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Life, Unbounded

Life, Unbounded


Discussion and news about planets, exoplanets, and astrobiology
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  • Profile

    Caleb A. Scharf Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center. He has worked in the fields of observational cosmology, X-ray astronomy, and more recently exoplanetary science. His latest book is 'Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos', and he is working on 'The Copernicus Complex' (both from Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Follow on Twitter @caleb_scharf.
  • Astrobiology Roundup: Planets, Moons, and Stinky Comets

    Credit: NASA

    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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    Failure Is Always An Option

    One of the lucky ones...Saturn V launch (NASA)

    Do not try this at home. A Russian Proton-M launch goes wrong – and it can happen to anyone (wait for the shock wave). A rocket is a controlled bomb. The fully fueled Saturn V ‘moon rocket’ held an explosive force of about half a kiloton of TNT, enough to do some serious damage if [...]

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    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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    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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    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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    Two New Arrivals Send Back Pictures Of Mars

    Images of Mars in 3 ultraviolet bands(Courtesy Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics /University of Colorado and NASA)

    The skies of Mars just got a little more crowded. On September 21st, 2014 NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) fired its engines for some 33 minutes in order to swing into a safe orbit. And a few days later, early on Sept 24th, India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history by joining [...]

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    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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    The Biggest Cosmological Problem Is…

    The whole sky (again in Galactic coordinates) seen by Planck (ESA)

    …living in a place that makes doing cosmology hard. Let’s backtrack a little. Unless you’ve been living under a particularly thick and insulating rock you’ll know that in recent months the world of experimental cosmology (what would have previously been called observational cosmology, or just plain old astronomy) has been on tenterhooks waiting to see [...]

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    Interstellar Space Can Be Pebbly

    Are there interstellar pebbles here? The red strands of dense interstellar grains seen with the Green Bank raio telescope (Credit: S. Schnee, et al.; B. Saxton, B. Kent (NRAO/AUI/NSF); We acknowledge the use of NASA's SkyView Facility located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.)

    We’re used to thinking of the space between the stars as void, bereft of all but the most sparsely distributed atoms and molecules, or the occasional microscopic grain of silicon or carbon dust. Even the densest cores of nebula – molecular clouds – only attain average densities of a few million atoms or molecules per [...]

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    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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