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No signs of life yet

The question of whether life exists on other planets will always remain a curiosity as we continue venturing into space. Movies like "E.T." and "Alien" are just a couple examples of our fascination with such an idea. 

NASA, as our government space agency, is obviously curious as well. But we could be a step closer to answering such questions as NASA has found the first Earth-Size planet in the 'habitable zone' of another star. 

According to NASA, the Kepler Space Telescope found an Earth-sized planet orbiting a star in the habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water might collect on the surface of an orbiting planet -- meaning the possibility of life. 

The new planet has been dubbed Kepler-186f, and it is about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. It orbits a star -- which is classified as an M dwarf, or red dwarf -- half the size and mass of our sun.

Kepler-186f orbits its star once every 130-days and receives one-third the energy from its star that Earth gets from the sun. This puts it near the outer edge of the habitable zone. 
 
The brightness of its star at high noon is only as bright as Earth's sun appears about an hour before sunset. Further, NASA isn't quite sure yet, but it believes Kepler-186f's surface rocky.
 

A sketch of Kepler-186f [SOURCE: NASA]

Kepler-186f isn't alone over there, though. It has four companion planets, called Kepler-186b, Kepler-186c, Kepler-186d, and Kepler-186e. They make their way around their sun every four, seven, 13, and 22 days respectively, and they're too hot for any life to exist on them. 
 
Size is key here. While planets have been discovered in the habitable zone before, they haven't been the same size as Earth, which makes it harder for us to understand fully. The four companion planets, for example, all measure less than 1.5 times the size of Earth. Also, previously discovered planets in the habitable zone were were at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth. 

With Kepler-186f being about the same size as Earth, we can have a clearer idea of behaviors, topography, etc. But as of right now, its mass and composition are unknown. 

Unfortunately, whether it contains other life is also unknown at this time. But it's always a worthy consideration when stumbling upon new planets in what are considered "habitable" areas. 

"The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth," said Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind's quest to find truly Earth-like worlds."

Source: NASA



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Absurd Methodology
By Reclaimer77 on 4/18/2014 3:22:42 PM , Rating: 1
I'm sure this will hit -1, but I just have to say the way they're going about finding other habitable planets seems deeply flawed to me.

Using everything about the planet Earth as a blueprint to find other life is incredibly short-sighted in my opinion. It ignores the possibility that life evolved elsewhere under radically different conditions.

We don't even know enough about what sparked life on OUR planet to extrapolate a pattern from a sample group of one.

As far as I'm concerned, the playing field is wide open. There is no such thing as a "habitable zone". Even on Earth we have life where it was previously thought to be impossible to exist.




RE: Absurd Methodology
By inperfectdarkness on 4/18/2014 3:35:16 PM , Rating: 5
I tend to agree, but maybe that's because I'm a Trek fan, and I believe in the possibility of silicon-based lifeforms, etc. (No, not the type that reside in LA, south-beach or Rio).


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Reclaimer77 on 4/18/2014 3:37:51 PM , Rating: 2
Me too! Although the "Crystalline Entity" was a bit far-fetched lol.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By dgingerich on 4/18/2014 4:48:09 PM , Rating: 2
Something like the CE would probably be water-ice based and develop in an Oort cloud area.

Honestly, we use Earth as a template for finding other planets with possible life because we really don't know enough to look for life under other conditions.

This planet has a year equal to 130 of our days, and may have a much slower rotational period than Earth thanks to its close orbit. It is also around a much smaller and redder star than ours, and would not work well for what plant life we know about. Photosynthesis would be much less efficient with that wavelength of light. We wouldn't have to worry about sunburn, though.

I hope they find a Earth sized planet in the habitable zone of a blue giant. It would probably have about a 10,000 day year and be covered with superflora. However, the ultraviolet radiation would be extremely harsh. I think it'd be fun.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Solandri on 4/18/2014 5:32:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
It is also around a much smaller and redder star than ours, and would not work well for what plant life we know about. Photosynthesis would be much less efficient with that wavelength of light.

Actually, the chlorophyll molecules used for photosynthesis are most efficient in the blue and red spectrum. They're rather poor at green, where our sun's light is strongest. That's why leaves appear green - it's the color that's been absorbed the least by chlorophyll.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By WLee40 on 4/19/2014 5:59:40 PM , Rating: 3
Actually, our sun is strongest at yellow, not green. Green is the wavelength our eyes are most sensitive to.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By maugrimtr on 4/22/2014 11:24:39 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
Using everything about the planet Earth as a blueprint to find other life is incredibly short-sighted in my opinion. It ignores the possibility that life evolved elsewhere under radically different conditions.

As far as I'm concerned, the playing field is wide open. There is no such thing as a "habitable zone". Even on Earth we have life where it was previously thought to be impossible to exist.


Nematodes (a sort of worm) and bacteria have been located miles beneath the Earth's surface. We simply haven't gone any deeper to see just how far down the...sorry!...rabbit hole...life lives. Other microbes have been found flourishing around underwater volcanic vents where water temperatures can reach almost 300 degrees F. You want alien lifeforms? We have plenty of them. We humans are outnumbered by them millions to one.

Take a look at the magnificently alien creature called a Tardigrade. It was discovered in the 1770s, a tiny little 8 legged animal about 0.5 mm in length when fully grown: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrades

quote:
Tardigrades can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water, pressures about six times greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for more than 10 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% or less water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce.


Do not underestimate just how alien Earth really is. Scientists are not shortsighted, they have spent a lot of time researching extreme life. Tardigrade are about as extreme as it gets - though their impressive survivability isn't forever - they can survive vacuum for about a week (I think). These amazing creatures certainly do live anywhere.

quote:
I tend to agree, but maybe that's because I'm a Trek fan, and I believe in the possibility of silicon-based lifeforms, etc. (No, not the type that reside in LA, south-beach or Rio).


Unfortunately, this is science fiction. Where Carbon can bond to a huge range of other atoms, Silicon is far more limited. Your DNA, proteins, enzymes, sugars? All the result of Carbon's incredible flexibility to create a massive range of molecules. Silicon does not have the same range - it's an unavoidable fact of basic chemistry. Another unavoidable fact is that long chained Silicon molecules are simply not that stable - and spontaneously decompose to boot.

Silicon is just a really bad substitute for Carbon. 90% of the Earth's crust is silicate minerals (no kidding - Silicon is literally as common as dirt!). Yet life still chose to use a far rarer element, Carbon, instead.

quote:
This planet has a year equal to 130 of our days, and may have a much slower rotational period than Earth thanks to its close orbit. It is also around a much smaller and redder star than ours, and would not work well for what plant life we know about. Photosynthesis would be much less efficient with that wavelength of light. We wouldn't have to worry about sunburn, though.


There's another possibility. With the abundance of sunlight at the Sun's wavelengths, photosynthesis on Earth might not be as efficient as it could be. The Sun has a limited useful range (you need specific wavelengths so maybe 40%+ of sunlight is actually unusable by plants), usable light will reflect off leaf surfaces, plants still need to commit leaf area to intaking CO2 and expelling O2, etc., instead of photosynthesis and so on.

Lots of room for evolution to improve given a different star with different priorities for life compared to Earth.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By asgallant on 4/19/2014 11:57:05 AM , Rating: 2
Blue giants don't last long enough for any significant life to evolve - and probably no life at all, given that giant main-sequence stars have life spans on the order of millions of years, and it took billions of years before life could arise here. Even if life did arise, it likely wouldn't have sufficient time to evolve beyond the equivalent of early single cell organisms here or Earth before the star self-destructs.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By inperfectdarkness on 4/21/2014 10:17:38 AM , Rating: 2
I was referring to the Horta, not the Crystalline Entity. But thanks for playing. :)


RE: Absurd Methodology
By delphinus100 on 4/18/2014 11:33:29 PM , Rating: 3
Still, there's the fact that silicon is less adept at forming different and more complex molecules than carbon. That's a matter of chemestry that should be true anywhere.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By StevoLincolnite on 4/19/2014 10:35:27 PM , Rating: 1
True.
But... And I quote, from Jurassic Park: "Life will find a way".

Silicon however has many of the similar chemical characteristics of carbon and is even located in the same group on the periodic table, thus the molecules themselves are large enough to store biological information.

However it does lack the ability to form bonds with a large amount of other atoms.

Chlorine, Arsenic and Sulfur are also possible replacements for Carbon, Sulfur is able to form long chain molecules similar to Carbon, heck bacteria has already been found to thrive on sulfur instead of oxygen, by reducing sulfur to hydrogen sulfide.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By maugrimtr on 4/22/2014 11:34:01 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Chlorine, Arsenic and Sulfur are also possible replacements for Carbon, Sulfur is able to form long chain molecules similar to Carbon, heck bacteria has already been found to thrive on sulfur instead of oxygen, by reducing sulfur to hydrogen sulfide.


Yes, but the lifeform is still Carbon based ;). Not to be a pain, but sulfur "breathing" (technically, since it displaces oxygen) is actually considered ancient. All those free Oxygen molecules in the air? It only exists because it's a waste product, from countless billions of photosynthesizing plants and bacteria. Before free oxygen, reducing Sulfur would have been a commonplace means of producing energy.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Camikazi on 4/18/2014 3:45:32 PM , Rating: 2
I'm thinking they use this method because we KNOW life can exist under these parameters since we are here. It is a starting point since with billions, upon billions of planets searching each is difficult. Bring that number down and it gets easier and you can expand from there. Plus since we have never seen a silicon based lifeform how can they know what to look for to find it? They would be guessing and might be way off and never find anything.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By sgw2n5 on 4/18/2014 4:00:52 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Life (or consciousness, intelligence, etc) might exist in forms that haven't even occurred to us yet.

It is possible that other life forms might find the idea of intelligent beings (us) being essentially mobile sacks composed mostly of salt water and various organic compounds laughable and highly improbable.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By JediJeb on 4/18/2014 4:50:04 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
It is possible that other life forms might find the idea of intelligent beings (us) being essentially mobile sacks composed mostly of salt water and various organic compounds laughable and highly improbable.


Reminds me of the quote from a Trek episode where the aliens say "Ugly sacks of mostly water" when referring to humans.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By gixser on 4/19/2014 12:44:39 PM , Rating: 2
Also classified in another galactic reference resource as "mostly harmless".


RE: Absurd Methodology
By lake393 on 4/18/2014 5:30:40 PM , Rating: 3
If you knew a bit about chemistry, then you'd realize that silicon doesn't form as many chemicals as carbon, nor is any life possible without a liquid solvent such as the universal solvent (liquid water).

So if you actually think it's "deeply flawed" and "incredibly short-sighted" to search for life in habitble zones instead of, say the atmosphere of gas giants or other extremely cold/hot/hostile places, then perhaps your own understanding of life sciences could use some polishing.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Camikazi on 4/18/2014 7:40:25 PM , Rating: 1
Didn't we also believe that the sun was a god and that the atom was the smallest particle there is? Just because we have not found it doesn't mean it can't happen, maybe we are missing something that would let us realize that silicon life is possible.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By SPOOFE on 4/18/2014 8:36:14 PM , Rating: 3
I don't think believing the sun to be a deity for want of any other available explanation is at all comparable to the robust and extensive chemical knowledge we've accrued. I think hoping for physically-unlikely developments because "life finds a way! ::handwave::" is more akin to sun-god worship, myself.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Camikazi on 4/19/2014 5:31:26 PM , Rating: 1
It isn't hoping for it but not being closed-minded to information that can show it can exist. Also worshipping the sun for want of another explanation is the same as denying another form of life can exist because we don't have information to support it.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By SPOOFE on 4/20/2014 2:43:08 PM , Rating: 3
It is close-minded to deny the robust and extensive knowledge of chemistry we've accrued. Exploring every remote possibility would be great, but we don't have infinite resources to indulge. What we KNOW is that life can be carbon-based and can exist in a certain zone around certain stars. Everything else is wishful thinking.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By superPC on 4/19/2014 6:51:22 PM , Rating: 2
I think both of you are right. You lack imagination though. In a different pressure and temperature condition to earth, other liquid can be a universal solvent. Scientist thinks methane ocean on titan act like ocean on earth & there might be life there so different from our own ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_on_Titan ). How about Jupiter? Scientist think life is possible there too ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jupiter#Possibility_o... ).

I think the reason scientist focus their search of life on worlds much like our own has less to do with the possibility of life unlike our own, but more to do with simply narrowing down the parameters. We know for certain life evolves on earth. Therefore if we find other planets similar to earth, maybe life evolves there too. Without visiting titan or Jupiter, we will never know if life really did evolve there, so why search for planet with such characteristic?

Even if life evolves on mars or Venus, those are still earth like worlds, ones that we’ve been finding more and more with kepler help.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By retrospooty on 4/18/2014 5:54:42 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is everything is so far away there really isn't any way to tell with our current tech. All they can tell is that some conditions are similar to the one place we know life exists.

I think I am with you on the plausibility of life existing in many other extreme places by our standards. My bet is the universe is simply teaming with life all over the place... Most of which likely never got beyond microbial state. Intelligent life? So far it's just us and those little grey doods that we know of ;)


RE: Absurd Methodology
By geddarkstorm on 4/18/2014 6:44:26 PM , Rating: 2
Just remember, life didn't develop in those extreme environments; it developed in favorable ones and then adapted to the extreme environments.

By the way, oxygen is one of the more extreme environments for life to try to survive in. Thankfully, life has adapted pretty well to a ~20% oxygen atmosphere on this planet; though it does still tend to kill us with all those metabolism shredding reactive oxygen byproducts.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Jeffk464 on 4/19/2014 12:47:01 AM , Rating: 2
I'm thinking liquid water is probably a key factor.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Morawka on 4/19/2014 11:49:14 AM , Rating: 2
all life is carbon based. which needs water. Water is key, no matter what conditions.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Reclaimer77 on 4/19/2014 11:51:00 AM , Rating: 2
All life on EARTH is carbon based, yes.


RE: Absurd Methodology
By SPOOFE on 4/19/2014 1:21:15 PM , Rating: 3
All life THAT WE KNOW OF, yes. For someone that so constantly grumps about pie-in-the-sky baseless liberal dreams, you're certainly going pretty New Age with this one. Is the magic of Love going to build life forms out of ead and cesium, now?


RE: Absurd Methodology
By Reclaimer77 on 4/19/2014 8:04:56 PM , Rating: 2
Well I'm sorry my mind is open to possibilities that yours apparently isn't. I've been called closed-minded here plenty by others, so this is ironic.

And I don't see why life being carbon based excludes the possibility that it can still exist in places vastly different than Earth. How in the hell is that "liberal"?

Who the hell cares anyway? It's 500 goddamn light years away. Fat chance testing your hypothesis!


RE: Absurd Methodology
By SPOOFE on 4/20/2014 2:48:54 PM , Rating: 2
If your open mind leads you to deny reality, then you're deluded. Remember, you called it absurd to look for life in conditions we KNOW can support it, in favor of looking for life where *we've never seen it before*.


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