Category Archives: Astronomy

NASA Reveals Discovery of Arsenic-Using Life

NASA has announced the discovery of microbes that can replace phosphorus with arsenic, which is toxic to all other known life forms. It can substitute arsenic for phosphorus in the (normally phosphoric) backbone of its DNA and RNA, in its cell membrane, and even in its ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is a central energy-carrying molecule in all cells.

NASA’s release:

So, how do you think this will affect the search for life elsewhere? It might not be life on Titan (as some speculated the news release might be about), but it’s still pretty cool.

Forum topic for convenience:

There’s A Reason The Metro Is Free

Most of you will have realised that I get the vast majority of my newsing from free London rag The Metro, distributed around the Underground every morning in order to allow bleary-eyed businessmen to further realise that the world is falling gracelessly towards the sun. I don’t think the Metro is a bad little paper, really; the quality of writing is generally good, and it catches stories earlier than other papers you might come across in the day. And you’ll find articles of comparable quality on the same subjects in “real” newspapers.

However, you develop an unfair bias of a newspaper when you peruse it mainly to find new nonsense to write about in your blog. You ignore all rational articles about politics\current affairs\crossbows to the face and concentrate only on articles that guarantee a spout of vitriol frothy enough to incur a transparent sense of self-righteousness. And as a result, your perception is that the chosen paper exists only to print stories about religion, druids and the supernatural. Unfair, since the Metro regularly dishes out reasonably informative articles about modern science and astronomy.

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Panspermia, Which Is Sperm In A Pan

I’m a great fan of sperm in a pan. However, I’m also a fan of panspermia, if you can be a “fan” of a scientific hypothesis. I suppose I like the additional romantic element that panspermia brings to hypothetical speculation on abiogenesis and the origin of life. If that makes me unscientific, well, that’s because I’m not a scientist and took my degree in Wordification and Filmazement.

Panspermia describes the possibility that life on Earth was seeded, catalysed or in some way influenced by material entering its ecosystem from space. And what with various organic compounds being discovered in the chilly depths of space, far beyond the reach of human hands, it’s a hypothesis that is, at the very least, plausible.

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The Loneliest Robots

Spare a thought for Voyager 2.

The spacecraft, which has been in operation for just over 32 years reached a humbling milestone this week; 20 years since the closest approach to Neptune. On August 25th, 1989 it came within 5000 km of the big, blue gas giant, taking spectacularly beautiful ‘close-ups’ that Adams, Galle and Le Verrier could only have dreamt of (see pictures after the jump). Just 5 hours later, it made its closest approach to Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, which is spiraling in slowly to its eventual demise.

Voyager 2 is so far the only probe to have visited Neptune (and Uranus) completing the reconnaissance of our Solar System’s main planets. I was only three years old at the time, but thanks to the achievements of the Voyager programme, I grew up with books containing a complete set of stunning photographs and they inspired me no end. Every time I look through my old books, I remember not to take this for granted. Most of the planets’ discoverers lived long before they were seen up close and it is only through the hard work of many scientists and engineers that in the time I live, we have landed probes on alien worlds (Huygens on Titan, 2005), we’ll soon be exploring dwarf planets (Dawn to Ceres, New Horizons to Pluto) and we’re continuously discovering other Solar Systems of all flavours. I can’t help but wonder how exploration will have improved hundreds of years after I’m gone, and how the distant planets being discovered today might also be seen in close up.

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Calling all Astronomers! Perseids meteor watch this week! #Meteorwatch

Things are changing. Really.

Internet technology allows people all over the world to connect and viralise information at speeds that would seemingly defy nature’s limits in the eyes of scientists just a few hundred years ago. For the first time ever, the annual Perseids meteor shower will be mass-tweeted by astronomers and enthusiasts worldwide. It’s an initiative proposed by the Newbury Astronomical Society (that’s here in England) and promoted as part of the International Year of Astronomy, and you can be involved!

Firstly, make sure you have a Twitter account. Then make sure you’re following me and the LoR Blog. Got you! Okay, that bit wasn’t essential, but it’s recommended. Definitely be sure to follow Newbury AS though.

Now, you’ll need to understand how hash-tags work. A hash-tag is a search term that you can attach to a tweet, instantly referencing the tweet with the term in Twitter’s database. During the Perseids meteor watch, we’ll be tweeting with the tag #Meteorwatch. By following that page you’ll be able to see the Tweets in real time as people all over the world report meteor sightings. So if it’s cloudy where you are, you can sit in and watch it all unfold online. Beautiful.

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