Looking back at the year 2014—some breakthroughs in both biochemistry and astronomy have made the prospects for finding life more probable in our solar system and elsewhere.
Two coding bases in DNA have been synthesized, named d5SICS and dNaM, and successfully “used” by the DNA of a strain of E. coli. The fact that the bacteria incorporated the artificial bases into their DNA is hopeful for alien life possibilities, but it raises a question that could be the key needed to unlock the wet-chemistry puzzle of creating life from scratch:
Why are there only four coding bases “used” in all the DNA of living organisms on Earth? Is there some powerful advantage to those four, so that natural selection eliminates all others?
Another recent event occurred when college students made a synthetic yeast chromosome that was “accepted” by a normal live yeast. The significance here is that this chromosome was taken up by an entity far more complex than a bacterial cell–an eukaryote, a cell similar to the cells that make up our bodies, in which the DNA is housed within a protective nucleus.
In the field of astronomy, things are also looking up for the creation of wet alife. The mystery of Enceladus’s south pole leak has been solved. Apparently, a shallow warm salty sea the size of Lake Superior
lies over a rocky core on that moon. Its powerful geysers leaping far out of the south pole’s Tiger Stripes are most likely powered by Saturn’s gravity. Life would love a shallow warm salty sea if it could
get a start in or land on what is otherwise a pretty cool place.
The Clipper Mission to Europa, scheduled for launch in 2022, is looking for ideas as it develops instrumentation. The possibilities that life could have taken hold there are enhanced by the confirmation of active
plate tectonics on its icy surface. A piece of ice went missing in the young (40-70 million-year-old) surface photographed in 1998, suggesting subduction going on there. Let’s hope the Clipper scientists look for
life in solvents other than just water. How about H2O2 or methane?
Meanwhile, on Earth, an ecosystem containing genetic traces of 3931 microbes has been found 800 meters under the western Antarctic. Apparently, life finds a way to capitalize on anything possible.
Which brings us to outer space. Kepler has stared at one spot near the constellation Cygnus and found at least 1700 exoplanets. It’s not just that Kepler 186f is in the Goldilocks (liquid water) zone and is only 10% wider than Earth–Kepler 10c is way too large to be rocky, but it is. It’s 2.4 times the width of Earth and 17 times its mass.
Ten times the size of Earth was thought to be the limit for rocky planets; otherwise they are supposed to be gaseous. Stay tuned. K2 is ready to scan for more exoplanets, asteroids, star clusters and
galaxies, since someone steadied its telescope using its solar panels.
Something about finding Kepler 186f is bone chilling. In spite of the huge numbers now thought to describe the possibility of Earth-like exoplanets in our galaxy, the reality of the existence of another liveable planet brings the concept home to roost—we are very likely not alone in this universe.
Author of The Archives of Varok
The View Beyond Earth (Book 1. Rewrite of A Place Beyond Man 1975)
The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)
Nautilus silver award 2013 YA
ForeWord finalist 2012 adult SF
The Alien Effect (Book 3.)
An Alien’s Quest–Reconciliation and Hope (Book 4. coming in 2015)
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How the Hen House Turns- http://www.ladailypost.com
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Astrobiology- http://astronaut.wpengine.com search:Who’s Out There