Marcelo Gleiser

Marcelo Gleiser is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. He is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College.

Gleiser is the author of the books The Prophet and the Astronomer (Norton & Company, 2003); The Dancing Universe: From Creation Myths to the Big Bang (Dartmouth, 2005); A Tear at the Edge of Creation (Free Press, 2010); and The Island of Knowledge (Basic Books, 2014). He is a frequent presence in TV documentaries and writes often for magazines, blogs and newspapers on various aspects of science and culture.

He has authored over 100 refereed articles, is a Fellow and General Councilor of the American Physical Society and a recipient of the Presidential Faculty Fellows Award from the White House and the National Science Foundation.

It is a sad curiosity that the word "disaster" comes from star (aster), as in "an ill-starred event," owing its etymological roots to astrology.

For the past two weeks we've been exploring some of the questions related to life's origin on Earth and possibly elsewhere.

Last week, we wrote about the fundamental three questions concerning the origin of life on Earth: When? Where? How? Although they are interrelated, each has a specific set of sub-questions that keep researchers very busy.

Being in Kaikoura, New Zealand, for what is allegedly the first astrobiology workshop here, it's a good time to go back to the basics and reflect on what we know of the complicated question of the origin of life on Earth — and the possibility of life elsewhere.

I will do this, here at 13.7, in installments during the next few weeks.

The singer David Bowie, one of the most creative performers in rock 'n' roll history, died of cancer at age 69 on Sunday — two days after releasing a new album.

The battle goes on. In a galaxy far, far away, forces of good clash with forces of evil.

It was a busy year for science, with remarkable discoveries on all fronts. I have compiled a brief and incomplete list, biased toward space science and physics, with links to more details. Here it goes:

"History will remember this day," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Saturday, after almost 200 countries adopted the first global treaty to curb man-made global warming. "The Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people."

President Obama agreed: "[The climate agreement] offers the best chance to save the one planet we have."

Who doesn't want to play God — to have the feeling of creating new worlds with the push of a button? (Although gods presumably don't need buttons to create worlds.)

Looking at how science has affected humanity, one of the strongest indicators is the dramatic increase in average life expectancy.

During the Late Middle Ages, the average life expectancy in Western Europe was 38 years; in Victorian England, 40. By the early 1900s, with improvements in sanitation, vaccines and treatment of various infectious diseases, the average life expectancy jumped to 70 in men and 75 in women. Today, in Canada, it is at 82 for men and 85 for women, respectively.

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