Category Archives: Astrobiology

Physics – Focus: Bacteria Stick Together as Living Crystals

A new form of life is discovered – living together as crystals. These may give hints to new forms of life in space.

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A solid crystal is an array of atoms held in a precise geometric arrangement by electromagnetic attraction, but now researchers have discovered a kind of crystal made of living bacteria. The cells are held together by the hydrodynamic suction the bacteria generate with their flagella. The 2D “bacterial crystals” formed on the surface of a glass slide, but the researchers don’t yet know whether such crystals form in the natural world or what function they might serve. The team mathematically modeled the behavior of the crystals and identified three characteristics of the cells that allow them to crystalize.

READ MORE via Physics – Focus: Bacteria Stick Together as Living Crystals.

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Suddenly, It Seems, Water Is Everywhere in the Solar System – NYTimes.com

Oceans trapped under ice appear to be pretty common in the solar system and one of them, on a small moon of Saturn’s, appears to be quite hot.

This week in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists reported evidence for hydrothermal vents on the Saturnian moon Enceladus, with temperatures of its rocky core surpassing 194 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius) in spots. The discovery, if confirmed, would make Enceladus the only place other than Earth where such chemical reactions between rock and heated water are known to be occurring today — and for many scientists, it would make Enceladus a most promising place to look for life.

CONTINUE READING via Suddenly, It Seems, Water Is Everywhere in Solar System – NYTimes.com.

BOFFINS: Oxygen-free, methane-based ALIENS may EXIST on icy SATURN moon • The Register

Scientists believe they have come up with a solid model for a new type of methane-based, oxygen-free life form that could thrive in the harsh, icy conditions of Saturn’s mysterious freezing moon, Titan.

The researchers at Cornell University reckon they have come up with “the first concrete blueprint of life not as we know it.”

Grad James Stevenson, astronomer Jonathan Lunine and chemical engineer Paulette Clancy, with a Cassini image of Titan in the foreground of Saturn, and an azotosome, the theorised cell membrane on Titan. Credit: Cornell University

Chemical engineering graduate, James Stevenson, said he had been partly inspired by sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, who wrote the essay Not as We Know It about the concept of non-water based life in 1962.

Stevenson worked with chemical molecular dynamics boffin, Paulette Clancy, and Cornell’s director for radiophysics and space research, Jonathan Lunine, on the project.

As The Register previously reported, Saturn’s giant moon Titan is the only other planetary body in the Solar System that has naturally occurring surface liquids – it contains vast seas of methane.

The university’s researchers theorised that such a celestial body “could harbour methane-based, oxygen-free cells.”

The boffins came up with a cell membrane that they said was composed of small organic compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero.

CONTINUE READING via BOFFINS: Oxygen-free, methane-based ALIENS may EXIST on icy SATURN moon • The Register.

 

NOVA | Is There Life on Mars?

The decades-long search for life on the Red Planet heats up with the discovery of frozen water. Airs August 10, 2011 on PBS

Airs August 10, 2011 on PBS�

After four decades of fly-by probes, orbiters, landers, and rovers, the quest for life on Mars is as tantalizing as ever. NOVA goes behind the scenes of the latest NASA missions to the Red Planet to reveal new clues and challenges on the road to answering this ultimate question. With unique access to the NASA Phoenix and Mars Exploration Rover missions, NOVA shows scientists and engineers in action, directing the operations of spacecraft millions of miles away, as the robotic explorers drill into rock, claw into soil, analyze samples, and trundle across the rock-strewn landscape in search of signs that Mars once or maybe even still harbors some form of life.

via NOVA | Is There Life on Mars?.

Fountains of Optimism for Other Life Out There – NYTimes.com

For those who hunt for life on other worlds, water in its liquid form is perhaps the leading indicator. Life as we know it on Earth is based on water and carbon. And if organisms can prosper here in nasty environments — in geysers, in the depths of the sea, in toxic waste, in water that is too hot, too cold, too acidic or too alkaline — why could they not prosper out there?

A REFRESHING ICY DIP Ontario Lacus is a large lake on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Scientists for years regarded liquid water as a solar system rarity, for there was no place apart from Earth that seemed to have the necessary physical attributes, except perhaps Jupiter’s ice-covered moon, Europa, which probably concealed a subterranean ocean.

The past 20 years of space exploration, however, have caused what the astrobiologist David Grinspoon calls a sea change in thinking. It now appears that gravity, geology, radioactivity and antifreeze chemicals like salt and ammonia have given many “hostile” worlds the ability to muster the pressures and temperatures that allow liquid water to exist. And research on Earth has shown that if there is water, there could be life.

via Fountains of Optimism for Other Life Out There – NYTimes.com.

Alien from Earth

Alien from Earth

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An ancient legend on the Indonesian island of Flores tells of an elflike creature similar to the fictional hobbit of novels and film. But a controversial 2003 archeological find not only suggests that there could be some truth behind the legend but promises to rewrite a key chapter in the human evolutionary story. This program investigates the discovery, analysis, and startling implications of the hobbit of Flores.

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Finding Life Elsewhere

Finding Life Elsewhere

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JPL Astronomer Assesses Challenges of Finding Life Elsewhere

This artist’s conception shows a hypothetical twin Earth orbiting a Sun-like star. A new study shows that characterizing a distant Earth’s atmosphere will be difficult, even using next-generation technology like the James Webb Space Telescope. If an Earth-like world is nearby, though, then by adding observations of a number of transits, astronomers should be able to detect biomarkers like methane or ozone.

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