July 12th, 2017

Seat 14C: The Origin Story

At 4:58am on June 28th, 2017, the passengers on board ANA Flight 008, en route from Tokyo to San Francisco, are cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet, approximately 1,500 nautical miles off the West Coast of the United States. A small bump, otherwise noted as a barely perceptible bout of turbulence, passes Flight 008 through a temporary wrinkle in the local region of space-time. What these passengers will soon find out as they descend into SFO is that the wrinkle has transported them 20 years in the future, and the year is now 2037. Read the stories of the passengers from Flight 008, imagined by the world’s top science fiction storytellers, as they discover a future transformed by exponential technologies.

Write your own story from the perspective of the passenger in Seat 14C for a chance to join the seatmap and win a $10,000 prize package, including a trip for two to Tokyo.

The Worlds of TRAPPIST-1

A new study is trying to work out if there might be vegetation in the TRAPPIST-1 system, and how we would go about finding it. Led by Tommaso Alberti from the University of Calabria in Italy, the team looked at how much land and water might be expected on each planet, and from that deduced that any vegetation should notably change the appearance of each world. The research is available on arXiv, and will be published in The Astrophysical Journal. TRAPPIST-1 shot to stardom earlier this year, when it was discovered there were seven rocky planets in orbit around this red dwarf star 40 light-years away – the most rocky planets we had found in one system. At least three of these appeared to be in the habitable zone of the star, where conditions could be just right for liquid water – and maybe life – to exist.

In this study, rsearchers used a “simply climate-vegetation energy-balance model” to study the climate of each planet. TRAPPIST-1d was found to be the most stable world for Earth-like conditions, residing in a position that was most suited to liquid water. While we can’t directly look at the planets, we can look at the star’s light coming through their atmosphere. In the future, we may also be able to see light reflected on their surfaces, which could be vital in trying to work out if they are habitable. In this latest study, the researchers said that the outgoing radiation from each planet might be dependent on the vegetation and also on the atmospheric composition, so further studies of the planets could reveal some of their surface features.

Once the greenhouse effect of an atmosphere is properly accounted for, the team said that future telescopes could confirm the presence of both continents and vegetation on the TRAPPIST-1 worlds, or indeed other planets.

Kemo D. 7
Credit: IFLscience
Space art by Michael Böhme

The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum

A palimpsest containing an ancient medical treatise beneath biblical text has been discovered by the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery in South Sinai, according to a report in Ahram Online. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said the manuscript was found during restoration work in the monastery’s ancient library, which holds some 6,000 manuscripts. The leather pages of the palimpsest were first used in the sixth century A.D. for a recipe attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates. Three other medical recipes, and pictures of medicinal herbs, had also been recorded on its pages by an anonymous scribe. During the medieval period, the pages were scraped and reused for the text of the Codex Sinaiticus, an early version of the Christian scriptures. “This was done due to the high cost of leather at that time,” explained Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archaeology for the ministry. Many of the ancient world’s literary masterpieces remain lost—for example, only seven of the purported 123 plays of Sophocles exist today. It remains to be seen what unknown works might lie among the unread Herculaneum papyri.

There is a real possibility of recovering long-vanished classics of ancient Greek and Roman literature, especially since additional scrolls may still be discovered in the unexcavated parts of the villa.

Kemo D. 7

From Here to Infinity

One of the most fascinating and mind-bending topics to discuss is that of our own reality and the notion that the way we experience our Universe may not be the only version of events out there. If the number of Universes is truly infinite, and the many-world interpretation of quantum mechanics is true, are there parallel Universes out there, where everything in it evolved exactly the same way as our own, except for one slightly quantum outcome is different? Are there other Universes with slightly different versions of ourselves? Or let’s ask it this way: is it possible that there’s a Universe where everything happened exactly as it did in this one, but you made a single choice that had your life turn out as completely differently as a result? Where you took that trip, quit that job, kissed that girl, went to that school? Then there is the idea that there is a Universe out there where everything with a non-zero probability of having happened is actually the reality—but there are a lot of steps to get there.

The inflationary state, for example, must have happened for not just a long amount of time, but for an infinite amount of time.

Kemo D. 7