September 3, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Astrobiology Survives on Passionate Hope

Without the words ‘might’ and ‘could,’ astrobiologists would have nothing to say.

Two decades since astrobiology became a ‘science,’ there is still no evidence for life beyond earth. That doesn’t discourage the true believers. With olympic fervor, they reach a perfect score—zero—for actual evidence supporting their belief.

Oceans on Jupiter? Gas Giants Might Start Out As ‘Steam Worlds’ (Space.com). Jupiter might have been a steamy water world before it became a gas giant. It might have lasted long enough to be habitable. And if it were habitable, life could have evolved there. That’s a summary of this article by Jesse Emspak, contributing author to Space.com. Imagine anyone else proposing such face-free ideas and calling it science. But since John Chambers has a job as a scientist at the Carnegie Institution, he gets permission from Emspak to speculate freely and propagate his myths on this popular science news site.

Water worlds could support life: Analysis challenges idea that life requires ‘Earth clone’ (Phys.org). Because Earth’s many life-friendly features form such an improbable combination, astrobiologists are motivated to expand the boundaries of habitability. This article does not rely on actual evidence. It relies on computer models, programmed by believers in astrobiology. Such models can be considered as reliable as those programmed by believers in astrology.

The conditions for life surviving on planets entirely covered in water are more fluid than previously thought, opening up the possibility that water worlds could be habitable, according to a new paper from the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University.

The scientific community has largely assumed that planets covered in a deep ocean would not support the cycling of minerals and gases that keeps the climate stable on Earth, and thus wouldn’t be friendly to life. But the study, published Aug. 30 in The Astrophysical Journal, found that ocean planets could stay in the “sweet spot” for habitability much longer than previously assumed. The authors based their findings on more than a thousand simulations.

Did you previously think that? Did you previously assume that? Beware lest the bio-astrologers snare you in their tontological net.

Carl Sagan standing by Viking model.

Life on Mars? 40 Years Later, Viking Lander Scientist Still Says ‘Yes’ (Space.com). Background: in 1976, two NASA craft landed on Mars in two different places and ran 3 carefully-designed experiments to specifically search for life. Two of the three experiments gave negative results, but one, the ‘labeled-release experiment’ (LRE) was inconclusive. Most scientists concluded that abiological chemistry could explain the ‘fizzy’ results. The subsequent discovery of ubiquitous perchlorates supported the abiological interpretation. This highly optimistic article, though, squeezes the ambiguous result for all it’s worth, using the principal investigator of the LRE, Gilbert Levin, as principal cheerleader. He makes it seem that subsequent evidence for water under the ice caps of the red planet justifies his belief that Viking found life in the Martian soil. Like a modern-day P.T. Barnum, he touts his greatest show on Mars, with fingers drumming for NASA funds.

Go to Sea with Astrobiologists Visiting Hawaii to Learn How to Look for Alien Life (Space.com). Astrobiologists are setting out to search for extraterrestrial life—in Hawaii! NASA is paying their way to use techniques that might come in handy some day for evaluating claims of life on other planets. Sounds like a fun job if you can get it. Amy Smith gets to study a seamount in the Pacific.

She’s particularly interested in finding out whether any critters can use hydrogen as a source of energy, since that molecule can be found below the ice of Enceladus. In addition to studying microbes at the site, she’ll also take samples for genetic testing and gather specimens to try to grow in her lab. “Since this environment is similar to what we might find, we predict, on other ocean worlds, we’re hoping to get some answers as to what kinds of life might be there,” Smith said.

Other scientists get to participate remotely with ‘telepresence’ to watch the fun. Your tax dollars at work, making it seem like astrobiology is real science, even if there is no evidence for it.

Small Doses of Reality

Omega Centauri Is a Terrible Place to Look for Habitable Planets (Space.com). Cross off globular clusters as pleasant nurseries for life, Nola Taylor Redd says. A big one, Omega Centauri, “probably doesn’t contain many habitable worlds, a new study suggests.” The problem? Neighboring stars would steal the water. This letdown applies to other similar clusters.

Previous studies had suggested that a globular cluster might be the first place where intelligent life is identified in the galaxy. That’s because the roughly 150 clusters around the Milky Way are about 10 billion years old, with stars roughly the same age, giving life plenty of time to emerge and evolve.

Unfortunately, the large but cozy environment of Omega Centauri works against hopes for habitability. Even compact planetary systems would struggle to exist in the core of the cluster, where stars lie an average of 0.16 light-years apart, the new study suggests.

When the world is not enough: how to find another planet to live on  (The Conversation). Eamonn Kerins at the University of Manchester, an astrophysicist, tries to remain optimistic about space travel by humans to other planets, but he knows better than to upset facts. After relating the history of discovering exoplanets, and the prospects for better detection, he hits the brakes a little:

There are of course many other factors beyond bulk planet characteristics that contribute critically to the success of evolved life here on Earth. The truth is that our descendents [sic] won’t know for sure that they’ve found Earth-2 until they try living on it. So, while we would not hand an empty map to our brave space explorers of the future, we are a long way from being able to guarantee them habitable accommodation.

And, lets [sic] be clear, the long journey time even to our nearest exoplanet neighbour, Proxima b, means that it is definitely a one-way ticket. Indeed, with current technology, this journey would take tens of thousands of years.

Then he remembers some other challenges for the poor wayfaring earthlings:

During their voyage the astronauts also have to shield themselves from potentially fatal doses of cosmic rays. They must also avoid muscular and skeletal wasting, and cope with the psychological demands of being locked up for years in a large tin can. At their destination, they will also have to adjust to life as an alien without the advantages of evolutionary adaption [sic] that we enjoy on Earth. This is probably the greatest challenge of all.

Oh well, it was fun to be optimistic for a few paragraphs. Should humans expect to colonize space? “All things considered,” he ends, “it’s one long journey for a man, one giant roll of the dice for mankind.

If Darwin skeptics ever presented theories this fact-free, their words would be mocked, trashed, and rejected. Oh wait; they are anyway, facts notwithstanding.

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