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Posted: 03 Feb 2015 10:32 PM PST
Excerpt from utahpeoplespost.com
By Frank Smith
Scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) recently reported that they identified eight new exoplanets orbiting their host stars in the so-called “Goldilocks” zone. Researchers also said that many of these objects have an increased chance to be Earth-like, rocky planets with a high potential of hosting alien life.
The “Goldilocks zone,” or the habitable zone, is a patch of space around a Sun-like star that allow planets orbiting within it hold liquid water on their surface if they also have the necessary atmospheric pressure for it. Most Goldilocks planets are Earth-sized so scientists hope that one of them may host life, even microbial forms of life.
The new discovery of the exoplanets doubles the number of known planets located in the habitable zone of their host stars. Scientists explain that the habitable zone implies that the planets within it receive as much solar as our planet does. Too much radiation and heat would boil the water on their surface and even blow away their atmosphere. Too little radiation would lead to a small icy world.
The authors of the discovery also reported that two of the newly found planets are the most akin to Earth than any other known exoplanets to this date. The two planets were named Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b after the space telescope that had discovered them.
Kepler-438b is located 470 light-years from our planet, while Kepler-442b stands in the constellation Lyra at a 1,120 light-year-long distance away from Earth. Kepler-442b is also the most remote exoplanet of the eight.
The two planets have also an extremely short orbit because they are very close to their host stars. On Kepler-438b, which has a diameter only 12 percent than the Earth’s, a year lasts only 35 days, while on Kepler-442b, which is nearly one third larger than our planet, a year passes every 112 days.
Scientists estimate that Kepler-438b has a 70 percent increased chance of having a rocky core, while Kepler-442b has only a 60 percent chance.
However, the two planets being in the habitable zone of their host stars is not a certain fact. For instance, astronomers estimate that Kepler-438b has only a 70 percent chance of being located in the Goldilocks zone, while Kepler-442b has a 97 percent chance of being a Goldilocks planet.
We don’t know for sure whether any of the planets in our sample are truly habitable. All we can say is that they’re promising candidates,”David Kipping of the CfA and co-author of the discovery said.
Posted: 03 Feb 2015 10:28 PM PST
Excerpt from natmonitor.com
By Justin Beach
If there was a Guinness World Record for not evolving, it would be held by a sulfur-cycling microorganism found off the course of Australia. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have not evolved in any way in more than two billion years and have survived five mass extinction events.
According to the researchers behind the paper, the lack of evolution actually supports Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
The researchers examined the microorganisms, which are too small to see with the naked eye, in samples of rocks from the coastal waters of Western Australia. Next they examined samples of the same bacteria from the same region in rocks 2.3 billion years old. Both sets of bacteria are indistinguishable from modern sulfur bacteria found off the coast of Chile.
Critics of Darwin’s theory of evolution might be tempted to jump on this discovery as proof that Darwin was wrong, but that would be a mistake.
Darwin’s work focused more on species that changed, rather than species that didn’t. However, there is nothing in Darwin’s work that states that a successful species that has found it’s niche in an ecosystem has to change. Unless there is change in the ecosystem or competition for resources there would be no reason for change.
“The rule of biology is not to evolve unless the physical or biological environment changes, which is consistent with Darwin. These microorganisms are well-adapted to their simple, very stable physical and biological environment. If they were in an environment that did not change but they nevertheless evolved, that would have shown that our understanding of Darwinian evolution was seriously flawed.” said Schopf, who also is director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life.
It is likely that there were genetic mutations in the organisms. Mutations are fairly random and happen in all species, but unless those mutations are improvements that help the species function better in the environment, they usually do not get passed on.
Schopf said that the findings provide further proof that Darwin’s ideas were right.
The oldest fossils analyzed for the study date back to the Great Oxidation Event. This event, which occurred between 2.2 and 2.4 billion years ago, saw a substantial increase in Earth’s oxygen levels. That period also saw an increase in sulfates and nitrates, which is all that the microorganisms would have needed to survive and reproduce.
Shopf and his team used Raman spectroscopy, which allows scientists to examine the composition and chemistry of rocks as well as confocal laser scary microscopy to generate 3-D images of fossils embedded in rock.
The research was funded by NASA Astrobiology Institute, in the hope that it will help the space agency to find life elsewhere.
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