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Interstellar Dust Could Have Building Blocks Of Life – On Science

January 28, 2014

What’s “raining down” life in our solar system?

How old is the Grand Canyon exactly? Depends on where you look.

Could overusing electricity mean “lights out” in the future?

And what if the Black Death struck again? Coming up today…On Science?

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Interstellar dust has been a hot topic these last couple of days. Yesterday it was the dust around a type Ia supernova. Today it’s another find. A collaboration of scientists from California and Hawaii have explained how interstellar dust left over from asteroids and comets could deliver water and organic matter to Earth and other planets. They say we are constantly “rained down” upon by these interplanetary dust particles, or IDPs. The IDPs are bombarded by solar wind, especially hydrogen ions, which disturb the order of atoms in the silicate mineral crystal. This leaves behind oxygen, which is more readily available to react with hydrogen to create water molecules. They said the same mechanism would work for exoplanets. Let me remind you again…there could be life on exoplanets. Exciting!

So is the Grand Canyon 5 million years old or 70 million years old? It’s all according to where you look. Scientists have debated the actual age of the Grand Canyon for 140 years, but thanks to geochemical techniques, we now have the answer. Scientists looked at the temperature history of rocks by using the mineral apatite found in the canyon. As erosion occurs, the rock moves closer to the surface and cools down. In their research they found the Grand Canyon is made of different segments of different ages and histories. The eastern part is 15 to 25 million years old. An older expanse down river is 50 to 70 million years old. But they discovered two other segments that were eroded far more recently than they originally thought. They didn’t join to form the Grand Canyon as we know it until about 5-6 million years ago. So I guess in a way, everyone was a little right in the debate.

Have you seen that show Revolution where the whole world loses electricity. Ugh! It’s a nightmare to even think about it! A new assessment from a British and New Zealand research team concluded that we can expect more frequent power outages in the future. Most of our lines in America are more than 25 years old and they say neither Europe nor the USA has adequately invested in infrastructure. Our love of air conditioning puts a strain on power, as the power it takes just to fuel our air conditioners is equivalent to the total electricity consumption back in the 1950s. Add in the electric car trend and you have a power meltdown of sorts. The researchers say more outages not only cost a lot in annual losses but also raise concerns over food safety, increased crime, transportation problems and environmental cost of diesel generators. If you want a good picture of it, go watch Revolution…hopefully we can avoid the eternal blackout.

And the threat of blackouts isn’t the only thing that’s caused worldwide chaos. Scientists now have more insight into the devastating Justinian and Black plagues and warn it could happen again. Drawing DNA from the teeth of two victims of the Justinian plague, which helped bring about the end of the Roman Empire, researchers found that the strain responsible for this pandemic was an evolutionary “dead-end” and distinct from strains involved later in the Black Death pandemic of the late 1800s. The Justinian plague erupted, wiped out half the world’s population, and then died out. Scientists said if it did it once, it could do it again. Fortunately, they also added that we now have antibiotics to help us combat the pandemic.

It’s that time of year when it seems like an outbreak of the plague. You get on the metro and the person is continuously sneezing. You successfully avoid them only to get to work and your co-worker starts hacking in your face and next thing you know, you’ve got a cold. The University of Auckland in New Zealand has tips on preventing the common cold, which are mostly caused by viruses. Wash your hands frequently. Alcohol disinfectants and gloves are shown to be effective as well. A daily dosage of 10-15 mg of zinc was shown to have lower rates of colds in kids. Probiotics also help prevent colds. If you do come down with the dreaded cold, antihistamines help—but not in children under five. Pain relievers can help with pain and fever and nasal sprays may help with that runny nose.

And that’s what’s happening today On Science. Keep those germs to yourselves, people!



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