When NASA’s Voyager spacecraft visited Saturn’s moon Enceladus, they found a body with young, reflective, icy surface features. Some parts of the surface were older and marked with craters, but the rest had clearly been resurfaced. It was clear evidence that Enceladus was geologically active. The moon is also close to Saturn’s E-ring, and scientists think Enceladus might be the source of the material in that ring, further indicating geological activity.
Since then, we’ve learned a lot more about the frigid moon. It almost certainly has a warm and salty subsurface ocean below its icy exterior, making it a prime target in the search for life. The Cassini spacecraft detected molecular hydrogen—a potential food source for microbes—in plumes coming from Enceladus’ subsurface ocean, and that energized the conversation around the moon’s potential to host life.
Now a new paper uses modelling to understand Enceladus’ chemistry better. The team of researchers behind it says that the subsurface ocean may contain a variety of chemicals that could support a diverse community of microbes.
Continue reading “The Interior of Enceladus Looks Really Great for Supporting Life”
Did comets deliver the elements essential for life on Earth? It’s looking more and more like they could have. At least one comet might have, anyway: 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
A new study using data from the ESA’s Rosetta mission shows that the comet contains the life-critical element phosphorous.
Continue reading “Solid Phosphorus has been Found in Comets. This Means They Contain All the Raw Elements for Life”
In September, a team of scientists reported finding phosphine in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Phosphine can be a biomarker and is here on Earth. But it’s also present on Jupiter, where it’s produced abiotically. The discovery led to conjecture about what kind of life might survive in Venus’ atmosphere, continually producing the easily-degraded phosphine.
The authors of that study were circumspect about their own results, saying that they hope someone can determine a source for the phosphine, other than life.
Now a new study says that the original phosphine detection is not statistically significant.
Continue reading “Astronomers Challenge Recent Findings About Venus. “No Statistically Significant Detection of Phosphine””
Does it feel like all eyes are on Venus these days? The discovery of the potential biomarker phosphine in the planet’s upper atmosphere last month garnered a lot of attention, as it should. There’s still some uncertainty around what the phosphine discovery means, though.
Now a team of researchers claims they’ve discovered the amino acid glycine in Venus’ atmosphere.
Continue reading “Astronomers Report They’ve Detected the Amino Acid Glycine in the Atmosphere of Venus”
That’s the kind of headline that can leave us scratching our heads. How can you see tree shadows on other worlds, when those planets are tens or hundreds of light years—or even further—away. As it turns out, there might be a way to do it.
One team of researchers thinks that the idea could potentially be used to answer one of humanity’s long-standing questions: Are we alone?
Continue reading “Here’s a Clever Idea, Looking for the Shadows of Trees On Exoplanets to Detect Multicellular Life”
The discovery of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere has generated a lot of interest. It has the potential to be a biosignature, though since the discovery, some researchers have thrown cold water on that idea.
But it looks, at least, like the discovery is real, and that one of NASA’s Pioneer spacecraft detected the elusive gas back in 1978. And though it’s not necessarily a biosignature, the authors of a new study think that we need to rethink the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere.
Continue reading “Did Pioneer See Phosphine in the Clouds of Venus Decades Ago?”
The detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere was one of those quintessential moments in space science. It was an unexpected discovery, and when combined with our incomplete understanding of planetary science, and our wistful hopefulness around the discovery of life, the result was a potent mix that lit up internet headlines.
As always, some of the headlines were a bit of an over-reach. But that’s the way it goes.
At the heart of it all, there is compelling science. And the same, overarching question that keeps popping up: Are we alone?
Continue reading “Maybe Volcanoes Could Explain the Phosphine in Venus’ Atmosphere”
Most everybody knows that the dinosaurs perished rapidly in a tumultuous extinction, caused by an asteroid strike about 66 million years ago. But it looks like another extinction prior to the appearance of the dinosaurs paved the way for their long reign. That extinction took place about 233 million years ago.
And scientists have only now discovered it.
Continue reading “A New Mass Extinction has been Discovered, Wiping Out Life 233 Million Years Ago, and Leading to the Rise of the Dinosaurs”
We know that the carbon in your bones was formed long ago in the heart of a star. But how did that carbon actually make its way to your bones? It’s a bit of a complicated puzzle, and recent observations with the SOFIA observatory show how Mira stars do the trick.
Continue reading “Mira-type variable stars are constantly throwing the key chemicals for life out into space”
Bacteria come in two basic forms: the kinds that use a lot of hydrogen, and the kinds that don’t. And recently researchers think they’ve found a new bacteria that appear to do both at the same time, allowing it to live in a variety of extreme environments, like the ocean floor.
Its name is Acetobacterium woodii, often shortened to A. woodii, and it seems like it’s a superhero of the small-sized world.
Continue reading “An ocean floor bacteria has been found with a totally bizarre metabolism”