A New Bitcoin High, An LHC Upgrade, and (Potentially) Very Early Life on Earth | Vol. 4 / No. 19

Image: Jason Benjamin, CC0 (Public Domain)

This week we’ve got stories on the rise of Bitcoin, a major upgrade to the Large Hadron Collider’s “eyes”, and what’s potentially the discovery of the earliest life on Earth. It’s the news roundup for Sunday, March 5, 2017!

Higher Than Gold

At the time I’m writing this, gold is roughly US$1237 an ounce. A single bitcoin? $1268. For the record, this is the first time that’s happened. For some time, people have referred to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as “digital gold.” In large part, that’s because their value is derived from scarcity — more people want gold (and bitcoins) than currently have them, so their value is a basic function of where supply meets demand. Both an ounce of gold and a bitcoin are worth whatever someone will pay for them. In the aggregate, that stabilizes. But demand for Bitcoin appears to be outpacing supply. In 2010 the price was still in the single-digit cent range. Now, eight years on, it’s over $1200. The total worth of all bitcoins out there right now (the so-called market capitalization or market cap) is over $20 billion. I can’t say what the market will hold going forward, but I can guess that since 2012 the demand for gold has fallen short of the increases in supply, and if that continues going forward then we might well continue to live in a world where a cryptographic currency unit is worth more than an ounce of a heavy, stable, minimally-reactive yellow metal. You can read more about this story over at TechCrunch. [Full disclosure, as you may have seen in my byline, I am the deputy managing editor at Ledger, the first peer-reviewed journal about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency technology and theory. It should go without saying that all opinions expressed here are my own, and nothing to do with the journal.]


CMS at the LHC | Photo: Domenico Salvagnin, CC BY 2.0

LHC’s New “Heart”

This week the Large Hadron Collider got a significant upgrade to one of its most important pieces of hardware. The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) is one of only two general-purpose particle detection experiments built into the LHC, and this week they replaced its imaging equipment. The CMS captures snapshots of the aftermath of particle beam collisions and then attempts to reverse-engineer the outcomes to see what took place — which particles were formed where and took what paths. Speaking with the BBC, the technical coordinator of the CMS experiment explained using a metaphor: “It’s like substituting a 66 megapixel camera with a 124 megapixel camera.” Of course it’s a 3D system and not a camera, so the metaphor has its limits, but what it means is that the collider’s about to get a sharper set of eyes for looking at the increasingly complicated world of subatomic physics. You can read more about it at the BBC.


Left: Tubules at Nuvvuagittuq, Right: Tubules known to be created by bacteria in the Løkken jaspers | Image: Matthew Dodd (et al.)

The Oldest Life

Anew study in the journal Nature may represent the discovery of the earliest life on the planet. In the paper, the authors describe the discovery of hematite “tubules and filaments” on the micrometer scale embedded in rocks in Quebec’s Nuvvuagittuq belt. The authors believe that the hematite formations are the creation of microorganisms of the kind that live around undersea hydrothermal vents, and suggest that, taken along with the material surrounding them, their observations are “consistent with an oxidized biomass and provide evidence for biological activity in submarine-hydrothermal environments.” The rocks had been previously dated between 3.77 and 4.28 billion years old, meaning that if the formations are indeed what they suggest, the most recently this life could have been around is 3.77 billion years ago. The oldest previously known life on Earth was from around 3.5 billion years ago, meaning that at the least the researchers would have pushed back the biological clock by 200-300 million years. The scientific community has reacted with skepticism, and so it’ll be a while (if ever) before the claim is verified, but that’s how science progresses: in claims made and refutations overturned. You can read more on the story at the Washington Post, or read the paper itself at the journal Nature.



And in case you haven’t been keeping up, now’s your chance to see what you missed here this week!

If you missed any of those, now’s your chance to go check them out!


Best of the Rest

And as usual there’s always more than we can get to, so here it is, your weekly linkspam!

And if you find that in these days of complete insanity you can’t get to sleep, there’s always hours and hours of ambient science fiction background noises to help you nod off, like the sound of an idling starship, or the inside of Rick Deckard’s apartment.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.