Another month, another mini-future roundup. I bring you some of my favorite minor-level weird and fun science stories with ALMOST no anxiety-causing future shock.
Interstellar Asteroids are Wonderfully Weird
If you had told me last week that before now, we had never witnessed an interstellar object of any kind enter our solar system, I’d have said “Should we go to lunch? I’m hungry.” Then I would have said, “I’m not finished watching season two of Stranger Things, so we can’t talk about that.” THEN I would have said “Seriously? Nothing from outside our solar system, ever?”
If you’re a non-scientist/barely casual space watcher like me, then you probably had no idea either. But it’s true. The newly-arrived asteroid “Oumuamua”—Hawaiian for “scout”—is the first interstellar asteroid (or interstellar anything) we’ve ever seen arrive in our solar system.
It looks crazy. Take a gander at this artist’s representation:
My fictional representation of the discovery of Oumuamua:
(Author note: Oumuamua cannot be seen with the naked eye)
So why does Oumuamua have such an odd cigar-like shape? It’s probably not the result of alien sculpting classes or a vessel design for superintelligent flatworms. We don’t know why it’s shaped like that, but as described in this Wired article, the 200 to 400 meter-long asteroid is constantly spinning. Is that to create an artificial gravitational field for beings inside? Wired doesn’t think so, but I’d like to hope.
Before now, I’d always assumed that asteroids and other random interstellar crap passed through our solar system from time to time. But you know what happens when you assume—you ignore the gravitational and spatial characteristics of our vast universe.
I Have Donut-Seeking Gut Bacteria
Recent research has demonstrated that the presence or absence of certain gut bacterial can affect what foods animals crave the most. This troubles me.
I’ve made no secret of my constant desire for donuts and all things fried and sweet. Before you yell at me—yes, I’m well aware there are many factors involved here: our evolutionary conditioning to calorie-rich and sugar-laden foods once helped compensate for dietary lean times. We also need to pair the golden age of television with a corresponding volume of snack intake. Etc, etc.
But if gut bacteria are a part of this equation, then I clearly need some adjustments. According to the research, gut bacteria may play an important role in signaling when the body is low in particular amino acids—or they may also help animals alter choices when optimal foods are not available.
For those of us in societies of plenty, all food choices are available all the time. Perhaps that kind of volume simply overrides the delicate signaling mechanisms provided by gut bacteria, which developed in a different world.
Further research will tell. I read enough about this kind of thing to know that lab-manufactured and artificial bacteria are probably on the way. Perhaps companies will soon put anti-donut signaling bacteria on the market for consumers.
I’ll be waiting.
DARPA is Back—and Inside Your Daffodils!
Ok, DARPA never left. The “Imagineers of War” have been steadily working to advance U.S. warfighting/freak you out for over sixty years. Now they’ve come for your garden…or just plants in general.
I’ve always wanted a garden. Just saying.
The “Advanced Plant Technologies” platform will seek to turn plants into surveillance technologies that blend with the environment. Plants have very powerful and efficient natural stimulus-response mechanisms and are highly attuned to their environments. The APT program will seek to modify those response mechanisms to detect anything from harmful chemicals to electromagnetic signals. This will requireuse of some proven gene-editing techniques to produce mutations attuned to specific stimulus targets.
Could said plants eventually be modified to collect information not authorized by current government program standards? Sure. Will they be? I have no idea, but I doubt the first drone engineers anticipated “drone clearance sales” at Walmart (it’s a real thing).
I can’t wait for DARPA to advance this technology to seed form. You’ll buy some turnip seeds for your apocalypse-insurance garden, get the plants growing, and watch them bloom into clandestine monitoring devices (without your knowledge).
That’s it, my mini-future traveling companions. Get your turnip seeds and gut bacteria transplants now, and watch the skies! Not for aliens—it’s just nice to look at the sky sometimes. It has clouds, birds, lightning, kites, and a moon or sun depending on the hour.
Have a weird week.