& SCIENCE NEWS: March 2001
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& science news > space & science news: March 2001
|"Life Everywhere" on Voice of America
||Mar 30, 2001
|2001 Mars Odyssey
prepares for launch
||Mar 21, 2001
|Panspermia entering scientific
||Mar 16, 2001
|Linked telescopes to search for
||Mar 16, 2001
|Two major astrobiology conferences
||Mar 14, 2001
|Active volcanoes on Mars?
||Mar 13, 2001
|Dinosaurs died and new
life arose fast at KT boundary
||Mar 9, 2001
|Fungus invaders from outer space
||Mar 8, 2001
|Space probes update: Mars
Odyssey, Cosmos 1, etc
||Mar 6, 2001
|Orgeuil meteorite implicates
comets in life's origins
||Mar 2, 2001
|Chris McKay (NASA Ames) interprets
new Mars life claims
||Mar 1, 2001
| "Life Everywhere" on Voice of America
(Mar. 30, 2001)
To see an article and hear my recent interview about astrobiology
with Adam Phillips of Voice of America, go here.
To learn more about my new book on which this interview is based,
go here. For those
of you on the west coast, I'll be speaking at the Chabot Science Center,
Oakland, on May 10, and at the University of Washington bookstore
on May 11. More dates to follow.
2001 Mars Odyssey prepares for launch
(Mar. 21, 2001)
The latest Mars probe – the 2001 Mars Odyssey – is scheduled
for launch on April 7. Learn more about this orbiter and its attempts
to explore further the geology and hydrology of the fourth planet
by visiting the Mars
Odyssey at JPL.
| Panspermia entering the scientific mainstream
(Mar. 16, 2001)
Not so long ago, the very mention of panspermia
– the idea that life can drift through space and seed itself
on other worlds – would have invited hoots of derision from
the research community. But times have changed. Astrobiology is now
a very open forum, and talk about panspermia in various guises is
no longer considered taboo. The discovery of meteorites
from Mars and the realization that primitive life-forms could
stow away and survive for long periods aboard such ejecta has made
the notion of interplanetary or ballistic
panspermia perfectly respectable. But now even the more far-fetched
notion of interstellar panspermia is gaining ground. At this week's
Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Jay Melosh of the
University of Arizona estimated that "about one meteorite ejected
from a planet belonging to our Solar System is captured by another
stellar system every 100 million years". Although UV and cosmic rays
would threaten any stowaway microbes, Russell Vreeland of West Chester
University of Pennsylvania argues that it would be quite possible
for meteorites to carry well-protected organisms over interstellar
distances. And the recent discovery that bacterial spores can survive
for tens and perhaps hundreds of million of years makes such a scenario
at least feasible.
For more on this story, go here.
For more on panspermia in general, visit Brig
Linked telescopes to search for extrasolar
(Mar. 16, 2001)
The two giant Keck telescopes atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii have been linked
to work as an optical interferometer. It is hoped the resolving power
of the Keck Interferometer
will allow it to capture images of large planets in orbit around other
For more, go here.
| Two major astrobiology conferences in
(Mar. 14, 2001)
The rise of astrobiology as a mature science is further confirmed
by the organization of two international conferences on the subject
within just a few months of each other in 2002. From April 7-11, 2002,
Astrobiology Science Conference will be held at the NASA Ames
Research Center. Then from July 8-12, 2002, the IAU will hold its
2002 Conference, titled "Life Among the Stars". This latter event
has the huge bonus of being held on a small subtropical island on
the Great Barrier Reef.
| Active volcanoes on Mars?
(Mar. 13, 2001)
New data from Mars Global
Surveyor suggest that two of the oldest volcanoes on Mars,
Tyrrhena Patera and Hadriaca Patera in the planet's southern hemisphere,
may still be active. The idea has been put forward by Tracy Gregg
of the University of Buffalo and her colleagues. Interestingly these
volcanoes also have the largest and greatest numbers of channels associated
with them – features that may have been carved when ice on the
sides of the mountains turned to running water during eruptions long
ago. As Gregg points out: "The combination of the heat and energy
from the volcanoes and the liquid water makes conditions ripe for
the evolution of life, as least as we understand it on Earth."
For more, go here.
Dinosaurs died and new life arose rapidly
at KT boundary
(Mar. 9, 2001)
New research suggests the dinosaurs may have been annihilated in as
little as 10,000 years – the merest wink of a geological eye.
A study of rocks in Italy and Tunisia supports the theory that a single,
giant impact of an asteroid or long-period comet led to a rapid extinction
65 million years ago. Sujoy Mukhopadhyay and colleagues report in
this week's Science how they analyzed the amount of helium-3 in the
rocks of the K-T
boundary to establish that it was deposited in about 10,000 years
– too short a period to support the rival view that vulcanism
caused a more gradual (100,000-year-long) extinction. The constant
rate of accumulation of helium-3 also indicates that the impactor
was not part of a comet shower or bombardment. More intriguing, however,
than the fast demise of the dinosaurs and up to three-quarters of
all the other life on Earth at this time is how rapidly new species
arose to replace them. This encourages the view that impacts in general
– providing they are not too frequent and catastrophic –
may actually accelerate evolution rather than slow it down.
Fungus invaders from outer space
(Mar. 8, 2001)
Sound like a 1950s "B" sci-fi movie? But this threat is real (if somewhat
remote) and imminent. The Mir
space station, now entering the upper atmosphere, and due to fall
into the Pacific somewhere off New Zealand later this month, has some
alien occupants aboard – various types of fungi that have mutated
over the past 15 years or so while the station has been in orbit.
The concern is that, as Mir breaks up, these organisms will be released
into the Earth's ecosystem with unpredictable consequences.
For more, go here.
| Space probes update
(Mar. 6, 2001)
For a live view of the Mars Odyssey 2001 orbiter, launch countdown
clock, and information on the probe's gamma ray spectrometer, go here.
The future of the Pluto-Kuiper probe hangs in the balance after NASA's
latest budget squeeze. For more, go here.
The Planetary Society's Cosmos 1 – the first ever solar sail
mission (with big implications for future planetary/interstellar exploration
– is scheduled for launch later this year. Learn more out it
And attempts to contact Pioneer 10 – now 11.56 billion km (77.29
AU) from the Sun – continue.
| Orgueil meteorite implicates comets
in life's origins
(Mar. 2, 2001)
A study by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography
and their colleagues concludes that the Orgueil
meteorite may be the first meteorite traced to a comet, rather
than an asteroid parent body. What is more, whereas some asteroid-derived
meteorites have been found to contain a large variety of amino acids,
including ones not used by terrestrial life, the Orgeuil chondrite
contains primarily glycine and beta-alanine – two of the amino
acids found in all organisms on Earth. Measurements of carbon isotopes
ratios confirm that these materials are extraterrestrial, adding weight
to the notion that some of the basic organics upon from which life
derived came from space. The study appears in the February 27 issue
of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and
is authored by Jeffrey Bada, Daniel Glavin, and Oliver Botta of Scripps;
Pascale Ehrenfreund of the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands;
and George Cooper of the NASA Ames Research Center.
For more, go here.
| Chris McKay of NASA Ames comments on
the latest Mars life claims
(Mar. 1, 2001)
Leading astrobiologist Chris McKay
believes the new evidence for Martian biogenic traces in ALH
84001 and two other Mars meteorites is compelling. If magnetotactic
bacteria existed on the Red Planet 3.9 billion years go, was does
this suggest about the nature of the Martian environment at that time?
One intriguing possibility is that it was oxygen rich.
To see McKay's remarks go here.
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