Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Scientists Develop New Strategies to Discover Life Beyond Earth

Life Beyond Earth

Scientists look for new ways to Discover Life beyond Earth

The search for life on planets other than our own has been a long and continuing one. At first planets within our own solar system have been checked to see if they had life beyond earth or could in fact support life. Since then scientists have trained their sights on planets that revolve around stars other than our very own sun. Such planets are called exoplanets and with the developments in technology, scientists have found new methods and technologies that could help them detect life beyond earth.

Researchers around the globe have now given a roadmap to discovering life beyond earth which is documented in 5 papers published in a journal called Astrobiology. The papers detail how scientists can look for life beyond earth using telescopes.

Looking for life beyond our solar system:


The first exoplanet was found years ago in 1992 and since then the pace of discovering more exoplanets has increased drastically. At present at least 3,500 exoplanets have been discovered since the first in 1992.

Therefore steps were required to see if these planets and others like it could support life or maybe even have life beyond earth. Scientists around the world have been called in to share their knowledge and combine resources to aid in the search for life beyond earth.

NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) has done just that. The international network started three years ago, has got scientists from various disciplines to establish signs of life beyond earth as well as look for life on these exoplanets.

Results of NASA’s NExSS in discovering life beyond earth:


The work of NASA’s network is an ongoing effort of scientists and at present has resulted in papers detailing the past, present and future on how to look for life beyond earth. The papers are the work of scientists for over two years and consist of the work of scientists form various fields including astrophysics, biology, chemistry, heliophysics, planetary science and earth science. These papers formed what is contained in the astrobiology journal.

What does the astrobiology papers detail?


Besides detailing how to look for life beyond earth, these papers contain details of issues faced and how scientists are working to resolve them or have already resolved them.

Apart from this, the papers also contain details of two major signals that scientists look for when searching for life beyond earth. One has to do with looking for gases being produced on the exoplanet, such as oxygen, made either by plants or microbes. The second signal has to do with looking for the light reflected off of living beings for example the color of leaves.

Looking for mixed signals:


Researchers are also setting up signals to identify when an exoplanet actually has got life but shows no signs of it and vice versa.

There may be cases where oxygen maybe produced without the existence of life or there maybe cases where life exists on an exoplanet but without any biosignatures being given off from that planet.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ancient Meteorite Provides Clues That Could Reveal The Origins Of Life On Earth

Ancient Meteorite

An Ancient Meteorite could provide answers about the Beginning of Life on Earth

An ancient meteorite that was formed 4.5 billion years ago could be the key to understanding the origin of life on earth. This ancient meteorite was formed during the birth of the Solar System. At that time, the ancient meteorite landed on the earth and scientists found that it contained the basic building blocks of life.

The isotope analysis conducted on this ancient meteorite showed the presence of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen.The scientists are of the opinion that this new discovery could reveal the origin of life on earth. The findings could also help the researchers to understand if there is a possibility of life existing in other Solar Systems as well.

The birth of the Solar System was quite tumultuous with space rocks that were present around the Sun’s gravitational field colliding with each other at a rapid rate. They formed planets, moons and meteors that are present today. It is one of these ancient meteorites which was formed around 4.5 billion years ago that has been analysed by the scientists.

Study conducted on the Ancient Meteorite


The scientists at the University of Manchester carried out studies on this ancient meteorite which is quite rare known as carbonaceous chondrite. They make up only a few per cent of all known meteorites. They are very important when it comes to understanding the beginning of the Solar System, since the earth tends to wipe off such records.

It is a grapefruit-sized space rock known as Orgueil and showed the presence of the basic building blocks for life.

The ancient meteorite and other rocks are made of solid materials like rocks, water, ice and fine grain dust that formed in our Solar System.

This ancient meteorite and other rocks that are found on the earth help the scientists to analyse how planets are formed and how they evolve over billions of years.

The scientists conducted isotopic analysis of the compounds within this ancient meteorite. They found the key elements like oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulphur which are the building blocks of life. Isotopes are different versions of the same element having same number of neutrons and varying number of protons in the nucleus.

All the research conducted by the scientists have been published in PNAS. Their research confirms that the organic materials were formed due to the chemical reactions that took place during the birth of our Solar System.

The scientists headed by researchers at the University of Manchester are of the opinion that if such organic materials could be formed by simple processes in the early Solar System, then it could be an indicator that life forms could exist in other planetary systems.

Besides helping us understand our own Solar System, we could also know if there is a possibility of the existence of life in other solar systems.

The ancient meteorite was scrutinised by the scientists for over two years in order to discover the exact components. The presence of oxygen may show that the key elements were formed by themselves in our Solar System and not come from elsewhere. The oxygen isotope pattern was same as that which linked the composition of the sun, asteroids and planets. This indicates that the ancient meteorite was formed due to the chemical reactions that took place in the early Solar System and not inherited from elsewhere.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Water on Mars! And Earth to witness the longest Blood Moon of the century

Water on Mars

Evidence of Water on Mars

According to researchers, there is an evidence of water on Mars. They have got proof of a body of liquid water on Mars. They are of the opinion that there is a lake present under the south polar ice region of Mars, which is about 20km (12 miles) across.

Earlier studies showed signs of intermittent liquid water on Mars. Nasa’s Curiosity Rover showed that lake beds were present on the surface of Mars in the past. As of now there are signs of persistent water on Mars. Due to the thin atmosphere on Mars, the climate has cooled and most of its water has turned into ice.

Signs of Water on Mars


The discovery of water on Mars was made by using Mars is, a radar instrument on board the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. The lake, which may not be very large is near the south pole of the planet. Based on their findings, the researchers are quite excited about the evidence of water on Mars. This opens wide the doors of a possibility of life forms existing on Mars.

The study was led by Prof Roberto Orosei from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics. Although the thickness of the layer of water could not be determined by Mars is, the researchers are of the opinion that it is a minimum of one metre.

The use of Mars is that led to the evidence of Water on Mars


Mars is is a radar instrument which examines the surface and the next subsurface layer of the planet. It sends signals to the layers and whatever information bounces back is then examined.

There is a continuous white line at the top of the radar. This area is the beginning of the South Polar Layered Deposit, which is an accumulation of water ice and dust. Under this layer the researchers have come across something unusual about 1.5km below the ice. There is a light blue reflection from the bottom which is higher than that of the surface. This could be an indication of the presence of water on Mars.

What does the presence of Water on Mars mean in terms of existence of life?


Dr Manish Patel from the Open University says that it is a known fact that life does not exist on the surface as it is inhabitable. The possibility of life existing on Mars will then have to be in the subsurface. This layer is basically protected from the harmful effects of radiation and we also see favourable levels of temperature and pressure. These conditions allow liquid water which is essential for life to exist.

Though the research suggests the evidence of water on Mars, it is not possible to confirm the existence of life on the planet. The temperature and chemistry of the water on Mars could be a problem for any kind of living organisms. The cold conditions are anywhere between -10 and -30 degrees Celsius and for the water to be in its liquid state, it should have many salts dissolved in it.

There is a possibility that the water on Mars could be very cold and concentrated with salt, which will be definitely challenging for life to exist.

Monday, July 23, 2018

When and Why Did Our Human Ancestors First Leave Africa?

human migration

Human Migration

Scientists are still trying to find out the earliest signs of human migration. Earlier, they discovered1.85million-year-old fossils and tools in Dmanisi, Georgia which is about 3,800 miles to the west of the new excavation site. Lately, they have uncovered tools in China which pushes back the date of human existence outside Africa to about 250, 000 years.

According to some exciting news that was published in the journal, Nature, there were scattered remains of stone tools dating back to 2.1 million years that were unearthed in Loess Plateau in China. Scientists have been tracking the human migration outside Africa. With the latest discovery, they have come closer to understanding the migration of humans from Africa more than 6 million years ago.

An anthropology and geological sciences professor, John Kappelman from the University of Texas at Austin, wrote an article in the journal Nature’s “News & Views” on the importance of such a discovery. The latest findings bridge the gap between the beginning of humans and where they are today.

Human migration from Africa


John Kappelman who was not involved with the study, shares his views about the research.

Firstly, the human migration out of Africa keeps getting pushed back in time. It is possible that the human migration was towards Asia in the east and only many years later to Europe in the west. This is substantiated with the latest discovery.

Secondly, the human migration to the north suggests that they were able to adapt to colder regions. When it became much colder, the people migrated to the south to warmer climates.

What are the reasons for human migration? 


Those who are hunter-gatherers migrate to places where resources are available. This human migration is also seen in industrial societies, where people move to areas where jobs are available. If we consider the hunter-gatherers of today, they could cover around 5-15 kms per day. If the ancient group covered that distance in a year, and the distance between China and East Africa which is 14,000 km is divided by 15 kms, then the human migration would take place within 1,000 years.

Climatic conditions during human migration


The humans migrated out of Africa during the glacial and interglacial conditions of Pliocene and Pleistocene. It is more likely they migrated during the warmer climates. The climatic conditions were equitable as compared to the extreme climates witnessed in the past million or half a million years ago.

What was the population size of China 2.1 million years ago? 


The stone tools that were discovered were scattered and not really a dense accumulation. This shows the hominin presence but the size of the population cannot be determined.

Of what materials were the tools? 


According to evidence, the raw materials were from the Qinling Mountains about 10 km away. Since there was not much excavations carried out, it is not sure if the tools came from that area itself or it was brought in during human migration.

What more are the researchers looking for? 


There were animal bones found in the sediments near some of the stone tools. They will be examining them for cut marks to see if the tools were used to process the animal carcasses for their meat and bone marrow. They can also analyse the cutting edges of the stone tools for biological residues. The team may carry out a search for human fossils. It is highly probable that some large- scale excavation may take place.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Rare Collection of Jewish Texts finds a Place at Brown University

Jewish Texts
A rare collection of Jewish texts spanning a number of centuries and many continents has found a place at Brown University. These Jewish texts contain collections of Haggadot which has details of how the Passover rites had to be performed. The book of rare Jewish Texts had been gifted to Brown University by Ungerleider Jr. in honor of his father who studied in Brown University.

The book details how Jews celebrated the Passover Seder in many centuries past.

What are these Jewish Texts all About?


The Dr. Steven Ungerleider Collection of Haggadot is a guide to the preparation of the Passover fest celebrated by Jews to mark their ancestors exodus from Egypt. Haggadot is a plural to haggadah which is a guide to the various preparations required for the Passover feast. These Jewish Texts detail rituals, customs and blessings marking the freedom of Jews from Egypt.

This rare collection of Jewish Texts gives a valuable insight into the way the Passover seder was celebrated worldwide in the past.

The Jewish collection of texts will also support all sorts of learning by scholars and students alike. It is also a valuable treasure for those who have a genuine interest in looking at past texts.

The Jewish Texts cover regions far and wide:


The haggadot contained in these Jewish Texts cover regions and practices of Jewish communities from all over the world. The haggadot covers the tradition of Jewish communities from Asia, Europe, North America, Africa and the near East.

The haggadot are chronicles of tradition detailed by Jewish communities in Constantinople in 1505, used in Calcutta in 1841 and also by Holocaust survivors in camps in Munich in 1945 to 1946. These are not the only places detailed in these Jewish texts but just a few among many others.

Besides being a collection of passed down tradition, these Jewish Texts also contain annotations, hand written notes and many other such writings by families following the tradition. Since these Jewish Texts span many different continents, it also contains many different languages including Yiddish, Judeo- Italian, Judeo Arabic ad Ladino.

These texts span all from U.S. to Australia to India and in Casablanca to Moscow via Jerusalem.

Those Interested In the Jewish Texts:


Students of History, Judaic Studies, Religion, History of art and architecture, Italian studies, Music, German studies, Renaissance and Early modern studies and Slavic studies will benefit from this book among others such as scholars and those who have a genuine interest in everything of the past.

The viewing of the Jewish Texts:


The book is open to public viewing at Brown University’s Special Collection Reading Room and also available in a digital format for all others who cannot be there in person. As of now only a few of the Jewish Texts has been made into a digital format but the University is well on its way to making available the entire Jewish text in a digital format.

This rare collection of Jewish Texts is valued at $ 2 million.