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NASA: We'll Find Aliens Within 20 Years

This might surprise people who've given up on the chance an extraterrestrial encounter within their lifetimes: A panel of NASA scientists says we should find alien life within 20 years. And that's a "conservative" estimate.

As former astronaut and NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, most people working in the space industry realize that the sheer limitlessness of space means we're probably not the only life-forms around—even if we've never found any evidence. But as technology improves, we can search for life a lot more efficiently.

Thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, launched in 2009, scientists have found that in our galaxy alone, there's probably at least one planet circling every star. The NASA panel is making such a bold statement partly because we're making huge new discoveries at an astounding rate.

"We already know that our galaxy has at least 100 billion planets, and we didn't know that five years ago," said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland. As NASA releases additional, more powerful telescopes, we only increase our chances of discovering a life-supporting planet.

The panel says it's looking for ways that mere space enthusiasts can get involved in the search. Until then, if you have 90 minutes to bask in the wonders of the universe, you can watch the entire discussion with NASA's space experts right now:

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The Inside Scoop on Cider

Hard apple cider is a great summertime drink, especially if you’re gluten-free or just bored with beer. (Hey, it happens.) But if you’ve stuck exclusively to fermented-apple brews, you’re missing out on a whole world of fruity flavor.

While the apple is still the star of the cider show, more brewers are turning to other fruits—including pears, berries, and apricots—to create new cider flavors. It’s both a matter of taste and a way to deal with a shortage of cider-specific apples in the United States.

Ciders have become increasingly popular (between 2005 and 2012, domestic cider production jumped 264 percent, according to the Beer Institute), and brewers have had to deal with a dip in apple supply. But instead of approaching this shortage as a crisis, cider producers are using it as an opportunity—and a tasty one at that.

Want to ditch the apple entirely? See how your palate responds to these new fruit flavors:

Pear

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Pears have a lot in common with apples, including texture and acidity. However, “perry” (the name for hard cider made from pears) tends to be less tart and more delicate than typical hard apple cider, thanks to the pear’s higher fruit sugar and lower malic acid content.

One of our favorites is the Spire Mountain Pear Cider (5 percent ABV) from the Fish Brewing Company. This 2010 North American Brewers’ Association gold-medal winner is brewed in Olympia, Washington, using a blend of Bartlett, Bosc, and Anjou pears. The result is slightly sweet and bubbly like a sparkling wine, which means you can sip it straight from the bottle or go high class and serve it in a stem glass.

Black Cherry

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Regions with a lot of apples often have choice cherries as well. Unsurprisingly, brewers take advantage of this crop, which is ripe with crisp cider flavor. While cherries have a short season that peaks in summer, cider producers can stretch this fruit’s bright notes into fall, making perfect pairings for heavy autumn meals.

In the meantime, beat the heat with Black Cherry Hard Cider (5 percent ABV) from McKenzie’s, located in West Seneca, New York. This refreshing, tangy cider has great summer appeal with a cherry soda–like quality and enough apple tartness to avoid being too sweet.

Apricot

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If you’re only familiar with grocery store apricots, which tend to be mealy, dry, and flavorless, then your palate is in for a treat with Tieton Cider Works Apricot Cider (6.9 percent ABV). 

Located in Yakima, Washington, Tieton got its start in the fermented beverage world growing apples at Harmony Orchards. All fruit grown on this third-generation family-owned farm is organic and freshly pressed. While this two-fruit blended cider contains some apples, apricots are the star, giving the drink a semisweet taste and a dry finish.

Elderberry

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Seeking a cider with a bit of history? Try Original Sin’s Elderberry Cider (5 percent ABV), brewed in New York City. According to The American Orchardist, a book published in 1822 for professional and recreational fruit growers, adding elderberries gives cider “a fine colour as well as flavour.” Original Sin’s is a good example. Elderberries shine brightest when processed, turning from bland and bitter to sweet and juicy. This dark purple cider is subtle, dry, and not too sweet, offering just enough tartness to create a balanced taste.

Raspberry

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Raspberry lovers, take note. Dry Raspberry (4 percent ABV) by Wyder’s Hard Cider is one of the best non-apple ciders out there. Wyder’s started in Vancouver, Canada, before moving to Vermont and was one of the first breweries, in the early 1990s, to offer ciders made from fruits other than apple. Today, Wyder’s has a strong fan base, thanks in part to Dry Raspberry. This cider has a clean, tart taste with a hint of sugary sweetness and a dry finish.

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Do Animals Feel Love?

There is “absolutely no doubt that animals love,” says Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of The Emotional Lives of Animals. What makes him so sure? Years of observing wolves, coyotes and other animals in their natural habitats.

“A long-term close relationship, commitment to another person,” Bekoff says. “You travel with them, you defend territory and food, you have a family, you miss one another while you’re apart.”

That loving behavior he observed is supported by an experiment detailed in a recent article in The Atlantic, “Dogs (and Cats) Can Love.” In the experiment, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University Paul Zak collected blood samples from a dog and a goat after they played with one another. He then measured the animals’ levels of oxytocin, or “the neurochemical of love.”

The dog had a 48 percent increase in oxytocin, meaning it viewed the goat as a friend. The goat, however, was enraptured. “It had a 210 percent increase in oxytocin,” Zak explains. “At that level of increase, within the framework of oxytocin as the ‘love hormone,’ we essentially found that the goat might have been in love with the dog.”

And what of those animals that pair up for life, such as certain types of birds? Although penguins don't mate for life, they can sustain long-term relationships, says Dee Boersma, the cirector of the Magellanic Penguin Project at the University of Washington. One pair she observed was together for 16 years.

Boersma’s Ph.D. student Jeffrey Smith studies why female penguins, given the choice, will pick one male as her mate over another, but they have yet to pinpoint a reason. “We’re not sure if it’s a behavioral thing or if she sees a nest that she likes,” he says. Could this X factor be love? 

Boersma cites a story of seeming heartbreak among Galapagos penguins. When a male penguin disappeared, his mate remained in the nest waiting for him. Even when another male lured her away, she continued to return to the old nest.

“Was she pining away for her love?” Boersma asks. “She was distressed but was it love? With a bird brain is it the same as human love?” Perhaps not, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less like love, just different.

“It’s not to say that dog love is the same as human love,” says Bekoff, “but your love might not be the same as mine.”

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