's decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science."

However, researchers familiar with US science initiatives said such a move wouldn't be feasible without massive expenses or losses in capability.

"You can't just send money over to another agency and expect them to be able to launch satellites," said Abdalati, the former NASA chief scientist. "There's an expertise that exists within NASA that isn't particularly portable. But if it were deemed necessary that the capability to go to some other agency, they'd have to move a lot more than the money."

Shepherd said that the problem has to do with the way institutions like NASA work.

"By shutting off NASA's earth sciences program, you are shutting off expertise, institutional knowledge of the Earth's system that cannot just be spun back up," he said. "It's not like training someone to cook burgers in a fast-food joint. You're talking about years and decades of expertise and technical knowledge. Brainware will be lost, and that is critical."

Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Tourists at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Thomson Reuters

Another problem is that NASA earth science is more than people — it's buildings, systems, and machines that are now woven into the framework of the space agency and could not cheaply or efficiently be extracted.

"They'd have to move the people, they'd have to move the systems, the infrastructure, the facilities. And, you know, it currently exists in the framework that supports all the space activities, so to carve out the Earth piece would be inefficient because you would have to build capability twice," said Abdalati.

Another problem is that there isn't another agency within the federal government built for NASA's task.

The closest is probably the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for the day-to-day tasks of government weather forecasting.

"Certainly NOAA is an organization that provides lifesaving forecasts," Nesbitt said. "I don't want to take anything from NOAA. But they have a different mission and rely on NASA to launch satellites."

The problem, he said, is that NOAA isn't structured for the high-risk, boundary-pushing work NASA does every day.

"It's kind of like if you have a car. Want to fix it? Go to a mechanic (like NOAA). If you want to take it in an auto race, go to someone who is more experimental, and that is NASA. They can develop something that is amazing. It may not work every single day, but then they can scramble and fix things," Nesbitt said. "There's just that cultural divide, and I'm worried that if they take these experimental missions and plug them into NOAA, there's going to be harsh degradation."

A threat to national security?

A pump jack is seen at sunrise near Bakersfield, California October 14, 2014.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

A pump jack. Thomson Reuters

NASA's earth science program, several researchers said, is critical to national security.

There are the obvious ways: building and constantly improving the infrastructure necessary to predict hurricanes and other extreme weather, collecting images of disasters to guide emergency response workers, and tracking sea level changes around the world that affect coastlines and the Navy.

But plenty are less obvious — but no less important — ways NASA helps keep the country safe.

In September, Business Insider published a story about the severe and underreported dangerthat space weather poses to modern society. There's a very real threat that a major solar storm could strike Earth and knock out the electric grid, satellites, navigation systems on airplanes, and any other electrical system not hardened to withstand the blast.

These sorts of events aren't all that rare — the last one happened in 1859.

"We'll almost certainly see a major event in our lifetimes," said Morris Cohen, a researcher who studies electrical events in the upper atmosphere. "It's kind of a game of Russian roulette we're playing. Keep playing forever, and eventually you're going to get hit."

solar eclipse

Reuters

If scientists are on alert, humanity should have a few days to prepare between the start of a solar storm and the moment it reaches Earth, Cohen said. But that prediction will rely on NASA earth science mission data.

"Obviously what's driving the political question of 'Yes to earth science or no to earth science?' is climate change," Cohen said. "That's the motivation behind cutting all this stuff. But what a lot of people don't realize is that earth science data and earth science in general goes way beyond climate change. The same satellite that's capturing data from clouds is also capturing data about what's going on in space and what's coming from the sun."

Cohen said he's working on a project to strengthen the US military that would be impossible without geoscience research of the sort that's threatened at NASA.

Right now, the military relies on satellite GPS systems for navigation, just like civilians. But GPS is remarkably easy to jam. Cohen has worked on an alternative system that would use live data on lightning strikes and the radio waves they emit to build a more resilient navigation system for the military that would be much more difficult to disrupt.

Without geoscience research, he said, the system would never get off the ground.

Researchers resist the idea that their work is politica

Donald Trump

Jacquelyn Gill researches paleoecology and plant ecology — in other words, she studies the history of the global climate over millions of years — at the University of Maine.

She and her students spend their time trying to understand how the atmosphere worked in the ancient world — sometimes finding themselves knee-deep in bogs collecting buried pollen or ash from ancient fires.

"Despite our best efforts, all we see of the Earth's climate is a really narrow snapshot in time," she said. "And to get a more complete and full picture of how Earth operates, we need long-term data."

That long-term data shows that modern climate change is faster and more acute than anything else in Earth's history. But there are also concrete implications for modern-day lobster fishers — and for futuristic endeavors like terraforming Mars.

And none of it would be possible, she said, without NASA data creating a baseline for how the climate works.

"A lot of the work we do in the past is motivated by the world we have in the present," Gill said. "If we don't have that information then [the past data] becomes a kind of novelty. It loses its grounding."

Without NASA's earth science programs, many researchers say they expect to see the American scientific enterprise to become less singular and less great, and to fall into decline.

"It's unfortunate that the politics of climate change have evolved to the point in this country where really serious games of chicken are being played with major agencies in our federal government," Nesbitt said. "These are agencies that have absolutely no political agenda, just collections of scientists that are doing work to better society. And it's really sad that these political forces are trying to exploit this issue."

"Is there a line you can draw between understanding how the Earth works and the so-called politically incorrect environmental monitoring?" Subramaniam said. "If you think of the Earth as a being, knowing how well it's doing is a good thing is how I see it. Why would we not want to do it?

"It's a head-scratcher for me. I simply don't understand what the issue would be."

Giving up on part of what makes us human

international space station iss nasa

Chanda Hsu Prescod-Weinstein is an early-universe cosmologist. That means she works on understanding what happened in the moments after the Big Bang, when the whole universe was hot and physics was bent to the point of breaking.

Her work relies on data from NASA's spaceward missions, and a shift from earth science toward even more space data might offer new opportunities for her research. But she said the idea of a NASA that no longer examines the Earth scares her.

"You know, I am not a parent, but I have a niece who just turned 8, and many of my close friends have children right now. And I want those children to have a beautiful life," she said. "I think that trumps any interest in early-universe cosmology. The work that I do on dark matter, I'm not sure it will have a lot of meaning if those kids don't have an opportunity to learn about it because society has been devastated by global warming. So that's, for me, the priority."

Abdalati said that losing half of NASA's mission would mean giving up on part of what makes us human.

"As human beings, throughout time, we have explored our surroundings, and we have worked to understand our environment, and we looked as far beyond as we could," he said.

And NASA fulfills both drives — to understand and to explore.

"I think both are critical. Both are essential. I wouldn't want to see human space zeroed out to support a whole bunch of earth science" either, he added. "I may differ from some of my colleagues in that, but I think we need it all."

Lori Janjigian contributed to this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Walker's proposal would ax or redirect 40% of NASA's budget and operations. This was based on past numbers, and referred only to NASA's science budget, not the agency's total budget. In fact, Walker's proposal would ax or redirect more than 34% of NASA's $5.2 billion 2017 science budget request, andalmost 10% of its $18 billion overall budget request. Thanks to Loren Grush of The Verge for spotting the error.

Author:  Rafi Letzter

Source:  http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-nasa-earth-science-thanksnasa-2016-12

Categorized in Science & Tech

Ellen Stofan, current NASA chief scientist, said sending humans to Mars would be a powerful step in the search for life beyond Earth.

"I am someone who believes it is going to take humans on the surface [of Mars] … to really get at the question of not just did life evolve on Mars, but what is the nature of that life," Stofan said at a scientific workshop in Irvine, California, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. "To me, we're going to go Mars because Mars holds the answers to such fundamental scientific questions that we're trying to ask."

The workshop, titled "Searching for Life Across Space and Time," drew together leading scientists who are, through various avenues, working to find signs of alien life in Earth's solar system and beyond. Stofan has argued before for the scientific benefits of a human mission to the Red Planet.

Stofan said she believes strongly in sending humans to Mars to search for signs of life because humans can perform tasks that would be difficult for a rover. Humans can operate drills that could go deeper than the few inches plumbed by the Curiosity rover, or even beyond a depth of 6.5 feet (2 meters), which is the expected limit for the Mars 2020 rover. Humans could potentially explore more locations than a rover could and perform deeper scientific analysis than what is possible using a remote, robotic scientific laboratory, she said.

"We now know water was stable for long periods of time on the surface [of Mars], and Mars' potential for habitability, I think, is huge," Stofan said. "I do believe that we need … brave people to spend time on Mars, to have a scientific laboratory on Mars, to do the work that we need to do to truly understand what life on Mars tells us about life beyond Earth."

Multiple sessions at the meeting focused on the search for signs of ancient life or even present-day life on Mars. Today, the surface of the Red Planet appears to be inhospitable to the kind of life that exists on Earth, mainly because liquid water exists only in very small amounts, and is extremely salty. Other factors would also make life hard on the Red Planet, including high doses of space radiation (because Mars lacks the protective atmosphere and magnetic field that Earth has),and wildly oscillating surface temperatures: During the Martian summer months, the surface of the planet might be 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) during the day, but plummet to minus 100 F (minus 73 C) at night.

Image:

There are examples of extreme life-forms on Earth that can survive in some of those conditions, including frigid temperatures and exposure to high doses of radiation. However, liquid water is a necessity for all known Earth-based life-forms. But based on the discovery of brines on the surface of Mars, some people think it's possible that life exists on the Red Planet today. With that in mind, some people are concerned that sending rovers and humans to Mars could risk contaminating the planet with Earth-based microbes.

Right now, NASA has plans that could allow scientists to bring rock samples backto Earth from Mars, Stofan said. An in-depth analysis of a Martian rock might help the scientific community make a more informed decision about whether life likely exists on Mars today, and thus what steps would be needed to prevent biological contamination from a human visit to the Red Planet, Stofan said.

"I think these are questions that should be in the hands of the science community via the [NAS]," she said.

Stofan briefly addressed concerns about whether NASA could actually pull off its plan to send humans into orbit around Mars by the early 2030s and onto the planet's surface by the late 2030s, saying that she is an "incredible optimist on this."

The scientist added that she has also heard people say that there is "no real reason" to send humans to the surface of Mars (as opposed to robotic missions), and she called on members of the science community to "speak up" if they disagree.

Image: Martian sand dunes

The scientific interest in Mars extends beyond NASA. The European, Indian and Chinese space agencies are all sending probes or rovers to Mars. Private companies (primarily Elon Musk's SpaceX) are also working on plans related to Mars. Someone in the audience asked Stofan if she thought the global scientific community is engaged in a sort of "soft space race" to Mars.

"I really don't see it as a soft race. I see it as this amazing confluence of interests," Stofan said. "I think Mars has incredible public appeal. .... It engages the public in a way that very few other things do, which is great.

Author:  CALLA COFIELD

Source:  http://www.nbcnews.com/

Categorized in Science & Tech

There are multiple timelines playing out in parallel universes, according to a team of researchers.

The sensational claim was made by a team of physicists, who believe that the parallel universes can all affect one another.

Professor Howard Wiseman and Dr. Michael Hall, from Griffith University’s Centre for Quantum Dynamics, claim that the idea of parallel universes is more than just science fiction.

Fellow researcher Dr. Dirk-Andre Deckert, from the University of California, helped further the researchers’ theory, which goes against almost all conventional understanding of space and time.

WEARABLE CAMERA LETS YOU 'GO BACK IN TIME' TO RECORD FLEETING MOMENTS

If there really are multiple, interacting universes, then it would be possible for time travellers to visit Earth, and every imaginable scenario would be played out in a parallel universe at some point.

The team’s ‘Many Interacting Worlds Theory’ provides a whole new perspective on the ideas underpinning quantum theory, a notoriously complex strand of physics.

Professor Wiseman said: “The idea of parallel universes in quantum mechanics has been around since 1957.

“In the well-known ‘Many-Worlds Interpretation’, each universe branches into a bunch of new universes every time a quantum measurement is made.

“All possibilities are therefore realised – in some universes the dinosaur-killing asteroid missed Earth. In others, Australia was colonised by the Portuguese.

“But critics question the reality of these other universes, since they do not influence our universe at all.

“On this score, our ‘Many Interacting Worlds’ approach is completely different, as its name implies.”

WEASEL SHUTS DOWN WORLD'S LARGEST ATOM SMASHER IN SWITZERLAND

According to the theory, our universe is just one of many enormous worlds, with some identical to our reality and others completely different.

The Express reports that the worlds are all real, and all on the same timeline, but interact when they essentially bump into each other.

Dr. Hall believes that the group’s sensational theory fits with current scientific understanding, offering a new perspective rather than rewriting the physics rule book completely.

Author:  The Sun

Source:  http://www.foxnews.com/

Categorized in Online Research

LIFE probably does not exist on Mars as there is no water on the surface of the planet, a new study found.

A new study of meteorites that have crashed into the surface of the Red Planet over millions of years has found none showed signs of rust, suggesting there is no liquid present on Earth’s neighbour.

Our Neightbouring planet still harbours plenty of secrets, but alien life may not be one of them
Who would live in a place like this? A photo of the barren Martian surface

Who would live in a place like this? A photo of the barren Martian surface

There is less moisture on Mars than in the driest place on Earth – the Atacama Desert in Chile and Peru.

Some weather stations in this region have received no rain for years, while another station reports an average of one millimetre per year.

An international team of planetary scientists led by the University of Stirling suggested rust free meteorites showed Mars was incredibly dry and has been for millions of years.

The findings showed how difficult it would be for life to exist on Mars today as Earth’s nearest neighbour is the primary target in the search for life elsewhere.

Dr Christian Schröder said: “Evidence shows that more than three billion years ago Mars was wet and habitable.

“However, this latest research reaffirms just how dry the environment is today.

“For life to exist in the areas we investigated, it would need to find pockets far beneath the surface, located away from the dryness and radiation present on the ground.”

National Geographic series Mars

An artist’s impression of astronauts exploring Mars

A study last year using data from the Curiosity Rover investigating Gale crater suggested very salty liquid water might be able to condense in the top layers of Martian soil overnight.

But the lecturer in environmental science and planetary exploration and science team collaborator for the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity mission added: "But, as our data show, this moisture is much less than the moisture present even in the driest places on Earth."

The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity provided data on a cluster of meteorites at Meridiani Planum - a plain just south of the planet's equator and at a similar latitude to Gale crater.

The study comes as the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli lander prepares to land on Mars to search for life

The European Space Agency's Schiaparelli craft, which failed in its mission to land a exploration robot on the Red Planet

Author:  Tony Whitfield

Source:  https://www.thesun.co.uk

Categorized in News & Politics

The search for life on Mars might just center around a strange funnel-shaped surface feature inside a crater, scientists say in a new study. Located in what is known as the Hellas depression, the feature could hold the “ingredients of life.”

The Daily Mail reported last week that a new study suggests that volcanic activity on Mars might have been a key contributor to the odd funnel depression that could be Mars’ best chance to host living organisms. Scientists have believed that a volcano located beneath a glacier on Mars’ surface created the Hellas depression, but new data taken from stereoscopic images and digital elevation models indicates that the formation is not only volcanic in origin, it might be similar to “ice cauldrons” on Earth. Such a formation could create an environment warm enough to host liquid water and chemical nutrients that might support life.

Ice cauldrons are found on Earth in places like Iceland and Greenland, created when volcanoes erupt under an ice sheet. On Mars, these same conditions potentially could host life.

Joseph Levy, a research associate and lead author of the study from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, explained the reasoning behind the study’s site choice.

“We were drawn to this site because it looked like it could host some of the key ingredients for habitability – water, heat, and nutrients.”

The Hellas depression, as noted, is located in a crater at the edge of the Hellas basin. Ancient glacial deposits surround the feature.

Photo of Mars' Hellas basin

The Hellas basin on Mars. [Image by ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)/Getty Images]

Nor is the feature, which was first discovered in 2009 in images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, unique. It is similar to a depression in the Galaxias Fossae region.

“These landforms caught our eye because they’re weird looking. They’re concentrically fractured so they look like a bull’s-eye. That can be a very diagnostic pattern you see in Earth materials,” Levy admitted.

The study concluded that the two funnel structures were formed in different ways. The Galaxias Fossae depression seems to be a product of an impact, while the Hellas depression showed several indications of volcanism.

Levy and his fellow researchers suggest that such depressions on Mars should be considered as prime locations for the search for life on the Red Planet. The Hellas formation is of particular interest due to its possible volcanic origins and the potential for life-fostering properties.

The search for life on Mars might have received a boost or perhaps even a confirmation (or denial) of its existence last month had the Rocosmos and European Space Agency’s lander been able to continue its mission on the planet’s surface. Called Schiaparelli, the lander was an astrobiology project specifically designed to search for life on Mars. As the Inquisitr reported, Schiaparelli exploded on impact with the surface on October 19, a victim of its parachute deploying too early (although conspiracy theorists oddly accused NASA of shooting down the craft to maintain its scientific dominance).

Mars landscape at sunset

Mars life might be found first in a crater in the Hellas basin that exhibits a strange funnel-shaped depression. [Image by Jurik Peter/Shutterstock]

Beyond Mars, the search for life outside the bounds of the Solar System received help from the Parkes Observatory in Australia this week. According to Space.com, the telescope joined the $100 million Breakthrough Listen project, the astronomical initiative launched by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, becoming the third telescope in the line-up that includes the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory in Northern California.

“The addition of Parkes is an important milestone,” Milner said in a statement. “These major instruments are the ears of planet Earth, and now they are listening for signs of other civilizations.”

The Parkes dish’s first Breakthrough Listen observations were received from the nearest star system, Proxima Centauri, where a planet has been detected that exists in the star’s habitable zone.

Author:  Norman Byrd

Source:  http://www.inquisitr.com/

Categorized in News & Politics

The science community is keeping a wary eye on a Canadian research team’s claim of finding possible homes for life in outer space.

The researchers from Universite Laval in Quebec City say analysis of some unusual signals has helped them identify 234 potential systems that might be playing host to extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI).

The theory has evolved over several years and took root when lead researcher Ermanno Borra published a paper in 2012 speculating on how residents of other galaxies may try to broadcast their existence to the rest of space.

He published a theory that such life forms could use lasers to make their home planet emit an unusual signal that would be noticed by anyone carefully observing the cosmos.

Now, Borra and graduate student Eric Trottier say they’ve identified 234 stars emitting that exact signal, adding they all appear to have characteristics that would enable them to help sustain life.

Fellow academics are intrigued enough by the research to study the findings more

closely,

but are currently treating the findings with skepticism and saying it’s too early to make definite claims.

Borra agrees, saying the latest findings – which have been published to a repository of scientific papers and are awaiting peer review – are far from conclusive.

“The kind of signal we found is in agreement with the ETI hypothesis, but right now it’s still a hypothesis that must be confirmed with further work,” Borra said in a telephone interview from Quebec City.

The signal at the heart of the theory involves lasers, which Borra said are a simple form of technology to produce and would be well within the capabilities of civilizations that are potentially much more advanced than humankind.

Borra theorized that sending flashes of light millionths of a second apart would be an easy feat that could produce a dramatic result – altering the unique light spectrum produced by an individual star.

Earth-bound scientists have already dedicated vast resources to charting the spectra of planets, stars and other bodies in various galaxies and collecting the information in central databases.

For their research, Borra and Trottier turned to the Slone Digital Sky Survey, a 16-year project that has purportedly mapped more than 30 per cent of the sky and catalogued

spectra for at least 2.5 million astronomical objects.

Borra said they compared the theoretical spectrum that would be produced by laser flashes to the survey results and found only 234 matches.

Borra said the stars in question all share spectral characteristics with the sun, which itself is too hot to support life forms. The stars he’s identified are therefore more likely to be the centres

of prospective stellar systems in which other life-sustaining planets could exist, he added.

“We intuitively expect that an ETI would bein a planet that turns around a star like the sun at about the same distance as the Earth from the Sun,” he said. “This is because this environment would be the best for life to exist. The proof comes from the fact that life exists on Earth.”

Borra said he accounted for the fact that the spectra might be caused by factors other than ETI, such as chemical makeup or calculation errors, but said the research suggests such factors are not at play.

Academics at the University of California, Berkeley, however, aren’t so quick to dismiss such causes.

The university’s Breakthrough Listen project has announced it will be studying the results more closely, but currently doesn’t place much stock in the findings as a sign of life beyond Earth.

Scientists dedicated to searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence have developed the Rio scale to assess the likelihood that anomalies are a sign of alien life. UC Berkeley currently give the Canadian findings a 0 or 1 on the Rio scale, classifying them as “insignificant.”

“The one in 10,000 objects with unusual spectra seen by Borra and Trottier are certainly worthy of additional study,” the university said in a statement. “However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It is too early to unequivocally attribute these purported signals to the activities of extraterrestrial civilizations.”

Borra said the Berkeley researchers will try to reproduce the results with their own telescopes, adding he welcomes the additional scrutiny and potential confirmation from outside sources.

“I do not know myself what this really is,” he said. “More work has to be done to confirm it.

Source:  theglobeandmail.com

Categorized in Science & Tech
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