Did scientists find evidence of alien life 25 years ago?
Plus: Leaping squirrels could be the next big thing in robotics.
Hello, hello, hello. It is Monday, and a new week is upon us. But before we move on with our month, let me take you back in time for a moment — to the year 1996 to be exact, when a controversial discovery rocked the world. Even the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, was compelled to address the nation.
The reason for the furor: NASA and other scientists had announced that a meteorite from Mars contained what they believed to be fossil alien life. Our writer Jon Kelvey takes a trip back to that moment, 25 years ago, when our search for aliens fundamentally changed forever.
I’m Claire Cameron, managing editor at Inverse, and I invite you to time travel via our top story today. And keep scrolling for more science and health stories on agile squirrels, alien megastructures, and beige fat.
This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Monday, August 9, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox. ✉️
Can aliens build a Dyson sphere around a black hole? — There may be a new way to search for aliens by searching for megastructures around black holes. Passant Rabie has more:
A recent paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests scientists should start to look for Dyson spheres around black holes as an indication of an alien civilization.
A Dyson sphere is a theoretical megastructure that surrounds a star to collect its energy output.
Physicist Freeman Dyson proposed the spheres as a solution to a growing alien civilization needing a large enough energy output to sustain its existence. They can accomplish this by using space-based stellar energy harvesting swarms.
Dyson based his proposal on the fact that a planet only receives a small fraction of the energy produced by its host star. About one one-billionth of the Sun’s total energy output actually reaches the Earth.
By creating a space-based structure, an alien civilization could meet the energy needed to push its civilization to the next level.
- A wild black hole discovery has been made
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- Physicists explain how the brain might connect to the quantum realm
Can fasting ward off infections? Mice study reveals an unexpected link — Mice who fasted didn’t leave enough nutrients for the pathogen to feed on, starving out infection and suppressing inflammatory responses that cause sickness, Sophie Putka reports.
As Putka writes in the story:
The days of old adages like “feed a cold, starve a fever” might be numbered — at least if you ask the research team behind a study released Thursday in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
Researchers found not eating can help ward off infections by preventing the over-inflammation that comes with an immune response. At least, it did in mice.
What they found expands on our understanding of how fasting and the microbiome influence immune response to infection. In the future, the findings may also help in treating inflammatory conditions.
“I think this highlights that the response we normally have during infections — to stop eating —is the right one, and maybe we should even go a little bit further,” Bruce Vallance tells Inverse. Vallance is the senior author of the study.
Key quote: “If there are no extra nutrients available, the pathogen can’t do anything.” — Bruce Vallance
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How a controversial Mars meteorite changed the search for aliens forever — Twenty-five years ago, President Bill Clinton told the nation a meteorite was evidence of life in space. The backstory, and its aftermath, are much more complicated, as Jon Kelvey reports.
The Alan Hills meteorite, also known as ALH 84001, would go on to become one of the most studied rocks in history, leading the majority of planetary researchers and astrobiologists to ultimately decide it did not contain evidence of life on Mars.
But the real legacy of ALH 84001 lies in the debate that it caused, and the changes that debate engendered. It reinvigorated the field of astrobiology, rekindled NASA’s interest in Mars, and changed how some scientists think about life itself.
And depending on who you ask, it’s a debate that isn’t even over yet.
Critical insight: “It is quite possible that what we found does not indicate a relic of ancient fossil life. It’s also possible that it will still prove they are there.” — Stanford University professor Richard Zare
Read these next:
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- Physics of solar storms and more: Understand the world in 8 images
- Dirt may ruin our best view of aliens
Beige fat study hints at immune system and metabolism connection — Researchers found a protein could boost production of beige fat in white fat, unlocking the therapeutic potential for controlling obesity and metabolic disorders. Elana Spivack has the story:
Brown fat, which we only have as babies, gets its deeper hue from a high concentration of mitochondria, which is essentially the battery pack of the cell. The more mitochondria, the more energy-burning potential, and the more heat generated by a cell.
White fat is at the other end of the spectrum, storing the extra calories in our bodies and thus doing a far better job at storing energy than burning it. Beige fat is somewhere in between — and this combination of white and brown fat’s qualities may confer therapeutic powers.
In a new study, researchers examine part of the mechanism that triggers the production of beige fat, finding a curious connection to the body’s immune system which could ultimately lead to fresh treatments for metabolic conditions, including obesity.
- Mysteriously “slimy” mice lead to surprise fat loss discovery
- Scientist debunks the most confusing myth about eating fat
- Can intermittent fasting burn fat? Experts explain the complicated truth
Video: Leaping squirrels could help us build more agile robots — Squirrels are remarkably good at staying nimble as they traverse tree canopies. A research team investigated how they do it and how to use the data to build robots. Jennifer Walter explains the science:
If you’ve ever watched squirrels jump through trees, you’ll notice they’re remarkably good at not falling.
A team of researchers from the University of California Berkley observed wild fox squirrels as they participated in a number of trials to test their balance, leaping, and landing strategies.
The squirrels had to launch themselves off of rods with varying stiffness and traverse gaps of different lengths.
Not only is this an incredible display of natural talent, but it could help us build better and more agile robots, able to navigate the same complex terrains and altitudes that these squirrels do.
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