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Posts Tagged "astrobiology"

Cross-Check

Are Scientists on the “Cusp of Knowing” How Weird We Are?

In his new book Caleb Scharf writes: "So are we unusual or not?... Neither side is yet a winner. But we are much, much closer to an answer than we have ever been in the history of the human species; we are on the cusp of knowing."

I’m writing this post for two reasons. One is to recommend a new book by Columbia astrobiologist Caleb Scharf (who also writes a terrific Scientific American blog, “Life, Unbounded“), and the other is to defend an old book of mine. Scharf’s book is The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and [...]

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Guest Blog

Teaching Scientific Thinking and Encouraging Creativity with Astrobiology

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." ~Albert Einstein In 2007, a few graduate students at the National University of Colombia grew interested in astrobiology, the search for extraterrestrial [...]

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Guest Blog

Living Interplanetary Spaceflight Experiment–or Why Were All the Strange Creatures on the Shuttle Endeavour ?

This morning, the world witnessed the safe landing of the space shuttle Endeavour, after a 16-day mission to the International Space Station. For those of us inhabiting Earth’s more western time zones, we got to watch the landing last night, with no inconvenience, other than having to divert from the Colbert Report. While I did [...]

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Life, Unbounded

The Cusp of Knowing and the Evolution of Science

(Credit NASA/JPL)

In a nice piece on his Scientific American blog ‘Cross-Check‘, John Horgan recently gave me some much appreciated praise, whilst provoking discussion on a contentious subject – whether or not big science as we’ve known it ‘may be coming to an end’ (John’s words). Wrapped into this assertion is the idea that fundamental physics and [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Astrobiology Roundup: Planets, Moons, and Stinky Comets

707154main_astrobiology

Scientific discoveries across all fields just keep coming and coming. Here’s a small assortment of goodies from the past couple of weeks. How do you form planets around stars in triple systems? You feed them of course. New data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in northern Chile has probed the gas and [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Complex Life Owes Its Existence To Parasites?

mitochondria.001

Is complex life rare in the cosmos? The idea that it could be rests on the observation that the existence of life like us – with large, energy hungry, complicated cells – may be contingent on a number of very specific and unlikely factors in the history of the Earth. Added together they suggest that [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Interview: The New Moon

moon

Think you know about the Moon? I did, but then I started reading ‘The New Moon: Water, Exploration, and Future Habitation‘ (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and realized that my knowledge amounted to a teensy scrap of lunar dust. For the past few years my colleague Prof. Arlin Crotts has been assembling an astonishingly detailed look [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Deep Space, Branching Molecules, and Life’s Origins?

Hub of complex chemistry? Our galactic center (MSX/IPAC/NASA)

If biologically important organic molecules like amino acids could form in interstellar space, the implications would be enormous. On the Earth we find plenty of amino acid species inside certain types of meteorites, so at a minimum these compounds can form during the assembly of a proto-stellar, proto-planetary system (at least this one) and end [...]

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Life, Unbounded

C-SPAN’s ‘After Words’ Discusses Our Cosmic Status

(A. Fitzsimmons/ESO)

Ever feel that broadcast TV fails to tackle the big issues? I don’t mean the state of the economy, healthcare, the future of clean energy, or what B-list celebrities had for breakfast – I mean the Really Big Issues. Like whether or not we’re alone in the universe, whether life is somehow special, and whether [...]

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Life, Unbounded

The Great Alien Debate (Part 1)

Sheep.001 crop

This post is one in a series covering, and expanding on, topics in the book The Copernicus Complex (Scientific American/FSG).           The conversation usually goes like this: Do you think we’re alone in the universe? Answer A) : No, absolutely not. It’s a huge universe, we’re not at the center or [...]

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Life, Unbounded

The Copernicus Complex: A Primer

Nikolaus_Kopernikus

In a month’s time, the end result of two-and-a-half years of research, thinking, writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, editing, mulling, puzzling, coffee-drinking, beer-swilling, swearing, and tweaking will hit the shelves in the form of my new book The Copernicus Complex. In the coming weeks I’ll be writing some special pieces here at Life, Unbounded, exploring some of [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Summer Shorts: 101 Geysers Point To Enceladus’ Deep Ocean

3D map of 98 geysers across the southern polar region of Enceladus (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

It’s summer in the northern hemisphere of a small, damp, planet orbiting a middle-aged star in a spiral galaxy of matter enjoying a brief heyday before colliding with another galaxy in some 4 billion orbits of the same small, damp, planet. Time for some brief stories. The NASA/ESA Cassini mission to Saturn first spied plumes [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Exomoons Can Spoof Exoplanet Biosignatures

earth-titan.001

Astronomers hope that one day soon we’ll obtain a spectrum of light that might tell us whether or not an Earth-sized exoplanet harbors life. This spectrum could be of starlight filtered through the planetary atmosphere, or of reflected and emitted radiation. In either case it would probe the chemical composition of an alien world. The [...]

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Observations

Live Chat at Noon Today on Dreams of Other Worlds and NASA’s Next Mars Mission

Robotic exploration of space is fascinating, complex and quite important to our understanding of the universe. To learn more about how scientists and engineers overcome challenges of robotic space exploration for successful data collection, join us for a live chat today (Tuesday, October 29) at noon EDT with Chris Impey, astronomer and author of Dreams of [...]

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Observations

How did life begin on Earth?

LINDAU, Germany—What steps led to the origin of life on Earth? Scientists may be zeroing in on that most profound of questions. “We’ve gone a long way to showing” the processes that “set the stage” for cellular life on Earth, Jack Szostak said Tuesday here in his talk at the 60th annual Nobel Laureate Lectures [...]

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Oscillator

Weird Biology Fact of the Day: Mirror-image Amino Acids

Amino acids come in mirror-image "right handed" and "left handed" forms. Living organisms produce almost exclusively left handed amino acids.

In her fascinating and wide-ranging talk on multi-dimensional spaces and human consciousness, Tauba Auerbach briefly mentioned the fact that after an organism dies its molecules will gradually change “handedness” — from an entropy defying left-handed favoritism back to 50-50 over many thousands of years.

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