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Astrobiologists Search for Lefty Life in Chile

The title isn’t meant to imply Chile is dead or devoid of left-handers.  Instead, it announces that astrobiologists are practicing life detection strategies in the high deserts of that South American country, according to Astrobiology Magazine.  Chile’s Atacama desert is one of the driest places on earth, with almost no signs of life.  NASA scientists […]

Miller Time Party Drags On

Astrobiologists threw a party when a team of researchers decided there was more hydrogen in the early earth’s atmosphere than thought (see “In the beginning, hydrogen: was it Miller Time?, 04/22/2005).  While this was good news for those wishing for better conditions on the early earth for chemical evolution, a few are staying sober enough […]

Mars Radiation Dosage Makes Life Improbable, Even with Global Flooding

An upcoming (June) paper in Icarus1 states, “ The biologically damaging solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation (quantified by the DNA-weighted dose) reaches the martian surface in extremely high levels.”  Earth has an ozone layer and global magnetic field to shield out the damaging rays, but Mars has no known atmospheric filter.  “Therefore, the existence of life […]

Self-Replicating Robot: Is It Alive?

The news media are all excited about a cube-shaped robot that, when stacked in threes, can make a copy of itself.  The device, invented by Hod Lipson of Cornell, was illustrated in Nature.1  For a video demonstration, see MSNBC News.  The BBC News quotes Lipson claiming that this achievement “shows the ability to reproduce is […]

In the Beginning, Hydrogen: Was It Miller Time?

A press release from University of Colorado says that the spark-discharge experiments of Stanley Miller in the 1950s (see 05/02/2003 entry) might be relevant again.  Why?  Researchers used new models to estimate the amount of hydrogen in the early earth’s atmosphere, and came up with numbers 100 times higher than before.  If hydrogen did not […]

Astrobiology: Much Ado About Nothing So Far

The mood at a NASA Astrobiology Institute conference is very upbeat, according to Leonard David at Space.com, reporting from the meetings in Boulder, Colorado.  The participants have set their goals high: Consider it nothing short of the cosmic quest for all time: Understanding the origin, evolution, distribution, and fate of life on Earth and in […]

You Can Help Find Life on Mars

Astronomy Picture of the Day pulled a fast one for April Fool’s Day, humorously suggesting viewers might help scientists find water on Mars.  (The Mars in the picture was the candy kind.) The joke was on them, because they got baloney all over their faces with this line: “Finding water on different regions on Mars […]

How to Get Something from Nothing: Genetic Code, Syntax Explained?

Two articles in recent science literature attempt to show that complex entities, like the genetic code and the syntax of human language, are no big deal.  They can emerge from precursors by chance.     In PNAS recently,1 veteran researcher Harold J. Morowitz (George Mason U) and two colleagues proposed a new theory for the […]

Baloney Detecting Exercise for Students

Jeff Barbour’s brief history of everything was published on Universe Today.  His essay, entitled “Where does intelligent life come from?” paints a short but sweeping panorama from the Big Bang to humans.  Its style is somewhat like watered-down Carl Sagan or gilded Neil deGrasse Tyson (see 09/29/2004 entry).  Here’s a sample about the origin of […]

Mars Makeover Underway

Amazing claims about Mars are coming in almost too fast to fathom, reports Space.Com, especially from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.  These include evidence for recently active volcanos, frozen ice beds, methane and vestiges of glaciers and waterfalls.  Activity is “only yesterday” in the standard geological timescale.  One said, “it could start up […]

Martians Might Be Troglodytes

According to an article on Space.Com, Spirit and Opportunity aren’t going to find critters on the surface.  Since the surface is harsh because of radiation, a safer environment might be found in caves.  The discovery of soluble rock and methane is leading some to imagine that extensive caves might exist on Mars, and maybe that […]

Aliens of the Deep Preaches Astrobiology and Chemical Evolution

Titanic director James Cameron has released a large-format, 3D film of undersea life around hydrothermal vents, entitled Aliens of the Deep and released by Walt Disney pictures.  National Geographic News interviewed Cameron.  When asked why he speculated in the movie that life could have originated around deep-sea vents, he said: Presumably the hydrothermal activity was […]

Will “Top-Down” and “Bottom-Up” Meet in the Middle?

Some difficult problems can be approached from opposite ends.  Engineers needing to build a shaft through a mountain, for instance, might start digging from the bottom and the top, trying to find each other in the middle.  But what if the mountain has an unanticipated impregnable layer?  Or what if there is no mountain, but […]

Astrobiology: 0 Steps Forward, 3 Steps Back

Astrobiology, the science in search of a subject, has major hurdles to overcome in its quest to explain everything from hydrogen to high technology.  Despite being one of the most active interdisciplinary research projects around the world (see 01/07/2005 entry), a leading researcher this week conceded that several promising leads of the past are now […]

Astrobiology: Follow the Money

To date, astrobiology remains, as George Gaylord Simpson once quipped, “an area of study without a known subject.”  Yet it is one of the hottest research areas within NASA.  A renowned origin-of-life researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dr. Jeffrey Bada, found out why when he read the new book The Living Universe: NASA and […]
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