RuBisCo Stars, Frank Drake and the "Riddle of Life"

December 4, 2009.

Our satellite hits the road-- even before it gets built!  I will be presenting a short talk on "Project Calliope: Science and Social Media" at the winter AAS meeting in Washington DC on January 7, 2010.  The session is 'Innovations in Teaching and Learning'.
The word on the street is that Jesus is pretty t'd off at NASA.1 What mortal sin2 did the space agency allegedly commit? The non-biological reproduction of an RNA component in a laboratory, of course.

NASA scientists reproduced uracil in a lab under conditions found in space, according to Astrobiology. Uracil is one of the components of the genetic code that makes up ribonucleic acid (RNA); RNA is mainly known for its role in protein synthesis. In other words, NASA was able to create a building block of life in the lab.
While today we're pretty darned certain there is no intelligent life on Mars, in the early 20th century, it was still an open question. 

So-- about four decades before the publically known Project Ozma search-- the Navy stepped up to find out. 

Well before SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), Project Ozma, Area 51, or even the 1938 radio hoax 'War of the Worlds', the Navy was looking for Martians.
Today is the 75th anniversary of Carl Sagan's existence. Unfortunately, Carl Sagan is no longer alive to celebrate with us. Carl is the paradigmatic advocate for science. Those trying to popularize science after Carl are all trying to be Carl. Sagan not only made science interesting, he never compromised on the facts. He trusted his audience to be intelligent and interested.
1571 was also interesting. Galileo Galilei was then seven years old. Johannes Kepler was born on December 27. There were two solar eclipses, a total on January 25 and an annular on July 21-22. Four, one partial and three penumbral, lunar eclipses occurred on August 5 and February 10, July 7, and December 31, respectively. 

An elevator to space? No, this isn't a reprise of Charlie and Chocolate Factory. As I mentioned in a blog back in January, an elevator into space is the end goal - a 100,000 km long tether anchored to the Earth as a "lift into space" for cheaper space missions.
Hello. See the giant structure in 2D and also in 3D. The positions of the galaxies in the newly found structure are shown in red in the second and third images. Other galaxies in "blue" are located in front or behind "the Giant." 

To relate to the size of things, consider first the Whirlpool Galaxy for example. This bright galaxy is 23 million light years away and 75,000 light years across.  

Credit: NAOJ.

Scientists used a pair of gravity-measuring satellites, GRACE, to look at Amazon river basin water levels and, hopefully, better predict future water storage and runoff.  The twin GRACE satellites measure the mass distribution of the Earth between the two satellites, and accumulating these measurements over time lets us know how the Earth's mass shifts around.  A team led by Shin-Chan Han compared this data with simulations to look at, basically, how water is stored, released, and sloshes about within the Amazon river basin.  They compared the data with simulations.
Dust samples collected by high-flying aircraft have found relicts from the ancient cosmos, according to scientists from the Carnegie Institution.

This stratospheric dust includes minute grains that likely formed inside stars that lived and died long before the birth of our sun as well as material from molecular clouds in interstellar space. This 'ultra-primitive' material likely drifted into the atmosphere after the Earth passed through the dust trail of comet Grigg-Skjellerup, giving scientists a rare opportunity to study cometary dust in the laboratory.