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Posts Tagged ‘life’

Organics Probably Formed Easily in Early Solar System


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Complex organic compounds, including many important to life on Earth, were readily produced under conditions that likely prevailed in the primordial solar system. Scientists at the University of Chicago and NASA Ames Research Center came to this conclusion after linking computer simulations to laboratory experiments.

Fred Ciesla, assistant professor in geophysical sciences at UChicago, simulated the dynamics of the solar nebula, the cloud of gas and dust from which the sun and the planets formed. Although every dust particle within the nebula behaved differently, they all experienced the conditions needed for organics to form over a simulated million-year period.

“Whenever you make a new planetary system, these kinds of things should go on,” said Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at NASA Ames. “This potential to make organics and then dump them on the surfaces of any planet you make is probably a universal process.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2012/12-30AR.html

VLT Finds Life on Earth by Looking at Moon


Image Credit:  ESO/B. Tafreshi/TWAN (twanight.org)

Image Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi/TWAN (twanight.org)

By observing the Moon using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have found evidence of life in the Universe — on Earth. Finding life on our home planet may sound like a trivial observation, but the novel approach of an international team may lead to future discoveries of life elsewhere in the Universe. The work is described in a paper to appear in the 1 March 2012 issue of the journal Nature.

We used a trick called earthshine observation to look at the Earth as if it were an exoplanet,” says Michael Sterzik (ESO), lead author of the paper [1]. “The Sun shines on the Earth and this light is reflected back to the surface of the Moon. The lunar surface acts as a giant mirror and reflects the Earth’s light back to us — and this is what we have observed with the VLT.

The astronomers analyse the faint earthshine light to look for indicators, such as certain combinations of gases in the Earth’s atmosphere [2], that are the telltale signs of organic life. This method establishes the Earth as a benchmark for the future search for life on planets beyond our Solar System.

***Apologies for not posting this until now – it slipped through my Inbox…***

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1210/

System Proposed for Assessing Odds for Life on Other Worlds

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Within the next few years, the number of planets discovered in orbits around distant stars will likely reach several thousand or more. But even as our list of these newly discovered “exoplanets” grows ever-longer, the search for life beyond our solar system will likely focus much more narrowly on the relatively few of these new worlds which exhibit the most Earth-like of conditions.
For much of the scientific community, thesearch for alien life has long been dominated by the notion that our own planet serves as the best model of conditions best suited to the emergence of life on other worlds. And while there’s an undeniable logic to seeking life in the same sort of conditions in which you already know it to be successful, there are scientists like Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist with the Washington State University School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Abel Mendez, a modeling expert from the University of Puerto Rico at Aricebo, who also see such a model as the product of a potentially limiting form of earthling-biased thinking.
To Schulze-Makuch and his nine fellow authors – an international working group representing, NASA, SETI,the German Aerospace Center, and four universities– the search for life on other worlds is really driven by two questions.

Full Story: http://news.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=28889&TypeID=1

Young Clays on Mars Could Have Been Habitable Regions

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Two small depressions on Mars found to be rich in minerals that formed by water could have been places for life relatively recently in the planet’s history, according to a new paper in the journal Geology.

“We discovered locations at Noctis Labyrinthus that show many kinds of minerals that formed by water activity,” said Catherine Weitz, lead author and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. “The clays we found, called iron/magnesium (Fe/Mg)-smectites, are much younger at Noctis Labyrinthus relative to those found in the ancient rocks on Mars, which indicates a different water environment in these depressions relative to what was happening elsewhere on Mars.”

Smectites are a specific type of clay mineral that readily expands and contracts with adsorbed water. They contain silica, plus aluminum, iron or magnesium in their structures. They form by the alteration of other silicate minerals in the presence of non-acidic water.

Full Story: http://www.psi.edu/news/press-releases#clays

Search for Evidence of Life on Mars Heats Up

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Scientists are expressing confidence that questions about life on Mars, which have captured human imagination for centuries, finally may be answered, thanks in part to new life-detection tools up to 1,000 times more sensitive than previous instruments.

“The bottom line is that if life is out there, the high-tech tools of chemistry will find it sooner or later,” said Jeffrey Bada, Ph.D., co-organizer of a special two-day symposium on the Red Planet, which began here today during the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). “It certainly is starting to look like there may be something alive out there somewhere, with Mars being the most accessible place to search,” Bada added.

Full Story: http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_028102&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=d8e072c4-1aa2-4455-b597-e7079aeeb9c6

Martian Soil Oxidizing Properties Not Too Extreme for Life

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Ever since the NASA Viking mission, which reached Mars in 1976, there has been considerable interest in the composition of Martian soils. Some Viking measurements indirectly suggested that the soils contained highly oxidizing compounds, which could present extremely harsh conditions for life. Recent observations from the Phoenix Mars Mission pointed to evidence of perchlorate, a potentially highly oxidizing compound, in the Martian soils. However, some studies have noted that because perchlorate is highly stable, its presence in Martian soils cannot explain the Viking measurements. Quinn et al. (2011) present a new analysis of Mars soil samples using the Wet Chemistry Laboratory, a component of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer on the NASA Mars Phoenix Lander. They found that although low levels of oxidizing compounds may be present, the oxidation-reduction potential of the soil is moderate and well within the range expected for habitable soils.

 

More info: http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/highlights/highlights.cgi?action=show&doi=10.1029/2011GL047671&jc=gl