Posts Tagged ‘Astrobiology’

Water flows on Mars

September 29, 2015

Beginning in 2011, scientists using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)—the best camera looking down on Mars—found hundreds of streaks, about 5 meters wide, that appear seasonally on steep slopes. They show up during the warm season, grow hundreds of meters long, and then fade as winter approaches. For many years, the team made the obvious interpretation: the streaks meant that water was flowing. Salts were expected to be present in the water, because they lower the freezing point of water by tens of degrees, and they also make the water less likely to evaporate in Mars’s barely-there atmosphere. But until the researchers directly detected a signature for water in the streaks, or found evidence for salts precipitating out of the water, they were unwilling to declare the case solved.

Now, they have found evidence for those salts, using a different instrument on the MRO. And this suggests that water is flowing on Mars!

Salty water on Mars

Learn more, here, here, here, here, here, here or here.

The Fermi Paradox — Where Are All The Aliens?

May 7, 2015

The Fermi Paradox is really cool. There is a great written explanation of it here.

Or you could also check out this clip:

Why extremophiles bode well for life beyond Earth

October 9, 2013

Life on Earth requires three things: liquid water, a source of energy within a habitable range from the sun and organic carbon-based material. But life is surprisingly resilient, and organisms called extremophiles can be found in hostile living conditions (think extreme temperatures and little access to oxygen). Extremophiles give astrobiologists hope for life in the universe.

Three habitable worlds found around the same star

July 17, 2013

Astronomers believe they have found an alien solar system packed with a record-breaking three potentially habitable worlds.

New observations of the star Gliese 667C—about one-third the mass of our sun—is home to between five and seven planets, three of which are classified as super-Earths. All three are larger than our own planet, but smaller than gas giants like Uranus and Neptune.

Gliese 667 C Planet

But what makes all the difference is that these super-Earths orbit in what is known as the “Goldilocks Zone”—the region around a star where temperatures are just right for liquid water, a key ingredient in the recipe for life, to exist.

These planets are good candidates to have a solid surface and maybe an atmosphere like the Earth’s.

What makes this finding so exciting is that for the first time, astronomers have three potentially rocky or ocean worlds orbiting the same star. And at 22 light-years away from Earth, Gliese 667C and it’s two companion stars are considered relatively close neighbors to our solar system, making them ideal candidates for future extraterrestrial searches for life.

Learn more here or here.

The search for other Earth-like planets

April 27, 2013

Billions of stars. Billions of galaxies. A thousand years just to count all of the stars in our galaxy and then another thousand to count the galaxies in the universe.

The Odds of Intelligent Alien Life

January 21, 2013

Could there be intelligent life on other planets? This question has piqued imagination and curiosity for decades. Explore the answer with the Drake Equation — a mathematical formula that calculates the possibility of undiscovered life.

2012: A Banner Year in the Hunt for Exoplanets

January 5, 2013

The search for worlds outside our solar system has come a long way since the first exoplanets were confirmed in the early 1990s. Since then, the average rate of alien-world discoveries has shot from about three per year to between fifty and a hundred per year in the last five years. As of the end of 2012, with the tally standing at 854 newfound worlds and reports of new detections being announced nearly every week, thanks in large measure to NASA’s Kepler space telescope, astronomers are calling this the golden age of exoplanet discovery.


Now the race is on to find Earth’s twin, the elusive Earth-size planet in the habitable, or “Goldilocks,” zone around a star where liquid water can exist—and experts believe we may hit the cosmic jackpot soon.

In 2012 astronomers came closer than ever to zeroing in on an earthly doppelganger, or at the very least a planet considered potentially habitable.

However, we are far from confirming the habitability of any of these planets until we have the capability to observe their atmosphere, but that will take many years. The big goal now is to find an Earth-size planet in its star’s habitable zone—something more similar to Earth.

To learn about five of the most interesting exoplanetary discoveries of this past year like Gliese 667CcAlpha Centauri Bb and Tau Ceti e and f – go here.

Sugar Found In Space: A Sign of Life?

November 29, 2012

Astronomers have made a sweet discovery: simple sugar molecules floating in the gas around a star some 400 light-years away, suggesting the possibility of life on other planets.

The discovery doesn’t prove that life has developed elsewhere in the universe—but it implies that there is no reason it could not. It shows that the carbon-rich molecules that are the building blocks of life can be present even before planets have begun forming.

Scientists use the term “sugar” to loosely refer to organic molecules known as carbohydrates, which are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

The molecules that the team detected in space are the simplest form of sugar, called glycoaldehyde. Learn more here.

A needle in countless haystacks: Finding habitable worlds

November 11, 2012

Out of billions of galaxies and billions of stars, how do we find Earth-like habitable worlds? What is essential to support life as we know it?

Planet Found in Nearest Star System to Earth

November 5, 2012

Meeting the neighbours is normally easier than this. After years of searching, astronomers have finally spotted an Earth-mass planet in Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own. Although the planet orbits too close to its parent star to host life, its discovery ups the chance of the system also hosting hospitable worlds.

Alpha Centauri looks like a single point of light from Earth, but it contains two bright stars that share a relatively close binary orbit, including one that looks a lot like our sun. This binary pair is in our cosmic backyard, about 4.3 light years away, spurring great interest in its ability to host planets.

If you’re hoping to visit the neighbours, though, you may want to pack a few books for the trip. Even with the current record holders for the world’s fastest spacecraft, the Helios sun probes, the journey to Alpha Centauri would take 19,000 years – and that’s assuming you travel at top speed for the whole journey, which is unlikely. Learn more here, here, here or here.


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