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New Scientist The Collection

New Scientist The Collection Origin, Evolution, Extinction

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

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United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
Back issues only

in this issue

2 min.
life story

HOW did life begin? This is one of the eternal questions. All cultures have a creation story, but modern science has the best one of all – a near-complete account of how our planet went from a barren lump of rock to one covered in a rich diversity of plants, animals and microbes. For almost a billion years after it formed, Earth was a lifeless place with hellish conditions. But around 3.8 billion years ago, after the surface had cooled and oceans formed, something amazing happened. Out of Earth’s primordial chemicals arose an entity capable of replicating itself. Life was born. The rest, as they say, is prehistory. The forces of evolution worked on this simple life form and its descendants to create all manner of useful adaptations including a system to…

6 min.

“If you value the natural world – if you think it should be protected for it’s own sake as well as humanity’s – then please support Fauna & Flora International.”Sir David Attenborough, OM FRS Fauna & Flora International vice-president Red alert for the Sumatran tiger. Fauna & Flora International seeks action from New Scientist readers in response to 600% increase in poaching threat. 29 March deadline. •£83,131 is needed to help us fund more rangers and step up action against the poachers in Kerinci Seblat National Park. •This is one of the final strongholds of the incredibly rare Sumatran tiger, a place where the battle to save the Sumatran tiger will be won or lost. •FFI’s work here could be all that stands between the Sumatran tiger and extinction. •The £83,131 needed to fund this…

11 min.
meet your maker

“The building blocks of life would have formed spontaneously within the vents” IN 1859, when Charles Darwin published On The Origin of Species, he dedicated an entire chapter to the problem of missing “intermediate links” – transitional forms that bridged the evolutionary gaps between closely related species. If his theory was correct, the fossil record should be full of them. Where were they? At the time it was a real problem, as few such fossils had been found. Then came the spectacular discovery, in 1861, of Archaeopteryx, with the wings and feathers of a bird and the teeth and tail of a dinosaur. Since then we have discovered a multitude of intermediate links: fish that could crawl, lizards with mammal-like jaws, whales with legs, giraffes with short necks and many others (see “Find…

10 min.
dawn of the living

4 BILLION years before present: the surface of a newly formed planet around a medium-sized star is beginning to cool down. It’s a violent place, bombarded by meteorites and riven by volcanic eruptions, with an atmosphere full of toxic gases. But then something extraordinary happens. A molecule capable of replicating itself arises. This was the dawn of evolution. Once the first self-replicating entities appeared, natural selection kicked in, favouring any offspring with variations that made them better at replicating themselves. Soon the first simple cells appeared. The rest is prehistory. Billions of years later, some of the descendants of those first cells evolved into organisms intelligent enough to wonder what their very earliest ancestor was like. What molecule started it all? Back in the 1960s, a few of those intelligent organisms began to…

15 min.
life: inevitable, fluke or both?

FOR four years, the Kepler space telescope scoured the sky for Earth-like planets around other stars. When its mission ended in August 2013, it had found so many that NASA came to a startling conclusion: our galaxy is teeming with planets capable of hosting life. There are perhaps 40 billion of them, 11 billion of which are small rocky worlds orbiting sunlike stars at a distance where liquid water may exist. These discoveries are bringing an old paradox back into focus. As physicist Enrico Fermi asked in 1950, if there are many suitable homes for life out there and alien life forms are common, where are they all? More than half a century of searching for extraterrestrial intelligence has so far come up empty-handed. Of course, the universe is a very big…

12 min.
under a cold sun

”Atmospheric composition, rotation, albedo, the effect of clouds could all be the answer – or they could be red herrings” WHY are we here? As questions go, it’s a big ’un, beloved of philosophers and theologists in a navel-gazing, hand-wringing sort of way. Scientists often find themselves raising an objection before the others even start: we probably shouldn’t be here to ask the question in the first place. The existence of life on Earth seems to have been the product of many lucky turns of events. Take the sun’s early history. According to everything we know about how stars like it develop, it should have been born feebly dim, only gradually warming to its present level. Earth, born with the sun 4.5 billion years ago, should have spent its first 2 billion…