Bacteria Made Of Star Stuff

One of the best at explaining science was Carl Sagan. One recurring theme in Sagan’s works can be seen in the quote below:

And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins. Star stuff, contemplating the stars organized collections of 10 billion-billion-billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps, throughout the cosmos.

Or consider the video below: Continue reading


Monkeys in Space!

I don’t know how I missed this, but yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the launching of Baker (a squirrel monkey) and Abel (a rhesus monkey) into space. They were the first primates to survive a trip into space (although Abel died a few days after the trip due to an infected electrode. National Geographic has some pictures to commemorate the event.

In other primate related news, I have managed to injure my right hand and wrist (more about that later) so blogging may be light for the next couple of days.

Update 1: Turns out I have a sprain of the right wrist, makes typing a bit difficult…

Dust With Life Like Qualities?

Science Daily has an interesting article up concerning the lifelike qualities of some inorganics caught in a plasma field:

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Snakes on a (Galactic) Plane

Via the JPL comes this great picture of snakes on a galactic plane

The Future of Space Science: Depressing

According to New Scientist the fate of NASA’s science budget is pretty gloomy:

NASA’s proposed cuts to its science budget will have a devastating impact on astronomy and Earth-science research for years to come, an expert panel told a US congressional committee on Thursday.
Panellists urged NASA to restore funding for research and analysis grants, and low-cost missions – even if that comes at the expense of more ambitious missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope.

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More Organic Chemicals Found in Space

Scientists associated with NASA’s Spitzer Telescope have discovered polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons:

“NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has shown complex organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in every nook and cranny of our galaxy. While this is important to astronomers, it has been of little interest to astrobiologists, scientists who search for life beyond Earth. Normal PAHs aren’t really important to biology,” Hudgins said. “However, our work shows the lion’s share of the PAHs in space also carry nitrogen in their structures. That changes everything.”

This is important because:

“Much of the chemistry of life, including DNA, requires organic molecules that contain nitrogen,” said team member Louis Allamandola, an astrochemist at Ames. “Chlorophyll, the substance that enables photosynthesis in plants, is a good example of this class of compounds, called polycyclic aromatic nitrogen heterocycles, or PANHs. Ironically, PANHs are formed in abundance around dying stars. So even in death, the seeds of life are sewn,” Allamandola said.

Looking back over the years it is totally amazing to me how many different types of organic chemicals have been found in outer space. Once upon a time it used to be thought that outer space was barren of organic chemicals and origins of life research focused on chemicals believed to be present on early earth. It seems the picture is changing…

Comets and Organic Molecules

Deep Impact collision ejected the stuff of life

Millions of kilograms of fine dust particles and water and a “surprisingly high” amount of organic molecules sprayed into space when NASA crashed its Deep Impact spacecraft into Comet 9P/Tempel 1 on 4 July 2005, reveal a trio of new studies.

The observations bolster theories that comets may have seeded Earth with the raw materials for life and suggest they may be sponge-like – rather than hardened – at their cores.

Observers estimate the impact released about 5 million kilograms of water from beneath the comet’s surface and between two and five times as much dust. There was so much dust, in fact, that mission members have not been able to see the impact crater with the high-resolution camera on the mission’s flyby spacecraft, about 500 km away.

But here is the interesting part:

The team estimates the impact blasted away a crater about 100 metres wide and up to 30 m deep. Crucially, organic molecules were among the material ejected. Neither the full range of molecules nor their abundances have been determined yet, but researchers say they have found a surprisingly high amount of methyl cyanide, a molecule seen in large quantities in another comet.

This supports theories that comets may have brought water and the building blocks of life to Earth, and the team hopes to eventually “identify all the species comets brought in abundance to early Earth”, says A’Hearn.