The search for another Earth across the galaxy heats up
NASA/JPL-Caltech

The search for another Earth across the galaxy heats up

I’ve always been a bit dazzled by the fact that, as humans, we truly are made of star stuff. This week, an element found in our teeth was detected for the first time in a galaxy 12 billion light-years away.

That means during the early chaotic days of the universe, stars were exploding and releasing key elements from their core into space. Then, those elements ended up on Earth and inside our bodies.

Space may seem cold, dark and alien, but it’s not as far removed from us as we may think.

Astronauts even hosted an out-of-this-world taco party on the International Space Station last week to celebrate and snack on the first chile peppers grown in space. How cool (or hot!) is that?

If our future really is out there, at least we’ll have a way to spice up our food. And perhaps space isn’t so alien after all.

Across the universe

It’s time to find other planets like Earth and understand if we’re truly alone in the universe.

That’s the consensus of the highly anticipated Astro2020 decadal survey published this week, which acts as a road map for agencies like NASA when planning their missions.

Over the next decade, scientists will aim to unlock the secrets of the universe and identify Earth-like planets outside of our solar system to find other habitable worlds.

There are over 4,000 known exoplanets across the galaxy, including the intriguing Earth-size planets of the Trappist system. But astronomers need more information to find actual signs of habitability and life.

One mission that could help in this search is a large telescope, slated to launch in the 2040s and similar in scale to Hubble, that could seek signatures of life on about 25 potentially habitable exoplanets.

Going green

As for our home planet, all eyes have been on the COP26 climate summit in Scotland as world leaders try to avert a global climate catastrophe.

The gap is widening between the impacts of the climate crisis and the world’s effort to adapt to them, according to a new United Nations report that will publish during the conference.

A historic breakthrough was reached at the summit when 20 countries agreed to end financing for fossil fuel projects abroad in a deal announced Thursday. Curtailing fossil fuels could limit long-term global warming.

One way to cut back on emissions? Converting classic cars, like a six-seat Rolls-Royce Phantom and James Bond’s favorite Aston Martin DB5, into electric vehicles.

We are family

Meet Leti, the small child of an ancient human relative that lived between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago.

The skull, from a child that was 4 to 6 years old at the time of death, is the first known to belong to Homo naledi.

The fragments of the child’s skull were found in an incredibly narrow passage of South Africa’s Rising Star cave, where Homo naledi fossils were initially unearthed in 2013.

While the discovery of a child fossil can help researchers understand how this enigmatic species developed, they are even more fascinated by how Leti ended up in the cave in the first place.

Fossils and fireballs

In South America, intense heat turned the Atacama Desert’s sandy soil into vast areas of glass stretching for 46.6 miles (75 kilometers) about 12,000 years ago.

Researchers have attempted to figure out what caused this drastic change for years, even questioning if ancient wildfires were the culprit.

Within the dark green and black glass fragments scattered across the Chilean desert, scientists have found minerals with an extraterrestrial source.

And where there are alien minerals, giant, explosive fireballs are usually to blame.

Fantastic creatures

Baby seals know how to get attention — and not just because they are the adorable puppies of the sea. In fact, baby seals share a rare vocal ability with humans.

This adjustment, known as being “vocally plastic,” is in response to factors that can otherwise drown out a seal’s voice. Clear communication is critical because it allows seals to escape from predators and find mates.

Scientists studied wild-born seal pups between 1 and 3 weeks old at a rehab and research center in the Netherlands and watched how they responded to recordings of sea noise.

Also, working with precious newborn seals sounds like a sweet dream come true.

Curiosities

Check these out:

— A 300 million-year-old fossil skeleton excavated at Canyonlands National Park in Utah could be a new species.

— Calling all space plumbers. Four astronauts returning to Earth this month will have to rely on, er, something else since the toilet on board SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule isn’t working.

— Wish you could lay your eyes on extinct animals? Lost species come to life at The Zoo of Extinct Animals in this unique augmented reality experience.

Like what you’ve read? Oh, but there’s more. Sign up here to receive in your inbox the next edition of Wonder Theory, brought to you by CNN Space and Science writer Ashley Strickland, who finds wonder in planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.

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