Saturday, December 25, 2010

Geek of the Ood

More evidence that we very well may not be alone.

From nearby there is this:

Scientists have found at least one dormant "cryovolcano" - an ice volcano, one that spews near-liquid ice rather than molten rock - on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan.

Why is that particularly exciting for exobiologists? Because it increases the chance of finding some sort of life there. For one thing, the fact that there could have been liquid water carried to the surface makes it possible for chemical reactions to occur that could form amino acids within days, much sooner than the "cryolava" could freeze. Second, it has been speculated for some time that Titan might have a liquid ocean under its frozen surface. If so, it becomes possible that life developed there and a cryovolcano would carry it to the surface where its frozen remains might later be detectable.

None of that, of course, means that there ever was, is, or ever will be life on Titan. But it does increase the possibility.

Meanwhile, from far away there is this:
[R]ed dwarfs are much more common than previously thought—so much so that any estimate of the total number of stars existing must be tripled, some astronomers have announced.

The findings could boost the chances of life existing in the relatively nearby universe, as red dwarfs are considered good candidates for hosting planets with potentially complex life.

Because red dwarfs are rather dim, astronomers hadn’t been able to detect them in most galaxies other than our own before now, the researchers explained.
Using the instruments at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the investigators found that red dwarfs are far more plentiful in nearby galaxies than they are in our own Milky Way - about 20 times as many, in fact.
In addition to boosting the total number of stars in the universe, the discovery also increases the number of planets orbiting those stars, which in turn elevates the number of planets that might harbor life, [Pieter] van Dokkum [of Yale, who lead the research,] said. ...

“There are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars,” van Dokkum said, adding that the red dwarfs they discovered, which are typically more than 10 billion years old, have been around long enough for complex life to evolve. “It’s one reason why people are interested in this type of star.”
We, obviously, have never found life anywhere other than Earth. But the chances of something alive being out there, whether simple or complex, seem to improve every time we turn around.

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