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You Can Help Scientists Find Gravitational Waves (By Doing Nothing)

Last month’s announcement that scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) had detected gravitational waves was a big one. It ended a decades-long hunt, further confirmed Einstein’s visionary work, and ushered in a new era of scientific exploration—one that you can have a hand in.

Einstein@Home is a downloadable screensaver that does some serious scientific work while your computer chills out. As Gizmodo reports, the program scans data from LIGO that was collected between September and January. The results are then shot back to a server.

Einstein@Home is searching for what Nature calls “slow-burn signals” which are weaker than the kind of ripple that LIGO observed last year (and announced last month). The source of these continuous-wave signals aren’t quite as dramatic as a black hole collision, but something more along the lines of spinning neutron stars (a.k.a. pulsars). According to their website, Einstein@Home volunteers have already discovered around 50 new neutron stars.

Visit Einstein@Home to get started (or as they say, “Catch a Wave From Space”). Happy hunting!

[h/t Gizmodo]

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Buckingham Palace Was Built With Jurassic Fossils, Scientists Find
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The UK's Buckingham Palace is a vestige from another era, and not just because it was built in the early 18th century. According to a new study, the limestone used to construct it is filled with the fossilized remains of microbes from the Jurassic period of 200 million years ago, as The Telegraph reports.

The palace is made of oolitic limestone, which consists of individual balls of carbonate sediment called ooids. The material is strong but lightweight, and is found worldwide. Jurassic oolite has been used to construct numerous famous buildings, from those in the British city of Bath to the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.

A new study from Australian National University published in Scientific Reports found that the spherical ooids in Buckingham Palace's walls are made up of layers and layers of mineralized microbes. Inspired by a mathematical model from the 1970s for predicting the growth of brain tumors, the researchers created a model that explains how ooids are created and predicts the factors that limit their ultimate size.

A hand holding a chunk of oolite limestone
Australian National University

They found that the mineralization of the microbes forms the central core of the ooid, and the layers of sediment that gather around that core feed those microbes until the nutrients can no longer reach the core from the outermost layer.

This contrasts with previous research on how ooids form, which hypothesized that they are the result of sediment gathered from rolling on the ocean floor. It also reshapes how we think about the buildings made out of oolitic limestone from this period. Next time you look up at the Empire State Building or Buckingham Palace, thank the ancient microbes.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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