During a keynote speech at a NASA conference a decade ago on the search for extraterrestrial life an attendee shouted out: “We have no idea what’s out there!” One of NASA’s goals is to search for life on other planets like Mars, where there was once flowing water and a thick atmosphere, or moons of the outer solar system like Europa and Enceladus, where vast water oceans churn under thick layers of ice. But what if life on those worlds doesn’t use our DNA? How could we recognize it? A 2019 DNA breakthrough may be the key to answering these questions and many more.
Avi Shporer, Research Scientist, MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Avi was formerly a NASA Sagan Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). His motto, not surprisingly, is a quote from Carl Sagan: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
“NASA’s ENIGMA (Evolution of Nanomachines In Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors) research team,” biophysicist Paul Falkowski told The Daily Galaxy, “is focused on answering a single, compelling question in astrobiology: How did proteins evolve to become the predominant catalysts of life on Earth?”
“There was quite some detective work involved, and the right people were there at the right time,” said Diana Dragomir,” an exoplanetologist at the University of New Mexico about exoplanets discovered in 2019 that could sustain life using its advanced Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). “But we were lucky,’ she noted, “and we caught the signals, and they were really clear.” The planetary system called L 98-59 is located around 35 light-years away from Earth and hosts five new worlds that have characteristics that are also found on planets orbiting the sun.
Enigmatic viruses –not living, yet not dead–help create, protect and transform the universe, observed Carl Zimmer in his classic A Planet of Viruses. Viruses, he notes, have had a huge impact on the history of all life on Earth–their population of Earth’s Oceans would stretch out into space 42 million light years.
Ancient fragments of Venus on the Moon “will certainly be interesting once we find them, especially since the surface of Venus is so hard to study with landed vehicles, due to the high temperature and pressure,” Fred Taylor, Halley Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of Oxford told The Daily Galaxy about 2019 research by Yale astronomers that suggests that our Moon may harbor clues that Venus may have had an Earth-like environment with water and a thin atmosphere billions of years ago. Their findings follow recent studies suggesting that our sister planet may have been the solar system’s first habitable planet.
We’re kicking off the week with intriguing stories from our Universe beyond–from exoplanets in the ancient, densely populated bulge of the Milky Way to the mystery of eternal brown dwarfs to the soon approaching, long awaited launch of the iconic Hubble spacecraft’s successor.