TIME Environment

Check Out the Freezing Cold Place Where Scientists Found Life

There are close to 4,000 organisms living in the lake, which hasn’t seen sunlight for millions of years

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A subglacial lake 800 meters beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet has been discovered to contain “viable microbial ecosystems,” according to the National Science Foundation, which funded the project. The findings are the result of a 2013 drilling expedition in which researchers used a sterile, hot water drill to reach and collect samples from Lake Whillans, in the west part of the continent.

Researchers for project Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) found organisms that feed off of rocks for energy and use Carbon Dioxide as a carbon source in water and sediment samples from the lake.

TIME space

Cosmic First: Spacecraft Orbits Comet—With Plans to Land

Behind the veil: Comet 67P—like all comets—is a lot less glamorous without its tail
Behind the veil: Comet 67P—like all comets—is a lot less glamorous without its tail European Space Agency

Watching comets from a distance is one thing. Riding along with one for more than a year—not to mention landing on it—is something else entirely

Space scientists have scrutinized comets with Earthly telescopes. They’ve watched from afar as one comet self-destructed and slammed into Jupiter, and as another committed hara kiri by venturing too close to the Sun. They’ve even sent space probes to whiz by comets at high speed, trying to unravel their still mysterious nature. Until now, however, nobody has attempted the daredevil stunt of inserting a space probe into orbit around a comet and following with the even riskier maneuver of sending a lander down to scratch and sniff at its ancient, murky surface.

But that’s exactly what the scientists and engineers behind the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission have just accomplished—or the first part, anyway. On August 6 at about 7:00 A.M. ET, after more than ten years in pursuit, Rosetta caught up with and began circling a bulbous comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimernko (mercifully called 67P for short). And in early November, if all goes according to plan, the mother ship will deploy a lander named Philae to analyze the comet’s structure and composition in unprecedented detail.

It may seem like an awful lot of effort to expend just to study a member of a class of cosmic objects Harvard astronomer Fred Whipple once described as “dirty snowballs.” But these particular snowballs could be the key to all sorts scientific mysteries. They’ve been largely deep-frozen since the Solar System formed some 4.6 billion years ago, for example, so they preserve some of the original material from that seminal time. A rain of comets shortly after Earth came into existence might have been the source of our planet’s life-giving oceans. And some of that “dirt” comes in the form of tarry organic compounds, which means comet impacts could even have played a crucial role in the origin of life.

All of these questions, plus more nobody’s even thought to ask, could be answered, at least in part, by Rosetta and Philae as they ride along with 67P for the next 15 months, using a total of 21 separate instruments, including cameras to study the comet as it stirs to life in the heat of the Sun.

“We’ll be there through its closest approach with the Sun in summer 2015, when the activity is at a maximum and the nucleus is expelling thousands of pounds of material per minute,” says Mark Taylor, Rosetta’s chief scientist. That material will give 67P a temporary atmosphere for the orbiter to sample and analyze (among other things, it should be able to tell if the comet’s ice is a chemical match for Earth’s oceans), but since its closest approach to the Sun is still about 27 million miles (43 million km) outside Earth’s orbit, there’s not enough heat to make the thin atmosphere (called the coma) flare into a full-fledged tail.

The main spacecraft is currently circling at a distance of 60 miles (96 km) but it will gradually diminish to less than 10—stationkeeping while the lander does its work on the surface. That work will involve taking close-up photos and analyzing 67P’s surface chemistry—as well as the chemistry of the subsurface. Philae carries a handy drill which can penetrate a few inches into the ground beneath it. “It digs up a sample and puts it into a small oven,” explains Rosetta team member Fred Goesmann, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, which allows volatile chemicals to be released for chemical identification.

Another, ingenious experiment will be able to look far deeper into the comet’s interior. When the orbiter is on the opposite side of 67P from Philae’s landing site, it will send radio waves right through entire 3 mi. (4,8 km) mass of rock and ice. Philae will reflect the waves back—and just like a CT scan does with the human body—the reflected waves will reveal the interior structure of the comet. That will help scientists figure out whether it formed as a single piece, or as small chunks that slowly aggregated into 67P’s current size.

And that’s just a hint of what the mission is likely to uncover. Racing by comets at high speed or peering at them through telescopes has proven useful enough. Hanging out with one for more than a year of intensive study, however, will give scientists an unprecedented amount of information about these icy messengers from out beyond Neptune.

TIME psychology

What Is Life All About? Using Business Strategy to Find Your Life’s Purpose

What is life all about?

What’s your five-year plan? Your ten-year plan?

If you’re anything like me, your answer is probably something along the lines of “I have no idea.”

And just being asked that question makes you feel inadequate. Like you’re always supposed to know what the future will hold.

In his powerful book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen reflects that so many of his students at Harvard Business School feel they should always be able to answer “What is life all about?”

They expect to have their whole lives mapped out — and if they don’t, something is wrong with them.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

Starting as early as high school, they think that to be successful they need to have a concrete vision of exactly what it is they want to do with their lives. Underlying this belief is the implicit assumption that they should risk deviating from their vision only if things go horribly wrong.

Christensen points out a fundamental irony: these business students don’t realize that most businesses, well-planned as they may be, don’t really know what they want to be either.

A full 93% of all companies start out doing one thing and abandon that strategy because it wasn’t viable.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

Professor Amar Bhide showed in his Origin and Evolution of New Business that 93 percent of all companies that ultimately become successful had to abandon their original strategy— because the original plan proved not to be viable. In other words, successful companies don’t succeed because they have the right strategy at the beginning; but rather, because they have money left over after the original strategy fails, so that they can pivot and try another approach.

Most companies have two forms of strategy: deliberate and emergent.

  • Deliberate is what’s in the business plan, the PowerPoint Deck, the list of goals. And that’s what ends up changing 93% of the time.
  • Emergent is what you find along the way. It’s when your baby nephew ignores the gift you bought him… but LOVES the shiny wrapping paper. The heart medication research… that ends up becoming Viagra. It’s unintended.

Your life is always a balance of deliberate and emergent — what you plan, and what pops up through serendipity.

So how do you know when to stick to the plan and when to change course with what comes along?

If your deliberate plan is paying your bills and you find it fulfilling, stay on the path. Pay less attention to the little things that pop up and double down on present course.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

If you have found an outlet in your career that provides both the requisite hygiene factors and motivators, then a deliberate approach makes sense. Your aspirations should be clear, and you know from your present experience that they are worth striving for. Rather than worrying about adjusting to unexpected opportunities, your frame of mind should be focused on how best to achieve the goals you have deliberately set.

But what about when you’re not feeling fulfilled? Or when you have a dream but it’s not paying the bills and offering a lifestyle? When you really have no clue to “What is life all about?”

Christensen says this is like those 93% of companies — they need to experiment, to look around to see how to pivot.

You need to be trying to new things, to iterate. To realize that maybe the shiny wrapping paper is better than that gift.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

But if you haven’t reached the point of finding a career that does this for you, then, like a new company finding its way, you need to be emergent. This is another way of saying that if you are in these circumstances, experiment in life. As you learn from each experience, adjust. Then iterate quickly. Keep going through this process until your strategy begins to click.

But what you can’t do either way is sit on your butt.

What’s rarely required is just more thinking. It’s testing and experimenting that leads to real opportunities.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

But it’s rarely a case of sitting in an ivory tower and thinking through the problem until the answer pops into your head. Strategy almost always emerges from a combination of deliberate and unanticipated opportunities. What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests, and priorities begin to pay off. When you find out what really works for you, then it’s time to flip from an emergent strategy to a deliberate one.

More on answering “What is life all about?”:

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Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

What do people regret the most before they die?

What five things can make sure you never stop growing and learning?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME advice

What Is The Most Productive Thing I Can Do When I Am Bored?

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Hype Photography—Getty Images

Answer by Visakan Veerasamy, an employee of ReferalCandy and writer for Poached Magazine, for Quora.

I’ve noticed that everything that’s been stated involves doing something or trying something or focusing on something.

I propose elimination. See how much you can cut away from your life. Via negativa.

Eliminate needless clutter from your desk.

Eliminate needless noisemakers from your social media. (Eliminate needless social media channels altogether.)

Eliminate needless apps from your phone.

Eliminate needless blogs from your RSS feed.

Eliminate needless books from your shelves.

I think of this as an ‘Odyssean’ activity.

Odysseus guarded himself against temptation by the Sirens by getting his men to tie him to the mast of his ship.

Our willpower is limited.

In moments of clarity (or boredom, when we have enough energy to do simple tasks but not major ones), it helps if we tie ourselves to our masts by eliminating distractions.

Cut away anything that isn’t relevant to what you want to achieve in life. Do it now, while you can, and you’ll thank yourself for it later when you’d have been otherwise distracted.

Of course, you never want to get too extreme with this, because there is always value outside of what you’ve set up for yourself. That random annoying person on Facebook might just be the spouse of your dreams. It’s pretty unlikely, though.

Trust your own judgement and get rid of what you know, with reasonable certainty, to be a waste of your time.

That leaves you with only what matters. Now that’s productive.

This question originally appeared on Quora:What is the most productive thing I can do when I’m bored? More questions:

TIME space

Halle Berry Is Right: Aliens Are (Probably) Real

Berry talks science—and gets it righter than most
Berry talks science—and gets it righter than most Trae Patton/NBC; NBC via Getty Images

Don't dismiss the sci-fi star's admission that she believes in extraterrestrial life — there's a very strong case to make that it exists

Correction appended, July 8

It’s not often Halle Berry’s name comes up in scientific circles, but today, the actress—who’s starring in CBS sci-fi thriller Extant—is all the buzz, after telling David Letterman that she believes aliens exist. Dr. Berry joins Bill Clinton, who made a similar admission to Jimmy Kimmel back in April, and as I said at the time, there’s solid science backing the we-are-not-alone community.

Some of the case for ET is based on simple numbers: the 300 billion stars in our galaxy, the 100 billion galaxies in the larger universe, and the recent discovery of thousands of planets or candidate planets in the Milky Way, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope. Those thousands suggest there could be billions or trillions more.

Exobiologists disagree on the likelihood of life emerging on any of those worlds, but if you belong to the life-is-easy school (which I do) there’s reason for optimism, thanks to a simple equation: water plus hydrocarbons plus energy plus time may equal life. That’s how we got here—and who said we’re so special that the formula can work only once?

But Berry does get one thing very wrong when she says, “…it might take us 20 years to get to those other life forms, but I think they are out there.” Sorry Halle, but 20 ain’t happening. Unless we find a microorganism in water deposits on Mars (a legitimate possibility) or something living in the warm, salty oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa, or on one of the handful of other moons in the solar system thought to harbor water, making contact with any species—particularly an intelligent species—across billions of light years of space is the very longest of cosmic long shots. We may not be alone, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be hosting extraterrestrial dinner parties any time soon.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated who Halle Berry told she believes in aliens.

 

TIME space

Say Hello to the ‘Club Sandwich’ Moon

Layer cake oceans may exist on Jupiter's moon Ganymede
Layer cake oceans may exist on Jupiter's moon Ganymede NASA/JPL-Caltech

Oceans Eleven? Jupiter's moon Ganymede may be home to multiple oceans, stacked in ways astronomers never knew. That, in theory, could mean extraterrestrial life, according to a report in the journal Planetary and Space Science

A century ago, the search for life in the Solar System was concentrated almost entirely on Mars, a place with polar caps, weather of some sort and, crucially, a location close enough to the Sun that liquid water might plausibly exist on its surface—an essential ingredient for biological activity. Mars is still in the picture—although more in terms of ancient than current life at the moment.

The newest excitement about alien life is instead focused in a place biology oughtn’t be—at least by the old thinking: in the frigid outer solar system. At those distant removes, where you’d think water would be rock solid, at least three moons—Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus and Titan—are now known to harbor vast oceans of water miles beneath their surface, kept liquid by gravitational flexing that generates heat in the same way a wire hanger bent rapidly beck and forth will become too hot to touch.

Now comes a report in the journal Planetary and Space Science that adds Jupiter’s moon Ganymede to the list of worlds where life could be—and in this case, the ocean in question could be one of several, stacked one on top of the other and separated by layers of ice in forms that don’t exist on Earth. “We’ve had evidence for a long time that Ganymede has a subsurface ocean,” says lead author Steve Vance, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. When he and his colleagues looked at it carefully in a new modeling study, however, “things began to get weird.”

The weirdness comes from two factors. The first is that ice exists in no fewer than 15 different forms based on different crystalline structures. Most of them can exist only under a combination of high pressure and low temperature that doesn’t occur on Earth. It does in the oceans of Ganymede—the Solar System’s largest moon, which is bigger than the planet Mercury. And while regular old ice (“Ice I,” as chemists label it) floats on water, other forms sink. Scientists have believed for some time, in fact, that Ganymede’s surface is Ice I, while a denser, heavier form, Ice VI, coats the bottom of the sea, with water sandwiched in between.

A configuration like that would be bad news for biology, since scientists believe the interaction between water and rock may have provided the electrochemical energy that powered the earliest forms of life. “It’s like a sort of biochemical battery,” says JPL astrobiologist Kevin Hand, who wasn’t involved in this research. If solid ice kept water from reaching the rock, that battery couldn’t operate.

But earlier studies failed to factor in the likelihood that Ganymede’s ocean is very salty, a finding suggested by the moon’s magnetic field (salty water is a very good electrical conductor, turning the spinning moon into an electric dynamo). Salty water is also much denser than fresh, so when the moon’s internal heat melts the bottom layer of ice from below, that water doesn’t try to rise through cracks in the ice; it simply stays there. The biochemical battery can keep operating and—in theory, anyway—life might be able to eke out an existence.

The really weird part is that the interplay between salty water and ices with different crystal structures and different densities could continue upward, creating what Vance calls, in a reference that will be lost on anyone under 50, a “Dagwood sandwich” structure in Ganymede’s ocean, with alternating layers of water and ice.

Vance is quick to point out that these are modeling results, not actual observations. “These thing could occur,” he says. “We’re just laying the groundwork for what’s possible.” It will take a new mission to Jupiter to find out much more than that. The European Space Agency has one on the schedule for arrival in 2030, and NASA recently issued a call for proposals for a low-cost mission to study the subsurface ocean on Europa.

It will be a while, therefore, before we know much more about the prospects for life on these icy moons. But what we know already is making it clear that if life is as resourceful and adaptable as we think it is, it may be found in a lot more places in our own cosmic neighborhood than we ever realized.

TIME

How to Make Your Life Better by Sending Five Simple Emails

How to make your life better? All you need is email.

I’ve covered a lot of research on how to make your life better but many people struggle with implementing changes because it seems like a major undertaking. It doesn’t have to be.

You can make strides in 5 fundamental areas by just sending 5 emails.

HAPPINESS

Every morning send a friend, family member or co-worker an email to say thanks for something.

Might sound silly but it’s actually excellent advice on how to make your life better.

There’s tons and tons and tons of research showing that over time, this alone – one silly email a day – can make you happier.

Via Harvard professor Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage:

This is why I often ask managers to write an e-mail of praise or thanks to a friend, family member, or colleague each morning before they start their day’s work—not just because it contributes to their own happiness, but because it very literally cements a relationship.

(More on increasing happiness here.)

JOB

At the end of the week, send your boss an email and sum up what you’ve accomplished.

They probably have no idea what you’re doing with your time. They’re busy. They have their own problems.

For your boss, this let’s them know what you’ve been up to without having to ask and saves them from wondering and worrying. They’ll appreciate it and probably come to rely on it.

For you, it’s proactive and shows off your efforts, which Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer says is the key to success in any organization:

…you should make sure that your performance is visible to your boss and your accomplishments are visible. Your superiors in the organization have their own jobs, are managing their own careers, are busy human beings. And you should not assume that they’re spending all their time thinking about you and worrying about you and your career.

(More on improving your work life here.)

GROWTH

Once a week email a potential mentor.

Doesn’t have to be related to your job. Who do you admire that you could learn from?

As I’ve blogged about before, mentors are key to success.

Via The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ:

Any person lucky enough to have had one great teacher who inspired, advised, critiqued, and had endless faith in her student’s ability will tell you what a difference that person has made in her life. “Most students who become interested in an academic subject do so because they have met a teacher who was able to pique their interest,” write Csikszentmihályi, Rathunde, and Whalen. It is yet another great irony of the giftedness myth: in the final analysis, the true road to success lies not in a person’s molecular structure, but in his developing the most productive attitudes and identifying magnificent external resources.

This is one of those things everyone seems to know but nobody does anything about.

It’s the age of the internet, folks. If you have Google and half an ounce of resourcefulness it’s not that hard to find almost anyone’s email address. If they have a website, their email is probably listed on it.

What do you write? Try Adam’s method or Tim’s method or Ramit’s method.

(More on the power of mentors here.)

FRIENDSHIP

Email a good friend and make plans.

What does research say keeps friendships alive? Staying in touch every 2 weeks.

Got 14 friends? Then you need to be emailing somebody every day.

And what should you email them about? Make plans to get together.

Research shows the best use of electronic communication is to facilitate face-to-face interaction:

The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees.Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

(More on improving friendships here.)

CAREER

Send an email to someone you know (but don’t know very well) and check in.

These “weak ties” are the primary source of future career opportunities.

From Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

In fact, in landing a job, Granovetter discovered, weak-tie acquaintances were often more important than strong-tie friends because weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong. Many of the people Granovetter studied had learned about new job opportunities through weak ties, rather than from close friends, which makes sense because we talk to our closest friends all the time, or work alongside them or read the same blogs. By the time they have heard about a new opportunity, we probably know about it, as well. On the other hand, our weak-tie acquaintances— the people we bump into every six months— are the ones who tell us about jobs we would otherwise never hear about.

“But I don’t know what to say.” Do any little thing that benefits them, not you. Try Adam Rifkin’s 5 minute favor.

Or just send them a link they might find useful.

Still stuck? Okay, send them the link to the post you’re reading right now.

If this has helped you with how to make your life better it can probably help them too. ;)

(More on how to network effectively here.)

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Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

What do people regret the most before they die?

What five things can make sure you never stop growing and learning?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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