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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.
  • 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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    New Horizons Mission Catches Pluto And Charon Waltzing

    Pluto and Charon in their orbits, taken July 2014 (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

    After a ten year journey, NASA’s New Horizons mission is still 420 million kilometers from the Pluto system – but that’s close enough to begin to see the orbital dance of an icy world and its major moon. This far out from the Sun it’s easier for planetary objects to hold onto satellites, so even [...]

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    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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    Summer Shorts: A Record 25 Miles on Mars

    A recent traverse map of Opportunity's adventures so far (yellow line) (Credit: L. Crumpler, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS)

    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. In any other circumstances it would be hard to [...]

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    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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