Science fiction is fun, but so is science, and man oh man, is the truth stranger than fiction. For the next few Sundays, I’ll be covering science stories that might be of interest to sci fi fans. First up: Indestructible lichen and the ruins of an ancient city that could cause us to reevaluate the way we believe our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived:
Fungi in Space:
You may recall that in 2008 the European Space Agency sent a suit-case sized case of plant and fungus samples to the International Space Station to observe how they would handle outer space These samples returned in 2009, but just this month scientists have finished compiling the data for a study. What we’re led to believe is that lichen – which is a very primitive composite life-form that’s formed from a symbiotic relationship between fungus and usually algae – went dormant and survived about half a month in space with basically no ill effects. That’s two weeks spent in hard vacuum on the side of a space station going round and around the sun: radiation, extreme temperatures, you name it.
What’s interesting is that some of the lichen actually resumed growing it got back to Earth. That’s neat, right? Well, it doesn’t end there. What this could mean is support for the “panspermia” theory of how life came to be. Basically, panspermia means that primitive forms of life like the lichen could have gotten here by hitching a ride on a meteorite. Once it hit earth, some of it survived to colonize the planet and eventually evolve. It’s a fascinating theory, but of course the big question is this: where did those rocks full of life come from in the first place?
Ruins in the Sand
During a presentation at Harvard University, Canadian archaeologist Robert Mason stated that during a 2009 trip to Syria he found the remains of a city 50 miles north of Damascus. The ruins are just outside of an ancient monastery called Deir Mar Musa, and he dubbed them as “Syria’s Stonehenge.” Mason described seeing stone circles, geometric designs, tools and even the remains of tombs. Based on some of the bits of tools, the archaeologist estimates the ruins could be as old as 10,000 years old.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like anything special, but consider this: the oldest civilization known to man is Sumeria, and it only dates back to around 3500 BC. Now imagine a civilization having come and gone 7,000 years before that. If it’s all true, this could be another example of how we really don’t know all their is to know about our own history. It’s like my friend Graham Hancock likes to say, “We’re a species with amnesia.”
Mason is hoping to return to the site, but current political strife makes it highly unlikely he will do so any time soon.
The ruins in the desert have all the makings of an Indiana Jones movie, right? It also reminds me of The Third Gate, the new novel from Lincoln Child. Check it out:
Under the direction of famed explorer Porter Stone, an archaeological team is secretly attempting to locate the tomb of an ancient pharaoh who was unlike any other in history. Stone believes he has found the burial chamber of King Narmer, the near mythical god- king who united upper and lower Egypt in 3200 B.C., and the archaeologist has reason to believe that the greatest prize of all—Narmer’s crown—might be buried with him. No crown of an Egyptian king has ever been discovered, and Narmer’s is the elusive “double” crown of the two Egypts, supposedly possessed of awesome powers.
The dig itself is located in one of the most forbidding places on earth—the Sudd, a nearly impassable swamp in northern Sudan. Amid the nightmarish, disorienting tangle of mud and dead vegetation, a series of harrowing and inexplicable occurrences are causing people on the expedition to fear a centuries- old curse. With a monumental discovery in reach, Professor Jeremy Logan is brought onto the project to investigate. What he finds will raise new questions . . . and alarm.