Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5
Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

Fossils Suggest Life on Earth Is Much Older Than We Thought

Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5
Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

In the grand scheme of things, the entirety of human existence has barely lasted the blink of an eye. We’re freshmen in our own home and constantly learning—which is why our understanding of the universe changes by the day. One recent shakeup comes courtesy of scientists in Greenland, who have found traces of life dating back 3.7 billion years, pushing back life's earliest known appearance by hundreds of millions of years. They published their findings in the journal Nature

As any historian can tell you, reconstructing the past is a complicated and nuanced process, since all we have to go on is what’s been left behind. And the farther back in time you go, the harder it gets. Much of what we “know” about dinosaur behavior amounts to highly educated guesses based on footprints or the shape of a break in bone. Looking back even farther to the planet's earliest life forms, and you don’t even have bones or footprints to go on, since the simple organisms that gave rise to every living thing on Earth were both microscopic and squishy. To understand the world of these organisms—indeed, even to find them—researchers often have to rely on context clues.

One great indicator of microbe activity is mineral formations. Our earliest ancestors interacted with chemicals in their environments in ways that left behind solid, densely layered structures called stromatolites. Each stromatolite is kind of like an apartment building: a sturdy home that will be around long after the soft bodies within it have decayed and disappeared. The building is not its inhabitants, but without them, it would not exist. 

The oldest known stromatolites in the world are a series of dome- and cone-shaped structures in Western Australia. Experts estimate that these microbe-made lumps in the exposed red rock are about 3.48 billion years old.

But as our planet’s climate shifts and glaciers melt, new sections of primordial stone have come to light. One such section is in the Isua region of southwest Greenland, where scientists found stromatolites in a newly exposed outcrop of very, very old rock.

Itsy-bitsy microbe condos. Image credit: Nutman et al. in Nature.2016

The wave-shaped formations were small, ranging from one to four centimeters in height, but the layered structure within was unmistakable. The rock in which the waves were embedded is at least 3.7 billion years old—which makes these the oldest fossils on earth by a good 220 million years.

Experts say finding the stromatolites is a reminder of the tenacity of living things. “If life could find a foothold here, and leave such an imprint that vestiges exist even though only a minuscule sliver of metamorphic rock is all that remains from that time, then life is not a fussy, reluctant and unlikely thing,” wrote Abigail Allwood of NASA in an accompanying commentary. “Give life half an opportunity and it’ll run with it.”

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Museum of the City of New York
New York City Exhibition Celebrates the Rebellious Victorian-Era Women Who Made History
Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

At a time when women wore corsets and hooped skirts, the American Jewish actress Adah Isaacs Menken caused quite a stir when she appeared onstage in men’s clothing. It was the early 1860s, and her portrayal of a man in the play Mazeppa saw her ride into the theater on a horse while wearing a flesh-colored body stocking. Critics were shocked, but Menken paid no mind. Both on stage and in her daily life, she continued to disregard the norms of that era by cutting her hair short and smoking cigarettes in public.

Menken is just one of the daring women featured in a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Rebel Women: Defying Victorianism celebrates the New York women who challenged the rigid expectations of the Victorian era, and includes a collection of photographs, clothes, and prints from the period.

A caricatures of the "Grecian bend"
Museum of the City of New York

The 19th century was a period of constraints for women. "During this era, a woman could be considered a rebel simply by speaking in public, working outside the home, or disregarding middle‐class morality or decorum," according to a museum statement. “Yet 19th‐century New York City was full of women who defied those expectations in both overt and subtle ways.”

The exhibit highlights the accomplishments of historic figures who contributed to the advancement of women’s rights, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but it also casts a light on lesser-known figures—many of whom history was unkind to.

A photo of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Museum of the City of New York

An illustration of women voting
Museum of the City of New York

There’s Ann Trow Lohman, also known as “Madame Restell,” who was dubbed “The Wickedest Woman in New York” for providing birth control to women. Similarly, Hetty Green earned the moniker “The Witch of Wall Street” for her successful career as a stock broker.

Visitors will also learn about a predecessor to Rosa Parks: Elizabeth Jennings Graham, a black New Yorker who refused to get off of a segregated street car in 1854.

Not all of the women had such noble goals, though, and the exhibition shows that men didn’t have a monopoly on crime. Notorious pickpocket and con-woman Sophie Lyons used her smarts and beauty to steal from wealthy men and earned a reputation as "the most notorious confidence woman America has ever produced."

The exhibition will be on view until January 6, 2019, and tickets can be purchased online.

Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist, predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.


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