There goes natural selection!
Earth from space That's a fictional picture of Earth, and an another galaxy approaching very fast. Of course, for a galaxy to be seen at that distance, it would have to be either very small, or extremely big. But hey, that's science fiction. By the way, I've uploaded a 1280x1024 version online, and if you want, you can download it here. But, that aside, Earth is experiencing some difficulties.
50% of Earths species are facing a decline
One of the most important event in current science and ecology is extinction. During all the years of Earths existence, natural selection was the determinant factor of who lives and who doesn't. Now, all these years later, it seems that natural selection doesn't really play a part as big as before. The thing is that it takes much time for organisms to evolve and adapt, millions of years, in fact. They were managing nicely before humans arrived. The hunting and gathering primal humans didn't make a huge impact on nature, they were more like part of it themselves. It was not until the industrial ages, when humans separated from nature. You may disagree with me, but listen to this: CO2 is mostly produced by unnatural means (factories, cars), plastics are unnatural material and so on... Now, change the natural to man-made. It fits, huh? The way I see it, cars burn fuel, which is natural, it comes from the Earth. Everything comes from the Earth, so everything should be natural. But it's not. Another word, man-made, has risen. And now, man and nature are sort of competing. But the bad thing is, Earth can live without us, WE can't live without Earth. So we have to cope with it, to find a compromise. I have no idea on how to do that, except maybe to destroy half the worlds population, but that may be going too far. Besides, I'm sure mother nature is already planning how to do that.
A grassland, working hard at absorbing CO2
Luckily, scientists are researching various populations of organisms, trying to find out what species are worth preserving. Incidentally, they found out that the species with the longest history are the most productive ones. I am talking about plants, of course. With the climate change, some species are failing to adapt so quickly and are becoming extinct. Less plants means less carbon dioxide is absorbed. That leaves less oxygen for us, and less food for herbivores. So, as you can see, a decline in the population of such a simple thing as grass, can directly affect even us, humans.
Our close friends, other mammals, are facing problems too. According to a recent survey by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a quarter of our beloved mammals, and that's 5,487 species, may soon be extinct. There are also 836 mammals that don't have enough information gathered about them to tell whether their numbers are declining or not. So take pictures - that may be the only way to show a panda to your grandchildren. Various factors such as fishing nets or pollution kill a thousand sea-mammals per day. Diseases also affect animals. 60% of Tasmanian devils were killed by a facial cancer, that is spread via physical contact.
Quagga - extinct.
What is that? A zebra? No, it's a subspecies of zebra, the Quagga. No wonder you've never seen one - they're extinct. And more than 44 thousand species of animals and plants will be too, if nothing is done about it.
But nature always found a way to come back at us. Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and floods alike - all have been plaguing humanity for ages. Organisms are also equipped with one powerful tool - mutation. A mutation can occur anytime. Natural evolution takes hundreds of generations, while mutation can only need one. And I think that in our wireless, ray-filled world, these mutations can occur more frequently. But we don't see fish tearing nets apart, or mammals living off thin air at -50 degrees... yet.
Telescope to scour the skies for earth-like planets
Have you ever asked yourself whether there is life in the universe? You've most probably had. Or perhaps we are alone in the vastness of space? Well believe me, you're not the only one pondering about this. While we, simple citizens, are restricted to simply thinking, our researchers put millions of dollars into space research. One of the latest NASA's creations is the Kepler telescope.
Kepler's main mission is to identify planets that would seem to be habitable. Which means planets, that have a sign of water on them. And they should be of similar proximity to their star as Earth to Sun. These are the two main points, as the correct position may indicate a climate, also similar to Earth's. Which, in turn, could very well mean extraterrestrial life.
But Kepler will not be looking for life. Instead, the telescope will determine the frequency of Earth-like planets in space. Since no definite data can be collected at this distance, scientists will have to use simple logic in order to determine whether there is life elsewhere. If there are many Earth-like planets, the chances of life are higher, and the other way around.
And how exactly does the Kepler telescope work? As you know, the distances are far too great to actually see something particular. Well, the telescope is designed to notice changes of light, dimming, to be more exact. As the planets move around their star, they are bound to get between it and the telescope. Similarly to a solar eclipse. Even if we wouldn't know of the moon, when it would get in between and block all light, we would notice it. So when this eclipse happens in the observed solar system, Kepler will immediately notice it and determine the distance between the star and the planet.
However, the Kepler telescope will need to observe these planets for years to confirm their presence. The mission is set for 3.5 years. For more information and a launch date, visit the NASA Kepler homepage http://kepler.nasa.gov/. Space exploration continues!
Efforts to send man back to space continue
Before sending humans to space, we need to assess the potential radiation damage. The European Space Agency plans to evaluate cosmic ray damage to astronauts. As you may know, cosmic rays are beams of incredible energy, emitted during various events in space, such as a supernova, or meteorite crashing. These rays traverse space, and the heads of astronauts within space shuttles, without notable resistance. In order to protect our brave space explorers from a painful death, experiments have to be performed simulating the cosmic rays in space-like conditions. The only mechanism able to emit ion beams in Europe is UNILAG, owned by the GSI accelerator facility. Thus ESA have chosen it to perform their experiments.
So why exactly do we need this research? Well, here on Earth, the atmosphere protects us from rays and radiation, incoming from space. Astronauts, on the other hand, would be exposed to it constantly, while flying to the moon/mars or wherever they decide to. Radiation can damage human cells or cause genetic damage, which will manifest later as a tumor, or maybe even in the offspring. So the first colonizers reach Mars, establish a small outpost. Everything goes well, they have children... but wait! The children have various mutations, resulting in a colony filled with bloodthirsty laser-shooting mutants. I'm sorry, that was a bit off-topic, but there really is nothing more to this. The experiments are planned to begin later this year. Heh, who knows, maybe this will lead to an ion-cannon like in the Command & Conquer series. Some of the great inventions were made accidentally, like the EMP.