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Symphony of Science: 'Our Place in the Cosmos' (ft. Sagan, Dawkins, Kaku, Jastrow)

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." -Carl Sagan. Here's the third movement of the growing Symphony of Science, a series of songs that use scientists' spoken voices auto-tuned to make them sing. In this latest installment, the focus is again on the vastness of the cosmos and our place in it. The video also includes a few clips from my favorite film of all time, Koyaanisqatsi (more on that later this week).

If you're a fan of the original song ("A Glorious Dawn" featuring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking), you can now buy it on vinyl from Jack White's record company. It's only six bucks (shipping included!), and the B side features replicas of the Voyager Golden Record's engravings. It's made of vinyl, not gold, though.

You can download free MP3s and learn more at SymphonyOfScience.com. See also: We Are All Connected.

Complete lyrics after the jump.

Lyrics

[Narrator]
With every century
Our eyes on the universe have been opened anew
We are witness
To the very brink of time and space

[Robert Jastrow]
We must ask ourselves
We who are so proud of our accomplishments
What is our place in the cosmic perspective of life?

[Carl Sagan]
The exploration of the cosmos
Is a voyage of self discovery
As long as there have been humans
We have searched for our place in the cosmos

[Richard Dawkins]
Are there things about the universe
That will be forever beyond our grasp?
Are there things about the universe that are
Ungraspable?

[Sagan]
One of the great revelations of space exploration
Is the image of the earth, finite and lonely
Bearing the entire human species
Through the oceans of space and time

[Dawkins]
Matter flows from place to place
And momentarily comes together to be you
Some people find that thought disturbing
I find the reality thrilling

[Sagan]
As the ancient mythmakers knew
We're children equally of the earth and the sky
In our tenure on this planet, we've accumulated
Dangerous evolutionary baggage

We've also acquired compassion for others,
Love for our children,
And a great soaring passionate intelligence
The clear tools for our continued survival

[Michio Kaku]
We could be in the middle
Of an inter-galactic conversation
And we wouldn't even know

[Sagan]
We've begun at last
To wonder about our origins
Star stuff contemplating the stars
Tracing that long path

Our obligation to survive and flourish
Is owed not just to ourselves
But also to that cosmos
Ancient and vast, from which we spring

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Mario Tama, Getty Images
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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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Big Questions
Do Bacteria Have Bacteria?
iStock
iStock

Drew Smith:

Do bacteria have bacteria? Yes.

We know that bacteria range in size from 0.2 micrometers to nearly one millimeter. That’s more than a thousand-fold difference, easily enough to accommodate a small bacterium inside a larger one.

Nothing forbids bacteria from invading other bacteria, and in biology, that which is not forbidden is inevitable.

We have at least one example: Like many mealybugs, Planococcus citri has a bacterial endosymbiont, in this case the β-proteobacterium Tremblaya princeps. And this endosymbiont in turn has the γ-proteobacterium Moranella endobia living inside it. See for yourself:

Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization confirming that intrabacterial symbionts reside inside Tremblaya cells in (A) M. hirsutus and (B) P. marginatus mealybugs. Tremblaya cells are in green, and γ-proteobacterial symbionts are in red. (Scale bar: 10 μm.)
Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization confirming that intrabacterial symbionts reside inside Tremblaya cells in (A) M. hirsutus and (B) P. marginatus mealybugs. Tremblaya cells are in green, and γ-proteobacterial symbionts are in red. (Scale bar: 10 μm.)

I don’t know of examples of free-living bacteria hosting other bacteria within them, but that reflects either my ignorance or the likelihood that we haven’t looked hard enough for them. I’m sure they are out there.

Most (not all) scientists studying the origin of eukaryotic cells believe that they are descended from Archaea.

All scientists accept that the mitochondria which live inside eukaryotic cells are descendants of invasive alpha-proteobacteria. What’s not clear is whether archeal cells became eukaryotic in nature—that is, acquired internal membranes and transport systems—before or after acquiring mitochondria. The two scenarios can be sketched out like this:


The two hypotheses on the origin of eukaryotes:

(A) Archaezoan hypothesis.

(B) Symbiotic hypothesis.

The shapes within the eukaryotic cell denote the nucleus, the endomembrane system, and the cytoskeleton. The irregular gray shape denotes a putative wall-less archaeon that could have been the host of the alpha-proteobacterial endosymbiont, whereas the oblong red shape denotes a typical archaeon with a cell wall. A: archaea; B: bacteria; E: eukaryote; LUCA: last universal common ancestor of cellular life forms; LECA: last eukaryotic common ancestor; E-arch: putative archaezoan (primitive amitochondrial eukaryote); E-mit: primitive mitochondrial eukaryote; alpha:alpha-proteobacterium, ancestor of the mitochondrion.

The Archaezoan hypothesis has been given a bit of a boost by the discovery of Lokiarcheota. This complex Archaean has genes for phagocytosis, intracellular membrane formation and intracellular transport and signaling—hallmark activities of eukaryotic cells. The Lokiarcheotan genes are clearly related to eukaryotic genes, indicating a common origin.

Bacteria-within-bacteria is not only not a crazy idea, it probably accounts for the origin of Eucarya, and thus our own species.

We don’t know how common this arrangement is—we mostly study bacteria these days by sequencing their DNA. This is great for detecting uncultivatable species (which are 99 percent of them), but doesn’t tell us whether they are free-living or are some kind of symbiont. For that, someone would have to spend a lot of time prepping environmental samples for close examination by microscopic methods, a tedious project indeed. But one well worth doing, as it may shed more light on the history of life—which is often a history of conflict turned to cooperation. That’s a story which never gets old or stale.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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