Most Earth-Like Exoplanet Found by Keck

Astronomers from UCSC using the Keck observatory in  Hawaii have announced the discovery of a planet in another solar system that orbits in the Goldilocks Zone of its star. The star Gliese 581 was previously known to have five planets but this new one could be hospitable to life “We had planets on both sides of the habitable zone – one too hot and one too cold – and now we have one in the middle that’s just right,” said Dr Vogt, quoted by the BBC.

However life there may not be easy. The rotation is believed to be locked to the star so that only a small region in the perpetual twilight zone is likely to be suitable for life. Anything living there would have to be careful not to stray into the hot zone facing the Sun or the cold zone in eternal shadow. There may also be problems brought on by the planet’s gravity.  It is four times more massive than Earth, so assuming the same density it might have 50% stronger gravity at the surface. That could mean a heavier atmosphere. Nevertheless there is a small chance that the atmosphere and everything else  is also just right and there is a possibility for life to evolve and survive there.


34 Responses to Most Earth-Like Exoplanet Found by Keck

  1. Ulla says:

    Life is something with an extremely capacity to accommodate. In fact, Earth was not quite suited for Life either from the beginning. And we don’t know how Life has ‘come into being’ on Earth, how can we say anything about exoplanets. Life may have evolved underground?

    Suppose RNA came to Earth with meteor(ites), so the real womb is space? Then also other exoplanets would have got the ‘seeds’ of Life, and they have accommodated. The only thing they have to obey is the basic groundstones of our luminous world. But look at Life on Earth! The most fanciful creatures.

  2. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    Extrasolar planets are fun. I wrote a book titled “Can Star Systems be Explored? The Physics of Starprobes.”

    It is largely a way of illustrating basic topics in classical mechanics, relativity and other aspects of physics. I discuss the extra-solar systems and in particular this Gliese 580 system. While writing this some of these planets had been discovered. I illustrate some of the physics of tidal locking.

    Below is a Kludge of some posts I wrote on an astronomy website on this latest discovery.

    This planet is probably tidal locked to the star, which reduces the prospect for life. There might at best be an annular region where the star’s radiation is approximately tanget to the planet where life might exist. However, there are extreme differences of hot and cold. The atmosphere might also be in fact absent. The hot side might have the atmosphere blown away and the cold side the atmosphere might be frozen out. Over time this might leave little atmosphere for the annular region where conditions are presumed to be right. For life to exist on this planet there has to be mechanisms that distribute the heat around the planet. This could mean horrendous storms. Otherwise I fear this planet is dead as a doornail.

    I don’t know how atmospheres form on planets particularly, but let me conjecture two extreme cases. The first case is this planet started with a rather modest or tenuous atmosphere. If that happens there is not much heat capacity to distribute heat. So the atmosphere on the dark side freezes out and the atmosphere on the hot side evaporates off. In that case you have a dead planet. The other case is this planet has a pretty dense atmosphere. When the planet formed it was likely N_2 and CO_2, so this atmosphere trapped heat as well. So if this is two thick we might not want to compare this to a supersized Earth, but a supersized Venus. Such an atmosphere would distribute heat, but being too thick would mean it becomes a hothouse planet. Even Earth will become a Veusian type planet in 1.5 billion years or so as it is as the sun warms up.

    The question comes as to whether there is a little window of opportunity for the atmosphere to be appropriate so a thousand kilometer wide strip of life could exist on the light-dark boundary. This planet is close, but I think questionable. If I had to give Jimmy the Greek odds I’d say 1:100. The one thing which is worth considering is this means there should be other planets like this around G & K class stars. Red dwarfs constitute about 60% of all stars, G-class are about 3% and K-class about 20%, where maybe half are acceptable. This means given we found this around an M-class star we should find an Earth-like planet around a more luminous star.

    There is a problem of magnetic field. Venus rotates slower than its orbital period (224 Earth days) and has a very weak magnetic field. The Gliese 581 planet has rotation period of 37 day period. The magnetic field is generated by a dynamo action that depends on differential rotations in the interior of the planet. Consequently the magnetic field may be weak. This makes it possible if this planet started out with a modest atmosphere that it has been blasted away by the star’s energy and wind. The atmosphere might then have to be thick and dense to have prevented it from being blown off. This then means the planet could be a hot house.

    There is one prospect nobody has considered though. This planet might be a double planet, similar to Earth-moon or Pluto-Charon. There is a probability that Gliese 581g or another of these Gliese planets is a double planet. If the double planet is itself tidally locked and in a ~ 1-10 terrestrial day periodicity I think the prospects for life improves considerably. So if this planet with 1.4 M_earth is two planets, say M_1 = M_earth and the other .4M_earth, then the first planet might be terrestrial like and the other a bit like Mars.

    There is another thing which needs to be considered. These planets are rather heavy and in close orbits. Take a look at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliese_581

    and these bodies are close to each other and gravitaitonally perturb each other. It seems as if these would gravitationally perturb each other in ways that could be quite dramatic. It is possible they rattle each other enough so they might drift in and out of the so called habitable zone.

  3. Ulla says:

    I looked in the e-book, thanks. But only 20 pages for the Life!

    What is Life? Schrödinger found the tread, but tolled it away :) In the way you describe Life it is the Life on Earth, but it doesn’t have to be so. Also on Earth are many different approaches, take as instance bacterias deep underground, Life on ocean sea floor, Life in hot wells, in arctic ice…

    From where came the atmosphere and the water?

    What is essential for Life? It must be the communication, the interactions, networkings, in other words – the negentropy. I like that word :)

    Nerve systems selectively chose negentropy (meaningful differencies). So differencies are meaningful or meaningless, entropy, noise. But not even noise are meaningless, but helps chose the meaningful signals.

    Nerve systems are hierarchial, and Life itself is hierarchial. This means there are different levels of Life. Our earthal life is just one. And in networkings the O is very important, highening the energetic level. The next lower level is Fe and S, different metals, and the next higher level is – superconduction? Means that the quantal negentropy is Life also? This Life is highly meaningful and holistic, maybe even God-like :)

    How can we imagine such a Life, when we have difficulties with our ‘God’? In a scifi novel there is a cloud, very intelligent. Maybe something like that?

  4. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    Ulla,

    My book is not primarily devoted to the subject of extraterrestrial life, but to the physics involved with sending a spacecraft to another star. I do mention a few things about extraterrestrial life, for if we find a planet with biological signatures that would undoubtedly be a target of investigation.

    As for life or a definition of life, there really is none. We know what is alive and what is not by looking at it. We recognize something that was once alive, even a fossil. But science has not done much to illuminate anything for us about a élan vitale. We know a lot about the components of biology, DNA, polypeptides, the functioning role of molecular pathways and so forth. Yet in a funny way out of all of this we have not coherent definition of life.

  5. Ulla says:

    Well, there are in fact a list of what charachterize Life, but I think most of us agree that the list is pure nonsense. Even virus can be seen as living things.

    Another point is then the opinion that Life de facto has evolved several times on Earth, according to somewhat different principles. Also the opinion that DNA is a later construction, and not charachteristic absolutely on Life. The first sign of some kind of Life as self-assembly and copying was seen amongst the RNA:s. Today even lives organisms without cellmembranes, and this was maybe the most primitive condition.

    Also consciousness show such an hierarchy. The most primitive conscious states are simply shadows, as when we sleep. But the peculiar thing is that our real consciousness is otherwise then, bigger, as it is the measurements that collapses consciousness and at the same time makes it more crisp and clear. So intelligence is just the tip of the iceberg, as Freud once said. It is maybe very unprobable that ETs are intelligent, or their intelligence may be of another kind. PK and telepathy seen as a lower degree of measurements. Our intelligence is maybe a blind path, that we cannot handle :)

    Biologically our brain also need to be better integrated with our emotions. Or what do Lubos think :)

  6. Philip Gibbs says:

    One of the questions people are going to be asking as more expoplanets are found is what is really meant by “Earth-like”. This one is considered Earth-Like because it sits in its star’s Goldilocks zone and is probably something like only 50% bigger than Earth in radius.

    However, it’s star is much dimmer so the planet is closer, with a year of 37 days. The proximity also means it will held in locked rotation with the star, like Mercury.

    There is more than just size and temperature that makes a planet habitable for long periods. It may need a star more close in mass to ours so that the star is sufficiently long-lived, while the Goldilocks zone is sufficiently far from the star that planets there do not tidal lock.

    I think there is a good chance that primitive single-cell life could form in diverse environments, including moons in our solar system such as Europa (assuming it has warm liquid water under its icy exterior) or mars in the past. But the more complex you want life to be, the more Earth-like the planet needs to be. It will need an atmosphere like ours and a magnetic field for protection. It also needs the right mix of chemical elements and possibly a large moon for stability.

    Of course it depends on how diverse you think life can be. You may think that complex life will form almost anywhere on a range a varied planets. I go for the opposite view that complex life can only be similar to life on Earth and requires an ecosystem where plants and animals can evolve together with sea, land, tides etc. This means that only very Earth-like planets will do for complex life that stands a chance to evolve into intelligent life. I think such planets are very rare ( see Rare Earth Hypothesis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis ). That is why we don’t get invaded by aleins very often.

    • Ulla says:

      I think you Phil hit the nail most perfectly of these three candidates. It is the instability that is most severe to Life. In fact Life on Earth has chosen one of the most stable signals, the geomagnetic field, as a coherence signal. Day or night means very little deep underground, but the Earth magnetism will change a bit.

      Life must have been very primitive in the beginning, but certainly to some degree conscious in a very dimmy way. There was maybe no DNA, no cells, only syncytia and some viruses that had self-organization. The stability must be so high so self-organization is allowed.

      Complex Life is a property of that self-organization, as ecosystems are. on Earth we need the networks made by oxygen to form high energetic and complex networks, but also anaerobic networks with quite an high complexity is here. Only the energy level is less. Complex lifeforms will form if the stability is enough. These may not be ‘intelligent’ as we mean intelligence. Only with many different forms of Life. As Lawrence said bacterias run our Earth, also the Humans, if we count the number of cells.

      Lubos, science cannot describe the origin of Life! And Life is no garbage, not even genetic. I think Graham D. is right, Life is virtual or quantal, a phase of intermediate matter between classic and quantum world.

      What do we mean with intelligent? Most of us thinks of the human intelligence. I wanted to lay a hook for Lubos here, but he did not touch :)
      Biologically also ‘unconscious’ programs can be very intelligent, in most cases even more intelligent that the human cortex. I think one of most cherished myths is the human intelligence.

      Also the consciousness is very hard to define, and it is mostly badly ‘nailed’. If we define consciousness as periods between sleep only then what happens when we sleep? Are we unconscious then? No, everyone remembers dreams. We are only conscious at a lower energetic level, almost without cortex.

      What happen when we fall in coma? A ‘vegetative’ state, but people can in fact sometimes remember what the family had said during the coma. So, it is not without consciousness, only without reactions. Of the same reason we used to say babies had no feelings even if they was hurted; they could not tell us. Or animals cannot tell.

      What happen when we die? Look at NDE to see. They are not without consciousness at all. So there is no other choise than that the consciousness is coming from outside the body, or are created by all the ‘measurements’ (perceptions at different energy levels) we are making of our surroundings.

      Every Life form is a result of a very long accommodation, but also change and chaos.

      I do not talk specially of ETs, but I know many do, that’s why I mentioned them. Mostly molecules are looked for only.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      I think we can actually say a bit more than just that it requires stability. The environement must not change too dramatically, but it does need to change or even have the occassional catastrophy that wipes out some species allowing others to evolve further.

      In a completely unchanging ecosystem the species tend to settle into a balance and evolution stops. Life does not need to get any more complicated once it has adapted to the ecosystem. Life has evolved so far on Earth because we have plate techtonics. Ecosystems change and new ones are created. New more advanced species then appear. Sometimes there is even a comet strike that has dramatic effects on evolution. All this, the periods of stasis and the sudden change, is seen in the fossil record ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punctuated_equilibrium )

      I think it’s lucky that so much change has affected life on Earth without it losing its overall stability. Without the changes we would probably still be jelly fish and sponges. That’s why I think there could be lots of basic life in the galaxy but advanced life is very rare.

      • Ulla says:

        As I already said: Every Life form is a result of a very long accommodation, but also change and chaos.

        So I agree.

        But the importance of stability is maybe more difficult to realize. As Life is highly negentropy (improbable) it needs coherence and synchrony.

  7. Luboš Motl says:

    Imagine that you find planets that have a very similar size, mass, distance from Sun, average temperature, comparable duration of a day, no tide locking, and 3 more key conditions you’re allowed to add.

    Now, do you really believe that it’s likely that you will find life on such a planet? Count me as a skeptic. I would bet 100:1 against such life, even given the conditions above. I just don’t think it’s so easy (or even inevitable) to create to life. The fact that science can describe the origin of life without any creator is amazing and quite certainly true – but that’s different from saying that life is just a piece of generic garbage that appears everywhere.

    • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

      Two people slipped in here while I was writing my post. I think there might be plenty of planets out there with prokaryotic analogous life. Even Mars might have had, or even still has, this form of life. In fact generally bacteria actually run this planet. So saying there is life on this planet can mean a number of things, from a matrix of bacterial-like single cells to a complex eco-system such as the Amazon. I suspect the latter case is quite exceptional. The former case might in fact be comparatively generic. All it might require is the right temperature and pressures conditions, geological activity, and sufficient chemical reserves in the atmosphere and aqueous solution and it might just be a chemical “voila” where pre-biotic chemistry with RNA or DNA takes shape that exhibits a form of fitness-selection to give rise to the emergence of biological activity.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      So little is known about abiogenesis (as wikipedia calls it) that it is hard to say if life will start easily or not. The only clue we have is that life seems to have started on Earth quite quickly, and this is often quoted as an indication that life will start easily given the right conditions. That is why I said there was a “good chance” it could start given a basic favourable circumstances. This could just as easily be right as it could be wrong. It could be that life requires a very special set of ciurcumstances or even a huge fluke to get it going, or it might be a sure thing given just the right mix of chemicals and the right temperature.

      I think once it gets past the first steps to produce multicellular life it is easier to get some idea of what is required for it to develop further. It seems to require quite a lot of special circumsatnces to get as far as it has on Earth, assuming there are not many different ways it could go. But we still can’t be sure of that.

    • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

      As one whose undergraduate degree specialized in biophysics, and later worked on the Neurospora crassa genome project, I can give my proximal sense of this issue.

      The Urey-Miller experiment is maybe a first order indication of the chemistry in the Earth’s early atmosphere. Even if this is somewhat oblique it is interesting how organic compounds can form under rough conditions. Throw an electric arc through a gaseous mix of N_2, NH_3, CH_4, CO_2 etc, and you get amino acids and UV radiation give nucleotides. Of course that is a long ways from life, but it is an interesting start. Some organic compounds have been found in nebula for that matter. So let us assume the Earth 3.6 billion years ago had these compounds being formed in this atmosphere that would be fairly toxic to us now. The next requirement is that these elementary compounds enter into longer chains. That again is possible, such as nucleotides will form up 3’-5’ bonds with UV radiation. Amino acids can bond with acetyl groups which then can facilitate di-peptide bonds. In fact ribosomes link up acetylated amino acids into polypeptide residues. So again it is possible for these compounds to emerge in the “soup.” The tough part comes with trying to understand the early mechanisms for self-replication. This was some process which required an energetic path of some form. The adenosine must have interacted with some mechanism which converted ADP to ATP, so then the ATP phosporylated polypeptides which initiate molecular pathways. So in looking at mitochondria the Krebs cycle produces a proton pumped across a membrane, which generates oxidative phosphorylation of ATP. So I conjecture the process involved a geochemical mechanism across a crystalline membrane or the action of electrons on a mineral or crystalline surface.

      The other bit which had to be accomplished is some process by which DNA, or maybe more likely RNA codes were converted into polypeptide sequences. This is really hard to understand, and is probably one of the biggest mysteries in the whole problem. Yet RNA binds onto various peptides in complicated way. Ribosomes are essentially protein-RNA complexes, and most mRNA is actually sn-RNA which bind onto polypeptides in a manner which switch on and off their activity. This process is involved with methyl-transferase that methylates DNA and turns it off, or other methyl-transferases which de-methylates DNA to turn it on. Most so called junk DNA turns out to be of this form, where it expresses snRNA that elicits a switching on and off of gene expression. Given that we are speculating some here, in this soup there might have been a huge array of peptide-RNA complexes, where some of them interacted with RNA to promote peptide bonds. Somewhere early on the precursor for the 60s unit of the ribosome was selected for.

      So the pre-biotic chemistry most likely involved something of this sort, probably around hot vents where these is some thermal energy flow and a measure of chemical activity. So if there were “pools” with this sort of activity going on there might have then been something of a bio-chemical fitness selection process. So there was a form of molecular evolution which began to set in. This selection process would have given preference to molecular systems or complexes which had some sub-Markovian content. This is similar to biological evolution, but in more of a molecular information theory setting. This is some general form of the evolutionary theory, where evolution theory really applies best to eukaryotic organisms that have sex and generations. Applying Darwinian evolution in its classic form is problematic with prokaryotes. There is frankly a more general setting for evolutionary theory waiting in the wings, which might do to Darwin what Einstein did to Newton.

      The molecular selection process would have favored systems which captured energy the most efficiently and for systems which could control this process within their own information content. If pre-biotic chemistry involved some geo-chemical or geo-physical processes selection might have favored pathways and webs of pathways which could function without interacting with geological mechanisms. Then by these proximal or putative ideas of these mechanisms biological systems eventually emerged as self contained cells or the most primitive prokaryotes, which then successfully colonized Earth within a half billion years.

      With regards to other planets, it seems reasonable to think that these conditions exist rather generically. Mars might have been a prokaryotic planet during its first billion years of existence. In fact such life might still exist in the subsoil and function at a very slow rate — it has to capture bits of liquid water that might transiently appear, and make due with a low energy environment. So there might be thousands or even millions of planets in this galaxy which have a prokaryotic-like biological network. Out of that maybe a small fraction of these planets develop complex life forms with large scale structures as seen on Earth.

      • Philip Gibbs says:

        That’s very interesting!

      • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

        Along with my abundant amounts of time, I am setting up the protocol to do a rather interesting set of experiments along these lines. I don’t want to go into it at length. It is not to be secretive exactly, but I recently thought of an experiment which demonstrates how RNA might replicate without a replicase molecule. The idea at its core is so trivially simple as to be astounding in a way.

  8. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    We might define consciousness as those annoying periods between sleep. It is really tough to know if we have any handle on the ”C-problem” at all.

    I wrote a computer program to model this little star system, well in fact any other for that matter. It has some bugs in it, so if I get to it I will fix that up today or early this week. My interest is in the long term stability of the stellar system and whether a planet remains in the habitable zone that long. These planets are rather “beefy” for terrestrial planets and the gravitationally perturb each other a bit. The point of this exercise is to compute Lyapunov exponents for chaotic drift and to estimate time intervals for any quasi-stable configuration this system might have.

  9. Ulla says:

    It took a very long time before Life evolved on Earth, three and a half billion years. The atmosphere at that time is believed to be anoxic—lacking free unlocked oxygen. No form of life which depends on metabolism for the release of energy through oxidation could have survived in such an atmosphere. In fact the absence of oxygen was an essential prerequisite for the synthesis of organic material from inorganic chemicals. Oxygen would have destroyed every creation because of its aggressiveness. Today it is some kind of primitive ‘bacterias’, mitochondrions, that makes us tolerant to oxygen. Another ‘bacteria’ , chlorophyll, has an organic molecule as ‘waste’ product. These are made to a circle of Life, but Life was also before, as bacterias.

    So how can we interpret a headings like this?
    Jupiter’s Moon Europa Has Enough Oxygen For Life. http://www.physorg.com/news174918239.html

    Ignorance only? It is so easy to think we know, when we take Earth today as example.

    I got no answer on my question from where the water on Earth has come? Meteors? Can they bring enough water?

  10. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    Water water everywhere and n’ery a drop to drink. We are not sure where it comes from. The isotope distribution of oxygen in water on Earth is different from that detected so far in comets. So we are faced with a bit of an open question on that.

    With life the big question is how it emerged. I suspect it is somewhat generic given the right conditions. I don’t think it is a fluke. Eukaryotes evolved from very rich and complex ecosystems of prokaryotes, where in some instances these organisms fused into single organisms through increased mutualism or symbiosis. Life on Earth evolved eukaryotes about 1.5 billion years ago, and then about 700 million years ago multicellular prokaryotes emerged, and then 540 million years ago was the so called Cambrian explosion of very complex life forms and ecosystems.

    This climb up Mt Improbable,” as Dawkins calls it, is probably repeated elsewhere in the universe. In a k = 0 FLRW spacetime there is a whole lot of universe out there, where we only see a tiny bubble of it. However, I suspect few planets with life end up with the highly complex conscious dysfunctions seen in the human species or so called intelligent life. I also must confess that even if intelligent life evolves, say in maybe one out of a 100 or 1000 galaxies, they may be too far apart to ever communicate with each other. I also must confess that I think intelligent life forms are very transient as well.

    • Ulla says:

      The difficult step was the first ones, with cell formation and procaryotes. But there is hints at a creation made multiple times, every time a bit different. So it may not have to look exactly as on Earth. The later evolution is more easy to explain.

      One essential is water. It is very hard to think Life without water. Also carbon is hard to replace. Why is carbon so important? It is bosonic with an energy gap. It has many states (8), it builds networks.

  11. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    It is possible there were multiple pre-biotic chemical processes or natural “experiments” which took place. The one possible piece of evidence for this is the existence of RNA and DNA viruses with single and double strand configurations.

    Silicon has an analogous outer electronic structure as carbon, but of course has quite different. There is

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_life#Silicon_biochemistry

    where you can of course find the classic Star Trek episode “Devil in the Dark” about a silicon life form. To be honest I am a bit skeptical about these prospects.

  12. Ulla says:

    Here comes the ETs :)

    An astronomer picked up a mysterious pulse of light coming from the direction of the newly discovered Earth-like planet almost two years ago, it has emerged.

    Dr Ragbir Bhathal, a scientist at the University of Western Sydney, picked up the odd signal in December 2008, long before it was announced that the star Gliese 581 has habitable planets in orbit around it.

    A member of the Australian chapter of SETI, the organisation that looks for communication from distant planets, Dr Bhathal had been sweeping the skies when he discovered a ‘suspicious’ signal from an area of the galaxy that holds the newly-discovered Gliese 581g.

    ‘This planet doesn’t have days and nights. Wherever you are on this planet, the sun is in the same position all the time. You have very stable zones where the ecosystem stays the same temperature… basically forever,’ Vogt said.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1316538/Gliese-581g-mystery-Scientist-spotted-mysterious-pulse-light-direction-newEarth-planet-year.html#ixzz11JpCOJPR
    And Dr Steven Vogt who led the study at the University of California, Santa Cruz, today said that he was ‘100 per cent sure ‘ that there was life on the planet.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1316538/Gliese-581g-mystery-Scientist-spotted-mysterious-pulse-light-direction-newEarth-planet-year.html#ixzz11JquPWtk

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1316538/Gliese-581g-mystery-Scientist-spotted-mysterious-pulse-light-direction-newEarth-planet-year.html#ixzz11Jkzmi2z

    who has detected the mysterious signals of advanced aliens thousands of years more advanced than we humans, http://weirdsciences.net/2010/10/01/earthlike-planet-gliese-581-g-media-detected-mysterious-signals-from-aliens/

    And SETI is planned to stop!!!!
    Here is their assumptions about extraterrestrial Life, mostly physic only.

    http://www.openseti.org/

    This finding maybe guarantee a continuation…

    What would the aliens do? Look
    Do UFOs Want to Take Over Our Nukes? http://weirdsciences.net/2010/10/02/do-ufos-want-to-take-over-our-nukes/

    Maybe the LHC also interests? Are they coming from future?

    Much interest from a special group at least.

    http://www.google.fi/search?q=Gliese+581g+Ragbir+Bhathal+signal&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:sv-SE:official&client=firefox-a

    This was fun :)

  13. Ulla says:

    New insights into Life and its first steps on Earth.

    http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/science_blog/101004.html

    Steven Kelly, of Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences, tracked the evolutionary history of the three domains by analysing more than 3,500 families of genes in the Archaea, Bacteria and Eukaryotes. He and his colleagues found that Eukaryotes are most closely related to the Thaumarchaea.

    The study, recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, also suggests that the metabolism of the earth’s first organisms was based on methane production. ‘That’s a really important discovery because it gives us a real insight into how life got started, which is one of the biggest questions in evolutionary biology,’ Steven said. ‘This is a step change in the way people think about how life on earth developed.’

    Methane, methylation… acetyl groups, acetylation. This is the very primitive redox-states. One open up, enlarge, one close things that happen.

  14. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    There is some debate on the cladistics of prokaryotes and archea. I tried to avoid that issue above, for it is an unsettled issue. The crucial mechanism of NAD to NADH is redox, and this does suggest it emerged in an atmosphere or aqueous chemistry that was different from today.

    I can’t comment much about UFOs, other than to say they pretty consistently fail to pass the “consistency test.” I think they probably are similar to other claims involving sightings of the Virgin Mary or angels and so forth.

    • Ulla says:

      It was only meant as information. Many take ETs seriously, at least at LHC :)

      NAD/NADH is interesting because it reacts on light quanta. It belongs to the bacterias in our cells. It can be some kind of primitive metabolism, but also have predecessors. A real quantum biology candidate.

      Water on Earth, see snowball Earth.

    • Ulla says:

      Methylation, acetylation is also the gene regulation :) I like this, really.
      Methane and its effects? See the greenhouse climate.

  15. Interesting discussion. A comment about prebiotic evolution.

    I saw for some time ago a link to a work suggesting that RNA is stabilized in icy environment. Ordered of water would prevent the hydration leading to the decay of the polymers and therefore would allow the evolution of long RNA sequences. This brings in mind also the old quantum mind idea that ordered water is essential for microtubules and other biomolecules.

    What is known about sol and gel phases inside cell supports similar view. Biomolecules in the resting state inside cell have strong hydrogen bonds to the surrounding ordered water stabilizing them into folded or unfolded configurations. When the system is perturbed meaning energy feed, linear portions fold and folded ones unfold to form molecular aggregates. This defines the response of the system to the perturbation. When energy dissipates the system returns to the resting state. One could say that cellular winter is needed to stabilize RNA and DNA and various other bio-molecules and proteins sleep most of the time and wake up only under external perturbations to enjoy/suffer cellular summer!

    If this view is correct, life should have evolved in icy meteorites rather than in primordial ocean. Cell interior would not be virtual primordial ocean but virtual surface of icy meteorite.

  16. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    There is another important issue with the formation of life. This is energy flow through. This is one cause for some skepticism with regards to ideas about life on Europa and other ice moons. I question whether there is sufficient energy flow through. Of course as Matti points out there might be dormant periods, which if life exists on Mars might be the case.

    • Ulla says:

      DNA can be saved in thousands of years, very stable, especially frosen. Is that enough? mammouths and neanderthals are waked to life, at least some bits. What about the dinosaurs? Exoplanets? It is so much we don’t know, very differently from what Carroll thinks.

      I wish to see this as different states of life, different hierarchies, just as consciousness.

      Seen in this light also atoms and molecules have consciousness and a very, very low degree of holistic ‘intelligence’.

  17. Ulla says:

    This all turn out to be just a bubble? Whose interests are this?

    http://scienceblogs.com/catdynamics/2010/10/gliese_581g.php

    Quote: The two new planets reported by Vogt et al, were both coming in close to the detection threshold and there have been problems disentangllng closely packed multi-planet systems, due to aliasing and harmonic contamination. Gliese 581, in particular, has had a couple of claims about its planets backed out before.

    What everyone in the community was waiting for is what the HARPS group could say, since they ought to have a couple of years more data.

    Ray Jay reports on social networks: “We cannot confirm it [Gliese 581g] in our HARPS data” – Francesco Pepe (Geneva team) at IAU 276 in Torino.”

    This is interesting, but not totally surprising.
    It will be very interesting to see the HARPS paper.

    http://www1.astro.utoronto.ca/~rayjay/

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