What Should We be Worried About?

Max Tegmark writes a very thought-provoking short essay entitled “Life As We Know It”. I suggest reading the whole thing if you’re after some inspiration and food for thought on this cloudy Tuesday. Here’s a taste:

As our "Spaceship Earth" blazes though cold and barren space, it both sustains and protects us. It's stocked with major but limited supplies of water, food and fuel. Its atmosphere keeps us warm and shielded from the Sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, and its magnetic field shelters us from lethal cosmic rays. Surely any responsible spaceship captain would make it a top priority to safeguard its future existence by avoiding asteroid collisions, on-board explosions, overheating, ultraviolet shield destruction, and premature depletion of supplies? Yet our spaceship crew hasn't made any of these issues a top priority, devoting (by my estimate) less than a millionth of its resources to them. In fact, our spaceship doesn't even have a captain!

Water on Mercury?

NASA writes:

New observations by the MESSENGER [sic] spacecraft provide compelling support for the long-held hypothesis that Mercury harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials in its permanently shadowed polar craters.

Just as Jason SIlva says, this really is the first time in human history where we don't need time-lapse photography to witness the advancement of our species.

What's next? Sean Solomon, principal investigator of the Messenger mission explains:

"But the new observations have also raised new questions," adds Solomon. "Do the dark materials in the polar deposits consist mostly of organic compounds? What kind of chemical reactions has that material experienced? Are there any regions on or within Mercury that might have both liquid water and organic compounds? Only with the continued exploration of Mercury can we hope to make progress on these new questions."

UK Schools Not Teaching Evolution May Face Funding Cut

Judith Burns writes for BBC News:

Failing to teach evolution by natural selection in science lessons could lead to new free schools losing their funding under government changes.
The new rules state that from 2013, all free schools in England must teach evolution as a "comprehensive and coherent scientific theory".

This is a law I can get behind. Now, when can the same rules apply to all schools?

Seth MacFarlane Donates Carl Sagan Papers to US Library of Congress

US Library of Congress:

The Library of Congress has acquired the personal papers of American astronomer, astrobiologist and science communicator Carl Sagan (1934-1996).

The Sagan collection has come to the Library through the generosity of writer, producer and director Seth MacFarlane, and is officially designated The Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive.

What a thoughtful and charitable gesture. I have great respect for Seth's work and having heard about this donation, I'm now an even bigger fan of his.

Let's hope we can all have access to these papers digitally soon. I'd love to get further insight into the thoughts of Carl Sagan, one of my personal heroes.