Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Here are a few links to reports on a new round of ex-planet discoveries made with the Kepler telescope. Although Kepler has damaged reaction control, and only limited current data acquisition ability, the star transit information it previously acquired is still being analyzed in an ongoing effort.
Meanwhile, the damaged satellite is now working again in a mode called K2.  http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/reborn-kepler-can-still-find-planets/#.VKxzWottXHM

Article in Wired

And another in National Geographic

And even the Huffington Post

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Astronomy and Astrobiology News and Links

This blog post will include links to ongoing news about astronomy discoveries with an emphasis on those that relate to life throughout the cosmos. This is a golden age of discovery in the field. We are learning some amazing things about the structure of existence, and these links will try to capture some of that amazement.

Some Astrobiology Links
Astrobiology.com carries many articles and links that track the field.

Astrobiology magazine with many articles available free, some for hire.

NASA's astrobiology site, with their roadmap for research.

The New York Center for Astrobiology includes links to a series of lectures on various aspects of astrobiology, so some of the earlier years. No links for more recent lectures, unfortunately. Also a trick to figure out what player to use for these older videos. I will post a solution when/if I find one.

A high-pressure bomb experiment yields all sort of complex organic materials, including amino acids and sugars.

Astrobiology, a technical journal. Peer-reviewed technical articles on the subject, some of them available free, others at the very high rates that tech publications operate at these days.

Nasa's Stereo solar imaging satellites are providing remarkable views of the intense nuclear furnace that gives us nice, sunny beaches and sun tans. A pair of satellites orbit the sun, one before, one after the Earth in its orbit.

The Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek astronomical computer. Here's one of the best sites that describes how this remarkable, 2,000+ year old device was found and what it is.

On the Origin of Life

The Origins of Life Initative at Harvard "The Origins of Life Initiative supports multi-disciplinary research aimed at revealing if life is abundant in the Universe." Very nice site. Looks like they still are working to get funding though. 

A review article in the New York Times on the origin of life. From a 2011 conference on the subject, the article is a kind of a status report.

This links to an article at the National Institutes of Health on RNA world, an hypothesized early system of replication and metabolism that may have been a stage in the development of the far more complex current DNA/RNA/Protein system. This also leads to many other DNA resources.

Another path to life initiation, the PAH World hypothesis
Here's a link to a wiki article about the hypothesis that life originated by a process aided by molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, that are the most common polyatomic species in the interstellar medium.

This is a good review of some concepts on the origins of life, including things like spontaneous generation.

This article in Time discusses new clues to the origins and distribution of life in the universe.

A nice article on XNA molecules, modified versions of DNA that have been synthesized for over a decade now. Newest development, XNAs that can reproduce and evolve.

Creationists often cite the improbability of complex life simply popping into existence as an argument against the natural generation of life. Abiogenesis, origin of life through pre-life processes, does not actually require such a single-step model. These articles in a creationist debunking site are good sources for abiogenesis information.

Panspermia, the transport of life through the cosmos
A recent paper suggests that life may have made its way to earth from distant solar systems.

Here's a group that wants to deliberately spread our life forms to space. Might be a great way to annihilate other civilizations. The best of intentions...

Molecular fossils are bits of organic material recovered from ancient fossils. These are Earth analogues of the remnants of genetic material that might be able to survive long space voyages aboard comets and bits of interstellar debris.

More molecular fossils and "urzymes" the presumed ancient core components of modern enzymes.

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old.... Martians?   Maybe!

Carbonaceous Chondrites
These are extremely ancient meterorites that have very similar composition to the sun, and that have never been heated and remelted since the formation of the solar system. Hence, they are on the order of 4.6 billions years old. The most pristine ones have never been heated above 50 ยบC, as noted in this article. That means that they have brought carbon compounds to Earth from the galaxy that may contain undamaged, higher molecular weight organic compounds... A little alien DNA, anyone?

Space Exploration, Images, Satellites, etc. Links

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has observed the sun for three years now. Here's a beautiful video with great music that compresses those years into three minutes.

The Hubble Space Telescope
The satellite/telescope itself:  http://hubblesite.org/the_telescope/
Hubble images, all of them free:  http://hubblesite.org/gallery/
Hubble site videos of image collages, etc.  http://hubblesite.org/gallery/movie_theater/

TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
NASA's TESS site:   http://tess.gsfc.nasa.gov

The TESS project was launched at MIT with startup funding from Google (thanks, guys). Here's the MIT TESS overview page:   http://space.mit.edu/TESS/TESS/TESS_Overview.html

NASA's Exoplanet Archive, the master list of recently discovered planets orbiting other stars. This list passed 1,000 confirmed planets at the start of 2014, and the list continues to rapidly grow.

White House refuses to pursue construction of Death Star
Responding to an official petition to the White House, signed by 34,000+ people so far, Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote a classic response. Read the short petition and then scroll down to the response.

The Millennium Simulation Project
The evolution of the universe on a grand scale, performed with supercomputers at the Max Planck Institute.
Cut right to the pics!

Mars Exploration Links

Here's the Mars site from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Many resources with various satellites and rovers.

A great animation of the voyage, landing, and explorations of the Mars Curiosity rover.

A stunning video compiled from the Curiosity's perspective of its landing on Mars and a pan around the landing site.

The Mars explorer, Curiosity has found proof of water on the surface (in the past). This has been believed, but now there is proof of actively flowing water, and that implies conditions that may have produced life. Here's a link in the Washington Post.

Pancake Dwarf Galaxy Discovery
In a discovery that has completely upended what we thought we knew about the origins of galaxies, dwarf galaxies have been found that are orbiting our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, in a vast "pancake" structure. Scientists have believed that galaxies go through a process of coalescing that damps down motions and flattens out the inner portions of the collapsing gas cloud to form a disk portion, but that leaves outer regions orbiting in a roughly spherical, random set of orientations. To find many dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda at some distance, all in an orderly, flattened out plane, is a complete surprise. What mechanism may have led to this structure? Computer simulations to date have never produced such a result.
Pancake structure of Andromeda dwarfs

A nice video that shows the universe on scales from the subatomic to the multiverse range. A bit artistic, and not entirely accurate, but a nice depiction.

Here's an interesting new discovery of a planet that is "rogue" in that it doesn't appear to orbit any star, but is wandering freely somewhere in a group of stars. It is very close to Earth, only about 100 light years away, so it should be possible to study it in some detail. It is unknown how many such rogue planets may be wandering our galaxy because they aren't lit up, or orbiting, any star, so they are very difficult to detect.

Another article on the same loner planet in the Washington Post.

Silicon Life 
Could carbon life just be a step toward the ultimate dominance of silicon chips? Only Google and Watson know for sure, and they aren't telling.

A wiki for robots to exchange information among themselves