Tag Archives: astrobiology

Scientists developed a polymer that can deliver oxygen for germination on Mars

Although it’s little more than a barren wasteland nowadays, our planetary neighbor Mars is similar in many ways to Earth. Its length of day, dry surface area, and general relief are similar to those on Earth, which makes the Red Planet a prime target for an eventual colonization attempt.

But if we want to set up a permanent settlement on this telluric planet, there are many challenges we need to overcome — one of them, the sustainable cultivation of edible crops, has just made a revolutionary leap forward.

In a recently published paper, researchers John G. MacDonald, Karien Rodriguez and Stephen Quirk developed an oxygen delivery polymer that enabled the first successful germination in a Mars-like environment.

Sirenum Fossae – a long trough on Mars. Image credits: NASA

From seed to seedling

On Mars, there already are already some resources that we can use to grow harvestable plants. For instance, the layer of loose, soil-like material called regolith contains chemical elements such as phosphorous, iron, and potassium — all of which are needed for most plants to grow. However, until now, it has not been possible to successfully germinate plants conditions such as those on Mars.

The problem — or at least, part of the problem — is oxygen.

While plants are able to supply their own oxygen after some time, it is needed in molecular form for most plants to develop from seed to seedling. Unfortunately, the Martian atmosphere consisting of 95% carbon dioxide, contains mere traces of oxygen.

While there are types of plants capable of anoxic germination (most noticeably rice) this adaptation comes with some major drawbacks like a reduction of cellular respiration which is why they have to rely on the little efficient fermentation as an energy source.

Molecular oxygen is also needed for the redox reactions that produce generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) with essential signaling functions.

There are two ways of obtaining oxygen in a Mars-like environment: extract it from regolith metal oxides, and electrolysis. Both have some major downsides, namely time consumption and proximity to water respectively.

In a recent paper, scientists propose a different approach: they developed a polymer system. When combined with sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide, the polymer becomes an oxygen infused foamed hydrogel which can deliver controlled amounts of gaseous oxygen. The foamed matrix can be mixed into the regolith or coated around the seed and can be used to grow plants.

In other words, for the first time in history, scientists succeeded in germinating plants in a martian environment. Cress, a typical test object for plant research, grew almost identically in the uninviting environment when the polymer system was used in comparison to the control group.

The findings of the scientists from Georgia, US, could mean a big step forward towards the distant possibility of a human colony on Mars.

Computer models confirm icy eruptions on Saturn’s Moon

A few years ago, the Cassini spacecraft made a surprising discovery: there are geysers erupting on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, spewing water and ice to great heights. However, the process which causes these geysers remained unknown or controversial. Now, scientists at the University of Chicago and Princeton University have pinpointed a mechanism through which Saturn’s tidal forces exert constant stress and cause long-term icy eruptions.

Ice and volcanoes

This enhanced color view of Enceladus shows much of the southern hemisphere and includes the south polar terrain at the bottom of the image. Scientists at the University of Chicago and Princeton University have published a new study describing the process that drives and sustains this moon of Saturn's long-lived geysers. Photo by NASA/JPL

This enhanced color view of Enceladus shows much of the southern hemisphere and includes the south polar terrain at the bottom of the image. Scientists at the University of Chicago and Princeton University have published a new study describing the process that drives and sustains this moon of Saturn’s long-lived geysers. Photo by NASA/JPL

Enceladus is is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, measuring only 500 kilometers (310 mi) in diameter. Enceladus is covered by fresh, clean ice, reflecting almost all the sunlight that strikes it. However, Enceladus displays a surprisingly large variety of geological features, including rifts, canyons, grooves, ridges and fractures, likely caused by the stress exerted on the moon by its parent planet, Saturn. This stress also causes massive friction inside the planet, which led researchers to believe that there might be a liquid ocean under Enceladus’ frozen surface — and potentially, life. Disregarded once as frozen and barren wasteland, the moon is now one of the likeliest places to find extraterrestrial life.

But one big question still remained: why are these eruptions happening in the first place?

“On Earth, eruptions don’t tend to continue for long,” said Edwin Kite, assistant professor of geophysical sciences at UChicago, who led this study. “When you do see eruptions that continue for a long time, they’ll be localized into a few pipelike eruptions with wide spacing between them.”

Enceladus has multiple fissures along its south pole. These “tiger stripes” have been erupting for decades, and it’s strange that the geysers haven’t clogged up on themselves. Somehow, these icy eruptions kept going and going.

“It’s a puzzle to explain why the fissure system doesn’t clog up with its own frost,” Kite said. “And it’s a puzzle to explain why the energy removed from the water table by evaporative cooling doesn’t just ice things over.”

Kite suspected there was another source of energy, responsible for cleaning the site. Now, after creating several models of the site, they believe they’ve zoomed in on this factor:

“We think the energy source is a new mechanism of tidal dissipation that had not been previously considered,” Kite said. Kite and Princeton’s Allan Rubin present their findings the week of March 28 in the Early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Life beneath a frozen moon

: Possible Hydrothermal Activity (Artist’s Concept)
This cutaway view of Saturn’s moon Enceladus is an artist’s rendering that depicts possible hydrothermal activity that may be taking place on and under the seafloor of the moon’s subsurface ocean, based on recently published results from NASA’s Cassini mission. Credits: NASA/JPL

Understanding this system is extremely important for astrobiological studies (the search for extraterrestrial life). As I mentioned above, Enceladus is one of the top candidates for extraterrestrial life. Kite even calls it “an opportunity for the best astrobiology experiment in the solar system,” and for good reason. Not only is it extremely likely that it hosts an ocean of liquid water, but Cassini’s data indicates that the icy volcanoes probably originate in a biomolecule-friendly oceanic environment.

The erupted plumes have been shown to have grains of silica-rich sand, nitrogen (in ammonia), nutrients and organic molecules, including trace amounts of simple hydrocarbons such as methane. All these are indicators of hydrothermal activity in Enceladus’ ocean; hydrothermal vents are generally regarded as ideal places for life to thrive. To make things even better, models indicates the large rocky core is porous, allowing water to flow through it to pick up heat.

Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons is in a very similar situation, and the team now wants to apply similar models for it.

“Europa’s surface has many similarities to Enceladus’s surface, and so I hope that this model will be useful for Europa as well,” Kite said.

Robotic exploration missions have been planned for both moons, but no clear timeline has been drawn.

Observing Alien Armageddon could be our first sign of advanced civilizations in space.

We humans have a lot of reason to be proud.  In the short span of a few million years we have become self-aware and clever, learning to manipulate our world in ways that have greatly enhanced our survival.  The last 100,000 years have seen the evolution of anatomically modern humans, which migrated from our African birthplace to colonize and populate essentially all corners of the globe.  Using sophisticated brains we learned about the world, deciphering patterns in nature, designed and constructed tools, and formed societies and civilizations.  

 

Unfortunately, there has also been much about our success that is less praiseworthy.   At the same time that we have been building ingenious devices to better feed, clothes, shelter, and move ourselves from point A to point B, we have also been in the business of making ever more efficient weapons to destroy one another.  As our technological progress seems to outpace our societal ethics and maturity, we now have it in our power to completely annihilate our entire species.  In the not too distant future it could conceivably be possible to extinguish all life on planet earth, whether through horrible accident or intentional destruction.

 

While we sit on this world powder cake of self destruction, perhaps at times in a little more danger, and at times in a little less, we often wonder if we are alone in the universe.  Not only are we the only example of intelligent life that we know of in the universe, but our little planet is home to the only example of life we know of anywhere.   All evidence seems to indicate that there are a vast number of planetary systems and potential habitable worlds in the universe.  We have detected over 2000 exoplanets, so far, with the first one being discovered only as recently as 1992, and with advancing techniques the numbers have been skyrocketing in recent years.  Yet, there is still no sign of alien life, and even with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) listening for alien radio transmissions since 1960, we have not detected any confirmed signs of intelligent aliens.  

A few of the exoplanets that the Kepler space telescope has discovered orbiting other stars.

A few of the exoplanets that the Kepler space telescope has discovered orbiting other stars.

 

In the October 23, 2015 issue of The International Journal of Astrobiology, authors Adam Stevens, Duncan Fogan, and Jack O’Malley James, make an interesting case that we may soon have the technology necessary to detect alien civilizations in the act of self-destruction.  In fact, alien armageddon may provide us with our most likely opportunity to detect the presence of intelligent alien life – even if we are only witness to their last moments.  The authors summarize some of the possible ways that an intelligent civilization could go horribly wrong, and how evidence for these tragic events could potentially be detected by our instruments here on earth.

 

The first major scenario would be that of global nuclear war.  There are several characteristics of a world that has been annihilated by an intense exchange of nuclear weapons that might be  detectable from our distant vantage point.  The detonation of the devices would emit high energy gamma radiation that would last for a short period of time – on the order of thousandths of a second.  Even given the high energy involved in the detonation of a world arsenal of nuclear devices, it is not very likely we could detect the energy output from so many light years away.  Naturally occurring gamma ray bursts (GRBs) are some of the most intense energy generating events in the universe, and can be observed at the edges of the visible universe, but they are also around 10 billion billion billion times more energetic than the predicted energy release of all the nuclear weapons on earth combined.  

 

The intense radiation from global nuclear war would, however, ionize the planet’s atmosphere, resulting in an “air glow” due to light emission from energized nitrogen and oxygen.  The atmosphere would have a lovely green glow in the the visible spectrum, is predicted to last several years, and could be observed as an increase in the light intensity at the expected wavelength.  There would also be a depletion of the planet’s ozone layer as reactive chemicals are produced by the explosions.  This too, might be observable as a change in the planet’s atmosphere.  Nuclear war would also generate a great deal of dust and small particles that enter the air, altering the transparency of the atmosphere.  A combination of a gamma ray burst, air glow, drop in ozone concentration, and loss of transparency of the atmosphere would be good evidence for this alien-made disaster.  Any one event on its own might not be enough evidence to be certain of an artificial event.  For example, a change in the atmosphere from transparent to opaque could also be caused by natural events like a large asteroid impact.  

 

Second on the list for a self-induced civilization-stopping calamity would be use of potent biological weapons.  Genetically engineered organisms, like viruses and bacteria, would potentially be much more deadly than any naturally occurring epidemic.  If the infectious agent was designed to attack all animals and plants, the entire biosphere would be jeopardized.  How would such a horror be detected by us?  Well, a rapid demise of the planet’s multicellular life would result in a huge amount of organic material for bacteria to consume.  The result of this massive decay would be the release of certain chemicals such as methane and ethane, that could be observed by spectroscopic analysis of the atmosphere.  

Artistis depiction of an exoplanet surface in a distant solar system.

Artistis depiction of an exoplanet surface in a distant solar system.

 

The next deadly scenario is the so called, “grey goo” event.  This involves the engineering of self-replicating nanomachines – tiny machines that use some building material as substrate and convert it into more tiny nanomachines.  The authors of the paper point out that this could be the result of either “goodbots” or “badbots”.  In the goodbot case the self-replicating nanomachines were never intended for destruction, but due to poor system controls, got out of hand leading to world destruction.  Badbots, on the other hand, were designed to cause complete and total destruction – the ultimate doomsday machine!   These replicators would take all carbon containing material on the planet’s surface, (ie. living organisms), and convert them into a growing mass of more replicators that do the same.  K. Eric Drexler – who coined the term nanotechology- pointed out in his ‘Engines of Creation’:  “Replicators can be more potent than nuclear weapons: to devastate Earth with bombs would require masses of exotic hardware and rare isotopes, but to destroy all life with replicators would require only a single speck made of ordinary elements.”

 

It might take as little as a few weeks to convert the worlds living biomass into a lifeless desert of tiny replicators – grey goo!  Pretty scary!!  From earth we might be able to detect this as a large increase in atmospheric dust (the masses of nanomachines).  The nanomachines would form giant sand dunes (bot dunes in this case) and would change the apparent brightness of the planet as we observe it.  There would be visual effects of shadowing, as the planet orbits its star due to the changing angle that light hits the grains of nanomachines in the bot dunes.  This is similar to the effect we see as light passes through the small particles in Saturn’s rings at different angles.  Over a period of thousands of years the nanomachines would be recycled through the planet’s interior, as the planet’s normal geological processes continue to operate.

 

Another apocalyptic possibility would be intentional pollution of the planet’s star.  To dispose of harmful radioactive waste, a civilization might launch such materials into its parent star.  Detecting uncommon radioactive elements in the star’s atmosphere would be evidence for this unnatural process.  Carl Sagan, called this “salting” the star.   We would know that this was an artificial process by the fact that elements present would be produced only in such high amounts by nuclear processes that don’t occur naturally.  Models have shown that if this was carried out to extremes, it would affect the star’s internal balance of forces and cause it’s size to increase, while dropping the surface temperature.  This change in the star’s characteristics could change the location of the habitable zone around the star, making life difficult or impossible on the alien planet that did the salting.  The authors suggest that, “compiling a sample of stars that are bright, cool, and slightly larger than expected as an initial step to search for this particular death channel.”

 

Finding evidence for intelligent life in the cosmos would radically change our view of ourselves, and our place in the universe.  If aliens have a similar psychology to ourselves (a big if to be sure), they could be prone towards potentially fatal flaws that could escalate to total catastrophe.  Their demise at their own hands (or equivalent body structures) might also be the signal that informs us that they were ever there at all.  Finding one or more civilizations that self-destructed might also give us a way to prognose the long-term health of the human race.  Do civilizations reach a point where their technological power is too great for their wisdom?  Could Homo sapiens one day end up as a signal to the stars that we were here for a brief time, an intelligent species, but just not quite intelligent enough to solve the problem of surviving peacefully with one another?  
Journal Reference:  

Observational signatures of self-destructive civilizations.”  Oct. 23, 2015,  The International Journal of Astrobiology.   Adam Stevens, Duncan Forgan and Jack O’Malley James.

 

 

 

Pleasant thought of the Day: the galaxy may be a graveyard full of dead aliens

As astrobiologists continue to find that the basic building blocks of life are littered throughout space, and how easy it seems for complex organic molecules, like amino acids and nucleic acids, to assemble given conditions thought to be prevalent on many worlds throughout the cosmos, the question as to why we haven’t detected life outside of the earth becomes more and more curious. Where are all the aliens? Why haven’t we seen or heard their signals from space? Could we really have been the only planet where life evolved?

Artistic representation of a superhabitable planet.

Artistic representation of a superhabitable planet.

A team of astrobiologists, lead by Dr. Aditya Chopra from The Australian National University (ANU) thinks there may be an answer to these difficult questions, and you may want to take a seat before I give you the news. I’m sorry to have to break it to you like this, but the aliens, well, they didn’t make it.

According to an article published by the team at ANU in the January 2016 issue of Astrobiology, life probably does arise very frequently on planets throughout the galaxy. Life is tough, in the sense that it is easy to get started in environments all over the place, but ironically it is also very brittle, in the sense that to hang on and evolve, its environment has to be very supportive. Dr. Chopra says, “Early life is fragile, so we believe it rarely evolves quickly enough to survive.”

If true, then most life that has arisen in the cosmos is dead! We’re not talking advanced civilizations that destroyed themselves with nuclear war or unleashed the robot apocalypse, we’re talking about the earliest development of life, simple cells, or possibly even porto-cells, that seemed to just be getting started then, wham, environmental catastrophe shuts them down while they’re still vulnerable, inefficient replicators, without much time to have evolved more robust survival features. If the most primitive life forms emerge often, but survive infrequently, then the evolution of very complex and intelligent life will also be very infrequent. The very low probability for survival beyond these most primitive stages is known as the Gaian Bottleneck.

The Gaian Bottleneck may be a type of filter that weeds out a lot of hopeful little worlds creating an essentially barren universe. Somehow earth made it through the Gaian Bottleneck. Earth must have had conditions not only for jump-starting life, but for providing a more stable environment that allowed further evolution of that life. If given the chance, the ANU team believes that life then begins to form feedback loops with the planet that help stabilize it, making it even more habitable for the long haul. Dr. Charley Lineweaver, also of the ANU team commented that, “Early microbial life on Venus and Mars, if there was any, failed to stabilize the rapidly changing environment. Life on Earth probably played a leading role in stabilizing the planet’s climate.”

So the next time life seems to be treating you unfair, look up at the stars and think of all the little aliens that never even had a real shot in this great big cold universe, and maybe it will help to know that you come from a long line of tough survivors.

Scientist Interviews: Marie-Eve Naud [Astrobiology]

A while ago, we were telling you about the discovery of a huge exoplanet – a gas giant, found just 155 light years away from Earth. The head researcher behind that study was Marie-Eve Naud. Her main research field is the detection and characterization of exoplanets, with a focus on astrobiology. She was kind enough to talk to us and shed some light on what she studies, and what’s it like to be in such an exciting field! You can read the interview below:

ZME Science (Andrei): I read that you directly imaged the planet in infrared. How did you find it, is it like looking for a needle in a hay stack, or are there certain clues for finding planets? Do you have certain clusters of stars which are more likely to host planets?


unnamedMarie-Eve Naud
: With the technique that we use, which is called “Direct Imaging”, it’s much easier to find planets around young stars, i.e. stars that are only a few dozen to ~100-200Myr (in comparison, our Sun is ~4.6Gyr). This is the case because young stars harbour young planets, which are still contracting, and thus hotter and bigger, so more luminous. We were thus searching around a sample of stars which we knew were quite young because they were recently identified as members of Young Moving Groups, i.e. groups of young stars that were formed “together”, at a similar point in space and time. Just to be clear, though, it’s not necessarily that these young stars are more likely to harbour planets, it’s just that we are more likely to be able to find them there with the technique we used.

A: Could this technique have worked if the planet was smaller or closer to its star?

M: Very good good question. To a certain extent, no. It is really hard to find planets the way we do, i.e. by seeing “directly” the light of the planet. If the planet is too close or too faint (which is the case if it is smaller – or older, like I said earlier), it’s hard harder to disentangle its light from that, much more intense, of the parent star. However, some instruments like the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) on the Gemini South telescope in Chile were specifically built to detect smaller and closer planets (still giants and still quite far from their stars, but smaller and closer than GU Psc b).

A: I read that your co-author René Doyon said that “the great distance that separates it from its star makes possible a thorough study with a variety of instruments” – what instruments are we talking about? What kind of information can we derive from studying it with different instruments?

M: For example, we were able to get a spectrum of the planet using a spectrograph called GNIRS on Gemini North telescope, located in Hawaii, which gave us information about the temperature, and from which we were able to estimate that the mass is between 9 and 13 times that of Jupiter.

A: Wow, that’s amazing! Speaking of temperature, the surface of the planet is 800 °C (1472 °F) – almost twice as hot as Mercury, even though it’s incredibly far from its star. Is this because the planet is young and hasn’t had a chance to cool down, or is it something else?

M: Exactly as you say ;) The planet does not receive a significant amount of heating from its star, which is too far and too faint (only about 1/3 of the mass of the Sun).

A: Are planets like this common in the galaxy/universe?

M: We still have to figure this out, but we don’t think so. Out of the 90 stars we surveyed, GU Psc was the only one around which we detected a planetary-mass companion that far.

A: What will your future research focus on?

M:I’ll first try to assess more quantitatively the occurrence of these very wide, giant companions by doing a statistical study of our results. Also, I will continue to study GU Psc b to learn more about this fascinating object!

A: Keep up the good work!Again, thank you for taking the time to write to me.

M: My pleasure!

 

Life found in the 100.000 year old sediments of an Antarctic subglacial lake

Evidence of surprisingly diverse life forms have been found in the 100.000 year old sediments of a subglacial lake in Antarctica. British scientists working on the site have apparently gathered samples without contaminating them.

the-lake

The possibility of life existing in these cold, dark lakes, hidden beneath (sometimes) kilometers of ice has fascinated researchers. We’re talking about bacteria living in environments similar to those on other bodies in our solar system (Jupiter’s Europa for example), and possibly entirely new strains of evolution.

However, this type of research raises significant technological problems: how exaclty do you drill through so much ice, without polluting the samples? Recognising this issue (unlike the Russian team working on Vostok lake), scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and the Universities of Northumbria and Edinburgh have found a way around it: they’ve been poking around the retreating margins of the ice sheet for subglacial lakes that are becoming exposed for the first time since they were buried 100 millennia ago. They were able to do this because ice is melting at unprecedented rates as polar temperatures increase more and more.

drilling

The group focused on Lake Hodgson on the Antarctic Peninsula, which was covered by 400 meters of ice at the end of the last ice age, but now, has almost emerged to the surface, with a cover of just 3-4 meters. Drilling through the thin ice, they crossed the entire 93 meter depth of the lake and reached the muddy sediments at the bottom, which act as a time capsule, storing the DNA of and microbial life which lived there throughout the millennia. The results were totally worth the work:

“What was surprising was the high biomass and diversity we found. This is the first time microbes have been identified living in the sediments of a subglacial Antarctic lake and indicates that life can exist and potentially thrive in environments we would consider too extreme.”, said Lead author David Pearce, who was at BAS and is now at the University of Northumbria.

“The fact these organisms have survived in such a unique environment could mean they have developed in unique ways which could lead to exciting discoveries for us. This is the early stage and we now need to do more work to further investigate these life forms.”

Indeed, the studied DNA showed a huge variety of life inhabiting the bottom of the lake, including a range of extremophiles – organisms specially adapted to inhabit the most extreme environments. Twenty three percent of a certain DNA sequence has not been previously described.

Source

Tasting the surface of Europa

If you were to lick the surface of Jupiter‘s icy moon Europa, you would actually be sampling a bit of the ocean beneath – at least that’s what a new paper by Mike Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and Kevin Hand from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory concludes.

europa

Their work details the strongest evidence yet that salty water from the vast liquid ocean beneath Europa’s frozen exterior actually makes its way to the surface. To get to this conclusion, they used data from the NASA Galileo mission, which studied the planet Jupiter and its moons, to conclude that there is a chemical exchange between the ocean and surface, which makes the ocean an even richer chemical environment, and in turn, an even more likely place to find life. As Brown explains:

“[This exchange] means that energy might be going into the ocean, which is important in terms of the possibilities for life there. It also means that if you’d like to know what’s in the ocean, you can just go to the surface and scrape some off.”

Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon. At just over 3,100 kilometres in diameter, its density suggests that it is similar in composition to the terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of silicates. This along with the ocean it harbors beneath its frozen surface are the reasons why Europa has emerged as one of the top locations in the Solar System in terms of potential habitability and the possibly of hosting extraterrestrial life.

europa2

At first, Brown and Hand mapped the distribution of pure water ice versus anything else – this showed that Europa harbors vast quantities of non-water ice. Then, at low latitudes on the trailing hemisphere, the area with the highest concentration of non-water ice, they found a big anomaly – a major dip in the spectra. Then, they set out in the lab to recreate various substances and see which one will create the same signature that is seen on Europe – after several tries, magnesium sulfate was declared the winner.

Magnesium sulfate is probably generated by the irradiation of sulfur ejected from the Jovian moon Io and (the authors believe) from magnesium chloride salt originating from Europa’s ocean – hence the conclusion that the ocean is communicating with the surface. Now, there’s not really any clear indication that it does come from there, but it’s rather a case of eliminating all impossible sources, and see what you are left with.

If this is true and in fact there is not a big source researchers are missing, then this means that Europa’s ocean is pretty similar in composition to Earth’s oceans – and that makes it an enchanting place for life.

“If we’ve learned anything about life on Earth, it’s that where there’s liquid water, there’s generally life,” Hand said. “And of course our ocean is a nice, salty ocean. Perhaps Europa’s salty ocean is also a wonderful place for life.”

Via NASA

Cassini finds that Saturn Moon is a powerhouse

It’s been quite a while since we published anything about the Cassini mission, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been active. The information it keeps sending back to Earth is priceless, and at some points, totally surprising. This was also the case of the Saturn Moon Enceladus, which appears to give out much more heat than previously estimated, according to the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Data from Cassini’s infrared spectrometer indicates that the internal heat-generated power is about 15.8 gigawatts, the equivalent of 20 coal-fueled power stations, which is more than 10 times the expected output. Carly Howett, the lead author of study, who is a postdoctoral researcher at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and a composite infrared spectrometer science team member, was absolutely stunned to see the results.

“The mechanism capable of producing the much higher observed internal power remains a mystery and challenges the currently proposed models of long-term heat production,” said Howett.

It has been known since 2005 that Enceladus is geologically active, and a study published two years later predicted its internal heat, claiming that it couldn’t be greater than 1.1 gigawatts, maybe plus another 0.3 gigawatts due to heating from natural radioactivity. This latest study published on the issue covered the entire south pole terrain, and the high temperatures suggest that there is way more liquid water than previously believed on Enceladus, bringing this Saturn’s moon in the top spots of interest for astrobiologists.

“The possibility of liquid water, a tidal energy source and the observation of organic (carbon-rich) chemicals in the plume of Enceladus make the satellite a site of strong astrobiological interest,” Howett said.

Picture source

NASA scientists find evidence of life in meteorites

Wherever it’s possible, life finds a way; the old saying seems to be more and more actual these days, with NASA and other space agencies reporting interesting discoveries that point towards life existing in many more other places other than our own planet. After rewriting the biology books with the arsenic eating microbe, NASA researchers claim to have found evidence of fossilized bacteria in meteorites that landed on Earth.

Dr Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist at the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama sparked the discussion after he said he found a bacteria in an extremely rare type of meteorite, of which only nine are currently known to us. He reported finding traces of nitrogen, which couldn’t have come from the rock sample, which absolutely lacked that particular element.

“I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet Earth.”, he briefly said, igniting the imagination of numerous scientists and not only.

However, this is still a matter of certain debate, and an impressive number of experts have been called to shed more light on this findings. This discovery was published in the Journal of Cosmology; editor-in-chief Rudy Schild said:

“Given the controversial nature of his discovery we have invited 100 experts, and have issued a general invitation to over 5,000 scientists from the scientific community, to review the paper and to offer their critical analysis.”

Given the huge number of people involved, it will definitely stir up discussion throughout the scientific community, so we probably shouldn’t have too much to wait until we get more details on this matter.