SETI boffin promises ET detection by 2032

Tom James @ 15-11-2008

Senior SETI astronomer Seth Shostak‘s prediction that ET intelligences will be discovered within “two dozen years” seems to have the proviso “if we get the funding:

The prediction is based on a few qualifiers. The first is the assumption made by researchers within SITI that the power, range and speed of the Allen Telescope Array [ATA] with 42 radio camera dishes currently on line and a projected total of 350 dishes will evolve into new technologies capable of distances and speed unfathomable presently. Secondly, an obvious component is necessary funding for evolving technologies.

Hopefully the necessary improvements will be made:

ATA´s current capability is about 1,000 stars that can be viewed simultaneously. The next decade will allow researchers to view up to a million stars at once.

[from Physorg][image from Alun Salt on flickr]


The lone survivor: single organism ecosystem discovered

Tom James @ 09-10-2008

Scientists has discovered a new bacterial organism called desulforudis audaxviator that is an entirely self-sufficient ecosystem in and of itself, 2.8 km below the Earth’s surface the desulforudis audaxviator’s genome contains:

everything needed for the organism to sustain an independent existence and reproduce, including the ability to incorporate the elements necessary for life from inorganic sources, move freely, and protect itself from viruses, harsh conditions, and nutrient-poor periods by becoming a spore.

This is a beautiful discovery, and a testament to the diversity and splendour of Life. Also, it suggests there is no theoretical reason why life cannot survive in similar conditions on other planets:

“One question that has arisen when considering the capacity of other planets to support life is whether organisms can exist independently, without access even to the sun,” says Chivian. “The answer is yes, and here’s the proof. It’s sort of philosophically exciting to know that everything necessary for life can be packed into a single genome.

[image from eschipul on flickr]


Alpha Centauri ‘should have an Earth-like planet’

Tomas Martin @ 11-03-2008

An artist’s impression of an earth-like planet around Alpha CentauriAlpha Centauri is the closest star system to our own but with a bonus: there are three stars rather than one. It’s also one of the best chances we know in the local area to have a planet similar to Earth capable of developing life like ours.

If any planet were to harbour earth-like life in the three-star system, it would likely be around Alpha Centauri A, which is most similar to the sun. However astronomer Javier Guedes and his coauthors believe that Alpha Centauri B is likely to have terrestrial planets in its habitable region. Based on computer simulations of planet formation, Guedes and his team found that no matter what starting conditions, a terrestrial planet always formed around the star. By studying the ‘wobbles’ the planet causes on its parent star, the team reckon they could find any potential planets within a few years.

[story via Daily Galaxy, image via Solstation]


The search for life on Europa begins here on Earth

Edward Willett @ 13-02-2008

Europa

Although the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system has focused on Mars for many years (and it still might be found there), increasing attention is now being paid to Jupiter’s moon Europa. That’s because the scientific consensus now is that Europa almost certainly boasts an ocean, hidden beneath a shell of ice.

Life on Earth originated in the ocean. Could life have similarly arisen in Europa’s ocean?

We’ll have to go there to find out. Both NASA and the European Space Agency are actively studying launching a mission to Europa within the next decade, but even before that happens, technologies that could help us explore beneath the ice shell are being tested here on Earth. (Via Universe Today.)

This week–February 11 to 15–researchers are testing the NASA-funded ENDURANCE (Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer), a robotic probe designed to swim on its own under ice, creating 3D maps of the underwater environment, collecting data on environmental conditions, and taking samples of microbial life. The testing is taking place in Lake Mendota on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; later this year, the probe will be shipped to Antarctica for tests in permanently frozen Lake Bonney.

Manwhile, a team of U.S., Russian and Asutrian scientists are already heading to Australia to look for life in another Antarctic lake, Lake Untersee. Always covered in ice, Lake Untersee has a pH level closer to that of bleach than regular lake water. It’s also the planet’s single largest natural source of methane. All of these things mean conditions there may well resemble conditions in Europa’s ocean and other locations in the outer solar system.

One question: is life found on Europa European, or Europaen? Copy editors want to know!

(Image: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.)

[tags]solar system, NASA, space exploration, extraterrestrial life, Europa[/tags]


Building blocks of life common in other star systems?

Edward Willett @ 04-01-2008

Dust disk surrounding the star HR 4796A That’s the promising possibility (if you like the idea of extraterrestrial life) raised by the discovery by astronomers at the Carnegie Institution of highly complex organic molecules in the disk of red dust surrounding a young star (one very different from the sun) thought to be in the late stages of planet formation. Observations of light from the star via one of the instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope reveal that the light scattered by the dust disk is very red, matching the spectrum of large organic carbon molecules called tholins that no longer exist on Earth but are hypothesized to have been precursors to the biomolecules that make up living organisms. (Via SpaceDaily.)

The image above is a false-color image of the dust disk surrounding the star, HR 4796A, with the star itself masked to make the disk visible. The inner “hole” in the disk is big enough to swallow our solar system and may have been swept clean of dust by orbiting planets.

(And even though they’re both red, no, there’s no connection between the red dust of HR 4796A and the red rain of Kerala.)

(Image: John Debes.)

[tags]extraterrestrial life, astronomy, Hubble Space Telescope[/tags]


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