The Hunt for Life #Aurora #Juno

Aurora on Earth are caused by particles from the Sun interacting with our planet’s protective magnetic field. Without that magnetic field on Earth, we would not be here. All life is entirely dependent on the shielding that our magnetic field provides. So if we are to search for life elsewhere, one good way to separate out those planets that may harbor life from those that do not, will be to search for Aurora. Except we’re not at the stage in our technology where we can image planets around other stars well enough to see aurora. So we have to find another way.

Luckily, the aurora also produces radio waves. So instead of watching, we can listen.

ET is not phoning home, but we are hearing the potential for life in our solar system

http://www.wired.co.uk/article/aurora-alien-life-exoplanets-juno-mission

and beyond

http://www.seeker.com/monstrous-aurora-detected-beyond-our-solar-system-1770078107.html

 

The Ocean Moon #Enceladus

6122_pia18435

The probability of intelligent life beyond Earth is very high. Its almost certain. But as space is big, the probability of any two intelligent sets of life on different planets communicating is pretty low.

However, simple life forms may be everywhere. Provide 3 things – water, heat and some nutrition – and life seems to get going pretty quick. One of the best spots for these three things may be Enceladus. This moon of Saturn was long considered a dead world. But new data is showing just how alive it might actually be.

http://www.astronomy.com/news/2017/01/gunk-enceladus-surface

Gunky?

This moon just keeps on providing more and more surprises.

The cradle of life #solarflares #faintyoungsun

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.24.18 AM

https://eos.org/articles/did-solar-flares-cook-up-life-on-earth

The faint young Sun paradox was originally posed by Carl Sagan. Primitive life existed on Earth 4 billion years ago. But back then the Sun was much fainter, so too cold to supply the heat for life on Earth. So we need a big greenhouse effect to warm things up. The trouble with that solution is that it requires 300 time more carbon dioxide than we have today, which would make the Earth to acidic to allow life to happen. This new research poses a new answer – large frequent solar flares from an angry young Sun result in Nitrous Oxide in the Earth’s early atmosphere. This gas is a much more efficient greenhouse gas, so it only requires a small amount to supply the extra heat. As a bonus, this process that creates the Nitrous Oxide also creates abundant hydrocarbons required to cook up life.

This raises the possibility of life being much more abundant in the Universe than we had thought previously. If young stars can produce flares like our Sun, then the habitable zone (the not-too-far, yet not-to-close distance from the star) is much, much larger and exists for a much, much longer time than anyone has considered.

 

 

Mars Invasion #wateronmars #amacrojot @profmcateer

Great video from the Guardian newspaper in UK.

Guardian video on water on Mars
Not for the first time, NASA have announced they have found water on Mars. The difference this time is that this water must have flowed recently, within days to months of this image being taken. The evidence is piling up – it now looks very likely that Mars has some sort of the surface for at least part of year. And where water flows, life is. 

The idea that there may be some sort of life somewhere beyond Earth scares some people. It upsets some people. It suggests that we were are not created in some special way. This makes the journey to confirming life fraught with problems, not the least of which is how to protect this Exo-life. As a species we don’t have a stellar record in protecting native life while we explore. We have generally accepted that exploration requires a certain amount of collateral damage.  There is an international treaty on space exploration that all space – exploring countries have signed up to. The question is how we will adhere to this as the search for life progresses. In the end, the only way of confirming life might be send such an experiment that disobeys this treaty. The science and moral dilemma will only become harder to adress as we get closer to the moment that we’ve been waiting on since we started looking up.

Watch the video – what do you think?

Welcome to Mars, Hawaii #HI-SEAS #MarsOnEarth #profmcateer

unnamed

The big problem with traveling to Mars is not actually getting there. We’ve had that technology for ages. We could even put together a living quarters. But getting home is a nuisance. Most likely the first people there would have to stay for quite a while. It might even be a one way trip, and so we need to know how such an emotional  will play on the human mind.

On Friday last week, the newest experiment to test this out got underway. Six scientists left our earthly comforts behind and entered an isolation chamber in a 36-foot-wide and 20-foot-high solar-powered dome in a remote location on the island of Hawaii. The team will have to live for a full year with no contact with the outside world. No email, no Facebook, no tv, nothing. “We hope that this upcoming mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long-duration space exploration,” Kim Binsted, principal investigator for HI-SEAS, said in a statement from the University of Hawaii. A sort of scientific Big Brother, maybe?

On previous shorter trips, the crew members were allowed to leave the dome in spacesuits to do experiments, but this time it is purely human emotions under the spotlight. The crew of consists of three women and three men; four American, one French and one German. They have a yearlong supply of food and water. The cuisine, which the team must be able to store for months at a time, is similar to what astronauts eat. They have lab, a kitchen, workspace, dining area, bedrooms and a bathroom. That’s it.

Not my idea of a holiday in paradise.

Earth is not the perfect planet #amacrojot #superearths

The search for a life is the ultimate quest. The search for life is the search for a life bearing planet, which means it is the search for a planet like our own, the Earth. So we’ve focused on the essentials, looking for small rocky planets, with a mixture of atmospheric gases, with a nice atmospheric pressure so we can support liquid water, at the Goldilocks zone of the perfect temperature. But this search had assumed that Earth is the perfect life- bearing planet. New research might just flip this reasoning on its head.

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/ast.2013.1088

From NPR,

So-called superhabitable worlds wouldn’t necessarily look like Earth but would nonetheless have conditions that are more suitable for life to emerge and evolve, according to the study published this month in the journal Astrobiology.

“In my point of view, astronomers and biologists are biased,” says Rene Heller, an astrophysicist at Canada’s McMaster University who is the study’s lead author. “These scientists look for planets that are Earth-like.”

But it’s possible that Earth is actually only marginally habitable by the standards of the universe, says Heller, who points out that our home may not represent a typical habitable world.

He and co-author John Armstrong of Weber State University in Utah have come up with a long list of traits that might make a planet “superhabitable.”

Such planets would most likely be older than Earth and two to three times bigger, the researchers say. And they would orbit stars that are somewhat less massive than our sun.

Any liquid water wouldn’t be in a giant, deep ocean, but would be scattered over the surface of the planets in shallow reservoirs. The planets would need a global magnetic field to serve as protection from cosmic radiation, and they would probably have thicker atmospheres than the Earth does.

“It’s good to start thinking now about how do we sort of rank these planets in terms of their potential to host life,” agrees Rory Barnes of the University of Washington, who uses computer models to explore the habitability of planets outside our solar system. “I think this paper does a really good job of examining the different kinds of features that all come into play when making a habitable planet.”

So far, scientists have detected about a thousand planets orbiting other stars. Current technology usually can’t reveal much about them — just a planet’s size, density and how far it orbits from its host star.

Resilient, stubborn, adaptable

20130528-202456.jpg

http://www.oceanleadership.org/2013/vast-methane-based-ecosystem-uncovered/?utm_source=rss

This is why we have to be careful not to teach the textbook. The textbook says that life requires heat, water, and reproduction. And chains of life require vast amounts of these. Yet, here is an example where no heat is available, and life upon life is thriving. Scientists on a research mission sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have found what could be the U.S. Atlantic Coast’s largest methane cold seep near Virginia. These seeps are regions in the sea floor where fluid rich in compounds like methane flows out at the same temperature as the surrounding ocean water (in contrast to the hot water that seeps from hydrothermal vents).

Seemingly, methane allows life to flourish in otherwise fairly barren deep sea environments. Mussels can survive in seeps through a process that utilizes bacteria in their gills to turn methane into energy. The seep’s surrounding ecosystem also contained sea cucumbers, shrimp and fish, some of which exhibited what the researchers call “unusual behaviors,” though they did not elaborate.

This is really interesting to astrophysics, because we know of several locations in the solar system, in particular the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where this sort of environment is likely to replicated. And if we assume all life is equally resilient, stubborn, and adaptable, then we could be close to finding life outside Earth.

Spectacular cosmic coincidence

20130215-082506.jpg

A 10 tonne asteroid has crashed into Russia early this morning. The large piece of space rock probably shattered 20 miles above the ground, it enough fragments made it all the way down to Earth to cause significant damage. The small crater in the ice above is the result of one of the fragments. At least 950 people were injured as the resulting shockwave blew out windows and shook buildings in the Ural Mountains.

“It was quite extraordinary,” Chelyabinsk resident Polina Zolotarevskaya told BBC News. “We saw a very bright light and then there was a kind of a track, white and yellow in the sky.” “The explosion was so strong that some windows in our building and in the buildings that are across the road and in the city in general, the windows broke.”

Your can see it for yourself here

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newsvideo/9872507/The-science-behind-Russian-meteor-strike.html

Asteroids this size strike the Earth several hundred times a year, but are mostly over sea or desolate places and mostly burn up. But this event shows that when the trajectory is right, it can cause a lot of damage. Scientists have played down suggestions that there is any link between the event in the Urals and 2012 DA14, an asteroid expected to race past the Earth on Friday at a distance of just 27,700km (17,200 miles) – the closest ever predicted for an object of that size. The two asteroids approached from different directions, so it appears to be a cosmic coincidence.

New year’s resolution, move house?

20130101-073520.jpg

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-04/new-planetary-habitability-index

With 2013 now here, how about we move house? This infographic from last year summarizes where we might go to. It looks at the potential of many of factors required for each planet and moon to support life. And who comes out on top, but Titan. It is mostly of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus prior to the Space Age, the dense, opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan’s surface until new information accumulated with the arrival of the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in the satellite’s polar regions. The surface is geologically young; although mountains and several possible volcanoes have been discovered, it is smooth and few impact craters have been found. Best of all it is not that far away, so we could always pop home to visit our Earthly relatives for the holidays.

About as close as we could hope for.

20121219-174341.jpg

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/12/another-earth-just-12-light-year.html

The nearest single Sun-like star to the Earth might hosts five planets – one of which is in the “habitable zone” where liquid water can exist. Tau Ceti’s planetary quintet – reported in an online paper that will appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics – was found in existing planet-hunting data.
The study’s refined methods of sifting through data should help find even more far-flung worlds. The star now joins Alpha Centauri as a nearby star known to host planets.

The cool part about this story is that tau ceti is a naked eye star, in the constellation of cetis, near Pisces in the sky.

http://www.topastronomer.com/StarCharts/Constellations/Cetus.php

Go out and have a look. Someone on one of those planets looking at you would see you in constellation Bootes. At only 12 light years it about as close a neighbor as we could get.