The Planetary News Radio – Episode 9: Artemis Moon Mission, Video Games and Gun Behavior, and Sabertooth Cat Fights

Hello and welcome to the Planetary News Show Episode 9 with your host Bryan White. Today I’m going to do another “Science in the News Segment”. Just to explain really brief, this [segment] is me talking about  recent trending science news articles that I haven’t necessarily read the article, but I might have looked up some of the background or some of this controversial checked in on it. I it sounds like I’m next to a family of ducks, that’s because I am so they’re just chilling. We’re all just chilling here by the river in Corvallis, Oregon, talking about science. These are probably some of those friendliest ducks I have ever happened to cross. All right, let’s get started.

NASA has chosen its first 3 partners for its Artemus Moon return mission. This is really popular right now. NASA’s making some major headway on its goal to return to the moon. NASA’s goal to return to the moon is picking up, so they’re going to send a robotic lander and a robotic orbiter by 2020, and humans on the moon by 2024. It’s chosen it’s private partners, and they’re starting to contract this out. So we’ll have boots on the ground on the moon by 2024. That’s exciting.

Let’s see what else? SpaceX Starlink satellite again in the news for concern over the idea that it might block out [the view of] stars [once they are] in orbit. Since the total fleet of this Starlink

satellite orbit is supposedly something like 12,000 satellites, it’s a legitimate concern. I don’t know how valid it is because there’s already thousands of pieces of space junk orbiting the Earth, and people haven’t really been complaining about that. So I think people should think about this and apply logical consistency. And so if you’re going to criticize Elon Musk for polluting orbit, then I think you should also criticize all of the other institutions that have been doing that for the last 50 years. But again, I see a logical inconsistency here with people complaining about it [because] I don’t see a real push for removing space junk anywhere, [just a recent focus on Starlink].

Here’s an interesting one, its potentially controversial so I did actually go look at the research article. [The title of the article is,] “Study considers length between violent video games and behavior with guns”, and this was published in one of the JAMA Network journals. Now what this study concluded was that a group of children who played video games that had guns in the video game we’re more likely to pick up and use a disabled gun, pull the trigger, and point it at their peers than children who had played games that only had swords or children that did not play violent video games. What this says [to me] is you had kids who went and they played a game with guns in it, so now they know what a gun is in the game. Presumably, they can see the trigger that and see how to hold a gun. So you taught them how to hold and use a gun. The result of this study is children play a game that teaches them how to use an object and they see the object in real life, they pick it up and play with it. That makes total sense. But I would like to see is if they’d put out swords and see if kids who played the sword game also were likely to play with swords. [This was included with the study but with Nerf/foam swords]. And so really, they’ve just confirmed the fact that kids emulate what they see in video games.

Now they do have a valid point, because now the sword is one thing, but in the instance of the gun, you have truly taught the kid how to play with a gun. And so if you are a family and you have guns and you leave your gun sitting out and your child has played video games that have guns in it, that child is more likely to pick up and play with a gun in an unsafe way. So if anything that stresses families who do have guns to be protective of the gun if they have children that are exposed two video games but also in general if they have children. People who have guns should be locking them up and preventing children from accessing them, unless for some reason that child is specifically being trained to use a gun (e.g., sport shooting), then that’s a different story. In other words, accidental play behavior is what should be avoided. So that’s an accurate headline because all the headline says is that there’s a link between violent video games and behavior with guns, presumably all the games that have guns or violent because you’re shooting people.

Let’s see what else. “Juno Space probe identifies changes in Jupiter’s magnetic field.” That’s interesting. So the Juno space probe is really cool because it spent many years [(2011 launch year)] traveling to Jupiter and arrived there in 2016 and begin photographing its moons which gave us a much clearer pictures of Jupiter’s atmosphere. And the nice thing about Juno is that at the end of its mission, which should be in 2021, it will descend into the atmosphere of Jupiter. And if you remember in the movie 2001 a Space Odyssey, they descend in the atmosphere of Jupiter. And, of course, all sorts of weird, strange things happen in that movie. And so we’ll find out what types of weird, strange things might happen to Juno as it descends into the atmosphere of Jupiter, a fitting end for a probe.

Let’s see, invasive flowering species might overpower native ones because of warming climate. Well that’s makes sense. That’s likely true. I wouldn’t call that a new new result, maybe a “new to you” result.

Let’s see what else flipping my pages here, “Physicists create a stable, strongly magnetized plasma jet in the laboratory”. That’s interesting, because plasma is a stable, sustained stream of ionized gas. This is only charged gas particles that are being expelled from some creation point. And this is what large parts of stars are made of. This is saying that they’ve created a stable stream of plasma that’s magnetized and at supersonic speeds. So it’s a supersonic stream of plasma that’s magnetized. This is closer to the surface of what a star might be putting out, so it’s a better system to study what types of electromagnetic effects are happening on the surface of a star. So that’s kind of cool.

Astrocytes protect neurons from toxic buildup. I mean, that’s a true statement, and maybe I’ll take a minute here to. Critique that statement. That’s something you might read out of a textbook, so this doesn’t really tell me anything new [or draw my interest in to read the article]. Astrocytes are [nerve] cells that surround neurons along with [types of] glial cells and support those neurons. And part of that support presumably would be toxin removal. So it’s an entire system around neurons involved in actual neural networks and synaptic processing that supports them and astrocytes are part of that. So this doesn’t seem terribly interesting to me, I’m just actually criticizing this title as being boring.

“Climate change is already affecting global food production unequally”. That it is also true or something I would expect again. It doesn’t tell me anything new, though, just from the headline

Eruption of ice volcanoes through liquid water over the frozen surface of Pluto. That’s a good title that tells me something new, because last time we talked about Pluto having water, and now we’re talking about an eruption. So there was an eruption on the surface of Pluto, and maybe that’s how we know that there was water underneath it. So that’s it. A good title.

See what else? This was an interesting one, “Punctured school suggest saber-toothed cats fought amongst themselves”, and then it’s a picture of a sabre-toothed cat skull impaling another sabre-toothed cat skull. And I kind of think this is a little funny because I don’t know what else they would be doing other than fighting, because they used the word “suggest” [in the title]. But I suppose since we weren’t actually there, all we have are the fossils. It is a suggestion. It’s a very strong suggestion based on this picture. Definitely looks like these sabre-toothed cats were fighting. Now, the interesting thing is that this would confirm that the tooth of a sabre-toothed cat was actually strong enough to break through bone and could be used in fighting. A lot of times in mammals or large vertebrates you find, or in in general, in the animal kingdom, you find lots of structures that aren’t actually used in fighting that look like they might be. A good example might be horns on a chameleon or rhinoceros beetle. [They’re used for locking/grappling during a fight, but not necessarily for actually impaling during a fight]. [So a lot of structures that look they are for fighting might just be] for show or for sizing up other members of the same species, but not necessarily for actually damaging another member of the species. And it looks like here now they’ve confirmed at least that sabre-toothed cats could indeed use their teeth for fighting. So that’s cool.

Last one for this episode, “Black hole created in the lab confirmed Stephen Hawking’s radiation theory”. That’s interesting, because that makes me want to read the article, because there was a big controversy with black holes when Stephen Hawking first proposed them that they would infinitely gain mass. And so the question was, “Do you or infinitely continue to gain mass? Do black holes ever lose mass?” And the answer was later hypothesized to be, yes, they do lose mass – they bleed out energy in the form of radiation, and this radiation is named Hawking Radiation. And so this is black Hole created in a lab. That’s really cool. I want to read that because I want to see how they did that. And so maybe this is something in a particle accelerator that mimicked some properties of a black hole for a split second. I don’t think they actually created a black hole. [These are actually sonic black holes that are made using water, but that mimic the relativistic properties of a black hole.] I think this is a sensationalist title, but maybe they mimic some property of a black hole that would suggest that hawking radiation exists, some curious how they did that, and that’s all that I highlighted today to look at, so I will sign out.

And that’s Bryan White signing off with The Planetary News Radio. Thanks for listening and have a good day.

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The Planetary News Radio – Episode 8: New Fracking Methods, a Hidden Ocean on Pluto, and Other Science News

Hello. Welcome to The Planetary News Radio Episode 8 with your host, Bryan White. Today I’m going to do a segment called Science in the News, and this is kind of like taking the pulse of the internet in regard to science. What I have is just a list of headlines of recent science based trending articles and I haven’t researched the articles, I haven’t read them. All I’m doing is I’m just looking at headlines, and I’m taking the pulse. I just want to know what’s going on in a general sense, just to get an idea of where things are at with popular topics in science and so I don’t miss anything major or important.

The first thing up on this list is “PhD Programs drop standardized exam”. That’s important because PhD [(and other graduate)] programs historically have required a GRE (graduate record examination) to get into graduate. It’s a standardized way to measure capacity or ability and there’s been a lot of criticism about using standardized tests and measure graduate level capacity. And so you see a lot of institutions are dropping GREs entirely for [entry into] graduate programs. One of the first places to do this was UC Berkeley, which dropped the GRE for its biology program and now presumably we are seeing more schools dropping this, and I see that is a good thing for science. I think that if you create a standardized test and people train themselves to pass and do well on standardised tests, then all you end up with our people who are really good at doing standardized tests. So I’m glad to see that a lot of institutions or shifting away from this and maybe taking a more holistic approach to graduate entry, let’s see what’s next.

“Elon Musk’s 12,000 StarLink satellite network has a big problem”. I’ve been seeing a lot about this. So Elon Musk wants to create a satellite Internet called Starling and could presumably have hundreds or thousands of satellites. He’s launched 60 so far, so there’s a string of 60 satellites now orbiting around the earth, and they’re in a very low orbit right now. And so I believe the orbit slowly adjusts itself, but right now they’re in a low orbit, and so you can see the satellite’s fairly easily from the ground, so that’s a problem. It’s [potentially] very distracting for astronomers, and you see a lot of complaints about this network. So the concern is that when the full system is 12,000 satellites long, how much of the sky will be blocked out by this network? So it’s a legitimate concern, but we don’t really know yet. Some other uses of the network might offset that. For example, Elon Musk has said that this network would also be capable of removing space junk. So maybe as the satellites age, they can be repurposed to collect and bring down other pieces of debris in orbit and maybe balance out total space junk floating around Earth. So in general, space junk is a problem. That’s really good topic to talk about later.

Astronomers spot Forbidden Planet in Neptunian Desert”. So this is a planet that’s been spotted where it’s not supposed to exist, and that probably means that the planet is too close to its star. In other words, it hasn’t been obliterated by the star. That’s interesting, because planets that are close to their stars lose matter and mass slowly gets stripped away by radiation, so you see planets [that orbit to close] slowly getting absorbed by their stars. So you would not expect a planet to persist for very long in that range. That suggests, interesting things about this planet. Either there’s something strange about the star or something strange about the planet, and I don’t know, So this makes me curious. I want to go look at it more. But right now I’m not. This is just the headlines, So this isn’t really interesting thing to go look at later. [Scientists hypothesize either the planet began much larger than it currently is or it only recently migrated into the Neptunian zone (< ~1 million years ago)].

“Watch the first solar eclipse ever captured on film”. A year 1900 total solar eclipse. The oldest one ever [recorded]. So there’s a video of a solar eclipse, but not only a solar eclipse, the first ever video of a solar eclipse, has been released. That’s interesting because the year was 1900 and it kind of makes you think for a minute how long humans have been doing astronomy, much before film was invented. We already had a sophisticated understanding of astronomy, and so we think this film is something hi tech [compared to a simple 1900’s telescope], but astronomy, in all of its complexity, really needed only a low tech solution [(telescope)] to collect data. And so we’ve had telescopes for hundreds of years but only movies for only 100 years. That’s an interesting fact to know.

[This story again, “Ancient supernova prompted human ancestors to walk upright”. I talked about that an entire episode last time, which, if you missed, is the idea that a supernova caused a increase risk in forest fires or an increased rate of forest fires. And that might have driven humans to walk upright in ancient humans to walk upright. And so a new theory in the arena of human by P does and theories so that I would expect to develop more.

The James Webb telescope emerges successfully from final thermal vacuum test. So the James Webb telescope is going to be the new Hubble, the new most advanced telescope that we put into orbit around the Earth. So the fact that that’s getting close to being completed is really important and hopefully will begin to see amazing results from that fairly quickly.

Now here’s an interesting one, “Swapping water for CO2 could make fracking greener and more effective”, fracking being a short word for hydraulic fracturing, which is the act of injecting high pressure fluids under ground in order to cause fractures. So it’s a hydraulic fracture, and as those fractures are caused, then oil and gas will seep through into the cracks, and then that oil and gas could be extracted from the rock, but only under the [presence] of that fracturing. And so how you do that fracturing? Historically it has been done with water. So you inject the ground with water and what this article is suggesting that that could be done with carbon dioxide instead of water.

Why is that important? Well, for one hydraulic fracturing absolutely wrecks the water and ecosystem anywhere that it’s done at, because once you use the water, you can’t just dump it back in to a river or a stream. That water is now toxic, so you need two things: You need, one a source of water, and that water cannot go back, and then: Two, you need a place to put the water because not only can you not put the water back, it’s now toxic, and so it’s worse than just being used up. It’s completely unusable for some period of time, so there’s all sorts of ways that this could be done. Either the water is reused and could be used multiple times, but then presumably eventually the chemistry of the water would be altered such that it can only be reused a certain number of times and eventually has to be stored somewhere. And the other way is to just store the water in a pool and wait for to evaporate. And so when you do that, all the chemicals are left behind which creates a waste pit that is highly toxic. And a lot of these toxic components, like radio nuclides bio-accumulate in the environment. So if that pit leaks, if ground water leaks from that and carries the concentrated toxins from the hydraulic fracturing, that will bio-accumulate because fish will absorb the radionuclides and then animals eat the fish, so on and so forth [up the food chain].

These waste pits really jeopardize entire ecosystems. So hydraulic fracturing is really damaging to the ecosystem outside of the [actual] fracturing [itself]. So on top of all of that [above-ground] damage, you’re also cracking the earth in a way that can cause earthquakes. The idea that the water component might be able to be removed, if we could use a CO2 instead of water as the fracturing material, that would be great. As I discussed previously, it’s really tough to make moral change in America’s current political spectrum. So the moral issue here being that hydraulic fracturing is bad for the environment and things that are bad for the environment are bad. But we can’t stop because we need the oil and we need the gas because our economy depends on it. But if we could do something small, like shift away from water and [use CO2 instead], that could help offset some of that damage. That would be great. So I support that. If that is the case, that could be done. That’s great. We could see an immediate lessening of the damage of hydraulic fracturing. You’re still causing permanent damage to the ground. We don’t know what the long term effects will because it’s only been done for the past, say, 50 years routinely, so we don’t know the long term damage of fracturing these rocks underground. We do know that short term they do cause earthquakes.

All right, let’s look at what’s next. “Mysterious SpaceX crew dragon explosion is still being investigated”, so the SpaceX Crew Dragon is SpaceX’s human piloted, reusable component of the SpaceX fleet. There was an explosion recently during the testing of this module, which is maybe a setback on the timeline for when that module will become usable. We don’t know this [happened and it] is still being investigated. It’s not necessarily good or bad news. You would expect explosions that happen during early testing phases, although with a crew module of an explosion happening is really bad because you will have people in the system. So this system has to be way better than the automated ones. The automated ones might crash all the time, or more frequently. That’s fine. There’s no people on there. The risk of loss of life is much more important. So hopefully SpaceX will be able to achieve the same result as it has with its automated systems as with its crewed systems, and so that we can have safe crewed spaceflight again, which we haven’t had, really, at least in the United States. We have been dependent on other countries, mostly Russia, since the space shuttle program was ended which has probably been 10 years now, or something like that.

So what else? “Sonic black holes produced Hawking radiation may confirm famous theory”. So hawking radiation is really interesting because when black holes were first discovered, the idea that the black hole would infinitely continue increasing in Mass was really it was important to know if that were the case. And so eventually hawking decided or determined that it’s not the case that black holes actually do lose energy in the form of radiation. They named Hawking radiation after Stephen Hawking’s theory that black hole could even evaporate eventually. So a very large black hole that’s still gaining mass is not going to evaporate, but a small one, [or shrinking one], once it goes past a certain point, if it’s not gaining any more mass, it’s only losing energy through hawking radiation energy being converted from mass, [at which point it could evaporate]. The very small black hole might evaporate very quickly, and so that’s interesting that hawking radiation is being confirmed. We’re always looking for empirical confirmations of these theoretical concepts, especially with theoretical physics.

Here’s another one, “Ammonia detected on the surface of Pluto’s hints at subterranean water”. This is really interesting because we keep finding out that planets and moons and dwarf moons and even large asteroids might have water on them. Not just water in the rocks but actual underwater oceans or frozen surface oceans frozen, and now Pluto is in the list of celestial bodies that might have an underground ocean along with Europa and a few others.

And that’s a good segue way to this next one, “Without a champion Europa Lander falls to NASA’s back burner, and another one on that big space challenges could put NASA’s European missions on ice”. That is not good to hear. Europa, as I just mentioned, is one of the first moons in this in our solar system that has water has an ocean under its surface. So we really want to explore Europa. That’s one of the places we think has a high probability of having at least microbial life. Even there on the surface or underwater in the ocean. So Europa should be a really high priority target. It sounds like NASA’s losing that priority. Maybe moon missions are being pushed up. So we should track that we should follow up on that.

“Your sea floor may be destined to become diamonds”. Well, that makes sense because the sea floor rotates and subducts under the continents and goes down to the core of the Earth, where it would presumably undergo conditions to form diamonds in some cases. So I’m not sure why it may be I’d have to look at the article again. I’m just looking at the headline and just going off, the headline says. And what I would think about it. And so my question now would be why, with the sea floor not become diamonds, that’s my question.

What’s next? “NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover finds a clay cache”. Oh, that’s interesting. Why would play be important? So one of the theories for the origins of life is focused around clay because clay has some interesting electromagnetic properties that might allow things like ions and it’s early cellular proto-cell structures to develop [into cells]. The other, more popular, theory being hydrothermal vents. So the clay itself could be [considered an] organic material. So if you think of clay as something that is related to organic materials, if Mars has a cache of clay, that could be a cache of organic materials. It could also contain bio-materials. So that’s why finding clay would be really interesting. And presumably Mars should have clay because it had a water cycle. If there’s some exposed clay on the surface, that would be a really lucky find.

And it looks like that’s all I had on my list today. So thanks for listening again. I’m going to keep mentioning these two things. That’s Bryan White signing off with The Planetary News Radio. Thanks for listening.

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The Planetary News Radio – Episode 6: Supernovae and Bipedalism in Humans

Hello. Welcome to the Planetary News Radio Episode 6. Some good news. This podcast is now available on the iTunes store and the Google Play Store. Granted, I know I don’t have a lot of listeners right now, but if at some point in time in the future, a future listener finds this recording they can now use iTunes and Google to listen to other future recordings. So that’s good for future people. What about past past people, or past hominids? Humans being a group of apes that walk upright consistently specifically, really, modern humans and their direct ancestors that are not chimpanzees. There’s an article in the news, or several articles about a recent study done on hominid evolution, [specifically, on the evolution of bipedalism (walking upright)].

The evolution of walking upright is always a controversial topic, along with most of the topics in human evolution. Intelligence, bipedalism, opposable thumbs for being a very generalised species in terms of diet and living conditions. Humans have a couple or really multiple, very specific adaptations. They give us an advantage, bipedalism, being one of those intelligence being another one. Although intelligence is more recent than bipedalism. That’s a common misconception that humans intelligence is linked with bipedalism. It really isn’t. The first Hominins that walked up-right didn’t have larger brains than chimpanzees, or rather, the shared common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans had a brain the size of a chimpanzee, but bipedalism was important. We don’t know why, [and scientists] struggle to understand why. There’s lots of theories. Some of them makes sense. Some of them don’t. Some of them make more sense than others.

For example, the need to see over tall grass is obvious, and it seems important. The question is, “How strong of a driver of selection would that be”? Is that enough to basically create a whole new lineage of hominid? I think a more interesting theory [for a strong driver towards bipedalism] is the ability to carry things, because if you’re quadrupedal, in order to walk, you can’t carry anything. You might be able to lumber along with one thing in one arm, like a gorilla. Gorillas can carry a child or some food in one hand while lumbering along with the other hand, like people, and maybe they can do brief bouts of bipedalism. Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and a lot of monkeys can walk bipedally for something out of time. Usually, when they’re doing that, they’re either doing a threat display, they’re about to fight something or trying to scare another animal, trying to make themselves look bigger, or they’re carrying something (food or a baby). So I think, in terms of strength of [natural] selection, historically, that’s been a really good theory. And you see the evolution of opposable thumbs going in line with bipedalism, and then the enlargement of the brain is later.

So, really, humans are these apes that got really good at carrying things. Now, in the news today, there’s a trending article, and so why am I talking about this? So there’s a new theory that supernova could have made humans walk up, right, study says. And so I’m going to read the title of the article. “A massive supernova could have made humans walk upright”. Okay, How so? Let me read another title. “Walking upright evolution of bipedalism linked to supernova”. In new theory, this is very attention grabbing again. Ironically, what is the attention grabber here? Space. Supernova. A giant explosion in space. Let me read another another title. “Exploding stars led to humans walking on two legs, radical study suggests”.

Now let’s say that I stopped there and I didn’t read any of these articles or keep reading titles. And I just left with the idea that a star made humans walk upright. How could that be? I can’t imagine how that is possible. My first instinct is that what they’re trying to say is that people wanted to look up at the star and that’s why they walked upright. That wouldn’t make sense. There’s not enough selective pressure for that to be the case, so right off the bat, because of what I know about evolution, I dismissed that idea, and this seems like fake news, maybe, or just bad reporting.

If we keep reading [though, we eventually see a useful title], “Ancient supernova prompted our ancestors to walk upright to avoid forest fires”. Well, now I’m interested because that is something I didn’t think of, and it has a strong selection pressure because in order to avoid fires, that’s a life or death scenario. So in terms of natural selection, that makes a lot of sense. Natural selection, avoiding forest fires. That’s plausible. That’s strong. So I like this idea. I’ve only read the headlines. So how could supernova cause forest fires, though? Just using my own knowledge of physics and science, and ions were mentioned one of the headlines. Something about ions. So I suppose when a supernova happens and sends out a blast of radiation, material, solar dust, and in that material are ions, charged particles. When those particles get to the earth, they get through the atmosphere and they impact on the surface of the Earth. How did they cause forest fires? My suspicion is that the charged particles don’t actually cause fires themselves.

How can ions cause forest fires? I suppose if you had a stream of charged particles impacting on a forest they might do a couple things and my sense is that what it could do is make that forest drier, more brittle, and so maybe it’s increasing a fire risk. And so what you’re what you’re experiencing is a landscape altered by the supernova, causing increased fire risk. Now, [in terms of selective pressures], not only do you have the benefit of being able to carry things, giving you an immediate benefit, you have the pressure of avoiding fires, and so between avoiding fires and carrying food that could help explain why bipedalism evolved so quickly and recently, relative to the entire evolutionary history of primates, which is around 40 to 50 million years. True bipedalism only evolved recently.

Now this does become problematic because there are other vertebrates that evolved bipedalism, the obvious case being dinosaurs and birds. So the question is, do we think that bipedalism could only be caused by forest fires? Are there other reasons that animals could evolve bipedalism? Let’s think about this logically, we know the dinosaurs evolved bipedalism and that they did not have opposable thumbs. So, in other words, dinosaurs weren’t carrying things yet they evolved be bipedal. So we have two reasons. We think, bipedalism evolved 1. To carry things and 2. To avoid forest fires, and we know for a fact the dinosaurs didn’t need to carry things. So we know that bipedalism must have evolved for at least one other reason then we suspect, which means that it might also evolve for many other reasons, sort of like the Drake hypothesis with finding life on other planets. If we find life on even just one other planet, the probability of finding life on many other planets increases exponentially. So how strong is this theory [of bipedalism]? Well, we’ve already proven that there’s other reasons why things could be bipedal because the dinosaurs are bipedal [not all bipedal dinosaurs] lived in forests, so they couldn’t have been avoiding forest fires. So now we know there are other reasons that animals could evolve bipedalism. So what does this mean for this theory? What does it mean for dinosaurs?

Now, I feel more curious about why dinosaurs evolved bipedalism. Now that I’ve thought about this through. So what else is inherent to bipedalism? Something about bipedalism, that’s shared between primates and dinosaurs, that doesn’t involve a forest doesn’t involve carrying things. What do dinosaurs and apes have in common? Well, apes don’t have tails. Dinosaurs do have tails. So it’s not a tail. They have a torso, a head, and a neck. They’re both social. That’s interesting. Dinosaurs and apes are both social animals. We know this because find evidence of nesting behavior with dinosaurs. So the origin of bird nesting [probably originated from their therapod dinosaur ancestors]. We know dinosaurs have a lot of vocalization adaptations, [for example in hadrosaurs where] we’ve found the enlarged nasal passages [that most likely were used for either mating or herd control].

[Both primates and dinosaurs are social, so could there be a social reason for bipedalism?]. [Maybe yes, if there were some social benefit to bipedalism]. Could a dinosaur communicate just as well if it were bipedal. [Take hadrosaurs for example again]. Hadrosaurs are vegetable eaters, not a carnivore. A hadrosaur does have some decently sized arms. It actually can get down on all fours, so hadrosaur can go back and forth between quadrupedal and bipedal. It’s not like a T. Rex. A T. Rex has almost completely lost its arms almost down to just little tiny fingers, so T. Rex cannot be quadrupedal. Hadrosaur can. So what’s the advantage there? Well, if a hadrosaur is dependent on eating plant material, some of that material might be from a marsh or a swamp. Some of that material might be from a tree. So if you’re bipedal you can stand on your two legs, you can reach up and get higher branches. You can reach down and get algae from a swamp, and you don’t need arms to do that. You just need a mouth. So the hadrosaur shuffling through a swamp [can reach food from the ground, like algae, and branches from trees, by standing on its hind legs].

So what about humans? Makes sense. Food. If you’re foraging for food, you need to be able to reach up, to find more fruit and reach down find roots and vegetables. [It gives animals an option to reach higher or lower places without having to grow an extended neck like a Brontosaurus or Giraffe]. So there’s a new reason to bipedal: Reaching food. I like that. So this is an example of how I like to solve evolutionary problems. We have the question initially – Is this a good hypothesis? Humans avoiding forest fires. That makes sense. It seems possible. Is it the only reason that humans evolved bipedalism? Probably not. It’s probably one of five, or more, major reasons. And I’m just guessing that because I know I talked about three [hypotheses] here. And so there’s probably more that we don’t know about that we haven’t thought about. So that’s the thing with evolution, there’s usually multiple reasons why things evolved, and so this is not a criticism [against this particular evolutionary hypothesis].

I did find that information about the forest fires from the titles, but about four out of five of the articles did not mention the fire. They just mentioned the supernova, and so it’s a little misleading in terms of a headline, but it’s not really purposely misleading. So I wouldn’t call this fake news. That’s just sensationalism. So sensationalism isn’t that bad. It gave me something to talk about it [and explain how using the scientific method can be applied to determine how plausible an idea is without doing any extra research]. I hope you enjoyed this talk. That’s Bryan White with The Planetary News Radio signing out. Thanks for listening. Have a good day.

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The Planetary News Radio – Episode 3: Space as a Visual Science

Hello and welcome to the Planetary News Radio Episode 3. The date is still May 26th. I recorded an episode a little bit earlier today, and it’s so nice out that I could not resist traveling to a park and recording another episode. The weather is just amazing here in Oregon today, and so I’m in a good mood and ready to talk about science. So where was I [at the end of last episode]? The the other [topic] is actually a really important point that I’ve been developing for awhile. So at the end of last episode, I mentioned Space Science is a very popular science in the news. And so the question is, why is space so popular? And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and these are my thoughts.

One of my thoughts is that space is very visual. Astronomy is very visual, and it always has been. If you think about it, astronomy is probably one of the oldest real sciences. Maybe the first real science mixed in with physics. If we consider that Isaac Newton was one of the true founders of the scientific method, not necessarily science in terms of understanding the natural world, Aristotle being one of the first people to record his understanding of the natural world in a way that was meaningful to other people. Aristotle, Euclid, those types of early natural science philosophers. However, they didn’t really employ the scientific method. So we think of Isaac Newton as one of the first people to employ the scientific method along with Galileo in that [meaning of the phrase “scientific method”]. Astronomy was at this focal point.

Biology [might also be thought of as one of the oldest sciences], while something that Aristotle focused heavily on, and Plato thought a lot about the philosophy of biology. Biology was not really conducted in a scientific manner probably until around Darwin’s time, so astronomy and geology were becoming rigorous sciences and chemistry much earlier than biology. But again, and, that’s part of my idea, is that astronomy is so popular because it is a visual science and that this is tied in with human evolution.

And so humans are a very visual species. We have color vision. A lot of mammals don’t have color vision. We don’t necessarily have very good distance vision, but we have very good 3D vision. We have lots of things that can help us see depth perception. We have very good depth perception. Our eyes are focused forward, which would make us in line with predator vision like a dog or a hawk, as opposed to, say, a cow or a goat whose eyes are on the side. Humans are very visually orientated in terms of their biology. And so this is obviously something Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are always talking about – looking out at the stars is something that humans have done for thousands, if not millions of years. And it’s part of our nature. It’s part of our biology. It’s part of how our brain evolved. We evolved with the stars. We evolved with fruit. We evolved having to identify food using color. Using depth perception, too, we evolved in the trees – we had to be able to judge a leap.

We evolved language, which is potentially related to the use of tools. So as we evolved fine motor skills to manipulate the world in front of us, we evolved language, and so even language is potentially tied to human’s ability to visualize. And so what’s happened is that astronomy and spaces so visual, so easy for us to see, that it resonates with people. And that’s good. I appreciate that. I love space. I love astronomy, even cosmology. Even things that we can’t see in space. We can imagine them. It’s easy for us to imagine a galaxy, and a star, and other planets because we’ve seen our own planet, we’ve seen Mars, the moon, and the sun. And so we know what planets in our solar system look like and we can imagine what planets in other solar systems might look like.

And so, you see the Trappist systems a great example, I think has five or six planets or so all rocky planets, but about the size of Jupiter Earth. So giant rocky planets much closer to their star than Earth. We can imagine them orbiting the star and we don’t have to be a scientist to do that. I am not an astronomer by training, but I can imagine seeing these planets all very close to each other. So imagine if instead of the [Moon right next to us, we had Mars instead]. That would be amazing. So we have this fascination with these star systems and space and travel, and that’s another human nature. To travel. We like to travel. And so space is a traveling science because we can see it, but then [we can] only imagine if we could travel there. Imagine if we could travel to the moon or travel to Mars or travel to the Trappist system.

Space just pulls at our natural emotions that we have as humans to travel, to journey, to adventure, and to beauty. We see these planets and we imagine them, and when you see an artist’s rendition of a planet that we’ve never seen before, it’s always very beautiful. Humans tend to conceptualize things, in an artistic fashion when we’re imagining them. And so space is also an art, or the visualization of it is an art on. Probably the greatest examples of that is the visualization of the black hole that was done for the movie interstellar. Some physics calculations were made or formulas were invented to understand what black hole looks like, and this has been going on for many years, and as we’ve collected more data, these models have gotten better, and now, with increased computational power, we’re able to produce this model that was good enough for Hollywood. And so it’s an art, and it’s beautiful when we look at it, when we think of imagining seeing a black hole, or at least from a safe distance, imagine seen what that looked like. The disc, the accretion disc around the black hole, reflecting light in all directions towards us. It sparks something inside of us.

So space is fascinating at so many levels for humans, and that’s good because it gets people excited about science. And I think that’s why you have people like Carl Sagan who were so successful because the science that they championed was easy for people to understand [at a visual level]. Now imagine trying to champion something that is not so intuitive. Maybe not so beautiful. Biology is [less intuitive at certain levels]. People can connect with animals on an emotional level. We can connect with [the idea of] a panda bear going extinct. We can connect with the polar bears going extinct, so humans can connect with biology. It takes some [work to understand the more] abstract concepts though. Evolution is an abstract concept, and you can’t see evolution happening. You also can’t see the formation of the solar system, but you can see the solar system and you can see rocks. And so in rocks, you can see the history of the planet, whereas in a polar bear I can’t see the history of its evolution, at least not easily. Not until maybe you look at its genome, and so within the genome you can see evolutionary history.

The genome is like a rock in the sense that it’s recorded some of the history and, like rocks, they lose pieces of their history is they go through processes, heating and deformation, under the earth. Genomes also lose information, although genomes lose information in a different way then rocks. When a genome loses a gene, it’s gone forever completely from that individual. You might be able to find remnants of it or in other species. And so piecing together evolutionary history becomes an abstract process similar to archaeology, digging and finding different artifacts in layers through time. And so archaeology is a good example of visual science that we understand easily. Again we understand artifacts, we understand history, and archeology, of course, is the study of humans. So we, [as humans], understand humans.

Archaeology lends itself well [to visualization], and so you see National Geographic, [which is] an extremely popular publication, and a lot of its focus when it comes to science is archaeology. You see Egypt, mummy’s, and things like that are always popular National Geographic topics. Undiscovered tribes in the Amazon. Things like that again. Visual. But let’s look it something less visual again. [For example,] Chemistry, chemical bonds. So understanding what’s happening at the nano-scale is less intuitive for humans.

Why think space science is so popular and why things like biology are not now [in the news]. So we see biology not as popular. And so the question, is, maybe that’s because biology doesn’t have a great human, [scientific] impact. Well, arguably a species, say for example, the existence of the species polar bears is probably as important as the existence of the Moon. Let’s think of the moon as a species and Mars as a species. And so if we lost the Moon, the entire Earth would suffer or at least change. We lose a lot of our things that are affected by gravity, like the tides and things like that, and our orbit around the sun could be altered, so losing the Moon would cause an immediate major impact on the earth. And we would notice that immediately. Losing polar bears, we might not notice immediately. However, the long term scientific impact of losing the species [could be great]. That means that we’ve lost that species’ genome at a minimum, and we’ve lost the genome in its native form. We’ve lost the animal. [Essentially,] we’ve lost what we can learn from a polar bear.

And so this would be the question I would pose to people. And I say, well, do you have nothing to learn from a polar bear? And if that’s the case, if you believe that humanity has nothing to learn from a polar bear, well, then that’s fine. Then let them go extinct. Why waste the effort to keep them alive if they have no benefits of humanity other than their own life and their own feelings as a vertebrate? Well, [in that scenario] then, that’s fine. The ones that are alive today let them live, the ones that will not be born because of climate change, well, they’ll never feel pain, so the extinction of the species is not important. But that is if the answer to the question “Do we have anything to learn from a polar bear?” is nothing. And I would argue that we do have something to learn from a polar bear.

At a minimum, we can learn how to live like a polar bear. And so you can ask a question: Well, why would you want to learn to live like a polar bear? Imagine all of the bio-molecules in the genome of the polar bear that [the animal] produces and humans, [or any other anima], don’t produce. And so imagine we understood 10% of [polar bear physiology] today, based on current technology, which is probably a generous estimate. Now you lose the polar bear and you say, “Well, okay, well, we have the genome in the computer. We can use simulations. We can understand some proteins”. You could understand how the polar bear made its skin and made its hair. And we might have 10% of the information of what a polar bear was today. And then we might say, “Well, okay, that’s good enough. We have some information about other bears. We can learn, you know, a little bit about genomics from bears”. And we might say, “Well, we’re happy with that. And it’s too bad you know, that the polar bears went extinct, but they’re not alive suffering”, at least so you could say that.

Or you could think about it in terms of the future of the human species and think over the course of the next 500 years, think of what we can understand with a more sophisticated understanding of genomics. So imagine we were still developing a technology that could give us a tenfold increase of the understanding of genomics, but that this technology did not develop until the next 100 years. And by the time this technology were developed, polar bears were extinct, and so are 1,000 other vertebrate species. And so we lost all of that data forever because this technology was not developed [while the animal was still alive]. And so my point is, we don’t know what we can learn from a polar bear. We don’t know what we can learn from bald eagles, or a red panda, or a regular panda. We don’t know what we can learn from these animals because we are still in the early phases of developing genomic technology and all of the other omics, proteomics, and things like that.

We don’t know what we can learn. And so there’s hidden secrets in all of these animals because biology is still, to this day, the most sophisticated producer of molecular machinery on the planet Earth. No human can create more sophisticated molecular machinery than a single cell. To do so would be to do so using a cell. So when we create sophisticated molecular machines we’re using cells or were modifying a cell. We have a lot to learn from cells, so we should keep as many different kinds of cells [alive] as we can in order to learn the most. And that’s [the core of] my argument for preserving biodiversity: Because we don’t know what we have to lose. We don’t know what we have to [gain], and so we should preserve as much of that as we can, and we should do that in the living organism.

In other words, an ark of [refrigerated] DNA is not enough. An ark of frozen DNA/tissue is not enough. We need the living animal alive to learn from it. My argument is – I don’t care if you don’t like polar bears. I mean, I don’t wanna hang out with a polar bear. I think they look nice. I think they’re fascinating creatures. I would not want to be in the same room as a polar bear because it would probably attack me. I mean, unless I was the zoo trainer, right? But in the wild, I would not approach the polar bear. You know, I have no interest in interacting with polar bears. They do their thing. I do my thing. However, from a scientific perspective, I want to learn from this animal in a controlled setting. [If you agree with this line of reasoning, then you’d agree] there is a benefit to keeping them alive.

So for me personally, keeping [polar bears, as a species,] alive satisfies two things. My own personal belief that I think they’re fascinating animals in their own habitat and so it makes me happy to know that they’re alive and well. And on the other hand, it allows us to study them and learn from them in the future when we have the technology to do so. This is where I depart from some people who you know want to live with animals and things like that. That’s not me. That’s not my argument. I’m not saying that you have to go live with the polar bears and love polar bears. Now I don’t say that because I do not love [polar bears]. I like them and I’m fascinated by them [from a scientific perspective]. But I don’t love them, not in the same way that I feel about human friends and family. And I’m not saying that people who do love animals in the same way they love humans are wrong or bad. I might feel that way about a dog. Certainly a dog is a companion that I could have a human type bond with. But I don’t think that everybody has to have a human level companionship with an animal just to support keeping that animal [species] alive.

I think a lot of the criticism of animal rights activists or leveled against animal rights activists and criticisms leveled against biologists and conservation biologist is [the critics] say, “Well, we don’t care about that animal. You know, I don’t love a wolf or whatever”. It’s like, well, you don’t have to feel the same way about a wolf that you do about a human in order to preserve it and protect it. We just have to recognize that not only are they a fascinating creature that deserves to have its own life without human interaction, but that also there is a human benefit to every animal. Every [animal] species, maybe not every bacterial species. There’s a trillion of them, if we can even define that bacteria have species, but certainly vertebrate species or fish species, jellyfish, any animal, potentially any plant, or fungus. All of these organisms can provide us another clue about evolution, another clue about how biology works, about how molecular machinery works, and so even a material scientist should be arguing for [preserving] biodiversity. Everybody should, because biodiversity is the true great wonder, not just of humanity, but of the Earth. And so, as stewards of the Earth, we should protect biodiversity, the biodiversity that evolved here that’s so rare. And so that’s my argument for protecting biodiversity. I won’t say anymore today, at least on that, and I hope you enjoyed [this podcast]. Please do you find time to send questions. I’ll try to have a link [in the feed]. I’ll try to have a way for people to submit questions and things like that soon. So if you are listening to this, maybe write them down and in future episodes, I’ll direct everyone to a link. So anyways, thanks for listening. That’s Bryan White sending off with The Planetary News Radio. Have a good day.

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