I want to believe
May 23, 2018

The Loch Ness monster may very well be nothing more than an elaborate hoax, but a team of scientists from around the world plans to find out once and for all. The researchers will test the "environmental DNA" of the Scottish waters where Nessie allegedly dwells in order to see if anything fishy comes up, Reuters reports.

The idea is that the inhabitants of a given environment leave their traces everywhere: bits of scales, feces, cryptozoological saliva, what have you. "This DNA can be captured, sequenced, and then used to identify that creature by comparing the sequence obtained to large databases of known genetic sequences from hundreds of thousands of different organisms," said Neil Gemmell, a professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Even if "sea monster" doesn't pop up in the results, the experiment won't be a wash. The scientists are still hoping to identify new organisms in Loch Ness, just of the slightly smaller, bacterial variety. Jeva Lange

May 16, 2018

Octopuses are pretty weird. So weird, in fact, that we know very little about their strange and solitary existences, with Quartz suggesting that "they are the closest creature to an alien here on Earth." Now, 33 scientists from respectable institutions like the University of Alberta's Department of Biochemistry and the Center for the Physics of Living Organisms at Michigan Technological University have taken it a step further — and suggested that octopuses might have actually arrived on Earth millions of years ago from outer space, The Daily Grail reports.

The researchers' claim is made in the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, and it suggests that a "plausible explanation" for the octopus' genetic weirdness is that "squid and/or octopus eggs arrived in icy bodies several hundred million years ago."

This is quite the leap from the slightly-less-fringe theory of panspermia, which is "the idea that life has spread throughout the universe via comets, asteroids, etc.," as The Daily Grail explains — although panspermia is typically thought of as a possible method for the delivery of microbes or viruses to our planet. The researchers are actually suggesting that "cryopreserved" octopus eggs crashed into Earth several million years ago as a legitimate explanation for the creatures' extraordinary evolution.

There are plenty of skeptics, including biologist P.Z. Myers, who calls the research "garbage" and notes that while there "are novelties in cephalopod evolution," that doesn't just mean you can use it "as evidence [of] an outer space origin for the octopus." He argues that if octopuses really came from another world, "they would be completely unrelated to any other animal lineage on the planet. They would not be related to other mollusks … They would be totally alien." Read more about the debate over whether octopuses are aliens at The Daily Grail. Jeva Lange

October 16, 2017

Florida residents will have an opportunity in 2018 to elect the first (known) alien abductee to Congress, McClatchy reports. Miami Republican Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, claimed in a 2009 TV interview that three aliens brought her aboard a spaceship when she was 7 and that the extraterrestrials have continued to communicate with her telepathically over the years.

"I went in," Rodriguez Aguilera recalled in one of two separate Spanish-language interviews where she mentions the abduction. "There were some round seats that were there, and some quartz rocks that controlled the ship — not like airplanes."

Rodriguez Aguilera learned some useful facts from the aliens, such as that there are 30,000 skulls "different from humans" in a Maltese cave and that Florida's Coral Castle tourist trap is actually an Egyptian pyramid. Rodriguez Aguilera "also said that the aliens had mentioned Isis, though she didn't clarify if they meant the terrorist organization or the ancient Egyptian goddess," McClatchy writes.

Rodriguez Aguilera is not the first political candidate who wants to believe, although she might be the first to claim to have actually communicated with Martians. "Being a politician, to come out and say that, it's odd," observed Miami political commentator Rick Yabor. Jeva Lange

May 8, 2017

A mysterious military "space plane" returned to Earth on Sunday after a more than 700-day mission, announcing its arrival with a window-rattling sonic boom heard over a large swatch of central Florida.

Not much is known about the classified, unmanned Air Force plane, why it was sent to space, or what it might have taken with it. Lt. Col. Ron Fehlen, who is the program manager for the experimental X-37B aircraft, said the mission was a success and that the team is "excited about the data gathered to support the scientific and space communities,'' WMFE reports.

Several theories exist about the purpose of the X-37B, including speculation that it is used for surveillance or combat. "Fueling theories that it aids surveillance programs, trackers found that at least one earlier mission followed an orbit that took it over countries that included Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan," NPR writes.

Watch the X-37B land on a shuttle runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center below. Jeva Lange

February 6, 2017

No one in NFL Super Bowl history has ever made a comeback like the New England Patriots did Sunday night, so perhaps you can forgive the editors of The Boston Globe "early edition" for assuming the worst when the paper went to the presses with the Pats trailing 21-0.

"A Bitter End," the early headline said with a photo of a sad-looking Tom Brady kneeling on the field:

The newspaper directed readers to go to its website to follow the game, GoLocalProv reports. Of course, as it turns out, the later edition of the Globe went with a decidedly different vibe on its front page. Jeva Lange

September 28, 2015

The possibility that there are actual Martians on Mars got a whole lot more likely on Monday, when NASA announced it found signs of liquid water on the red planet. In light of that news, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power knocked the odds of finding life on Mars from 100-1 to 22-1. Now finding life on Mars has better odds than some have had for the Yankees winning the 2015 World Series (and about the same odds the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens have of getting Super Bowl rings next year).

There's probably not a whole lot of actual science going on behind bookies' numbers, aside from the fact that life as we understand it depends fundamentally on the presence of water. What's even more exciting, then, is that Alfred McEwen, the principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), is feeling pretty good about the chances of life, too. "The possibility of life in the interior of Mars has always been very high," McEwen said. "It's very likely I think that there is life somewhere in the crust of Mars."

"On Earth, wherever we find water, we find life," Dr. Joe Michalski of the Natural History Museum confirmed. Of course, any life on the red planet will probably be microscopic: Microbes or bacteria, for example, rather than little green men. Still, that's life — and for it to exist independent of Earth would be incredibly significant. Jeva Lange

July 20, 2015

The truth is out there! So says physicist Stephen Hawking, who is teaming up with Russian billionaire and entrepreneur Yuri Milner to search for alien life through their newly announced Breakthrough Initiatives project.

"The scope of our search will be unprecedented — a million nearby stars, the galactic center the entire plane of the Milky Way and 100 nearby galaxies," Milner told The Associated Press.

"We are intelligent, we are alive, and we must know," Hawking added in what is surprisingly not a X Files quote.

The Breakthrough Initiatives program will be housed at SETI@home, a University of California, Berkeley computing platform. With the help of nine million volunteers loaning spare computing power to the project, Hawking and Milner will have at their disposal one of the largest supercomputers in the world. The program will begin listening for alien life in 2016, using the world's best telescopes and technology.

Milner plans to back the program for a decade, although scientists believe the discovery of aliens could take even longer. Hawking, however, remains optimistic. "We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth," Hawking said during the program's announcement Monday. "So in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life." Jeva Lange

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