BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: aliens

Equation About Aliens Helps Prove Masks and Social Distancing Are Necessary

Wait, do we really have to wear masks? Short answer: yes. Long answer: Absolutely yes.

It’s the debate that’s been going on since Covid-19 first reached the United States. Are masks and social distancing really necessary? Some people seem to think that it’s not, which is honestly ridiculous. There is so much proof that it is necessary, so I’m going to show it to anyone who doubts it.

According to the American Institute of Physics, the Contagion Airborne Transmission (CAT) inequality model can show how, based on how the virus spreads, masks and social distancing are effective. 

The article starts with researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Mississippi employing basic concepts of fluid dynamics and factors in airborne transmission to propose the CAT inequality model. Not all factors are known, including environment variables and amount of particles needed to trigger an infection. However, it can still be used to assess relative risks. 

Airborne transmitted diseases, like influenza, can spread through the air on dust, fibers, and other microscopic particles. They can also be spread through expiratory droplets. Influenza can also be spread through secondary objects, or fomites, such as door handles or tissues. Little is known about which route is most important, though airborne transmission is harder to protect against.

When a virus like Covid-19 enters the body, the body fights off the virus. It is first fought off with innate immunity, a defense that activates immediately upon infection. It’s nonspecific and rapid. If that proves to be unsuccessful, then adaptive immunity (aka acquired immunity) develops after exposure. It is very specific, though slower. The B-cells of the immune system bind and neutralize the pathogen, while T-cells eliminate any infected cells. There are also B and T memory cells that help recognize the pathogen if a host ever gets reinfected, speeding up the immune response. However, the Covid-19 virus is new. People getting infected do not have these memory cells and the immune system needs more time to react and defend themselves. Time that the virus takes to wreak havoc on the host’s body.

These researchers are able to determine the precautions necessary to prevent transmission. According to their research, increasing physical distance does increase protection. Author Rajat Mittal says doubling your distance generally doubles your protection. The scientists have also found masks to be protective. A simple cloth mask can provide significant protection and reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Physical activity that increases breathing rate and volume of people are still issues when it comes with transmission, which is why reopening schools, malls, and gyms have hard implications.

The CAT inequality model is inspired by the Drake equation in astrobiology. The Drake equation is a formula that gives us an idea about how many alien societies exist and are detectable. The equation estimates the number of transmitting societies in the Milky Way galaxy through a factorization.

Similar to the Drake equation, the model develops a factorization based on the idea that airborne transmission occurs when a person inhales a viral dose. It includes variables added at each of the three stages of airborne transmission, including breathing rates, number of virus-carrying droplets expelled, the environment, and exposure time. This model could also apply to airborne transmission of other respiratory infections like the flu, tuberculosis, and the measles.

Researchers are continuing to look closer at face mask efficiency and transmission details in high-density of outdoor spaces. However, the CAT inequality model shows that a person is less likely to inhale a viral dose if they wear a protective mask and keep their distance.

Are Aliens Real?

Is there life on other planets? Although I may not be able to answer this for you in this blog post, I can point you towards data that suggests there is. NASA is currently conducting explorations to determine if there is evidence of habitable worlds. This search could take decades or more without pure luck and new planet finders aren’t set to take off until the 2030s or 2040s. “With a possible launch in the mid 2020s, WFIRST, or the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, could zero in on a distant planet’s reflected light to detect the signatures of oxygen, water vapor, or some other powerful indication of possible life” (Exoplanet Exploration: Planets Beyond our Solar System). As we learned in bio, oxygen and water are two building blocks of all life. Professor Sara Seager from MIT is currently researching possible chemical combinations that would point to alien life. Similar to how AP bio learns the basics of life in the first Unit, her research begins with the six main elements associated with life on Earth: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur and hydrogen. These elements are essential because they are primarily used to form lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids which are fundamental to the development of life in cells.  

Theories of life existing on other planets are far from new. If life can exist on Earth, how could it not exist elsewhere?  For example, The University of Chicago released an article stating  that if man went to mars, they would die. However, they mentioned new evidence that suggests otherwise. “For over half a century astronomers have observed slight seasonal color variations on the planet; variations apparently coinciding with the availability of water. These have been interpreted as evidence for plant life on Mars… If the reported color changes are real, there seems to be no other reasonable interpretation” (Carl Sagan, Life on other planets?). There may be molecules with C-H bonds on the surface of Mars. As we learned in class, the bond between them is essential for the structure of proteins, nucleic acids, and other biological building blocks. (To learn more about how these blocks lead to life, cosmic evolution and its enormous cosmic dust cloud explain this and the factors that are needed to provide support for life) (Cosmic Evolution: An Interdisciplinary Approach).

There could be over 100 million planets in this galaxy alone that host the life of organisms that are biochemically similar to humans. With natural selection, these organisms would be well adapted to their own environment. Slight differences in the environment will cause extreme differences in an organism’s structure. Due to this, it should not be assumed that extraterrestrial lifeforms hold any resemblance to human life, or any life on Earth for that matter, but there is still reason to believe they are out there. 

We Could Be One Step Closer to Finding Life on Other Planets

I’ve always been so curious about life beyond Earth. Scientists recently discovered that there are as many as 24 planets outside of our solar system more suitable for life than Earth. They found that these planets surpass Earth in several categories, including age, warmth, wetness, and size. These factors qualify the planets to be “superhabitable” and to have optimal potential for complex extraterrestrial life. 

When searching for a habitable planet, one of the most important factors to take into consideration is temperature, which goes hand-in-hand with distance from their star. Scientists have discovered several planets at extreme temperatures, including planet KELT-9b, which is so hot that its atmosphere is constantly melting or GJ 433 d, whose discoverers described it as “the coldest Neptune-like planet ever discovered”. While both of these planets are on opposite sides of the inhospitable spectrum, there are several other planets within their star’s “habitable zone”, which are not too hot or too cold for life as we know it to flourish. 

Scientists have discovered over 4000 exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system so far. The main qualities researchers aim to identify in exoplanets in order to classify them as “superhabitable” include a nearby star of the right star and life span, as it took 3.5 billion years for complex life to form on Earth, and size of the planet. A larger size means more surface area for habitats, higher gravity, and a thicker atmosphere, which is beneficial for flight based organisms. Planets with these qualities in addition to being slightly warmer and wetter would be even more habitable than Earth. A larger or closer moon than Earth’s would also be considered “better”, because of benefits such as helping to stabilize its orbit and preventing life-disrupting wobbles. Taking all of these factors into consideration, the researchers came up with a list of the most ideal parameters for the perfect superhabitable planet. This planet “would be in orbit around a K dwarf star, which is a relatively small star star that’s slightly cooler than our sun […]; about 5 billion to 8 billion years old; about 10% larger than Earth; about 9 F  warmer than Earth, on average; moist with an atmosphere that is 25% to 30% oxygen, with scattered land and water. [It] would also have plate tectonics or a similar geological process in order to recycle minerals and nutrients through the crust and to create diverse habitats and topography, and would have a moon between 1% and 10% of its size orbiting it at a moderate distance” (livescience.com) As we know from biology, an oxygen rich atmosphere is essential as oxygen is one of the most important building blocks of life. Our cells need oxygen to produce various proteins which in turn produce more cells. Oxygen is also vital in many of our body systems and needed for the creation of carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and lipids. Other animals and plants also require large amounts of oxygen to survive. 

Out of the 24 Kepler Objects of Interest, which are unconfirmed indications of  transiting planets, spotted by the Kepler telescope, two have been confirmed as exoplanets, (Kepler 1126 b and Kepler-69c), nine are orbiting around the proper type of star, 16 are within the correct age range, and five fall into the right temperature range. KOI 5715.01 was the only candidate of the 24 that fell into the correct range for each of the three categories, but the planet’s true surface temperature is unable to be determined right now because it depends on the strength of the greenhouse effect in its atmosphere. Additionally, as all of these planets are more than 100 light-years away, many of them can’t be studied properly due to lack of technology.

I personally believe that we are on the brink of making seriously ground-breaking discoveries regarding extraterrestrial life. Technology is advancing every year, and in turn we make more discoveries each year about the enigma of space. Hopefully soon we will find out if some of these planets really do have life inhabiting them.

Martians?!?!?!?

Over the years, as scientists attempt to fathom life on other planets, water has been the focal point of their searchings. Humans can only live about one week with out water, while other animals, such as dogs, can only live about three to four days with out water. Therefore, it is logical for scientists to deduce that for there to be life on other planets, there must also be water.

Recently, a unique “martian meteorite” was found in Northwest Africa. It is the first meteorite found that contains “substantially more water“. Also, it is “in a a class in itself” concerning its chemical make up. Scientists speculate that the “martian crust” came from Mars, as it resembles rocks and soil previously found on Mars. The differences scientists have found between this new meteorite, labeled Northwest Africa 7034, suggests that Mars may be more diverse than expected.

New Martian Meteorite containging record amounts of water.

There is the possiblity that the meteorite was contaminated by water on Earth, though scientist Derek Sears maintains that “it doesn’t look like terrestrial water”.

Either way, Northwest Africa 7034 is an interesting new discovery and has helped to build upon our knowledge of the universe around us. The thought that there are still so many things we have yet to discover is exciting.

 

 

Sources:

main article: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/347362/description/New_Martian_meteorite_is_one_of_a_kind

extra articles: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_long_can_a_dog_live_without_water

http://www.livestrong.com/article/494958-how-long-can-the-average-human-go-without-water/

photo:

Hubble's Sharpest View of Mars

 

 

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