Monthly Archives: October 2013

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Carolina Wolf Spider

Carolina Wolf Spider

Hogna carolinensis, found in my apartment, Gainesville, FL.

The Second Most Astounding Fact

“The Universe is within us”

Alright, I can’t compete with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s fact for #1. But, I do know the second most astounding fact. There is a biological universe within us. Well, more like an ecosystem. A planet. Where interplanetary travel and colonization are possible. I’ll explain.

Lets consider “you” the planet. And by “you” I mean the ~30 trillion cells that you are comprised of that have “your” DNA- the cells that make you “you.” Now, your planet has many inhabitants that aren’t “you.” Entire communities that have colonized different parts of your body and work in harmony (synthesizing vitamins, aiding in digestion, etc.) with the planet they live in. In fact, at any given time, your body has about 10 times more foreign bacterial cells within it than its own cells (bacterial cells are much smaller than your own cells). And, on top of this, there is another order of magnitude of viruses that inhabit us (or our bacterial flora) for every bacterium.

Sometimes alien species invade our planet and (if our own immune system defenses aren’t fighting well enough) we combat them with antibiotics. However, antibiotics don’t discriminate against friendly and unfriendly bacteria, and can annihilate our friendly gut bacteria– leading to digestion issues, or even the recolonization of the gut with unfriendly species. (I’ll save fecal transplants for another post). One instance of this recolonization that has been receiving some press time recently has been of a homebrewer who had a population of Saccharomyces cerevisiae call his gut home. This single celled fungus, also known as “brewers yeast”, plagued the man by, well, doing what it does normally- metabolizing carbohydrates and producing ethanol as a waste-product. Not surprisingly, the condition is known as Auto-brewery syndrome.

Anyway, I always thought the existence of a microbiome within all of us was a really cool and astounding fact. At every instant of your life, there are hundreds of trillions of individuals living their lives within you. Awesome.

Our message to the cosmos.

In 1977 we flung an atomic powered robot into space. Voyager 1’s primary mission was to beam data back to Earth as it cruised through the outer solar system. One of the most famous bits of data sent back is this image of Earth captured as Voyager looked back towards its home planet in 1990 (Awesome commentary on this image and our planet/species by Carl Sagan here)

Pale_Blue_Dot

The Pale Blue Dot image taken 6 billion km from Earth in 1990.

 

Voyager, continuing with the momentum gained from its primary mission, has recently left our solar system and started its secondary mission of being a message in a bottle from our species to the cosmos. The message is stored on an easy-to-read golden record, and contains greetings in different languages, sounds from Earth, brainwaves of a human, and images from around the planet.

The_Sounds_of_Earth_Record_Cover_-_GPN-2000-001978

The Golden Record.

The cover of the record contains an easy to read explanation on how to retrieve the data– defining time units in the universal constant of the fundamental transition of the hydrogen atom. The location of our solar system is also printed on the cover, in relation to 14 pulsars with unique periods.

Check out President Jimmy Carter’s message to who/whatever finds Voyager- “This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”

It’s awesome to know that there is a time capsule of our species and planet floating through interstellar space- likely to last billions of years in the cold reaches between the stars. I’d like the think that one day something pics it up and gets to hear Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry.