Okay, earlier in the summer, a team of British researchers announced that they had discovered biological particles of alien origin in Earth's upper atmosphere, claiming that the particles are too large to have drifted there from the Earth's surface or lower atmosphere. There, I mentioned it.
The problem is the "findings" are, to say the least, less than convincing and were published in a journal which has made such dubious claims before. It's one thing to want to believe, but it's important that before we in fact believe, we wait until all the evidence is in. It cannot be said enough: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
And now on to this week's articles about cool things going on in science and technology.
In the rush to push everything online, not many people think about the "digital divide" in technology and how offering only online options excludes many people. But a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet Project confirms that around 15 percent of people aged 18 and over do not use the Internet. Reasons range from finding the Internet challenging or frustrating to a lack of computer know-how to a lack of physical access to the Internet caused by financial or other factors.
Even when we can make everything high-tech, there are often serious questions about whether we should. From the "One Nation Under Surveillance" Department comes this story about using technology in classrooms not to enhance the learning experience, but to track students' every move. Because it's not as if today's kids have enough to worry about already with attending militarized schools, being under constant surveillance, and being over-scheduled by their neurotic and hyper-obsessive helicopter parents. Not to mention the frequent searches and ever-present fear of arrest if you dare think about playing cops and robbers with pretend guns.
Even when we have the ability to go high-tech and when it's a good idea to do so, we need to be careful about how the technology is deployed, since our computer networks are threatened by the same hackers, spies, and rogues that plague the offline world. Cyber-security is becoming not only a big issue, but big business as well, with some security professionals reportedly making hundreds of dollars an hour. As this story from the Christian Science Monitor points out, the creation of such a "cyber industrial complex" raises some serious concerns, not the least of which is increased worries about our privacy and civil liberties being attacked in the name of over-hyped threats.
Admittedly, this week's Science Friday has started out on something of a gloomy note. Okay, here's something cool. As National Geographic celebrates its 125th anniversary, take a look at just a few of the stunning photographs that its photographers have taken over the decades. The photography is one of many reasons that I collect them and have over 400 at last count.
A recent study co-authored by a space physicist at UCLA has made some fascinating new discoveries about space weather and the Northern/Southern lights.
There is increasing interest in the colonization of Mars, but what would it actually be like to live there? Since terraforming is only an option in the longer term, the first settlers would face a challenging life, including planet-wide dust storms, a harsh climate even in the best of times, and the need to be prepared for any possible technological failure that could threaten human survival. Since humans evolved on and have adapted over thousands of years to life on Earth, there would also have to be some of Earth incorporated into the daily routine as much as possible as this story points out.
Some people aren't content to settle for Mars. There's a small but growing community of people who are keenly interested in a possible manned mission to Europa -- and they aren't necessarily willing to sit back and wait for NASA to take an interest.