The search for life beyond Earth is really just getting started, but science has an encouraging early answer: there are plenty of planets in the galaxy, many with similarities to our own. But what we don’t know fills volumes.

Observations from the ground and from space have confirmed thousands of planets beyond our solar system. Our galaxy likely holds trillions. But so far, we have no evidence of life beyond Earth. Is life in the cosmos easily begun, and commonplace? Or is it incredibly rare?

More questions than answers

In the thousands of years humanity has been contemplating the cosmos, we are the first people to know one thing for sure: The stars beyond our Sun are teeming with planets. They come in many varieties, and a good chunk of them are around the size of Earth. Like most scientific questions, though, getting an answer to this one just breeds more questions: Which, if any, of these exoplanets harbors some form of life? How quickly does life get its start? And how long does it last? 

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Earlier this year, the Earth saw a huge dip in carbon emissions as nations around the globe locked down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It offered a glimpse into what the world might look like if we took drastic steps to reduce our carbon emissions to slow the spread of global warming: For a brief moment, smog-choked cities around the world had clear skies.


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Three years ago, the place you are reading about now did not exist. Then, suddenly, an underwater volcano erupted in the middle of the South Pacific, and by the time the smoke and ash cleared, a new land mass stood revealed – an island that no-one had ever seen before. That’s how the volcanic island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai (Hunga Tonga) came into the world in January 2015, nestling in between two existing, uninhabited Polynesian islands that make up part of the Kingdom of Tonga.

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Scientists are tracking small differences in DNA to explain why the disease has different effects.


It has been one of the most baffling aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Healthy young men and women have become infected with the virus and developed life-threatening side effects. But at the same time, many of their contemporaries have simply shrugged off the condition. Unknown factors are clearly leaving some people vulnerable to the pandemic’s worst effects even though some of them are young, are not overweight and do not suffer from other obvious health problems. Scientists think that tiny genetic differences are causing some to be struck down while many others are spared.


MIT engineers designed a tiny “brain-on-a-chip” from tens of thousands of artificial brain synapses known as memristors — silicon-based components that mimic the information-transmitting synapses in the human brain.


The researchers borrowed from principles of metallurgy to fabricate each memristor from alloys of silver and copper, along with silicon. When they ran the chip through several visual tasks, the chip was able to “remember” stored images and reproduce them many times over, in versions that were crisper and cleaner compared with existing memristor designs made with unalloyed elements.


While NASA set their sights on the Moon and outer planets, the Soviets spent some 30 years investigating the hellish inner planet Venus.


The Pioneer and Voyager probes the United States sent to explore the outer planets in the 1970s are often, and accurately, lauded as historic interplanetary achievements. That’s partly because, equipped with the Pioneer Plaque and the Voyager Golden Record, these objects are ostensibly meant to be found by aliens someday, helping them easily burrow into public consciousness. Similarly, robotic explorers to Mars, including the Viking landers and the Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers, take innumerable headlines, and they’re often even given anthropomorphized personalities.


Five years ago today, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft — designed, built and operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland — made history. After a voyage of nearly 10 years and more than 3 billion miles, the intrepid piano-sized probe flew within 7,800 miles of Pluto. For the first time ever, we saw the surface of this distant world in spectacular, colored detail.

The encounter — which also included a detailed look at the largest of Pluto’s five moons, Charon — capped the initial reconnaissance of the planets started by NASA’s Mariner 2 mission more than ​50 years before. It revealed an icy world replete in magnificent landscapes and geology — towering mountains, giant ice sheets, pits, scarps, valleys and terrains seen nowhere else in the solar system.

Extremely small antibodies, known as nanobodies, have been shown to neutralize SARS-CoV-2. But they’re extracted from llamas and camels, which is problematic for a number of reasons. Now, scientists have identified a synthetic form of a nanobody, known as a sybody, which shows affinity to SARS-CoV-2 and neutralizing capabilities.


For SARS-CoV-2 to infect humans, the viral Spike (S) protein must interact with and bind to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor on the surface of human cells. The S protein achieves this via the receptor binding domains (RBDs), and thus blocking the RBD using antibodies is just one therapeutic avenue that is being explored for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2.