Friday, November 30, 2012

It's Alive!

Whether or not you've been paying attention, over the last three years, NASA has been quietly assembling proof that life exists scattered across the cosmos.

They've discovered a lake buried under Antarctic ice for the last 2,800 years that's "teeming with bacteria".

And they've found life flourishing in near-boiling water so acidic it eats through metal.

They've sampled amino acids from meteorites and comets.

Meanwhile, the number of exoplanets (planets outside the solar system) in the "habitable zone" of distant stars we've found is growing yearly, and it's thought they number in the trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions - 2011 findings from the Kepler telescope suggest that one out of every two stars has an Earthlike planet in its orbit.

They've found tremendous caches of water on Mars and even on Mercury, the molten ball of rock orbiting closest to the sun.

In fact, water, the primary prerequisite for life (at least life as we known it) turns out to be " of the most abundant molecules in the universe".

One of the most startling discoveries of 2011 was the universe's largest known water reservoir, in a quasar 12 billion light years from Earth. This titanic mass of water vapor is estimated to be at least 140 trillion times the amount found in all of Earth’s oceans combined. It's bound up in the APM 08279+5255 "quasar" - a superbright, unstable nucleus of galaxies slowly being consumed by a supermassive black hole at their core.

While none of these findings necessarily add up to the existence of intelligent aliens, they definitely mean life is abundant - and everywhere - in our universe.

So can we determine the probability of intelligent life out there? Well, my friends, to borrow the cliche, it just so happens there's an app for that.

More on the Drake Equation and the Fermi Paradox can be found here.

This day in science history: On November 30, 1995, the Pioneer 11 exploratory vehicle left the solar system.


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