SciTech Briefs

A gypsum crystal filled with microbes reflects light inside explored
cave. (credit: National Geographic) A gypsum crystal filled with microbes reflects light inside explored cave. (credit: National Geographic)

Seven Earth-sized planets found at nearby dwarf-star

Seven Earth-like planets have been found orbiting a dwarf-star called TRAPPIST-1, 40 light-years away. The planets possibly contain oceans of water, meaning they could host extra-terrestrial life. The planets were discovered by an international team of astronomers, led by Michael Gillon of the University of Liege in Belgium, that studied the star for extended periods.

Astronomers have a series of techniques for discovering exo-planets (i.e. planets outside the solar system). They can observe how the luminosity of a star drops when a planet passes in front of it. However, this requires the Earth, the planet, and the host star to be on the same plane. Another methods involves observing the tug planets exert on their sun, which causes the star to wobble. Information about the mass and distance of the planets can then be deduced. The latter method, however, only works for large planets, such as gas giants (like Jupiter). Finding smaller planets, such as Earth-sized ones, is much harder and an astounding feat.

Source: New York Times

Sexual harassment and sexist culture at Uber is exposed

Former Uber software developer Susan Fowler wrote in a blog post about the sexual harassment she encountered while working at the ride-sharing company.

Uber has faced many controversies since its launch in 2011, from incessant cases of sexual assault by its drivers to taxi driver protests and blockage from operation in some cities. This latest news break only continues the theme and shows how far the company still has to go to improve conditions for its customers and employees. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick has since apologized for the the company’s work culture issues after the blog post raised concerns.

Reports of sexist working conditions for women in tech have sprung up continuously. In September 2016, an Apple employee revealed the sexist working conditions at the company, which included rape jokes, misogyny, and sexual harassment.

In the rest of her blog post, Fowler chronicles how human resources (HR) at Uber ignored her reports of sexism.

Source: Bloomberg

5G will be a central topic at the Mobile World Congress

TelCom companies are about to take the next step after 4G. By about 2020, 5G will be the next data communication standard, and it will be blindingly quick. It’s about more than mobile phone net¬works, though. 5G will be the backbone of faster wi-fi networks in homes, drones, self-driven cars, virtual reality, and the internet of things. Speeds of up to 10 Gbps (Gigabits per second) will be commonplace, allowing users to download the largest files (think Lord of the Rings film trilogy) in seconds.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, 5G is expected to be a central topic. Mobile companies are already testing new infrastructure that will support the faster bandwidth.

5G will operate in the high-frequency 30 GHz and 300 GHz bandwidths, known as the millimeter wave spectrum. Even though high frequency waves come with faster data transfer, they also have issues bending around obstacles and traveling as far as the lower frequencies used for 4G LTE. 5G thus has long way to go.

Source: Wired

Microbes survived inside cave crystals for 50,000 years

Microbes that live off iron and sulfur were found live in pockets of fluid within the crystals of a cave in Mexico. The researchers who found the microbes say they are still alive after a 50,000 year hibernation. This discovery continues the trend of microscopic life on Earth managing to survive in the harshest environments. “This has profound effects on how we try to understand the evolution of microbial life on Earth,” says Penelope Boston, the director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Boston’s teams collected samples of the dormant microbes in 2008, awakened them and grew cultures. The microbes were distinct from any forms of microscopic life on Earth at the present.

The resilience of these microbes may present a problem for the search for extraterrestrial life. If they are present on space exploration equipment and survive the journey, they could contaminate other worlds upon contact. The durability of the microbes will undergo more studies.

Source: National Geographic