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Life, Unbounded

Life, Unbounded

Discussion and news about planets, exoplanets, and astrobiology
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    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 books include Gravity's Engines (2012) and The Copernicus Complex (2014) (both from Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Follow on Twitter @caleb_scharf.
  • Has An Exomoon Been Found?

    A ringed world (Credit: Ron Miller)

    Intriguing data from an event in 2007 hints at an exomoon forming around a giant planet in a youthful star system 420 light years from Earth. Moons are a big deal. In our own solar system we’ve discovered 176 natural satellites (even asteroids have them). Some, like Ganymede or Titan, are comparable in size to [...]

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    Notes From The Frontier: Life’s Origins

    (Credit: Wikipedia/Swollib)

    I spent some of last week at a fascinating and lively symposium on the origins of life and the search for life in the universe, held at the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. To say that the science under discussion was broad in scope would be the understatement of the [...]

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    Dawn Approaches Ceres

    Dawn's latest, and best, images of Ceres (NASA)

    NASA’s Dawn mission, having performed remarkably at the asteroid Vesta, is homing in on Ceres. The spacecraft’s ion engines will bring it to a capture orbit around this 590 mile diameter dwarf planet on March 6th, 2015 – at a distance some 2.5 times further from the Sun than the Earth. Now at a separation [...]

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    Lost And Found On Mars

    Close up, showing a possible partial deployment of solar panels (ESA).

    Lost, presumed crashed, the Beagle-2 lander is finally located on Mars. Back in December 2003 a bold and decidedly British robotic device was released from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter. The $120 million Beagle-2 lander was designed to plunge through the martian atmosphere and parachute down to the surface. Once there it [...]

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    Will We Find Extraterrestrial Life In 2015?


    Probably not, but just possibly yes. One of the reasons that the search for life elsewhere in the universe is so exciting is that it would take only one chance discovery, one lucky break, for all the walls to come tumbling down. But where is that revolution going to come from? Perhaps the best news [...]

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    Mars, Ancient Water, Deep Hydrogen, and Life


    Two billion year-old water pockets and a revised deep hydrogen content are good news for Earth’s vast subsurface biosphere, and could offer clues to life on Mars and much further beyond. Excitement over the Curiosity rover’s recently reported detection of a ‘spike’ in localized atmospheric methane – persisting over a couple of months – is [...]

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    Comet 67P Only Looks Gray, It’s Actually Black

    Comet 67P in all its colourful glory (Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

    The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission has now released the first narrow-angle color composite image of Comet 67P – taken through a set of red, green, and blue filters. And here it is, in all its glory from a mere 120 kilometers away, with a roughly 3.9 meter per pixel resolution. You might be forgiven [...]

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    Big Mirrors, High Hopes: Extremely Large Telescope Is A Go

    What will be the biggest optical telescope in the world (Credit: ESO/L. Calçada)

    In astronomy, bigger is almost always better. The size of a telescope’s aperture (or primary optical element) not only determines how many pesky little photons it can capture, but also the ultimate resolution of the image that can be formed. The challenge is to fabricate optics on large scales, find somewhere really good to put [...]

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    Alien Yet Familiar: Following Curiosity Across Mars

    (Mastcam image, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

    822 Martian days after landing, NASA’s Curiosity rover, carrying the Mars Science Laboratory, continues on its extraordinary journey across landscapes that are both utterly alien, and remarkably familiar. Here’s a small update. On November 18th 2014 the rover was in the center of this region (within the Pahrump Hills), continuing across the base area of [...]

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    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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