Friday, August 21, 2009


It seems like the field of astrobiology is booming with findings making the news in the past few days.

First was the major announcement that NASA's Stardust probe has discovered discovered glycine, an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, in samples of comet Wild 2. This confirms previous observations of glycine in some nebula occupying interstellar space. This suggests that carbon based life might be found on the other planets and moons of our galaxy, and perhaps in our own solar system.

Then comes the news that UCLA molecular biologist James A. Lake of the Center for Astrobiology has conducted research that shows how two major classes of relatively simple microbes fused together more than 2.5 billion years ago. This provides new insight into how life evolved on Earth and also into how it might evolve on a similar planet somewhere else in the galaxy.

There's a great page devoted to astrobiology on the NASA website. (I'm amazed at how much content NASA has to offer. It seems like I'm always finding a whole new section that I never knew was there.) One of the cool features is the Ask an Astrobiologist feature where you can have your questions answered by David Morrison, the Senior Scientist of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. But reading some of the recent questions he's been fielding is a depressing insight into the appalling scientific ignorance of the public. For one thing, most of the questions seem relate more to astronomy rather than astrobiology. Not an unreasonable mistake to make, but come on people. Worse still, he seems to be plagued by questions about space brothers and 2012. Time to call in CSI. No wonder Hollywood can get away with such rubber science silliness when this kind of foolishness is so prevalent.

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