Building Blocks of Life

15 Nov 2014

Media discussions on the Rosetta mission are fond of telling us that the probe on the comet is all about studying the origins of life - from outer space. This contrasts with the sort of thing you might read on blogs such as that of Phil Plait where the idea of life from space is regarded as junk science - and people like Chandra Wickramasinghe are described in unfavourable terms. Such blogs are designed to defend the faith - manning the ramparts of consensus science. At ... a team of researchers at the University of Hawaii don't seem to share Phil Plait's staunchly anti- Panspermia theory (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe)  as they have completed a laboratory experiment which is described in a paper, 'Synthesis of Probiotic Glycerol in Interstellar Ices' which I assume sticks to the consensus theory that comets are icy snowballs of gases and dust. They seem to think the building blocks of life may have been brought to Earth by comets and meteors during the early solar system. Icy sand grains were coated with methanol, an alcohol, and then struck with high energy electrons to simulate cosmic rays in space (or the solar wind). The methanol reacted and went on to form organic compounds such as glycerol which is described as a key molecule, a building block of life on Earth.

At ... is all about discoveries about the atmosphere of Uranus, a gas giant. They re-analysed NASA Voyager 2 data from way back in 1986. Computers have advanced in leaps and bounds over the last 30 years so they were able to pick out things not possible back then. They make the point that images form space of the gas giants are showing the atmosphere - and not what is hidden beneath the thick gases that make up those atmospheres. Mostly, you are looking at clouds being driven by winds. Another oddity of Uranus is its rotational axis - which is tilted to almost 90 degrees. The planet is virtually turning around on its side.