In a paper to be published in a special issue of Planetary and Space Science, available online now here, Italian astronomers report on their findings based upon experiments performed with bacteria in a simulated Martian environment. While the astrobiologists found that the extreme temperatures and pressures on Mars were not a terminal problem for the bacteria, the high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation was a terminal problem.
Gamma ray bursts (GRB) and astrobiology are two topics that would certainly be on anyone’s list of ‘hot topics’ in astronomy. Imagine finding both topics in a single paper. If you go to this paper by astronomers from Cuba and Brazil you will find these topics paired. Within the paper to be published in the journal Astrophysics and Space Science, astronomers ponder the possible effects of GRBs that took place during the Phanerozoic Era on Earth. The Phanerozoic Era is the current era and “covers roughly 545 million years and goes back to the time when diverse hard-shelled animals first appeared.” In particular these astronomers consider “a connection between supernovae and the extinction of tropical American mollusks that took place around the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary.” The Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary is a period of time about 2.6 million years ago.
Previous robotic probes on the surface of Mars really have not presented the latest in computer technology, largely because it takes so lon to get a robotic probe designed and launched. In a paper to appear in the International Journal of Astrobiology, a team of scientists have joined together to design what they call a cyborg astrobiologist. This is actually a smart robotic probe that the team hopes to see someday on the surface of Mars. Their system includes a digital video camera connected to a computer for real-time processing of images at remote sites. They employ artificial neural networks (ANN) in order to do the real time analysis of the scenes imaged by the probes. The team reports on the field testing of their highly autonomous unit. Read more about a future cyborg astrobiologist online now here.
In a paper to be published in Highlights in Astronomy, available online now here, Italian astrobiologists developed a chamber with simulated Mars soil and placed some bacteria (bacillus) within the soil. They conclude that “under the surface dust, if life was present on Mars in the past, some bacteria cell could still be present.” The laboratory where this took place is referred to as LISA (Laboratorio Italiano Simu-
A couple of articles released today should be of interest to readers. In today’s Science (published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science) there is an article that discusses the latest results of an analysis made of materials found in the laboratory of the late Stanley Miller of Urey-Miller Experiment fame from 1953. This was a pivotal experiment in the study of the origins of life, and is still studied by students of astrobiology. You can read about the article online at http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2008/1016/1 Also today, the November issue of National Geographic was released, and its cover article is titled “The End of Night” and is all about light pollution. You can read some of this online at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/light-pollution/klinkenborg-text