Thursday, January 29, 2015

Life in the universe may be very old, as rocky planets existed much earlier than thought

Did they enjoy that summer 4.6 billion years ago?
Kepler 444, a newly discovered star, and its five rocky planets are 11.2 billion years old. For comparison, the Universe was born at the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago while our Sun and Earth are around 4.6 billion years old. The solid planets orbiting Kepler 444 are proof that this type of planets were already there in the very early days of the universe. Extraterrestrial life may, therefore, be much more ancient as it had more time to try to emerge and evolve on suitable planets. Consequently, civilizations might have already existed billions of years before our species' appearance in East Africa 200,000 years ago. Where will humanity be in another 200,000 years? In 11.2 billion years...?

The Old Ones were already ancient when the Earth was born. Five small planets orbit an 11.2 billion-year-old star, making them about 80 per cent as old as the universe itself. That means our galaxy started building rocky planets earlier than we thought.

"Now that we know that these planets can be twice as old as Earth, this opens the possibility for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy," says Tiago Campante at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

NASA's Kepler space telescope spotted the planets around an orange dwarf star called Kepler 444, which is 117 light years away and about 25 per cent smaller than the sun.

Orange dwarfs are considered good candidates for hosting alien life because they can stay stable for up to 30 billion years, compared to the sun's 10 billion years, the time it takes these stars to consume all their hydrogen. For context, the universe is currently 13.8 billion years old.
"These planets mean it only took the universe a couple billion years to figure out how to build rocky planets, and they've been around for a really long time," says Travis Metcalfe at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. While Kepler 444's planets are too hot for life, its age suggests there might be cooler, older worlds elsewhere. "If life needs a long time to develop or lots of places to try to develop, having rocky planets this early in the history of the galaxy means planets with advanced civilisations should be everywhere."

"These are all little bits of good news," says Andrew Howard at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "There are still a lot of other hurdles life would have to overcome, but now we're seeing evidence that small planets are common, and here we have one from when the Milky Way was a kid and it was already forming probably rocky planets."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Aging and declining population will make us richer more slowly, said McKinsey research

Wish I were at the mall to raise GDP!
Because of population decline, economic growth in the world's 20 largest economies will be reduced by 40% over the next 50 years. Does that mean that those societies will see their living standards falling dramatically, as the alarmists imagine the aging future? The answer is no. GDP per head will keep rising higher, aka people will still be getting richer every year, only more slowly than without population aging. What if that's exactly what they want: a comfortable but slower life? Who cares about GDP if there will be more time at the park?

"Declining population growth that shrinks the pool of available labor over the next 50 years will reduce by 40% the rate of growth in global economic output for the world’s 20 largest economies compared to the past 50 years, according to a new study.
Among the 20 nations studied, only Nigeria will see employment growth and GDP growth increase over the coming 50 years, based on recent demographic patterns, says McKinsey. (On a per capita basis, Turkey, Argentina and South Africa will see GDP growth increase.) Several nations will see outright declines in employment, including Japan, Germany, Russia, Italy and China.
What’s the practical impact of a 40% decline in global growth? It means the global standard of living would rise 2.3 times in the next 50 years, down from 2.8 times over the past 50 years

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Mexicans are not coming anymore, as fewer of them are made every year

Head north for the parties!
Remember all the talks about how an exploding Mexican population will reclaim the territories lost to the USA in 1848? It turns out very soon they will have the same sub-replacement birthrate south of the border. Humans will act the same everywhere when their conditions converge.

From the USA Today: "What Mexican immigration problem?"

"President Obama's executive action on immigration enraged Republicans, but has also widened the split between two camps within the GOP.
Underlying this debate is at least one shared assumption: There are — and always will be — millions of Mexicans ready to move permanently to the United States. What if that assumption is now completely wrong?
But in 2001, the number of new residents (based on U.S. Census Bureau data) started to drop. In 2005, it began to plunge, bottoming out at 140,000 in 2010 and has flat lined since then. Most analysts attribute the steep drop of the last decade to the collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2006 and the lingering recession following the financial crisis in 2008.

But a bigger factor has been at work in Mexico that will drive net migration numbers to very low levels — close to zero — for at least the next one or two generations and probably much longer. Mexico, known for massive and rapid population growth for most of the 20th century, is now on the same downward demographic spiral as the rest of the developed world, including most of Latin America.

In the early 1960's, the total fertility rate for Mexican women was around seven children. By 2013, the rate was down to 2.2, just above the replacement rate of 2.1. The absolute number of live births in Mexico has fallen every year since 1994, and a UN population analysis projects that Mexico will sink below the replacement rate around 2025. Once countries go below the magic fertility number of 2.1 it isn't long — about 30 years — before their population growth completely halts and then starts to shrink.

In the meantime, those steep fertility declines already have shown up in the falling immigration numbers, as the pool of Mexican 15-39 year olds — the prime age to migrate — grows smaller and smaller year after year.

Meet Kepler 438b, the most Earth-like exo-planet discovered so far

And they are looking too?
Exo-planets are very new to humans. The first one ever found by mankind, 51 Pegasi b, was only declared in 1995. Two decades later, we have discovered more than 1000 verified planets orbiting other stars. The more we look, the more we find planets that increasingly resemble our Earth: small-sized, rocky, similar distances to their respective stars as Earth is to the Sun, same temperature range... Are we getting closer to finding the first signs of primitive life on those distant worlds? The trend looks promising as for all the newly learnt knowledge, humans have just searched a super-minuscule area of this galaxy, which is likely made up of 200 billion stars. And there might be 200 billion other galaxies in our observable universe. Could life be exclusive to Earth?

The small size of Kepler 438b makes it likely to be a rocky world, while its proximity to its star puts it in the “Goldilocks” or habitable zone where the temperature is just right for liquid water to flow.

A rocky surface and flowing water are two of the most important factors scientists look for when assessing a planet’s chances of being hospitable to life.
The scientists do not know if the planets have atmospheres, but if they are cloaked in insulating layers of gas, the mean temperatures of Kepler 438b and 442b are expected to be about 60 and zero degrees Celsius respectively.
In the meantime, scientists plan to look for other, indirect signs, that a planet may be well-suited for life. Kipping is searching through the Kepler data for hints that some planets have moons, which can improve their odds of being habitable. Our own moon stabilises Earth’s tilt, making the temperatures far less erratic than they would be otherwise. Alien planets that share a solar system with a gas giant like Jupiter are also interesting, because the vast size of the planet acts as a shield against devastating asteroid and comet impacts.