Scientists Discover Life as We Don't Know It

A research team funded by NASA has made a momentous discovery: arsenic-based life. Kind of.

According to this NASA news feature, common Gammaproteobacteria from California's Mono Lake (a body of water known for its alkalinity and hypersalinity) were grown in a laboratory "on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic." Researchers eventually removed the phosphorus altogether, substituting it with arsenic. This resulted in the bacteria continuing to grow, having incorporated that arsenic into its DNA.

What makes this truly astounding is that up until today's announcement, life with a chemical composition outside the confines of the phosphorus/carbon/nitrogen/oxygen/hydrogen/sulfur ensemble existed only in the realm of science fiction. However, as is the case with many things these days, science fiction is fast becoming science fact.

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Posted by The Author | at 2:08 PM | 0 comments

NASA to Reveal New Information Regarding the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Beginning today (Thursday, Dec 2) at 2 p.m. EST, NASA will hold a news conference "to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life."

The news conference will be broadcast live on NASA TV and streamed (live) on its website.

The full media advisory can be seen here.

Posted by The Author | at 10:46 AM | 0 comments

First Potentially Habitable Earth-Like Planet Found Orbiting Nearby Star

After observing Gliese 581 (a red dwarf star 20 light years from Earth) for more than a decade via Hawaii's Keck Observatory, a research team comprised of members from UC Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institution of Washington have finally hit pay dirt. By using a technique called Doppler spectroscopy, the team has discovered a planet (GJ 581g) that is "squarely in the middle of the habitable zone of the star", a minimum of 3.1 times the mass of Earth and most likely rocky.

A somewhat awkward (albeit informative) press release can be seen here.

The immediate implications of this discovery are that potentially habitable planets (i.e., Earth-sized, rocky and orbiting within a star's habitable zone) are likely to be abundant throughout the universe. With extrasolar planet detection in its infancy, and with a relatively small sample already yielding a return, such an assumption seems sound.

At any rate, the Kepler Mission will soon give us an even better idea of how many potentially habitable planets might actually exist.

Posted by The Author | at 11:59 AM | 0 comments

Sci Fi Science: First Contact

Airing tonight on The Science Channel, Sci Fi Science's host, Dr. Michio Kaku explores the possibility of communication with extraterrestrials.

For those unfamiliar with the program, Sci Fi Science is a half hour TV show that looks at the science behind science fiction.

Posted by The Author | at 9:07 AM | 0 comments

NASA Teleconference to Reveal New Information Regarding Outer Solar System

Starting Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 1 p.m. EDT, NASA will stream a live teleconference discussing recent finds of the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft.

The IBEX mission studies the structure of our heliosphere and how it interacts with what is known as the local interstellar medium, a detailed diagram of which can be seen here.

Posted by The Author | at 12:47 PM | 0 comments

Watch for Falling Rocks...

Distance from Impact: 3.22 km.
Projectile diameter: 9.14 meters.
Projectile Density: 3000 kg/m.
Impact Velocity: 25.80 km per second.

The projectile begins to breakup at an altitude of 60,700 meters.
The projectile bursts into a cloud of fragments at an altitude of 33,500 meters.

The air blast will arrive approximately 1.7 minutes after impact.
Sound Intensity: 21 dB (Easily Heard).

The Earth is not strongly disturbed by the impact and loses negligible mass.
The impact does not shift the Earth's orbit noticeably.

These are just a few of the calculated results of an impact that I created using the Earth Impact Effects Program. If it sounds complicated, don't worry, it's not. The website form is both easy to understand and to use, requiring very few inputs and having built-in presets to assist you in creating an impact scenario.

From the actual website:

Welcome to the Earth Impact Effects Program: an easy-to-use, interactive web site for estimating the regional environmental consequences of an impact on Earth. This program will estimate the ejecta distribution, ground shaking, atmospheric blast wave, and thermal effects of an impact as well as the size of the crater produced.

Please enter values in the boxes below to describe your impact event of choice and your distance away. Then click "Calculate Effects" to learn about the environmental consequences.

Posted by The Author | at 11:00 AM | 0 comments

Soyuz TMA-18 Lands Safely

After being delayed due to a sensor problem on the Poisk module that prevented the docking interface from working properly, Expedition 24 crew members finally managed to leave the ISS, undock and descend back to Earth.

Video of the Soyuz landing can be seen here.

Posted by The Author | at 10:12 AM | 0 comments

Sept 24: Astronaut/Cosmonaut Landing Rescheduled for Tonight

After being waived off yesterday due to the failure of a docking mechanism on the Poisk module, TMA-18 undocking is now set to proceed tonight at 10:02 p.m. EDT.

Live coverage will begin at 6:15 p.m. EDT (on NASA TV) with the closing of the Soyuz hatch. Further details can be found here.

Posted by The Author | at 9:00 AM | 0 comments

Sept 23: Space Station Astronauts/Cosmonauts Returning Home Tonight

Three members of Expedition 24 (Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kornienko and Tracy Caldwell Dyson) will be leaving the ISS tonight and are scheduled to land in Kazakhstan on Sept 24 at 12:55 a.m. EDT.

Having launched on April 2, 2010, all three have been in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for nearly six months.

As of 6:56 p.m. EDT, the hatch to the Soyuz has been reported closed and preparations for undocking are currently underway.

Undocking itself is scheduled for 9:35 p.m. and can be seen live, along with full event coverage on NASA TV.

UPDATE: As of 7:15 p.m. EDT, hatch closure problems on the ISS side are being reported. Leak checks underway to verify effective seal.

UPDATE (2): As of 9:35 p.m. EDT, undocking has been delayed due to non-operational hooks on the Poisk module of the ISS. 

Posted by The Author | at 4:03 PM | 0 comments

Jupiter Closest to Earth Since 1963

Jupiter is currently on it's closest approach to Earth in decades, and as a result appears as an extremely bright "star" in the eastern sky. And with a little luck you might get to see Uranus as well, in the same field of view as Jupiter.

An example of this (taken without a telescope) can be seen here.

Posted by The Author | at 1:25 PM | 0 comments

Benford Beacons

Is SETI doing it wrong? According to the Benford clan, probably. That is, if the aliens are cheapskates...

Based on the assumption that any technologically advanced civilizations out there who might be broadcasting would do so in the most efficient, effective and cheapest way possible, the Benfords (Gregory, James and Dominic) have posited that instead of sending out continuous narrow-band signals, aliens would instead send pulsed broadband transmissions (1-10 gigahertz) directed at specific locations in space.

If this is true (and it's certainly a reasonable idea), it would mean that SETI is on the wrong path with its current focus being on narrow-band transmissions.

The full story (along with related links) can be seen here.

Posted by The Author | at 4:17 PM | 0 comments

The Most Amazing Galactic Images Ever currently has a competition of sorts running, the slightly misleading name of which is the title of this post. Basically, readers view a series of astronomical pictures, rating each one as they go along.

If nothing else, it's at least worth a look, as some of the pictures really are quite "amazing".

Posted by The Author | at 11:58 AM | 0 comments

Speaking of the ISS...

Earlier this year, on May 29th, an amateur astronomer by the name of Anthony Ayiomamitis took this incredible shot of the International Space Station during daylight hours, using only a 6" telescope. And four days earlier, on May 25th, he captured another amazing shot, this time of the ISS transiting the sun!

As the capabilities of amateur astronomers become increasingly efficacious, the only thing separating our eyes from even more dazzling pictures is time.

Posted by The Author | at 1:21 PM | 0 comments

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's...the ISS!

It outshone everything else in the late evening sky. And it was moving...

It took mere seconds for me to recognize the object for what it was. I quickly ran inside the house to grab my girlfriend, who had never laid eyes on an orbiting satellite or spacecraft before. When I finally got her outside, the International Space Station (ISS) was almost directly overhead, moving towards the NE.

Personally, I thought it was grand. Not only did we, as a species, put it up there, but actual members of the species are currently living up there! I babbled on for several seconds regarding these intrepid men and women, but to no effect. Unmoved by my sentiment, she muttered a mostly disinterested "cool" and proceeded to question the authenticity of the sighting, believing in the possibility of this brilliantly shining, fast-moving object being nothing more than a common aircraft.

This prompted me (once the ISS faded from view) to go straight to and to pull up the sighting information for proof. Needless to say, it took mere seconds for her to recognize the object for what it was...

Finally, the aforementioned webpage is a great resource for ISS sighting information. Simply enter your country, region, then your city for upcoming viewing times. Speaking of which, I'm off to see the next one here.

Happy viewing everyone.

Posted by The Author | at 7:56 PM | 0 comments