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Stormy Alien Atmospheres May Spark Seeds of Life

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the or-facehuggers dept.

Space 44

astroengine writes "In research presented at the Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London on Friday, astronomers discussed the dusty, stormy atmospheres of exoplanets and brown dwarfs and how they could be hothouses for the formation of prebiotic molecules. These are organic molecules that are known to form the building blocks for life as we know it. 'The atmospheres around exoplanets and brown dwarfs form exotic clouds that, instead of being composed of water droplets, are made of dust particles made of minerals,' said astronomer Craig Stark, of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The idea is that lightning storms generate copious amounts of highly charged ions and electrons, which then get stuck to dust particles, using them as miniature prebiotic chemistry factories. Of particular interest is the formation of formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and the amino acid glycine, all of which underpin Earth's biosphere."

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The universe is self-organizing, ... (1, Interesting)

Laxori666 (748529) | about 9 months ago | (#45920305)

... generating animate matter from inanimate matter, and conscious and self-aware animate matter from non-. It's truly fascinating!

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45920439)

how you think Politicians came in to being?..
oh yeah.. that's the reverse process..

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (1)

dunng808 (448849) | about 9 months ago | (#45921501)

Try to get a Republican to understand how formaldehyde and ammonia are essential to the creation of life. Go ahead, I'll stand over here and watch.

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45922195)

Try to get a Democrat to understand information theory and how it's important to abiogenesis. Go ahead, I'll stand over here and watch.

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (2)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 9 months ago | (#45922447)

Well I believe the idea would be that Shannon and his basic work on information theory made inroads to the study of complexity. And the common and flawed argument that the anti-science crowd throws about is that various parts of biology, or in this case the most basic forms of life, are irreducibly complex. And that it's SOOOOO rare of a chance that these amino acids and whatnot would randomly bump into each other to form a self-reproducing molecule that's it's an absurd theory.

So it's important to understand what the term "complex" means in a technical sense and how complex systems can arise from simpler things.

You watchin' boy?

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45923711)

Try to get a Democrat to suck my dick. - And you will be trampled while your watching.

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45938293)

Given how many of them are farmers you might have more success than you realise.

Gautama Buddha said... (1)

Andy Prough (2730467) | about 9 months ago | (#45920791)

"There is no God or Brahma, Who is the Creator of this world, Empty Phenomena roll on all, Subject to causality". The universe, and life, are cyclic - there is no point of origin. This universe will decay and be destroyed, and its energy and matter will give rise to another. This life will fail, and its energy will give rise to another. Samsara - the endless cycle of rebirth.

Re:Gautama Buddha said... (2)

Laxori666 (748529) | about 9 months ago | (#45924953)

Well maybe this is my chance to rescue someone! To disabuse them of the notion that Buddhism offers the solution to the existential crisis that is life. For samsara does not only mean the endless cycle of rebirth but is equivalent to the endless cycle of suffering - for birth indeed in and of itself is considered suffering in Buddhist terms. An endless cycle of birth (and thus suffering), with the only way out being to stop being born - to stop rebirth in its tracks and to no longer exist in this world. Truly the solution would be suicide if only that option didn't lead one to getting reborn again.

Yet is this quite satisfying? Is any form of existence truly suffering? I say not. I say life is intrinsically pleasant and enjoyable, and it is only the rudimentary animal self blown out of all proportion that leads us to think it's all pain and suffering. Drop this notion, contemplate what it truly means to be alive - and one can find a peaceful ambiance all about, delightful in and of its very self. This truly is the answer to the problem of humanity's suffering. Follow it to its end and one finds Ultimate Fulfillment - here and now, not as a result of a hoary altered state of consciousness which deludes one into thinking that one doesn't really exist - for one does, albeit as a flesh and blood body only.

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45921085)

matter is anything but inanimate.

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (1)

HybridST (894157) | about 9 months ago | (#45921451)

I'll just put this here... 2013 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate Plaintext url if /. Eats the link: m.youtube.com/watch?v=1OLz6uUuMp8

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (1)

HybridST (894157) | about 9 months ago | (#45921463)

Reply to self: Yep. /code ate the a href=blah blah... good to know.

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45921913)

Next time use the preview. That's what it's for.

Re:The universe is self-organizing, ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45924421)

Maybe you just don't know how to use an anchor tag [w3schools.com] . What are you even doing on slashdot?

What's this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45920433)

Did I hear yet another potentially back-handed confession of intractability behind the mandatory consensus, from people who actually want numbers they can stand by?

After all, it happened here... (1)

Subm (79417) | about 9 months ago | (#45920479)

> Stormy Alien Atmospheres May Spark Seeds of Life

Life started at least once here, why not elsewhere?

With any luck we'll achieve intelligent life before them too, but I'm not holding my breath.

Re:After all, it happened here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45920621)

Our planet is a data point of one, from which no useful conclusions can be drawn. On the same day as this story [natmonitor.com] about super-Earths having earthlike climates? They have to keep releasing these type of wildly speculative stories to keep interest up and the research grant taps wide open. Nothing more, nothing less.

Re:After all, it happened here... (3, Insightful)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 9 months ago | (#45920719)

Our planet is a data point of one, from which useful questions can be raised like: Why not elsewhere? The fact that Venus and Mars aren't teeming with life tells us things about where life cannot arise. (Or at least hasn't in the past few billion years)

They have to keep releasing these type of wildly speculative stories to keep interest up in science and technology. Because children have the right to dream fantastic dreams of the future and giving them meaningful goals and quests to set them upon is a duty of the current generation. Plus it's fantastically more productive than building hype about what the latest pop-star wore and whose baby she's carrying.

And yeah, reminding people about how cool science is really does help focus them on what's important and keep the research grant taps from shriveling up into nothing.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Re:After all, it happened here... (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 9 months ago | (#45921793)

Our planet is a data point of one, from which useful questions can be raised like: Why not elsewhere? The fact that Venus and Mars aren't teeming with life tells us things about where life cannot arise. (Or at least hasn't in the past few billion years)

They have to keep releasing these type of wildly speculative stories to keep interest up in science and technology. Because children have the right to dream fantastic dreams of the future and giving them meaningful goals and quests to set them upon is a duty of the current generation. Plus it's fantastically more productive than building hype about what the latest pop-star wore and whose baby she's carrying.

And yeah, reminding people about how cool science is really does help focus them on what's important and keep the research grant taps from shriveling up into nothing.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Before you can answer "Why not elsewhere?" You need to figure out how it began here. Explaining the creation of organic molecules in an early earth atmosphere is one thing. Even getting to the point of self-replicating molecules is not too terribly difficult. Getting from self-replicating molecules to even the simplest life -- that's the hard part and until we can figure that out (and no, it doesn't require a deity), anything we say about alien planet atmosphere sparking life is pure conjecture.

As for these inquisitive young minds, let's say we whet their appetite by these stories, what happens when what we've told them is shown to be untrue? We end up with a bunch of cynical adults who don't trust science, which leads to all sorts of problems (climate change and evolution are prime examples of this).

  If you want to spark their imagination, have them read Jules Verne or some other piece of science fiction fiction.

Re:After all, it happened here... (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 9 months ago | (#45921995)

Before you can answer "Why not elsewhere?" You need to figure out how it began here.

No you don't.

Explaining the creation of organic molecules in an early earth atmosphere is one thing. Even getting to the point of self-replicating molecules is not too terribly difficult. Getting from self-replicating molecules to even the simplest life

Self-replicating molecules IS the definition of life. At least, you know, it's good enough for me. If you start down the path of arguing what is and isn't alive, you just end up in a philosophical dead end.

anything we say about alien planet atmosphere sparking life is pure conjecture.

It's conjecture, but it's not pure conjecture. It's an informed and rational estimation given a small but not insignificant amount of data on the subject. The probability that the conjecture is true is low, but not zero. It takes a mountain of effort to raise that probability, and it never gets to 100% for anything, but sometimes it's worth it and all in all I'm a fan of efforts trying to peer past the veil of uncertainty.

As for these inquisitive young minds, let's say we whet their appetite by these stories, what happens when what we've told them is shown to be untrue? We end up with a bunch of cynical adults who don't trust science, which leads to all sorts of problems (climate change and evolution are prime examples of this).

Those are words of wisdom. Which is why you never sell anything as hard-set fact. These are dreams and conjecture. Do alien atmospheres spark the seeds of life? They may. If you're uncomfortable with that uncertainty, then science might not be for you. But I'll light my sparks with dreams that might come true. (Along with a good sci-fi book. Have you read Paolo Bacigalupi's Calorie Man series? Good stuff)

Re:After all, it happened here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45923807)

They have to keep releasing these type of wildly speculative stories to keep interest up in science and technology.

Please, pay my salary, PLEASE. I will do ANYTHING.

It's Alive... It's Alive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45920535)

Frankenstein rolls in his graves.

Re:It's Alive... It's Alive (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 9 months ago | (#45920763)

That's "Fronkensteen".

Re:It's Alive... It's Alive (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | about 9 months ago | (#45922403)

That's "Fronkensteen".

All I have to say to that is...

Blücher!

Re:It's Alive... It's Alive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45926695)

[neigh!]

Ob. Trek reference (1)

ihtoit (3393327) | about 9 months ago | (#45920577)

Be right with you, trying to calibrate this dynoscanner...

Self Awareness (1)

parallel_prankster (1455313) | about 9 months ago | (#45920581)

So, I understand that what the article is trying to say in terms of Chemistry. Basically, these storms could provide both the raw materials and the energy required to create biotic molecules. My question though is at what point those molecules become alive? When do they start reproducing or even get the will/understanding the need to reproduce/split to survive? How does that transformation occur that takes this energy from lightning or whatever and converts it to life?

Re:Self Awareness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45920635)

"Can someone briefly sum up a large and complex specialty of the life sciences please?"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis [wikipedia.org]

Re:Self Awareness (3, Informative)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 9 months ago | (#45920721)

My question though is at what point those molecules become alive?

Abiogenisis is just chemistry [youtube.com] , the point where it becomes alive depends on your definition of "alive".

Re:Self Awareness (1)

parallel_prankster (1455313) | about 9 months ago | (#45920777)

Exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. I guess "alive" implies "being aware that reproduction is necessary to survive" at the most basic level?

Re:Self Awareness (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 9 months ago | (#45920979)

Except that most people consider plants, fungus, and bacteria to be alive. I think the term you're looking for is "sentient", which means something else.

Re:Self Awareness (3, Interesting)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 9 months ago | (#45920919)

My question though is at what point those molecules become alive?

When they bump into each other and form something that reproduces itself. Abiogenesis. [wikipedia.org] After that happens evolution kicks in and they're on the course towards launching rockets towards Earth and killing us all.

When do they start reproducing

Good question. Once you get the primordial soup, they bump around randomly until they form things of interest. Cell membranes are easy. Lipids naturally cling to each other and make little bubbles. There's a tough call about which part of the next process came first and how they made the other half: Proteins or nucleic acids? They kind of make each other. Like I said, this is a good question.

or even get the will/understanding the need to reproduce/split to survive?

I don't think that bacteria particularly have/need any amount of willpower or understanding to reproduce, split, and/or survive. They just need to do it. We personify these things a lot as a teaching aide, like saying the river water WANTS to flow to the sea, but they're just dumb cells.

How does that transformation occur that takes this energy from lightning or whatever and converts it to life?

Oh, that's easy: the energy from lightning converts some common chemicals into some other chemicals. Specifically, methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), water (H2O), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon dioxide (CO2) or carbon monoxide (CO), and phosphate (PO43-) get electrocuted and can turn into, among other things, amino acids. These chemicals are the basic building blocks of life and the idea is that if you bump them together enough that they'll form into something that reproduces. That's the definition of life.

Inevitability (1)

Akratist (1080775) | about 9 months ago | (#45920605)

It seems inevitable that there is life in the universe besides on Earth (sorry, human exceptionalists). The issue is having refined enough tools to allow us to search for it, not unlike the invention of the microscope leading to the discovery of germs. After all, if life exists on earth, we are already past the proving that the universe can host life...it's just a question of finding it.

Re:Inevitability (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 9 months ago | (#45921043)

Well yes, but the frequency at which life arises in the universe may well make the duration that life sustains itself look like a tiny and temporary blip.

Re:Inevitability (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 9 months ago | (#45921205)

the universe can host life

Funny how our everyday language separates life from the rest of the universe, when all evidence points to it being inseparable. Perhaps that would change if we all took Sagan's POV and thought of life as the mechanism by which the universe that observes itself.

Also from the Earth's history we might assume liquid water is required for single-celled critters while O2 is required to make the cologene (sic) to bind them into multicellular critters. It's said that Europa has an ocean and volcanic vents, it's also said the ocean is oxygenated by radiation and subduction of the ice crust. If there are multicellular critters in Europa's ocean it's likely the evidence will have been thrown onto the surface by ice volcanos. As you say, it's just a question of finding it, but we have narrowed the search space significantly simply by concentrating on "life as we know it".

Alien (2)

tedgyz (515156) | about 9 months ago | (#45920619)

Ash: Well, as I said, I'm still... collating, actually, but uh, I have confirmed that he's got an outer layer of protein polysaccharides. Has a funny habit of shedding his cells and replacing them with polarized silicon, which gives him a prolonged resistance to adverse environmental conditions. Is that enough?

Creating vs destroying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45920723)

I don't know about this glycine stuff, but I remember from the effects on the school's hamsters that formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide and ammonia are not very effective at keeping alive things alive.

I'll give you an stormy alien atmosphere... (1)

MindPrison (864299) | about 9 months ago | (#45921165)

...my family!

Not possible (2)

PPH (736903) | about 9 months ago | (#45922927)

Stormy climates have to be caused by humans. Driving around in SUVs. Otherwise the atmosphere would be calm and stable and nothing would ever change.

Brown Dwarfs have lightning? (1)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 9 months ago | (#45923675)

Brown Dwarfs have lightning? That is quite interesting, really.

See Dr. Clifford Mathews (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45923875)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC220947/pdf/pnas00231-0006.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC220947/?tool=pmcentrez&pageindex=1

Mathews postulated that cyanide gas or cyanogen would polymerize in a primitive atmosphere with lightning, and then the cyanogen polymers fall out as they grow, and then get hydrolyzed in an ocean. These chains are the precursors to RNA and DNA.

This had me going for a minute (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45924023)

I actually READ the damn paper expecting to find some, you know, sciency stuff but, alas, typical science-paper-publishing garbage devoid of any ACTUAL SCIENCE

I'm sorry, but SPECULATION about what MIGHT happen in some distant alien world's atmosphere is not SCIENCE. Did they sample/test ANY alien world's atmosphere? Nope. Did they observe any life in any alien world's atmosphere? Nope. Did they crank-up a Bunsen burner and cook some chemicals? Nope, though they did at least cite the works of other who did some of this. Do they deserve a gold star for citing somebody else's sciencey-stuff? I realize that not all science involves Bunsen burners, test tubes, etc (so, yes, I'm being everly-simple here) but we seem to be awash in Einstein wanna-bes who think that "thought experiments" are the same as science, rather than a tool a particularly smart scientist used to explain his particular theories to the less brilliant. Translation: If you're not Einstein, do same actual science and "show your work"

Wake me up when somebody [1] observes some ALIEN LIFE on an alien world then [2] postulates about how it started there and [3] proposes experiments to validate/invalidate his/her theory/theories then [4] conducts those experiments providing documented, repeatable, reproducable, published, peer-reviewed results which confirm the theories or demolish them leaving the unkowns for other researchers to explore. Oh, and BONUS POINTS if the actual science approach includes a mission to grab a sample of an alien atmosphere and [a] test it for life and/or [b] test starting life in it.

Day Dream Assisted Wild Speculation should be a new major on college campuses; clearly a significant number of students want to major in THAT but end-up getting Science degrees instead.

Re:This had me going for a minute (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 9 months ago | (#45945321)

Forming a hypothesis could be considered the first step of science.

Did they crank-up a Bunsen burner and cook some chemicals?

That's been done. [wikipedia.org]

Why does #1 have to come before #2?

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