Revisionist History goes to Nashville to talk with Bobby Braddock, who has written more sad songs than almost anyone else. What is it about music that makes us cry? And what sets country music apart?
How does friendship influence political power? The story of Winston Churchill’s close friend and confidant — an eccentric scientist named Frederick Lindemann — whose connection to Churchill altered the course of British policy in World War II. And not in a good way.
If we find, anywhere in the universe, one more instance of life besides what evolved on Earth, then we are bound to conclude that life is common throughout the vastness of this galaxy and the 200 billion other galaxies.
The discovery would change how we think about everything.
Most of the search for life beyond Earth, Porco explained, is the search for habitats.
They don’t have to look comfy, since we know that our own extremophile organisms can survive temperatures up to 250°F, total desiccation, and fiercely high radiation, high pressure, high acidity, high alkalinity, and high salinity.
In our own Solar System there are four promising candidate habitats—Mars, Europa (a moon of Jupiter), Titan (a moon of Saturn), and Enceladus (“en-SELL-ah-duss,” another moon of Saturn).
They are the best nearby candidates because they have or have had liquids, they have bio-usable energy (solar or chemical), they have existed long enough to sustain evolution, and they are accessible for gathering samples.
On Mars water once flowed copiously.
It still makes frost and ice, but present conditions on Mars are so hostile to life that most of the search there now is focussed on finding signs of life far in the past.
Europa, about the size of Earth’s Moon, has a salty ocean below an icy surface, but it is subject to intense radiation.
Photos from the Hubble Space Telescope revealed that occasional plumes of material are ejected through Europa’s ice, so future missions to Jupiter will attempt to fly by and analyze them for possible chemical signatures of life.
The two interesting moons of Saturn are Titan, somewhat larger and much denser than our Moon, and tiny Enceladus, one-seventh the diameter of our Moon.
Both have been closely studied by the Cassini Mission since
Titan’s hazy atmosphere is full of organic methane, and its surface has features like dunes and liquid-methane lakes “that look like the coast of Maine.”
But it is so cold, at 300°F below zero, that the chemical reactions needed for life may be too difficult.
Enceladus looks the most promising.
Cassini has sampled the plumes of material that keep geysering out of the south pole.
The material apparently comes from an interior water ocean about as salty as our ocean, and silica particles may indicate hydrothermal vents like ours.
“I hope you’re gettin excited now,” Porco told the audience, “because we were.”
The hydrothermal vents in Earth’s oceans are rich with life.
Enceladus has all the ingredients of a habitat for life—liquid water, organics, chemical energy, salts, and nitrogen-bearing compounds.
We need to look closer.
A future mission (arriving perhaps by the 2030’s) could orbit Enceladus and continually sample the plumes with instruments designed to detect signs of life such as complexity in the molecules and abundance patterns of carbon in amino acids that could indicate no biology, or Earth-like biology, or quite different biology.
You could even look for intact organisms.
Nearly all of the material in the plumes falls back to the surface.
Suppose you had a lander there.
“It’s always snowing at the south pole of Enceladus,” Porco said.
“Could it be snowing microbes?”
(A by-the-way from the Q&A:
Voyager, which was launched 40 years ago in 1977, led the way to the outer planets and moons of our Solar System, and five years ago, Porco pointed out, “It went beyond the magnetic bubble of the Sun and redefined us as an interstellar species.”)
You know who’s read a lot of the work of sci fi author William Gibson? Our new Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood. She spoke with him for about 40 minutes, going in depth on the plots of his books including "The Peripheral," and his forthcoming book "Agency." He also talked about the loss of innocence from learning about a new kind of technology (his was the internet) and his favorite parts of the web (he’s a big fan of Twitter — you can find him @GreatDismal).
Computer algorithms now shape our world in profound and mostly invisible ways. They predict if we’ll be valuable customers and whether we’re likely to repay a loan. They filter what we see on social media, sort through resumes, and evaluate job performance. They inform prison sentences and monitor our health. Most of these algorithms have been created with good intentions. The goal is to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements. But it doesn’t always work out like that.
Audio edition for This Week in the IndieWeb for September 2nd - 8th, 2017.
This week features a brief interview with Ryan Barrett recorded at IndieWeb Summit 2017.
Audio edition for This Week in the IndieWeb for July 8th - 14th, 2017.
This week features a brief interview with Scott Jenson recorded at IndieWeb Summit 2017.
Just over 30 years ago, an Englishman named Christopher Alexander tried to revolutionize architecture. In A Pattern Language, Alexander told architects and planners to design homes on emotional and spiritual principles – not on traffic flow. The revolution didn’t quite come. But the book had a surprising influence on another group of experts: the computer scientists who were just beginning to shape the Internet.
Special guest Laura Kalbag joins the show to talk about her new book, Accessibility for Everyone.
This week on the show, we talk to Laura Kalbag about her new book, Accessibility for Everyone. We discuss how digital products have an increasing mandate to be broadly usable by everyone in society, and what we can do to achieve better accessibility in our designs.
Alarms, upcoming CSS stuff, impostor syndrome, and the death of Flash.
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