With growing fascination for the large land vertebratomorphs that are so startlingly diverse on Tatooine, I secured Imperial funding for an expedition to Tatooine, to survey the exotic megafauna and search for fossils of Tyrannodraconis that might further illuminate their evolution. My ensuing report summarizes my trilogy of investigations and discoveries from this “holiday in the suns." [more inside]
NASA recently announced that the latest results from NASA's Curiosity Rover on Mars provide clear physical evidence that Mars once had all the conditions necessary to support life. Despite the skeptical reception given to recent news that the rover may also have found indirect evidence of organic compounds and active microbiological activity, other recent scientific results have gone even further. One Australian study from 2011 concluded, given what we know about Mars now, 3% of its total volume (as compared to 1% of Earth's) is likely habitable to known terrestrial lifeforms. And more recently, further analysis of the results of experiments performed by the 1976 Viking Lander mission suggests that we have likely detected active microbiological activity on Mars already, with one researcher going so far as to claim a 99% certainty that those earlier results detected life. (Previously).
Dr. David Morrison is the senior scientist at NASA's Astrobiology Institute in the Ames Research Center in California. For the past eight years he's also run the Ask an Astrobiologist feature on the institute's website. "Started by a civic-minded intern, the column has become the go-to place for concerned citizens to write to NASA and ask if, as they'd heard on the internet, the world will truly end on December 21, 2012. Before he took the helm on Ask an Astrobiologist, Dr. Morrison hadn't heard anything about such theories. Now he can't escape them." Meet NASA's unofficial answerer of apocalypse emails -- at least until December 23rd. [more inside]
A strange bacterium found in California’s Mono Lake cannot replace the phosphorus in its DNA with arsenic, according to researchers who have been trying to reproduce the results of a controversial report published in Science in 2010. (Via Bad Astronomy.) Previously.
The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog is a database of the planets outside our solar system which are considered the most suitable for life according to certain steps and metrics. So far 16 have been identified as possible candidates. This Guardian article is a good introduction. You can also just dive into the catalogue, which ranks planets on two main scales, similarity to Earth and surface habitability (note that all images are computer renderings). The catalog is a project of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo (home to the world's largest radiotelescope).
NASA Proves Building Blocks Of DNA Come From Space. "NASA researchers studying meteorites have found that they contain several of the components needed to make DNA on Earth. The discovery provides support for the idea that the building blocks for DNA were likely created in space, and carried to Earth on objects, like meteorites, that crashed into the planet’s surface. According to the theory, the ready-made DNA parts could have then assembled under Earth’s early conditions to create the first DNA."
Lake Vostok (previously) is about to be breached by a team of Russian scientists. The ice cores from Vostok Station have given us a continuous record of the earth's climate going back 420,000 years. Some scientists are worried that the breaching of the lake may lead to contamination. [more inside]
Dmitar Sasselov is an astrophysicist, Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard and a co-investigator of the Kepler space telescope project to find Earth-like planets around the Cygnus constellation and discover extraterrestrial life. But no matter how successful the Kepler project may be, it still won't answer the most fundamental questions of astrobiology: How diverse is life in the universe? If alien life exists, will it have Earthly DNA and proteins? Or will it run on something else? So Dr. Sasselov has decided to collaborate with two synthetic biologists, asking them to create a life form based on mirror-image versions of what we know as the essential building blocks of living things on Earth. [more inside]
“NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST (11am PST) on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.” Watch it HERE live. [more inside]
Source Of Geysers On Saturn's Moon Enceladus May Be Underground Water. Earlier this year the Cassini spacecraft detected organic material in the geysers of Enceladus. The question now is, how's the fishing?
Some of the biggest questions/That's ever been asked/Do you know where life is going/Can you tell where it starts?
Assignment details: Discuss the following: We know that life exists on Earth, and has taken billions of years to evolve into the things we see today. But has this happened anywhere other than Earth? Well, to help sort out this headscratcher of a question, NASA has commissioned MC Oort Kuiper, aka Jonathan Chase, a grad student at the University of Glamorgan, to write a rap about it. "Astrobiology" appears in the European edition of Astrobiology Magazine.
Who Speaks for Earth? "After decades of searching, scientists have found no trace of extraterrestrial intelligence. Now, some of them hope to make contact by broadcasting messages to the stars. Are we prepared for an answer?"
The Meaning of Life. "We create life, we search for it, we manipulate and revere it. Is it possible that we haven't yet defined the term (PDF)?" [Via The Loom.]
The Worlds of David Darling. British astronomer and science writer David Darling has written over 10,000 articles for three massive online efforts: the Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight, the Encyclopedia of Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living , and a related encyclopedia of concept vehicles. Though the diversity of entries can be eccentric, and some are quite short, the science seems solid: learn about the illicit corned beef sandwich of Gus Grissom, peruse a comprehensive set of advanced space propulsion concepts, and see a terrific illustrated listing of strange land and air vehicles (don't miss the Peel P50 microcar and the Volvo Gravity Car).
Alien planet "The drama takes place on Darwin IV, a fictional planet 6.5 light-years from Earth, with two suns and 60 percent gravity. Having identified Darwin as a world that could support life, Earth sends a pilot mission consisting of the mothership and three probes." Discovery channel feature, Flash heavy site, via Pharyngula.
Ad Aspera Per Astra - an interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno, one of several full-time Vatican astromomers at the Vatican Observatory. He talks about the Church's take on astrobiology and the eventuality of encountering an alien race. The idea of the Church's mission beyond the Earth is something that's come up in a few good books, like The Sparrow and A Canticle for Leibowitz. Interesting to hear an actual Jesuit's take on the matter. [Via BoingBoing]
Germs from Jupiter? Viruses from Venus? Nope, just live space-borne bacteria discovered floating around Earth. "Although the bugs from space are similar to bacteria on Earth, the scientists said the living cells found in samples of air from the edge of the planet's atmosphere are too far away to have come from Earth." (via waldo.net)
Water found on Jupiter moon "After months and months of wrestling with the data ... we believe there is very strong evidence of a layer of melted water beneath Ganymede's icy surface," said Margaret Kivelson, a space physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
MARSBUGS, The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter. Founded in 1994, e-mail subscriptions are free on request. The scholars (Dr. David J. Thomas, Math and Science Division, Lyon College, Batesville, AR, and Dr. Julian A. Hiscox, School of Animal and Microbial Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom) who edit this journal have kindly archived all issues online. Budding exobiologists, fire up your browsers.