A recent study accepted to The Planetary Science Journal investigates how the organic hazes that existed on Earth between the planet’s initial formation and 500 million years afterwards, also known as Hadean geologic eon, could have contained the necessary building blocks for life, including nucleobases and amino acids. This study holds the potential to not only help scientists better understand the conditions on an early Earth, but also if these same conditions on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, could produce the building blocks of life, as well.Continue reading “How Did Life Get Started on Earth? Atmospheric Haze Might Have Been the Key”
It might be oxymoronic to say that the more we find out about something, the more mysterious it becomes. But if that’s true of anything in our Solar System, it might be true about Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt.Continue reading “A Hypervelocity Experiment Mimics the Surface Conditions of Ceres”
The search for life on Mars has been a long a confusing one. Inconclusive experiments abound, but one thing is certain – there is definitely organic material on the Red Planet. Now, a new study in Nature has confirmed that finding and showed just how complex that organic material actually is.Continue reading “Perseverance Finds a Wealth of Organic Materials on Mars”
The surface of Venus is like a scene from Dante’s Inferno – “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” and so forth. The temperature is hot enough to melt lead, the air pressure is almost one hundred times that of Earth’s at sea level, and there are clouds of sulfuric acid rain to boot! But roughly 48 to 60 km (30 to 37.3 mi) above the surface, the temperatures are much cooler, and the air pressure is roughly equal to Earth’s at sea level. As such, scientists have speculated that life could exist above the cloud deck (possibly in the form of microbes) as it does on Earth.
Unfortunately, these clouds are not composed of water but of concentrated sulfuric acid, making the likelihood that life could survive among them doubtful. However, a new study led by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reveals that the basic building blocks of life (nucleic acid bases) are stable in concentrated sulfuric acid. These findings indicate that Venus’ atmosphere could support the complex chemistry needed for life to survive, which could have profound implications in the search for habitable planets and extraterrestrial life.Continue reading “Venus has Clouds of Concentrated Sulfuric Acid, but Life Could Still Survive”
When astronomers used the JWST to look at a galaxy more than 12 billion light years away, they were also looking back in time. And when they found organic molecules in that distant galaxy, they found them in the early Universe.
The organic molecules are usually found where stars are forming, but in this case, they’re not.Continue reading “JWST Sees Organic Molecules Ludicrously Far Away”
In December 2020, JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft delivered a pristine sample of otherworldly dust and rock from asteroid Ryugu to Earth. Scientists have since had the opportunity to study the sample, and announced last week that the asteroid contains organic molecules important for life. In particular, they discovered Niacin, otherwise known as vitamin B3, and Uracil, one of the four core components of ribonucleic acid (RNA).Continue reading “Asteroid Ryugu Contains Niacin (aka Vitamin B3)”
Life doesn’t appear from nothing. Its origins are wrapped up in the same long, arduous process that creates the elements, then stars, then planets. Then, if everything lines up just right, after billions of years, a simple, single-celled organism can appear, maybe in a puddle of water on a hospitable planet somewhere.
It takes time for the building blocks of stars and planets to assemble in space, and the building blocks of life are along for the ride. But there are significant gaps in our understanding of how all that works. A new study is filling in one of those gaps.Continue reading “The Raw Materials for Life Form Early on in Stellar Nurseries”
In a recent study published in Sciences Advances, an international team of scientists led by the Technical University of Munich examined the Martian meteorite Tissint, which fell near the village of Tissint, Morocco, on July 18, 2011, with pieces of the meteorite found as far as approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the village. What makes Tissint intriguing is the presence of a “huge organic diversity”, as noted in the study, which could help scientists better understand if life ever existed on Mars, and even the geologic history of Earth, as well.Continue reading “A Martian Meteorite Contains Organic Compounds. The Raw Ingredients for Life?”
Jupiter is the most-visited planet in the Solar System, thanks largely to NASA. It all started with Pioneer 10 and 11, followed by Voyager 1 and 2. Those were all flyby missions, and it wasn’t until 1996 that the Galileo spacecraft became the first to orbit the gas giant and even send a probe into its atmosphere. Then in 2016, the Juno spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter and is still there today.
All of these missions were focused on Jupiter, but along the way, they gave us tantalizing hints of the icy moon Europa. The most impactful thing we’ve learned is that Europa, though frozen on the surface, holds an ocean under all that ice. And that warm, salty ocean might contain more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.
Might it hold life?Continue reading “Comet Impacts Could Have Brought the Raw Ingredients for Life to Europa’s Ocean”
For almost sixty years, robotic missions have been exploring the surface of Mars in search of potential evidence of life. More robotic missions will join in this search in the next fifteen years, the first sample return from Mars (courtesy of the Perseverance rover) will arrive here at Earth, and crewed missions will be sent there. Like their predecessors, these missions will rely on mass spectrometry to analyze samples of the Martian sands to look for potential signs of past life.
Given how much data we can expect from these missions, NASA is looking for new methods to analyze geological samples. To this end, NASA has partnered with the global crowdsourcing platform HeroX and the data-science company DrivenData to launch the Mars Spectrometry: Detect Evidence for Past Life challenge. With a prize purse of $30,000, this Challenge seeks innovative methods that rely on machine learning to automatically analyze Martian geological samples for potential signs of past life.Continue reading “NASA and HeroX are Crowdsourcing the Search for Life on Mars”