Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Extraterrestrial life


Recent simulations have indicated that vinyl cyanide is the best candidate molecule for the formation of cell membranes/vesicle structures in Titan’s hydrocarbon-rich lakes and seas. Although the existence of vinyl cyanide (C2H3CN) on Titan was previously inferred using Cassini mass spectrometry, a definitive detection has been lacking until now. We report the first spectroscopic detection of vinyl cyanide in Titan’s atmosphere, obtained using archival data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), collected from February to May 2014. We detect the three strongest rotational lines of C2H3CN in the frequency range of 230 to 232 GHz, each with >4σ confidence. Radiative transfer modeling suggests that most of the C2H3CN emission originates at altitudes of ≳200 km, in agreement with recent photochemical models. The vertical column densities implied by our best-fitting models lie in the range of 3.7 × 10(13) to 1.4 × 10(14) cm(-2). The corresponding production rate of vinyl cyanide and its saturation mole fraction imply the availability of sufficient dissolved material to form ~10(7) cell membranes/cm(3) in Titan’s sea Ligeia Mare.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Electromagnetic radiation, Physical chemistry, Model, Frequency, Sea, Titan, Extraterrestrial life


A simple, heuristic formula with parallels to the Drake Equation is introduced to help focus discussion on open questions for the origins of life in a planetary context. This approach indicates a number of areas where quantitative progress can be made on parameter estimation for determining origins of life probabilities, based on constraints from Bayesian approaches. We discuss a variety of “microscale” factors and their role in determining “macroscale” abiogenesis probabilities on suitable planets. We also propose that impact ejecta exchange between planets with parallel chemistries and chemical evolution could in principle amplify the development of molecular complexity and abiogenesis probabilities. This amplification could be very significant, and both bias our conclusions about abiogenesis probabilities based on the Earth and provide a major source of variance in the probability of life arising in planetary systems. We use our heuristic formula to suggest a number of observational routes for improving constraints on origins of life probabilities.

Concepts: Life, Earth, Planet, Abiogenesis, Planetary science, Extraterrestrial life, Drake equation, Rare Earth hypothesis


In this article, we address the cosmic frequency of technological species. Recent advances in exoplanet studies provide strong constraints on all astrophysical terms in the Drake equation. Using these and modifying the form and intent of the Drake equation, we set a firm lower bound on the probability that one or more technological species have evolved anywhere and at any time in the history of the observable Universe. We find that as long as the probability that a habitable zone planet develops a technological species is larger than ∼10(-24), humanity is not the only time technological intelligence has evolved. This constraint has important scientific and philosophical consequences. Key Words: Life-Intelligence-Extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology 2016, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: Life, Planet, Universe, Astronomy, Extraterrestrial life, Observable universe, Multiverse, Rare Earth hypothesis


The existence of life in extreme conditions, in particular in extraterrestrial environments, is certainly one of the most intriguing scientific questions of our time. In this report, we demonstrate the use of an innovative nanoscale motion sensor in life-searching experiments in Earth-bound and interplanetary missions. This technique exploits the sensitivity of nanomechanical oscillators to transduce the small fluctuations that characterize living systems. The intensity of such movements is an indication of the viability of living specimens and conveys information related to their metabolic activity. Here, we show that the nanomotion detector can assess the viability of a vast range of biological specimens and that it could be the perfect complement to conventional chemical life-detection assays. Indeed, by combining chemical and dynamical measurements, we could achieve an unprecedented depth in the characterization of life in extreme and extraterrestrial environments.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Organism, Life, Light, Nitrogen, Sensor, Extraterrestrial life


Microbes are the most abundant lifeforms on the planet and perform functions critical for all other life to exist. Environmental ‘omic’ technologies provide the capacity to discover the ‘what, how and why’ of indigenous species. However, in order to accurately interpret this data, sound conceptual frameworks are required. Here I argue that our understanding of microbes will advances much more effectively if we adopt a microbcentric, and not anthropocentric view of the world.

Concepts: Biology, Organism, Life, Species, Earth, Logic, Extraterrestrial life, Indigenous


The ability of terrestrial microorganisms to grow in the near-surface environment of Mars is of importance to the search for life and protection of that planet from forward contamination by human and robotic exploration. Because most water on present-day Mars is frozen in the regolith, permafrosts are considered to be terrestrial analogs of the martian subsurface environment. Six bacterial isolates were obtained from a permafrost borehole in northeastern Siberia capable of growth under conditions of low temperature (0 °C), low pressure (7 mbar), and a CO(2)-enriched anoxic atmosphere. By 16S ribosomal DNA analysis, all six permafrost isolates were identified as species of the genus Carnobacterium, most closely related to C. inhibens (five isolates) and C. viridans (one isolate). Quantitative growth assays demonstrated that the six permafrost isolates, as well as nine type species of Carnobacterium (C. alterfunditum, C. divergens, C. funditum, C. gallinarum, C. inhibens, C. maltaromaticum, C. mobile, C. pleistocenium, and C. viridans) were all capable of growth under cold, low-pressure, anoxic conditions, thus extending the low-pressure extreme at which life can function.

Concepts: Bacteria, Species, Earth, Planet, Mars, Microorganism, Venus, Extraterrestrial life


Abstract Extrasolar Earth and super-Earth planets orbiting within the habitable zone of M dwarf host stars may play a significant role in the discovery of habitable environments beyond Earth. Spectroscopic characterization of these exoplanets with respect to habitability requires the determination of habitability parameters with respect to remote sensing. The habitable zone of dwarf stars is located in close proximity to the host star, such that exoplanets orbiting within this zone will likely be tidally locked. On terrestrial planets with an icy shell, this may produce a liquid water ocean at the substellar point, one particular “Eyeball Earth” state. In this research proposal, HABEBEE: exploring the HABitability of Eyeball-Exo-Earths, we define the parameters necessary to achieve a stable icy Eyeball Earth capable of supporting life. Astronomical and geochemical research will define parameters needed to simulate potentially habitable environments on an icy Eyeball Earth planet. Biological requirements will be based on detailed studies of microbial communities within Earth analog environments. Using the interdisciplinary results of both the physical and biological teams, we will set up a simulation chamber to expose a cold- and UV-tolerant microbial community to the theoretically derived Eyeball Earth climate states, simulating the composition, atmosphere, physical parameters, and stellar irradiation. Combining the results of both studies will enable us to derive observable parameters as well as target decision guidance and feasibility analysis for upcoming astronomical platforms. Key Words: Bioastronomy-Extrasolar planets-Extreme environments-Extremophiles-Habitable zone. Astrobiology 13, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: Earth, Planet, Star, Terrestrial planet, Extrasolar planet, Extraterrestrial life, Habitable zone, Planetary habitability


Abstract Data from automated orbiters and landers have dashed humankind’s hopes of finding complex life-forms elsewhere in the Solar System. The focus of exobiological research was thus forced to shift from the detection of life through simple visual imaging to complex biochemical experiments aimed at the detection of microbial activity. Searching for biosignatures over interplanetary distances is a formidable task and poses the dilemma of what are the proper experiments that can be performed on-site to maximize the chances of success if extraterrestrial life is present but not evident. Despite their astonishing morphological diversity, all known organisms on Earth share the same basic molecular architecture; thus the vast majority of our detection and identification techniques are b(i)ased on Terran biochemistry. There is, however, a distinct possibility that life may have emerged elsewhere by using other molecular building blocks, a fact that is likely to make the outcome of most of the current molecular biological and biochemical life-detection protocols difficult to interpret if not completely ineffective. Nanopore-based sensing devices allow the analysis of single molecules, including the sequence of informational biopolymers such as DNA or RNA, by measuring current changes across an electrically resistant membrane when the analyte flows through an embedded transmembrane protein or a solid-state nanopore. Under certain basic assumptions about their physical properties, this technology has the potential to discriminate and possibly analyze biopolymers, in particular genetic information carriers, without prior detailed knowledge of their fundamental chemistry and is sufficiently portable to be used for automated analysis in planetary exploration, all of which makes it the ideal candidate for the search for life signatures in remote watery environments such as Mars, Europa, or Enceladus. Key Words: Astrobiology-Biopolymers-Biosignatures-Nucleic acids-Life detection. Astrobiology 14, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: DNA, Molecular biology, Chemistry, Solar System, Astrobiology, Extraterrestrial life, Planetary habitability, Europa


Advances in planetary and space sciences, astrobiology, and life and cognitive sciences, combined with developments in communication theory, bioneural computing, machine learning, and big data analysis, create new opportunities to explore the probabilistic nature of alien life. Brought together in a multidisciplinary approach, they have the potential to support an integrated and expanded Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI (1) ), a search that includes looking for life as we do not know it. This approach will augment the odds of detecting a signal by broadening our understanding of the evolutionary and systemic components in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), provide more targets for radio and optical SETI, and identify new ways of decoding and coding messages using universal markers.

Concepts: Life, Fermi paradox, Extrasolar planet, Astrobiology, Extraterrestrial life, Planetary habitability, SETI, Panspermia


The lack of evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life, even the simplest forms of animal life, makes it is difficult to decide whether the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is more a high-risk, high-payoff endeavor than a futile attempt. Here we insist that even if extraterrestrial civilizations do exist and communicate, the likelihood of detecting their signals crucially depends on whether the Earth lies within a region of the galaxy covered by such signals. By considering possible populations of independent emitters in the galaxy, we build a statistical model of the domain covered by hypothetical extraterrestrial signals to derive the detection probability that the Earth is within such a domain. We show that for general distributions of the signal longevity and directionality, the mean number of detectable emitters is less than one even for detection probabilities as large as 50%, regardless of the number of emitters in the galaxy.

Concepts: Statistics, Life, Planet, Probability theory, Jupiter, Milky Way, Extraterrestrial life, SETI