“NASA’s ENIGMA (Evolution of Nanomachines In Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors) research team,” evolutionary biologist 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?
What is so special about carbon is that it’s doubtful (although possible) that life could have used something other than carbon. Each carbon atom can form four strong bonds that allow for an extraordinary variety of long-chain molecules, notably proteins, lipids, sugars and DNA, according to evolutionary biologist, Anthony Lane in The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origin of Complex Life. Silicon, for example, can’t manage anything close to this complexity.
Another amazing week of news from the Cosmos: from the New York Times’ Carl Zimmer on the origins of life and how it may have evolved on other worlds to the the creeping suspicion, that there is something substantial missing from our standard model of the Universe to Albert Einstein’s demon-haunted quantum world.
“It would be tantalizing to find microfossils of extraterrestrial forms of life on the moon. Even more exciting would be to find traces of technological equipment that crashed on the lunar surface a billion years ago, amounting to a letter from an alien civilization saying, “We exist,” speculated Harvard University astronomer, Avi Loeb, asking: can the moon provide clues for extraterrestrial life?
“The Archean Eon stands out for being so incredibly distant, and incredibly distinct, from modern Earth,” University of Washington astrobiologist, Tyler Robinson, told The Daily Galaxy about the eon when life on Earth likely emerged. “The conditions on this near-alien version of Earth are so unique that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should be able to distinguish Archean-like features from signatures more synonymous with modern Earth, Mars, or Venus. Of course, the entire astronomical community, including exoplanet scientists, are excitedly awaiting the launch of JWST and some first hints of its true capabilities.”
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has announced that NASA has its sights set on visiting a mysterious giant asteroid –about 173 miles (280 kilometers) at its widest point–a mystery object about the size of Massachusetts named Psyche that may be the frozen remains of the molten core of a world long gone –the only known object of its kind in the solar system. It appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of a protoplanet, one of the building blocks of the Sun’s planetary system –an alien panorama sculpted by “ferrovolcanism,” eruptions of liquid iron. NASA’s mission to seek iron-spewing volcanoes at Psyche could help rewrite early chapters of the solar system’s history.