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Which of the following "Dilbert" characters would your co-workers say best resembles you?

  • Dilbert
  • Dogbert
  • Wally
  • Alice
  • Catbert
  • Intern
  • PHB
  • Other (please specify)

[ Results | Polls ]
Comments:73 | Votes:110

posted by martyb on Friday May 22, @11:01PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Catching-a-Buzz! dept.

[NB: Athlone is a town of over 20,000 located on the banks of the River Shannon in County Westmeath, Ireland. ]

He said he now has approximately 30,000 native Irish black bees in the lego hive, and this will increase to between 50,000 and 60,000 at the peak of the summer.

"The bees seem happy out, even though they weren't too sure about it at the start!" he laughed.

Ruairi said the hive is made entirely of lego, and no glue was used in it.

"What the bees will do, given enough time, is they will propolise the whole thing. Propolis is a kind of glue that the bees get from trees, and with any gaps in a beehive, with any wind or air getting through, they will basically put their 'glue' in between to seal it up."

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday May 22, @08:42PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the wakka-wakka-wakka-wakka dept.

PAC-MAN was first publicly tested on May 22, 1980 and — now at 40 years old — is middle-age today. Celebrate with his wife and offspring:

Born on May 22, 1980, PAC-MAN immediately rose to meteoric popularity, first in video game arcades, then through an array of branding and entertainment appearances. With a brand recognition rate of 90% around the world, PAC-MAN's image is one of the most recognized on the planet and is as strong as ever as he enters his 40th year of entertaining fans of all ages.

[Ed addition: NVidia has taken this occasion to reveal it trained an AI with 50,000 hours of Pac-Man play. Not necessarily to play it, but instead to create a playable clone that was pretty close to the original.]

So take this opportunity to share some of your Pacman-memories?

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday May 22, @06:21PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the old-man-shakes-fist-at-clouds dept.

Just a reminder of Amazing Astronomical Discoveries from Ancient Greece.

The Histories by Herodotus (484BC to 425BC) offers a remarkable window into the world as it was known to the ancient Greeks in the mid fifth century BC. Almost as interesting as what they knew, however, is what they did not know. This sets the baseline for the remarkable advances in their understanding over the next few centuries – simply relying on what they could observe with their own eyes.

Herodotus claimed that Africa was surrounded almost entirely by sea. How did he know this? He recounts the story of Phoenician sailors who were dispatched by King Neco II of Egypt (about 600BC), to sail around continental Africa, in a clockwise fashion, starting in the Red Sea. This story, if true, recounts the earliest known circumnavigation of Africa, but also contains an interesting insight into the astronomical knowledge of the ancient world.

The voyage took several years. Having rounded the southern tip of Africa, and following a westerly course, the sailors observed the Sun as being on their right hand side, above the northern horizon. This observation simply did not make sense at the time because they didn't yet know that the Earth has a spherical shape, and that there is a southern hemisphere.

[...] Sadly, the vast majority of these works were lost to history and our scientific awakening was delayed by millennia. As a tool for introducing scientific measurement, the techniques of Eratosthenes are relatively easy to perform and require no special equipment, allowing those just beginning their interest in science to understand by doing, experimenting and, ultimately, following in the foot steps some of the first scientists.

One can but speculate where our civilisation might be now if this ancient science had continued unabated.

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Friday May 22, @03:58PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the cyber-school dept.

Virtual cybersecurity school teaches kids to fix security flaws and hunt down hackers:

When Christopher Boddy was 14 years old, he'd log onto his computer after school to spend hours playing a game that taught him the basics of digital forensics, ethical hacking and cryptography.

It may not have been a typical after-school activity, but it was just what the UK government hoped for when it launched its Cyber Discovery program three years ago: It inspired Boddy, now 17, to consider a career in cybersecurity.

"I originally learned about it in school, but then I'd get stuck on problems that I needed to find the answer to," said Boddy, who lives outside London with his parents. "I'd stay up way later than I should have and postponed homework to get a challenge done."

What started as a school-based program to teach kids a new skill is extending into a virtual cyber school. It's filled with lessons and games to teach users how to fix security flaws on webpages, uncover trails left by cybercriminals and decrypt codes used by hackers. The program is now available online for any student ages 13 - 18 for free in the UK, and $100 a year in the US.

[...] The original program started as an effort funded by the UK government, in partnership with the US-based SANS Institute, a security training facility. It intends to inspire young people like Boddy to acquire the interest and skill set needed for professional cybersecurity roles. Entry-level jobs are increasingly in demand (and can start near the six-figure range in the US), but for them remains a challenge.

"The government has been very concerned about the skill gap for jobs in cybersecurity and we haven't done a good job of advertising it as a profession," said program director James Lyne, the CTO of SANS who designed the technology behind the platform. "We were struggling with finding enough security people to protect our infrastructure, which can impact traffic lights, power stations and so much more. People leave school and don't realize this is a career path they can take and that they have the skills."

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday May 22, @01:49PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the touching-story dept.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Ready for Touchdown on Asteroid Bennu:

​NASA's first asteroid sample return mission is officially prepared for its long-awaited touchdown on asteroid Bennu's surface. The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has targeted Oct. 20 for its first sample collection attempt.

[...] From discovering Bennu's surprisingly rugged and active surface, to entering the closest-ever orbit around a planetary body, OSIRIS-REx has overcome several challenges since arriving at the asteroid in December 2018. Last month, the mission brought the spacecraft 213 ft (65 m) from the asteroid's surface during its first sample collection rehearsal — successfully completing a practice run of the activities leading up to the sampling event.

[...] The mission had originally planned to perform the first Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample collection event on Aug. 25 after completing a second rehearsal in June. This rehearsal, now scheduled for Aug. 11, will bring the spacecraft through the first three maneuvers of the sample collection sequence to an approximate altitude of 131 ft (40 m) over the surface of Bennu. The first sample collection attempt is now scheduled for Oct. 20, during which the spacecraft will descend to Bennu's surface and collect material from sample site Nightingale.

[...] During the TAG event, OSIRIS-REx's sampling mechanism will touch Bennu's surface for approximately five seconds, fire a charge of pressurized nitrogen to disturb the surface, and collect a sample before the spacecraft backs away. The mission has resources onboard for three sample collection opportunities. If the spacecraft successfully collects a sufficient sample on Oct. 20, no additional sampling attempts will be made. The spacecraft is scheduled to depart Bennu in mid-2021, and will return the sample to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Friday May 22, @11:28AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the if-I-only-had-a-membrane dept.

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes a new approach for creating synthetic cell membrane mimics. Using a new approach for "click" chemistry, researchers designed self-organizing nanovesicles that can have their surfaces decorated with similar sugar molecules as viruses, bacteria, or living cells. The result of a collaboration between Penn, Temple University, the Max Planck Institute, the Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials, RWTH Aachen University, and Freie Universität Berlin, this work provides a new tool for studying how certain pathogens, such as the novel coronavirus, can evade detection by a host's immune system.

The outer layers of cells are decorated with proteins, lipids, and sugar molecules that are used for communicating with and recognizing other cells. One of the most common types of sugars is mannose, which is found in long, branched chains and is also connected to other biomolecules. These oligomannoses are also commonly found on bacteria and viruses and are thought to help pathogens avoid being detected by a host's immune system; however, the precise way that these sugars help pathogens evade detection is not well understood.

One approach to study cellular interactions is to create synthetic cells that can have customized sequences of sugars or proteins, allowing scientists to answer specific questions about how cells work. Previous research by the same team used these synthetic cells to better understand how short-chain sugars act as "communication channels." Now, using these same cell mimics, the researchers were interested in understanding the role of complex sugars, including oligomannose, which are more akin to what's prevalent on cell and pathogen surfaces.

[...] the researchers developed a new approach to synthesize their cell mimics through "click" chemistry, where two smaller molecules are linked together to form a larger molecule that only requires a small amount of starting material. They found that an isothiocyanate-amine reaction, used for protein sequencing but never before for click chemistry, was able to add large sugar molecules to the outsides of the synthetic cells. "That provided us with a tool to investigate these sugars on the surface of a cell-like assembly," says Virgil Percec. "You make the hydrophobic character to become hydrophilic and provide the structure that we could not have accessed through other chemistry."

With their new tool in hand, the researchers used methods previously developed by the team to study their self-assembled nanostructures, including cryo-EM to visualize the cell mimics and AFM to study their surface morphology. By looking at a subset of cell mimics that contained oligomannose sequences similar to that of a typical cell, they found that longer sugars could bind to other cell surfaces with more strength and greater efficiency.

More information: Qi Xiao et al. Nanovesicles displaying functional linear and branched oligomannose self-assembled from sequence-defined Janus glycodendrimers, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2020). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2003938117

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Friday May 22, @09:20AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the hey-hey-goodbye dept.

Uber lays off 3,000 people in second big round of cuts:

Uber is laying off another 3,000 workers, the company announced in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday. That's in addition to the 3,700 workers the company laid off earlier this month. Uber had 26,900 employees at the end of last year. Uber drivers, whom the company treats as independent contractors, are not directly affected.

"Given the dramatic impact of the pandemic, and the unpredictable nature of any eventual recovery, we are concentrating our efforts on our core mobility and delivery platforms and resizing our company to match the realities of our business," CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in the SEC filing. "That's led us to some painful decisions today."

Uber's core ride-hailing business has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. The Wall Street Journal reports that Uber's rides business was down 80 percent, year over year, in April.

[...] Uber estimates that it will spend $110 million to $140 million on severance packages and another $65 million to $80 million on expenses related to shutting down offices. The Wall Street Journal says Uber is closing 45 office locations. The two rounds of cuts are designed to reduce Uber's overhead by more than $1 billion.

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Friday May 22, @07:11AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the so-business-as-usual? dept.

Nearly Half of Twitter Accounts Pushing to Reopen America May be Bots

There has been a huge upswell of Twitter bot activity since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, amplifying medical disinformation and the push to reopen America.

In a new study, the researchers have found that bots may account for between 45 and 60% of Twitter accounts discussing Covid-19. Many of those accounts were created in February and have since been spreading and amplifying misinformation, including false medical advice, conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, and pushes to end stay-at-home orders and reopen America.

They follow well-worn patterns of coordinated influence campaigns, and their strategy is already working: since the beginning of the crisis, the researchers have observed a greater polarisation in Twitter discourse around the topic.

[...] Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to this problem. Banning or removing accounts won't work, as more can be spun up for every one that is deleted. Banning accounts that spread inaccurate facts also won't solve anything. "A lot of disinformation is done through innuendo or done through illogical statements, and those are hard to discover," she says.

Carley says researchers, corporations, and the government need to coordinate better to come up with effective policies and practices for tamping this down. "I think we need some kind of general oversight group," she says. "Because no one group can do it alone."

Twitter accounts pushing to reopen America

[Source]: Misinformation and Disinformation Regarding Coronavirus in Social Media

What is your take on this?

Researchers: Nearly Half of Accounts Tweeting about Coronavirus are Likely Bots

Researchers: Nearly Half Of Accounts Tweeting About Coronavirus Are Likely Bots:

Nearly half of the Twitter accounts spreading messages on the social media platform about the coronavirus pandemic are likely bots, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said Wednesday.

Researchers culled through more than 200 million tweets discussing the virus since January and found that about 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans.

It is too early to say conclusively which individuals or groups are behind the bot accounts, but researchers said the tweets appeared aimed at sowing division in America.

"We do know that it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that," said Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who is conducting a study into bot-generated coronavirus activity on Twitter that has yet to be published.

[..] Reuters reported in March that Russian media have recently deployed a widespread disinformation campaign against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus to create panic and distrust.

Efforts to fight back against the spread of false information about COVID-19 come just as the federal government and election security experts keep a watchful eye on the November election.

American intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Experts believe Russian actors will try to influence the 2020 vote as well, including by using social media to amplify their messages.

Original Submission #1 Original Submission #2

posted by Fnord666 on Friday May 22, @05:02AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense dept.

Vigilante hackers target 'scammers' with ransomware, DDoS attacks:

A hacker has been taking justice into their own hands by targeting "scam" companies with ransomware and denial of service attacks.

Last week a new ransomware was discovered called MilkmanVictory that a hacking group stated they created to attack scammers.

[...] In a conversation with BleepingComputer, the hacking group known as 'CyberWare' stated that they have started targeting companies performing what they call "loan scams."

"The victims are saying they give "loan", but you first have to pay and then you get nothing," the hacking group told BleepingComputer.

As part of their attacks, the threat actors are sending phishing emails containing links to executables masquerading as PDF files. They are also conducting denial of service attacks to bring down the company's web sites.

The ransomware is being distributed as a destructive wiper attack as it does [not] offer a way to contact the attackers and does not save the encryption key.

"I do not ask for money because scammers do not deserve money for scamming innocent people," the hackers told us.

Instead, the victims are left with a ransom note stating that the computer was destroyed because "we know you are a scammer!"

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Friday May 22, @02:53AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the do-Hawaiian-telescopes-get-lei-d? dept.

Reported from the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii,

We often think of asteroids and comets as distinct types of small bodies, but astronomers have discovered an increasing number of "crossovers." These objects initially appear to be asteroids, and later develop activity, such as tails, that are typical of comets.

Now, the University of Hawaiʻi 's Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) has discovered the first known Jupiter Trojan asteroid to have sprouted a comet-like tail. ATLAS is a NASA-funded project using wide-field telescopes to rapidly scan the sky for asteroids that might pose an impact threat to Earth. But by searching most of the sky every two nights, ATLAS often finds other kinds of objects – objects that aren't dangerous, but are very interesting.

Early in June 2019, ATLAS reported what seemed to be a faint asteroid near the orbit of Jupiter. The Minor Planet Center designated the new discovery as 2019 LD2. Inspection of ATLAS images taken on June 10 by collaborators Alan Fitzsimmons and David Young at Queen's University Belfast revealed its probable cometary nature. Follow-up observations by UH astronomer J.D. Armstrong and his student Sidney Moss on June 11 and 13 using the Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network confirmed the cometary nature of this body.

Later, in July 2019, new ATLAS images caught 2019 LD2 again – now truly looking like a comet, with a faint tail made of dust or gas. The asteroid passed behind the Sun and was not observable from the Earth in late 2019 and early 2020, but upon its reappearance in the night sky in April of 2020, routine ATLAS observations confirmed that it still looks like a comet. These observations showed that 2019 LD2 has probably been continuously active for almost a year.

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Friday May 22, @12:44AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the supreme-commander dept.

Quantum computers theoretically can prove more powerful than any supercomputer, and now scientists calculate just what quantum computers need to attain such "quantum supremacy," and whether or not Google achieved it with their claims last year.

Superposition lets one qubit perform two calculations at once, and if two qubits are linked through a quantum effect known as entanglement, they can help perform 2^2 or four calculations simultaneously; three qubits, 2^3 or eight calculations; and so on. In principle, a quantum computer with 300 qubits could perform more calculations in an instant than there are atoms in the visible universe.

It remains controversial how many qubits are needed to achieve quantum supremacy over standard computers. Last year, Google claimed to achieve quantum supremacy with just 53 qubits, performing a calculation in 200 seconds that the company estimated would take the world's most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years, but IBM researchers argued in a blog post "that an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity."

To see what quantum supremacy might actually demand, researchers analyzed three different ways quantum circuits that might solve problems conventional computers theoretically find intractable. Instantaneous Quantum Polynomial-Time (IQP) circuits are an especially simple way to connect qubits into quantum circuits. Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm (QAOA) circuits are more advanced, using qubits to find good solutions to optimization problems. Finally, boson sampling circuits use photons instead of qubits, analyzing the paths such photons take after interacting with one another.

Assuming these quantum circuits were competing against supercomputers capable of up to a quintillion (1018) floating-point operations per second (FLOPS), the researchers calculated that quantum supremacy could be reached with 208 qubits with IQP circuits, 420 qubits with QAOA circuits and 98 photons with boson sampling circuits.

How Many Qubits Are Needed For Quantum Supremacy?

[Journal Reference]: Quantum Journal

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday May 21, @10:35PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the greasing-the-palms? dept.

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

Palm oil is often associated with tropical deforestation above all else. However, this is only one side of the story, as agricultural scientists from the University of Göttingen and the IPB University Bogor (Indonesia) show in a new study.

[...] For the study, the researchers evaluated results from over 30 years of research on the environmental, economic and social consequences of oil palm cultivation in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They combined the results from the international literature with their own data from Indonesia, which they have been collecting since 2012 as part of an interdisciplinary German-Indonesian Collaborative Research Centre (CRC 990). Indonesia is the largest palm oil producer and exporter in the world. A large proportion of the palm oil produced in Indonesia is exported to Europe and the U.S., where it is used by the food, fuel and cosmetics industries.

The research data show that the expansion of oil palm in some regions of the world—especially Indonesia and Malaysia—contributes significantly to tropical deforestation and the loss of biodiversity. Clearing forestland also leads to substantial carbon emissions and other environmental problems. "However, banning palm oil production and trade would not be a sustainable solution," says Professor Matin Qaim, agricultural economist at the University of Göttingen and first author of the study. "The reason is that oil palm produces three times more oil per hectare than soybean, rapeseed, or sunflower. This means that if palm oil was replaced with alternative vegetable oils, much more land would be needed for cultivation, with additional loss of forests and other natural habitats."

Banning palm oil would also have negative economic and social consequences in the producing countries. "It is often assumed that oil palm is only grown on large industrial plantations," says Qaim. "In reality, however, around half of the world's palm oil is produced by smallholder farmers. Our data show that oil palm cultivation increases profits and incomes in the small farm sector, in addition to raising wages and creating additional employment for rural laborers. Although there are incidences of conflicts over land, overall the oil palm boom has significantly reduced rural poverty in Indonesia and other producing countries."

Journal Reference:
Matin Qaim, et al. Environmental, Economic, and Social Consequences of the Oil Palm Boom [open], (DOI: 10.1146/annurev-resource-110119-024922)

(2018-12-18) Indonesia: A Country That Became "Crazy Rich"
(2018-12-01) Palm Oil was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead it Unleashed a Catastrophe.
(2017-03-15) A Makeover for the World's Most Hated Crop

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday May 21, @08:13PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the oh-say-canis-you-see? dept.

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

In our 13.8 billion-year-old universe, most galaxies like our Milky Way form gradually, reaching their large mass relatively late. But a new discovery made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) of a massive rotating disk galaxy, seen when the universe was only ten percent of its current age, challenges the traditional models of galaxy formation. This research appears on 20 May 2020 in the journal Nature.

Galaxy DLA0817g, nicknamed the Wolfe Disk after the late astronomer Arthur M. Wolfe, is the most distant rotating disk galaxy ever observed. The unparalleled power of ALMA made it possible to see this galaxy spinning at 170 miles (272 kilometers) per second, similar to our Milky Way.

"While previous studies hinted at the existence of these early rotating gas-rich disk galaxies, thanks to ALMA we now have unambiguous evidence that they occur as early as 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang," said lead author Marcel Neeleman of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

[...] "Most galaxies that we find early in the universe look like train wrecks because they underwent consistent and often 'violent' merging," explained Neeleman. "These hot mergers make it difficult to form well-ordered, cold rotating disks like we observe in our present universe."

In most galaxy formation scenarios, galaxies only start to show a well-formed disk around 6 billion years after the Big Bang. The fact that the astronomers found such a disk galaxy when the universe was only ten percent of its current age, indicates that other growth processes must have dominated.

Journal Reference:

Marcel Neeleman & J. Xavier Prochaska, et al. A Cold, Massive, Rotating Disk 1.5 Billion Years after the Big Bang. Nature, 2020 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2276-y

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Thursday May 21, @05:53PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the spoof-in-advertising dept.

AT&T slapped down for its '5G E' ads: You don't have a 5G network, so stop saying so, says watchdog:

AT&T has been officially slapped down by America's National Advertising Review Board (NARB) for its 5G Evolution campaign in which it branded its phone and network 5G E, despite not actually deploying 5G technology.

"A panel of the National Advertising Review Board has recommended that AT&T Services discontinue its '5G Evolution' and '5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G' claims," the self-regulatory body ruled on Wednesday.

It went on: "The NARB panel determined that both claims will mislead reasonable consumers into believing that AT&T is offering a 5G network and recommended that the claims be discontinued."

Amazingly, despite AT&T being roundly mocked for its campaign – which, among other things, placed a "5GE" logo in the icon-bar along the top of its phones to dress up its 4G network as 5G – AT&T fought against the censure, even appealing a previous recommendation that it stop.

The NARB noted straight though you suspect with a smirk: "It was not disputed that the AT&T network is not a 5G network."

It also disagreed with AT&T that people would realize the "E" meant "Evolution," as in the network will eventually evolve into a 5G network, rather than thinking, er, it's 5G. And the watchdog pointed out, quite reasonably, that "the current prevalent technology in wireless is 4G LTE, and LTE stands for 'evolution'." Bam!

Also at iPhone Hacks, the Mac Observer, and Android Police.

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Thursday May 21, @03:46PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the gotta-hand-it-to-them dept.

Cosmic Rays May Have Left Indelible Imprint On Early Life, Stanford Physicist Says:

Chirality, also known as handedness, is the existence of mirror-image versions of molecules. Like the left and right hand, two chiral forms of a single molecule reflect each other in shape but don't line up if stacked. In every major biomolecule – amino acids, DNA, RNA – life only uses one form of molecular handedness. If the mirror version of a molecule is substituted for the regular version within a biological system, the system will often malfunction or stop functioning entirely. In the case of DNA, a single wrong handed sugar would disrupt the stable helical structure of the molecule.

Louis Pasteur first discovered this biological homochirality in 1848. Since then, scientists have debated whether the handedness of life was driven by random chance or some unknown deterministic influence. Pasteur hypothesized that, if life is asymmetric, then it may be due to an asymmetry in the fundamental interactions of physics that exist throughout the cosmos.

"We propose that the biological handedness we witness now on Earth is due to evolution amidst magnetically polarized radiation, where a tiny difference in the mutation rate may have promoted the evolution of DNA-based life, rather than its mirror image," said Noémie Globus lead author of the paper and a former Koret Fellow at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC).

In their paper, published on May 20 in Astrophysical Journal Letters, the researchers detail their argument in favor of cosmic rays as the origin of homochirality.

Cosmic rays are an abundant form of high-energy radiation that originates from various sources throughout the universe, including stars and distant galaxies. After hitting the Earth's atmosphere, cosmic rays eventually degrade into fundamental particles. At ground level, most of the cosmic rays exist only as particles known as muons.

Muons are unstable particles, existing for a mere 2 millionths of a second, but because they travel near the speed of light, they have been detected more than 700 meters below Earth's surface. They are also magnetically polarized, meaning, on average, muons all share the same magnetic orientation. When muons finally decay, they produce electrons with the same magnetic polarization. The researchers believe that the muon's penetrative ability allows it and its daughter electrons to potentially affect chiral molecules on Earth and everywhere else in the universe.

[...] The researchers' hypothesis is that, at the beginning of life on Earth, this constant and consistent radiation affected the evolution of the two mirror life-forms in different ways, helping one ultimately prevail over the other. These tiny differences in mutation rate would have been most significant when life was beginning and the molecules involved were very simple and more fragile. Under these circumstances, the small but persistent chiral influence from cosmic rays could have, over billions of generations of evolution, produced the single biological handedness we see today.

Globus and Blandford suggest experiments that could help prove or disprove their cosmic ray hypothesis. For example, they would like to test how bacteria respond to radiation with different magnetic polarization.

Journal Reference:
Noemie Globus, Roger D. Blandford. The Chiral Puzzle of Life. The Astrophysical Journal, 2020; 895 (1): L11 DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab8dc6

Original Submission

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