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Microbes beneath the seafloor found living on fifty-billion-billion times less energy than a human’

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microbes beneath the seafloor found living on fifty billion billion times less energy than a human

Tiny microbes living underneath the seafloor have been found surviving on a fraction of the energy a human needs to live – setting a new lower energy limit for life.

An international team of researchers led by Queen Mary University of London used data from the sub-seafloor to create a new global picture of the ocean biosphere.

They discovered that microorganisms buried in sediment beneath the seafloor can survive on less energy than was previously known to support life. 

The study has implications for understanding the limit of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere in the solar system, the team said.

The team behind the study are pictured here carrying a sediment core on the catwalk of the ship they used as a base of operations

The team behind the study are pictured here carrying a sediment core on the catwalk of the ship they used as a base of operations

The team behind the study are pictured here carrying a sediment core on the catwalk of the ship they used as a base of operations

Researchers combined data on the distribution and amounts of carbon and microbial life contained in Earth’s biosphere with the rate of chemical reactions.

Using this information they were able to determine the ‘power’ consumption of individual microbial cells – in other words – the rate at which they utilise energy. 

All life on Earth constantly uses energy in order to remain active, sustain metabolism, and carry out essential functions such as growth, and the repair of biomolecules.

The results show that sub-seafloor microbes survive using far less energy than has ever previously been shown to support any form of life on Earth. 

By stretching the ‘habitable boundaries of life’ to include lower energy environments – the team hope this could help them work out how early life started on Earth. 

Dr James Bradley, Lecturer in Environmental Science at Queen Mary said we tend to think about plants, animals, algae and bacteria when we think about life on Earth.

Photograph taken from ALVIN, a manned deep-ocean research submersible, taking sediment cores at the ocean floor of the Dorado Outcrop in 2014

Photograph taken from ALVIN, a manned deep-ocean research submersible, taking sediment cores at the ocean floor of the Dorado Outcrop in 2014

Photograph taken from ALVIN, a manned deep-ocean research submersible, taking sediment cores at the ocean floor of the Dorado Outcrop in 2014

‘Yet here we show that an entire biosphere of microorganisms – as many cells as are contained in all of Earth’s soils or oceans, have barely enough energy to survive. 

‘Many of them are simply existing in a mostly inactive state – not growing, not dividing, and not evolving. These microbes use less energy than we previously thought was possible to support life on Earth.’

The average human uses about 100 watts of power – or about the power of a ceiling fan or two lightbulbs, the researchers explained. 

‘We calculate that the average microbe trapped in deep ocean sediments survives on fifty-billion-billion times less energy than a human,’ said Bradley.

Jan Amend, Director of the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI) at the University of Southern California, and co-author of the study, said previously studies of the sub-seabed focused on how much life is there. 

‘Now we’re digging deeper into ecological questions: what is it doing, and how fast is it doing it? Understanding the power limits of life establishes an essential baseline for microbial life on Earth and elsewhere,’ said Amend.

The findings raise fundamental questions about our definitions of what constitutes life, as well as the limits of life on Earth, and elsewhere. 

With such little energy available, it is unlikely that organisms are able to reproduce or divide, but instead use this miniscule amount of energy for ‘maintenance’ – replacing or repairing their damaged parts. 

It is likely, therefore, that many of the microbes found at great depths beneath the seafloor are remnants from populations that inhabited shallow coastal settings thousands to millions of years ago. 

Unlike organisms on the surface of Earth, which operate on daily and seasonal) timescales according to the Sun, these deeply microbes exist on much longer timescales, such as the movement of tectonic plates.

The research also sheds light on how the microbes interact with chemical processes occurring deep below the seafloor. 

Whilst oxygen provides the highest amount of energy to microbes, it is in overwhelmingly short supply – present in less than 3 per cent of sediments.

Photograph taken from ALVIN, a manned deep-ocean research submersible, taking sediment cores at the ocean floor of the Dorado Outcrop in 2014.

Photograph taken from ALVIN, a manned deep-ocean research submersible, taking sediment cores at the ocean floor of the Dorado Outcrop in 2014.

Photograph taken from ALVIN, a manned deep-ocean research submersible, taking sediment cores at the ocean floor of the Dorado Outcrop in 2014.

Anoxic sediments, however, are far more widespread, often containing microorganisms that obtain energy by generating methane – a greenhouse gas. 

Despite being practically inactive, the microbial cells contained in Earth’s marine sediments are so numerous, and survive over such extraordinarily long timescales, that they act as an important driver of earth’s carbon and nutrient cycles.

They even affect the concentration of CO2 in earth’s atmosphere over thousands to millions of years.

‘The findings of the research call into question not just the nature and limits of life on Earth, but elsewhere in the Universe,” added Dr Bradley. 

‘If life does exist on Mars or Europa for example, it would most likely take refuge in the subsurface of these energy-limited planetary bodies. 

‘If microbes only need a few zeptowatts of power to survive, there could be remnants of extant life, long dormant but still technically ‘alive’, under their surface.’

The results have been published in the journal Science Advances.

KEY DISCOVERIES IN HUMANITY’S SEARCH FOR ALIEN LIFE

Discovery of pulsars

British astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was the first person to discover a pulsar in 1967 when she spotted a radio pulsar.

Since then other types of pulsars that emit x-rays and gamma rays have also been spotted.

Pulsars are essentially rotating, highly magnatised neutron stars but when they were first discovered it was believed they could come from aliens.

‘Wow!’ radio signal

In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the nigh sky above Ohio spotted a powerful radio signal so strong that he excitedly wrote ‘Wow!’ next to his data.

In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the nigh sky above Ohio spotted a powerful radio signal so strong that he excitedly wrote 'Wow!' next to his data

In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the nigh sky above Ohio spotted a powerful radio signal so strong that he excitedly wrote 'Wow!' next to his data

In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the nigh sky above Ohio spotted a powerful radio signal so strong that he excitedly wrote ‘Wow!’ next to his data

The 72-second blast, spotted by Dr Jerry Ehman through a radio telescope, came from Sagittarius but matched no known celestial object.

Conspiracy theorists have since claimed that the ‘Wow! signal’, which was 30 times stronger than background radiation, was a message from intelligent extraterrestrials.

Fossilised martian microbes

In 1996 Nasa and the White House made the explosive announcement that the rock contained traces of Martian bugs.

The meteorite, catalogued as Allen Hills (ALH) 84001, crashed onto the frozen wastes of Antarctica 13,000 years ago and was recovered in 1984. 

Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike.

Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike (pictured)

Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike (pictured)

Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike (pictured)

However, the excitement did not last long. Other scientists questioned whether the meteorite samples were contaminated. 

They also argued that heat generated when the rock was blasted into space may have created mineral structures that could be mistaken for microfossils. 

Behaviour of Tabby’s Star in 2005 

The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astonomers since being discovered in 2015.

It dims at a much faster rate than other stars, which some experts have suggested is a sign of aliens harnessing the energy of a star.

The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astonomers since being discovered in 2015 (artist's impression)

The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astonomers since being discovered in 2015 (artist's impression)

The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astonomers since being discovered in 2015 (artist’s impression)

Recent studies have ‘eliminated the possibility of an alien megastructure’, and instead, suggests that a ring of dust could be causing the strange signals.

Exoplanets in the Goldilocks zone in 2015 

In February this year astronomers announced they had spotted a star system with planets that could support life just 39 light years away.

Seven Earth-like planets were discovered orbiting nearby dwarf star ‘Trappist-1’, and all of them could have water at their surface, one of the key components of life.

Three of the planets have such good conditions, that scientists say life may have already evolved on them. 

Researchers claim that they will know whether or not there is life on any of the planets within a decade, and said ‘this is just the beginning.’ 

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Twitter goes down for more than an hour leaving thousands of users unable to access the platform

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twitter goes down for more than an hour leaving thousands of users unable to access the platform

More than 50,000 Twitter users were unable to access the website and app versions of the social media platform Thursday morning due to a worldwide outage.

Down Detector showed the outage started around 9:30am ET and was plaguing parts of the US, Europe and Asia.

Many users were met with an ‘error message’ when logging in, along with a blank news feed that only reads ‘try again’ and disabled features – all of which hindered their ability to share tweets. 

The peak of the outage hit around 10am ET, but much of the service was restored around 10:45am ET – some Twitter users may still be experiencing issues. 

More than 50,000 Twitter users were unable to access the website and app versions of the social media platform Thursday morning due to a worldwide outage. Down Detector showed the outage started around 9:30am ET and was plaguing parts of the US, Europe and Asia

More than 50,000 Twitter users were unable to access the website and app versions of the social media platform Thursday morning due to a worldwide outage. Down Detector showed the outage started around 9:30am ET and was plaguing parts of the US, Europe and Asia

More than 50,000 Twitter users were unable to access the website and app versions of the social media platform Thursday morning due to a worldwide outage. Down Detector showed the outage started around 9:30am ET and was plaguing parts of the US, Europe and Asia 

Typically when one social media site experiences an outage, users flock to Twitter to share their frustrations or ask if anyone else is having problems.

But when Twitter went down, the world may be in a frenzy.

DailyMail.com has reached out to Twitter for comment and has yet to receive a response. 

Down Detector, a platform that monitors website and online service outages, is one of the only places the public can go to check on the outage when Twitter is down. 

The outage appeared around 9:30am and is located in the US, the UK and Japan - other countries in Europe, Asia and South American are also reporting issues

The outage appeared around 9:30am and is located in the US, the UK and Japan - other countries in Europe, Asia and South American are also reporting issues

The outage appeared around 9:30am and is located in the US, the UK and Japan – other countries in Europe, Asia and South American are also reporting issues

Many users were met with an 'error message' when logging in, along with a blank news feed that only reads 'try again' and disabled features - all of which hindered their ability to share tweets

Many users were met with an 'error message' when logging in, along with a blank news feed that only reads 'try again' and disabled features - all of which hindered their ability to share tweets

Many users were met with an ‘error message’ when logging in, along with a blank news feed that only reads ‘try again’ and disabled features – all of which hindered their ability to share tweets 

The majority of the outage was plaguing the website, but users reported issues with the iOS and Android apps. 

Down Detector’s outage map showed a number of major cities in the US as red, including Seattle, San Francisco, Washington  DC and New York City.

Twitter also went down in Japan, parts of India and Indonesia, along with countries in Europe.

Users shared their frustrations on Down Detector about Twitter going down so early in the day.

Users have shared their frustrations on Down Detector about Twitter going down so early in the day. One user joke that without the site, all they can do is look at the wall

Users have shared their frustrations on Down Detector about Twitter going down so early in the day. One user joke that without the site, all they can do is look at the wall

Users have shared their frustrations on Down Detector about Twitter going down so early in the day. One user joke that without the site, all they can do is look at the wall

Another took this time to take a dig at liberals: 'I hope they fix it by 11:30AM when all the white liberals start rolling out of bed... they have some very important hashtags to tweet out today to save all the helpless minorities they are trying to rescue'

Another took this time to take a dig at liberals: 'I hope they fix it by 11:30AM when all the white liberals start rolling out of bed... they have some very important hashtags to tweet out today to save all the helpless minorities they are trying to rescue'

Another took this time to take a dig at liberals: ‘I hope they fix it by 11:30AM when all the white liberals start rolling out of bed… they have some very important hashtags to tweet out today to save all the helpless minorities they are trying to rescue’

One user joked that without the site, all they can do is look at the wall.

Another took this time to take a dig at liberals: ‘I hope they fix it by 11:30AM when all the white liberals start rolling out of bed… they have some very important hashtags to tweet out today to save all the helpless minorities they are trying to rescue.’

The peak of the outage was around 10am ET, but service was coming back shortly after, with reports decreasing about 45 minutes later.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Twitter is DOWN! Thousands of users across the world are unable to access the social media platform

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twitter is down thousands of users across the world are unable to access the social media platform

 If you are having issues with Twitter, you are not the only one – more than 40,000 users across the world are experiencing problems with the social media platform.

The social media site is experiencing an outage that seems to be hitting the website and apps on both iOS and Android.

The outage appeared around 9:30am and is located in the US, the UK and Japan – other countries in Europe, Asia and South American are also reporting issues.

Many users have been met with an ‘error message’ when logging in, along with a blank news feed. 

If you are having issues with Twitter, you are not the only one. The social media site is experiencing an outage that seems to be hitting the website and apps on both iOS and Android

If you are having issues with Twitter, you are not the only one. The social media site is experiencing an outage that seems to be hitting the website and apps on both iOS and Android

Typically when one social media site experiences an outage, users flock to Twitter to share their frustrations or ask if anyone else is having problems.

But with Twitter down, the world may be in a frenzy.

Down Detector, a platform that monitors website and online service outages, is one of the only places the public can go to check on the outage.

The outage report shows more than 48,000 people have reported issues with Twitter, which started flowing in around 9:30am ET.

The outage appeared around 9:30am and is located in the US, the UK and Japan - other countries in Europe, Asia and South American are also reporting issues. Many users have been met with an 'error message' when logging in, along with a blank news feed

The outage appeared around 9:30am and is located in the US, the UK and Japan – other countries in Europe, Asia and South American are also reporting issues. Many users have been met with an ‘error message’ when logging in, along with a blank news feed

Approximately 49 percent are experiencing issues with the website, 35 percent noted problems with Twitter on an iOS devices and 15 percent on the Android app.

Down Detector’s outage map shows a number of major cities in the US as red, including Seattle, San Francisco, Washington  DC and New York City.

Twitter has also gone down in Japan, parts of India and Indonesia.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Nuclear fusion reactor could be producing electricity within a decade 

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nuclear fusion reactor could be producing electricity within a decade

A tennis court-sized nuclear fusion reactor being developed in the US could be producing electricity within a decade, backers claim.  

The SPARC nuclear fusion reactor, a joint project involving Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is expected to begin construction on June 21 next year and take three or four years until completion.

It is hoped that SPARC will demonstrate energy gain from fusion for the first time in history by 2025, and be producing fusion energy to generate electricity to power nearby cities within 10 years. 

Nuclear fusion power works by colliding heavy hydrogen atoms to form helium, releasing vast amounts of energy, mimicking the process that occurs naturally in the centre of stars like our Sun. 

Scroll down for video 

SPARC, which is on track to begin construction in 2021 and demonstrate net energy gain from fusion for the first time in history by 2025. Pictured, artists' impression of the reactor with a human for scale

SPARC, which is on track to begin construction in 2021 and demonstrate net energy gain from fusion for the first time in history by 2025. Pictured, artists’ impression of the reactor with a human for scale

Fusion could eventually combat climate change by replacing energy sources that emit greenhouse gases, such as coal and gas. 

Fusion also provides cheap, clean and safe energy without radioactive waste, or the risk of meltdown. 

SPARC will pave the way for the first commercially viable fusion power plant, called ARC. 

MIT said limitations imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic have only slightly slowed progress on SPARC and researchers are back in the labs under new operating guidelines. 

‘The work is progressing smoothly and on track,’ said MIT, which is working with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) on SPARC. 

A fusion power plant could provide clean, carbon-free energy with an essentially unlimited fuel supply. From the point of view of electrical power generation, the fusion device is just another heat source that could be used in a conventional thermal conversion cycle.

A fusion power plant could provide clean, carbon-free energy with an essentially unlimited fuel supply. From the point of view of electrical power generation, the fusion device is just another heat source that could be used in a conventional thermal conversion cycle. 

‘No unexpected impediments or surprises have shown up, and the remaining challenges appear to be manageable,’ it said in a statement.  

SPARC is set to be the first experimental device ever to achieve a ‘burning plasma’ – a self-sustaining fusion reaction in which different isotopes of the element hydrogen fuse together to form helium, without the need for any further input of energy. 

When deuterium and tritium nuclei – which can be found in hydrogen – fuse, they form a helium nucleus, a neutron and a lot of energy.

This is done by heating the fuel to temperatures in excess of 270,000,000°F (150,000,000°C) and forming a hot plasma – a gaseous soup of subatomic particles – held in place by magnets.

The strong magnetic fields are used to keep the plasma away from the reactor’s walls, so that it doesn’t cool down and lose its energy potential.

Fusion power works by colliding heavy hydrogen atoms to form helium - releasing vast amounts of energy in the process, as occurs naturally in the centre of stars

Fusion power works by colliding heavy hydrogen atoms to form helium – releasing vast amounts of energy in the process, as occurs naturally in the centre of stars

These fields are produced by superconducting coils surrounding the vessel and by an electrical current driven through the plasma.    

Information gathered from the behaviour of burning plasma is ‘crucial’ for developing the next step – a working prototype of a practical, power-generating power plant, the SPARC team said. 

Once this is up and running, key information can be gained that will help pave the way to commercial, power-producing fusion devices. 

Fuel running these devices – the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium – can be made available in virtually limitless supplies. 

Work on the first stage of the SPARC project is the development of the superconducting magnets that would allow smaller fusion systems to be built. 

Fusion power plants are set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power-generation sector, which is one of the major sources of these emissions globally.    

SPARC is designed to achieve what is called a Q factor – a key parameter denoting the efficiency of a fusion plasma – of at least two.

This essentially means that twice as much fusion energy is produced as the amount of energy pumped in to generate the reaction. 

Fusion joins two light elements (with a low atomic mass number), forming a heavier element, to generate energy. Pictured, artist's illustration (stock image)

Fusion joins two light elements (with a low atomic mass number), forming a heavier element, to generate energy. Pictured, artist’s illustration (stock image)

If realised, SPARC would be the first time a fusion plasma of any kind has produced more energy than it consumed. 

Computer calculations and simulation tools show SPARC could actually achieve a Q ratio of 10 or more, MIT claims.

A series of papers authored by 47 researchers from 12 institutions have been published in Journal of Plasma Physics summarising progress on SPARC. 

Together, the papers outline the theoretical and empirical physics basis for the new fusion system before it starts construction next year. 

‘The MIT group is pursuing a very compelling approach to fusion energy,’ said Chris Hegna, a professor of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who was not connected to this work. 

‘They realised the emergence of high-temperature superconducting technology enables a high magnetic field approach to producing net energy gain from a magnetic confinement system. 

Pictured, one of two 800-tonne vacuum vessel assembly tools, as captured by the artist Luca Zanier, involved in the construction of the much larger ITER Tokamak reactor now being built in France

Pictured, one of two 800-tonne vacuum vessel assembly tools, as captured by the artist Luca Zanier, involved in the construction of the much larger ITER Tokamak reactor now being built in France

‘This work is a potential game-changer for the international fusion program​.’ 

The SPARC design would achieve fusion performance comparable to that expected in the much larger ITER Tokamak now being built in France. 

The Provence-based ITER project is expected to begin delivering power in 2035 – several years later than SPARC if all goes to plan for the US team. 

‘We’re really focused on how you can get to fusion power as quickly as possible,’ CFS CEO Bob Mumgaard told the New York Times.

SPARC would be far smaller than ITER – about the size of a tennis court, compared with a soccer field, Mumgaard said. 

High power in a small size is made possible by advances in superconducting magnets that allow for a much stronger magnetic field to confine the hot plasma, MIT said. 

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NUCLEAR FUSION AND NUCLEAR FISSION 

 Both are nuclear processes, in that they involve nuclear forces to change the nucleus of atoms.

Fusion joins two light elements (with a low atomic mass number), forming a heavier element.

For fusion to occur, hydrogen atoms are placed under high heat and pressure until they fuse together.

Meanwhile, fission splits a heavy element (with a high atomic mass number) into fragments.

In both cases, energy is freed because the mass of the remaining nucleus is smaller than the mass of the reacting nuclei.

The reason why opposite processes release energy can be understood by examining the binding energy per nucleon curve. Both fusion and fission reactions shift the size of the reactant nuclei towards higher bounded nuclei.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency  

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