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Astronomers Find Earth-like Planet 600 Light Years Away

The BBC reports:

The planet lies about 15% closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun
Astronomers have confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet in the “habitable zone” around a star not unlike our own.

The planet, Kepler 22-b, lies about 600 light-years away and is about 2.4 times the size of Earth, and has a temperature of about 22C.

It is the closest confirmed planet yet to one like ours – an “Earth 2.0”.

However, the team does not yet know if Kepler 22-b is made mostly of rock, gas or liquid.

BBC: Kepler 22-b: Earth-like planet confirmed

Universe Probably Not a Hologram After All

gamma ray

An astrophysicist’s attempt to measure quantum “fuzziness” — to find out if we’re living in a hologram — has been headed off at the pass by results suggesting that we’re probably not.

In October 2010, Wired.com reported on Craig Hogan’s experiments with two of the world’s most precise clocks, which he was using to try and confirm the existence of Planck units — the smallest possible chunks of space, time, mass and other properties of the universe.

Hogan’s interpretation of results from the GEO600 gravitational wave experiment had shown a quantum fuzziness — a sort of pixelation — at incredibly small scales, suggesting that what was perceive as the universe might be projected from a two-dimensional shell at its edge.

However, a European satellite that should be able to measure these small scales hasn’t found any quantum fuzziness at all, contradicting the interpretation of the GEO600 results and indicating that the pixelation of spacetime, if it exists, is considerably smaller than predicted.

Wired Science: Physicists: Universe Almost Certainly Not a Hologram

Estimate: There are 50 Alien Civilizations in Our Galaxy That We Could Communicate With

In the 1960’s, U.S. astronomer Frank Drake started the first real search for alien radio signals being beamed across the Universe. Off the back of this work, he came up with an equation that is at best, an educated stab at the number of civilizations in our Galaxy with which we might actually be able to communicate right now. […]

So this is the exciting bit, plug those numbers all in to the equation and you come up with… (drum roll please) …50!

Is that really it?

The number of contactable civilizations in our Galaxy, right now, that we might communicate with, is just 50… fifty? It’s estimated that there is around 400 billion stars in our Galaxy and, according to my numbers (which, by their nature are educated guesses), there are just 50 alien civilizations that we could communicate with.

Discovery: How Many Intelligent Aliens Are Out There?

SETI Temporarily Shuts Down One of Its Telescope Arrays

Allen Telescope Array

Due to a loss of both state and federal budget cuts at the University of California Berkley, the university had to withdraw some of its support of the The Allen Telescope Array used by SETI scientists to monitor signals from outer space SETI principal investigator Franck Marchis revealed on his blog. According to CNN, the array will go back up in 2013, and it’s not the only array that SETI uses to collect transmissions.

(via Anthropunk)

Did Scientists Discover Bacteria in Meteorites?

Doesn’t look like it. P.Z. Meyers writes:

Fox News broke the story, which ought to make one immediately suspicious — it’s not an organization noted for scientific acumen. But even worse, the paper claiming the discovery of bacteria fossils in carbonaceous chondrites was published in … the Journal of Cosmology. I’ve mentioned Cosmology before — it isn’t a real science journal at all, but is the ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics obsessed with the idea of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that life originated in outer space and simply rained down on Earth. It doesn’t exist in print, consists entirely of a crude and ugly website that looks like it was sucked through a wormhole from the 1990s, and publishes lots of empty noise with no substantial editorial restraint. For a while, it seemed to be entirely the domain of a crackpot named Rhawn Joseph who called himself the emeritus professor of something mysteriously called the Brain Research Laboratory, based in the general neighborhood of Northern California (seriously, that was the address: “Northern California”), and self-published all of his pseudo-scientific “publications” on this web site. […]

We’ve actually got to look at the claims and not dismiss them because of their location. […]

Reading the text, my impression is one of excessive padding. It’s a dump of miscellaneous facts about carbonaceous chondrites, not well-honed arguments edited to promote concision or cogency. The figures are annoying; when you skim through them, several will jump out at you as very provocative and looking an awful lot like real bacteria, but then without exception they all turn out to be photos of terrestrial organisms thrown in for reference. The extraterrestrial ‘bacteria’ all look like random mineral squiggles and bumps on a field full of random squiggles and bumps, and apparently, the authors thought some particular squiggle looked sort of like some photo of a bug. This isn’t science, it’s pareidolia. They might as well be analyzing Martian satellite photos for pictures that sorta kinda look like artifacts.

Pharyngula: Did scientists discover bacteria in meteorites?

You can find the paper here if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

Previous coverage of astrobiology can be found here.

Astronomers Discover Giant Cave on the Moon

The Moon

New Delhi: Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization have discovered a giant underground chamber on the moon, which they feel could be used as a base by astronauts on future manned missions to moon.

An analysis by an instrument on Chandrayaan-1 revealed a 1.7-km long and 120-metre wide cave near the moon’s equator that is in the Oceanus Procellarum area of the moon that could be a suitable ‘base station’ for future human missions.

Silicon India: Cave in moon: Base station for astronauts?

(Thanks Bill!)

NASA Discovers New Life on Earth: Bacteria with Arsenic-Based DNA

Arsenic

Update: Please see this update on how, although this research is significant, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that there is arsenic-based bacteria in the wild.

Evidence that the toxic element arsenic can replace the essential nutrient phosphorus in biomolecules of a naturally occurring bacterium expands the scope of the search for life beyond Earth, according to Arizona State University scientists who are part of a NASA-funded research team reporting findings in the Dec. 2 online Science Express.

It is well established that all known life requires phosphorus, usually in the form of inorganic phosphate. In recent years, however, astrobiologists, including Arizona State University professors Ariel Anbar and Paul Davies, have stepped up conversations about alternative forms of life. […]

Davies has previously speculated that forms of life different from our own, dubbed “weird life,” might even exist side-by-side with known life on Earth, in a sort of “shadow biosphere.” The particular idea that arsenic, which lies directly below phosphorous on the periodic table, might substitute for phosphorus in life on Earth, was proposed by Wolfe-Simon and developed into a collaboration with Davies and Anbar. Their hypothesis was published in January 2009, in a paper titled “Did nature also choose arsenic?” in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

PhysOrg: Deadly arsenic breathes life into organisms

Rampant Speculation About NASA’s Forthcoming Astrobiology Announcement

Aliens

I don’t generally like to talk about NASA press conferences before they happen because I don’t want to promote baseless rumor-mongering. In this case, though, I feel I have to write something to prevent speculation! Here’s the scoop: NASA released the news that a press conference will be held on Thursday at 14:00 ET, saying that the conference will “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”
That, of course, set everyone speculating. The very popular news site Kottke.org actually has a decent line of evidence on the topic of the conference, though a sensational headline of “Has NASA discovered extraterrestrial life?” Gawker has a post up about this as well, and social networks like reddit have a lot of people talking, too. Other examples abound.
So what’s the press conference about? I don’t know, to be honest, beyond what’s in the announcement. The scientists on the panel are interesting, including noted astrobiologists and geologists who work on solar system objects like Mars and Titan. So this is most likely going to be something about conditions on another moon or planet conducive for life.
Of course, the speculation is that NASA will announce the discovery for life. Maybe. I can’t rule that out, but it seems really unlikely; I don’t think they would announce it in this way. It would’ve been under tighter wraps, or one thing. It’s more likely they’ve found a new way life can exist and that evidence for these conditions exists on other worlds. But without more info, I won’t speculate any farther than that.

Discover: Snowballing speculation over a NASA press conference

All Life on Earth Could Have Come From Alien Zombies

Flu virus

Scientists have speculated that life could have come to Earth from space — a notion called panspermia — since the 1870s, when Lord Kelvin suggested microbes could have ridden here on a comet or meteor. Others have suggested tiny organisms could cross the galaxy embedded in dust grains, which could be nudged from one planetary system to another by the slight pressure of stars’ radiation.

However, most astrobiologists think that same radiation spells a death sentence for delicate microbes.

“That essentially kills panspermia in the classical sense,” said astrobiologist Rocco Mancinelli of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

But maybe not, says astronomer Paul Wesson, a visiting researcher at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada. In an upcoming paper in Space Science Reviews, Wesson argues that even if the actual microbes are dead on arrival, the information they carry could allow life to rise from the charred remains, an idea he calls necropanspermia.

Wired Science: All Life on Earth Could Have Come From Alien Zombies

What the article doesn’t mention is that a bacteria sample recently survived a year and a half in space, without oxygen.

NASA May Have Found Remnants of a Black Hole at the Center of the Galaxy

Blackhole in the center of the galaxy

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has unveiled a previously unseen structure centered in the Milky Way. The feature spans 50,000 light-years and may be the remnant of an eruption from a supersized black hole at the center of our galaxy. […]

One possibility includes a particle jet from the supermassive black hole at the galactic center. In many other galaxies, astronomers see fast particle jets powered by matter falling toward a central black hole. While there is no evidence the Milky Way’s black hole has such a jet today, it may have in the past. The bubbles also may have formed as a result of gas outflows from a burst of star formation, perhaps the one that produced many massive star clusters in the Milky Way’s center several million years ago.

NASA: NASA’s Fermi Telescope Finds Giant Structure in our Galaxy

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