Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Very Elliptical Orbits and Possible Life

As Spock Would Say?

From time to time I read about how planets in very elliptical orbits, orbits which take the planet in and out of the star's habitable zone, will probably not harbor life. Just too extreme. Of course if such a planet can support life, it would be, as that saying by Mr. Spock goes "it's life, Jim, but not as we know it." (Yes, I know that the line was not spoken by Spock in the series, but only in The Firms' song "Star Trekkin.'") But wait a minute. In pondering the report mentioned in the Creatures Frozen for 32,000 Years Still Alive post below maybe we should revisit those assumptions.

Or Not

Bacteria have been found buried deep in solid rock - bacteria with very slow metabolic states and are probably thousands of years old. Penn State scientists discovered in Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) dormant ultra-small bacteria (Chryseobacterium greenlandensis) trapped 2 miles deep in 120,000 year old ice core samples. If Earth creatures can reanimate after being frozen for tens of thousands of years, if other Earth creatures can last for hundreds of thousands of years, or even millions, then 1) life can be possible in very elliptical orbits and 2) it still could be life as we know it. We have many example of extreme life on Earth, living under conditions scientists not long ago said were not able to support life: from deep in antarctic ice, to miles below the surface of the Earth, to boiling hot springs, to volcanic vents on the sunless depths of the ocean floor, to acidic mine drainage, to the stratosphere -- life is everywhere on this planet, and in many, many forms.

Kol-Ut-Shan, as Spock Would More Likely Say

So, is it truly implausible that life can evolve on planets that orbit in and out of the habitable zone? Evolution may possibly take longer, but the most common star, the red dwarf, develop very slowly, lasting up to hundreds of billions of years. Plenty of time for life to evolve and in its own fashion thrive. Most of the time we put a limit on where life can exist on the Earth, we later find we are wrong.

Maybe we should embrace the Star Trek Vulcan philosophy of IDIC: Infinite Diversity from Infinite Combinations (Kol-Ut-Shan according to an episode of ST: Voyager). Though if life has universal laws (like physics and chemistry, on which biology depends), I am not sure about the Infinite part. Natural laws do have some limits, boundaries, ranges. But  even so, the range of diversity that can arise is still vast. Maybe it should have been ADAC: Astronomical Diversity from Astronomical Combinations. Or IDAC: Incredible Diversity from Astronomical Combinations. Of course, it is a trivial difference to be concerned over.
What matters is that there is an incredible array of life on this planet. Especially if we not only consider all the varied environments life can be found now on Earth, but all the varieties of life that have existed in all the varied Earth environments (some radically different) in the past as well. An incredible, astronomical diversity. 


Coghlan, Andy. "'Resurrection Bug' Revived after 120,000 Years." Life. New Scientist. 15 June 2009. Web. 30 July 2009. <>

Helmuth, Laura. "Top Ten Places Where Life Shouldn't Exist... But Does." Science & Nature. Smithsonian Magazine. 13 October 2009. Web. 5 September 2012. <

"IDIC" Memory Alpha, The Star Trek Wiki. n.d. Web. 5 September 2012. <>

"Novel bacterial species found trapped in Greenland's ice." Penn State Live. Penn State University. 3 June 2008. Web. 30 July 2009. <>

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New Technique to Weigh Planets

New Technique to Weigh Planets

Summary: For the first time, scientists have developed a method for determining the mass of non-transiting exoplanets. The research could even lead to techniques for detecting molecules associated with the presence of life on such worlds.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Exoplanet Study Suggests our Solar System is the Norm

Astrobiology Magazine

Exoplanet Study Suggests our Solar System is the Norm
Source: Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto press release

Cosmic Evolution  Posted:   04/14/12

Summary: A new study reveals that planetary orbits around Sun-like stars have a tendency to be strongly aligned, similar to the disk-like alignment of the planets in our own solar system.

Exoplanets with non-coplanar orbits.
Credit: Ricardo Reis, Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto
Recently, the HARPS spectrograph and the Kepler satellite made a census of the planetary population around stars like our own, revealing a bounty of planetary systems. A follow-up study lead by members of the EXOEarths team (Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto -- CAUP), in collaboration with Geneva University, did a joint analysis of the data which showed that the planetary orbits in a system are strongly aligned, like in a disk, just as we have in our own solar system.

The two most effective methods for detecting extrasolar planets are the radial-velocity method and the transit method. The radial-velocity method detects planets through the reflex motion induced by the planet on the star’s velocity on the radial direction (hence the name). This velocity variation is detected through the Doppler effect, the same that leads to a pitch change in the sound of an traveling ambulance. On the other hand, a planetary transit is akin to a mini-eclipse. As a planet travels around the star, its orbit can locate it in front of the star, and the light we collect from the star is reduced because the planet blocks part of it (even though we cannot image the planet).
Astrobiology Magazine

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Elusive "Wow!"

The Elusive "Wow!" - What We Do | The Planetary Society
The Quest for the "WOW!" - One Man's search for SETI's Most Promising Signal

Review of Robert H. Gray, The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial intelligence (Chicago: Palmer Square Press, 2011). A Radio SETI update by Amir Alexander. January 27, 2012.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Creatures Frozen for 32,000 Years Still Alive

Creatures frozen for 32,000 years still alive - Technology & science - Science - LiveScience -
"The existence of microorganisms in these harsh environments suggests — but does not promise -- that we might one day discover similar life forms in the glaciers or permafrost of Mars or in the ice crust and oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa," said Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.....Hoover said the creatures he has found might be able to survive in their suspended state for millions of years. The discovery opens up a whole new possibility that a future mission to Mars might be able to retrieve any life that's there."

Britt, Robert Roy. "Creatures Frozen for 32,00 Years Still Alive." Science. 24 Feb. 2005 Web. 6 Jan. 2012. .