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Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Out-of-body experiences

Statistics suggest ~10% of us have out-of-body experiences (OBEs) – but this number could rise now scientists know how to artificially induce them! There are three main ways they can do this: by supplying hallucinogenic drugs like LSD or ketamine; by applying strong G-forces (we realised this when pilots and astronauts reported high incidences of OBEs; the cause is attributed to blood draining out of one side of the brain: yikes!); or by extreme sensory loading: either overloading or depriving the senses (extreme sensory overload is a form of torture). In a 2002 study, a patient even experienced an OBE whilst conscious when researchers put a weak current through part of their brain (the temporoparietal junction) and was able to describe their sensations of falling and rising up to the ceiling!
 
Sometimes we sense things that aren't there. Via Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Is phosphine a biomarker for life on Venus?

50 km up in the atmosphere of planet Venus, scientists found phosphine[1].

Cloud structure in the Venusian atmosphere by ISAS/JAXA, via Wikipedia Commons.
Sorry, what?

Phosphine.

You know, PH3. That commonly known… no?

It might not sound like much, but this innocuous molecule defies explanation.

Why should it?

It may not be well known, but this is not the first time we’ve heard of phosphine. The molecule itself is not mysterious. A simple combination of hydrogen and phosphorus, it’s a pungent, colourless gas, that’s both toxic and flammable. It’s highly reactive (that’ll be important later on) and belongs to the same family as ammonia. We can make it in lots of different ways – by exposing white phosphorus or calcium phosphide to water, by the disproportionation of phosphorous acid, or by reacting phosphonium iodide with bases. But it also occurs naturally on Earth.