Following is a series of press releases and articles which indicate the conditions that could support life exist beyond our planet. This comes in the form of the discovery of other solar systems to water being present on the Moon, Mars, and Moons of other planets like Jupiter. I've also included some plain old "interesting stuff".
(Listed Starting With Most Recent On Top)
* NASA UNVEILS 1st IMAGES FROM CHANDRA X-RAY OBSERVATORY
*Sharpest-Ever Mars Images Reveal Active Red Planet
*LUNAR PROSPECTOR ENDS MISSION WITH HOPEFUL CRASH
*POSSIBLE HYDROCARBON SEAS ON SATURN'S MOON TITAN
*PRIMITIVE BACTERIA GROW WELL IN MARS CONDITIONS
*JUPITER'S EUROPA MIGHT BE INHOSPITABLE TO LIFE
*LIFE GETS WEIRDER: NOW, A SUPER-GIANT BACTERIUM
*Other Martian Meteorites Contain Clues Of Bacterial Life
*Lunar Data Supports Idea That Collision Split Earth, Moon
*NEW EXTRASOLAR PLANET MAY BE SMALLEST SO FAR
*JUPITER'S MOON CALLISTO REPORTEDLY HAS ATMOSPHERE
*CONTROVERSY ON LIFE-SIGNS IN MARS ROCK CONTINUES
*Galaxy Estimates Have Increased
*Expanding universe tops 1998 discoveries list
*NEW PLANET DISCOVERED AROUND NEARBY STAR
*LIQUID WATER ON ANOTHER JUPITER MOON
*Exotic-looking microbes turn up in ancient Antarctic ice
*Search for life originsin in universe is picking up speed
*NEW DISCOVERY SUGGESTS MANY PLANETS IN GALAXY
*NASA ANNOUNCES FIRST IMAGE OF EXO-PLANET
*GROWING EVIDENCE OF LIFE ON MARS, AND BEYOND
*MORE EVIDENCE SUPPORTS LIFE IN MARS METEORITE
*SCIENTISTS CLAIM POSSIBLE GIANT FOSSIL ON MARS
*RESEARCHER SEES EVIDENCE OF OIL SHALE ON MARS
Headquarters, Washington, DC August 26, 1999
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL
Dr. Wallace Tucker
Chandra X-ray Observatory Center, SAO, Cambridge, MA
NASA UNVEILS FIRST IMAGES FROM CHANDRA X-RAY OBSERVATORY
Extraordinary first images from NASA's Chandra X-ray
Observatory trace the aftermath of a gigantic stellar explosion in
such stunning detail that scientists can see evidence of what may
be a neutron star or black hole near the center. Another image
shows a powerful X-ray jet blasting 200,000 light years into
intergalactic space from a distant quasar.
Released today, both images confirm that NASA's newest
Great Observatory is in excellent health and its instruments and
optics are performing up to expectations. Chandra, the world's
largest and most sensitive X-ray telescope, is still in its
orbital check-out and calibration phase.
"When I saw the first image, I knew that the dream had been
realized," said Dr. Martin Weisskopf, Chandra Project Scientist,
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. "This
observatory is ready to take its place in the history of
spectacular scientific achievements."
"We were astounded by these images," said Harvey Tananbaum,
Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-
ray Center, Cambridge, MA. "We see the collision of the debris
from the exploded star with the matter around it, we see shock
waves rushing into interstellar space at millions of miles per
hour, and, as a real bonus, we see for the first time a
tantalizing bright point near the center of the remnant that could
possibly be a collapsed star associated with the outburst."
After the telescope's sunshade door was opened last week,
one of the first images taken was of the 320-year-old supernova
remnant Cassiopeia A, which astronomers believe was produced by
the explosion of a massive star. Material blasted into space from
the explosion crashed into surrounding material at 10 million
miles per hour. This collision caused violent shock waves, like
massive sonic booms, creating a vast 50-million degree bubble of
X-ray emitting gas.
Heavy elements in the hot gas produce X-rays of specific
energies. Chandra's ability to precisely measure these X-rays
tells how much of each element is present. With this information,
astronomers can investigate how the elements necessary for life
are created and spread throughout the galaxy by exploding stars.
"Chandra will help to confirm one of the most fascinating
theories of modern science -- that we came from the stars," said
Professor Robert Kirshner of Harvard University. "Its ability to
make X-ray images of comparable quality to optical images will
have an impact on virtually every area of astronomy."
Chandra also imaged a distant and very luminous quasar -- a
single star-like object -- sporting a powerful X-ray jet blasting
into space. The quasar radiates with the power of 10 trillion
suns, energy which scientists believe comes from a supermassive
black hole at its center. Chandra's image, combined with radio
telescope observations, should provide insight into the process by
which supermassive black holes can produce such cosmic jets.
"Chandra has allowed NASA to seize the opportunity to put
the U.S. back in the lead of observational X-ray astronomy," said
Dr. Edward Weiler, Associate Administrator of Space Science, NASA
Headquarters, Washington, DC. "History teaches us that whenever
you develop a telescope 10 times better than what came before, you
will revolutionize astronomy. Chandra is poised to do just that."
The Chandra X-ray observatory was named in honor of the
late Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. NASA's Marshall
Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. TRW, Inc.,
Redondo Beach, CA, is the prime contractor for the spacecraft.
The Smithsonian's Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight
operations from Cambridge, MA.
The first Chandra images will be posted to the Internet at:
http://chandra.nasa.gov and http://chandra.havard.edu
August 10, 1999
Headquarters, Washington, DC
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
Sharpest-Ever Mars Images Reveal Active Red Planet
Newly released images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor show that
the red planet is a different place today than it was two years ago
when the spacecraft arrived -- a world constantly reshaped by forces
of nature including shifting sand dunes, monster dust devils, wind
storms, frosts and polar ice caps that grow and retreat with the
"Mars is a cold, dry desert, but our camera has shown it is far
from being a stagnant place," said Dr. Michael Malin, principal
investigator for the Mars Global Surveyor camera at Malin Space
Science Systems, San Diego, CA. "Over the past few
months, we have captured a unique record of seasonal and
meteorological events, which demonstrates that Mars is active and
The spacecraft's camera monitors the planet's weather on a daily
basis from orbit, just like weather satellites on Earth. Today, Mars
is a much more dynamic place than the planet the Viking spacecraft saw
in the late 1970s. The weather has been particularly active during
the past two months, as spring arrived in the southern hemisphere and
autumn approached in the north.
"Storm clouds have been brewing over the north polar ice cap all
through the month of July, and soon, ever-increasing portions of the
north polar cap will be plunged into wintertime darkness," Malin
said. "As the season changes rapidly, clouds will cover much of the
northern plains and it might begin to snow as the polar cap expands."
In other regions of Mars, dust devils are the prevailing weather
story. Dust devils result from spinning vortices of air that arise
when the ground is heated and general wind flow is light. On Earth
they are relatively small features, but on Mars,
dust devils are thought by some to be a major transporter of the fine,
pinkish dust that gives the sky its unearthly brownish color, as seen
by the Mars Pathfinder and Viking landers. Dust devils may also help
initiate the seasonal raising of dust over
wide areas of Mars.
In mid-May, swirling columns of dust as high as five miles (eight
kilometers) were observed in northern Amazonis Planitia. Dust devils
in this area, northwest of the large Tharsis volcanoes, appear to be
common; they were also seen by the Viking missions of the 1970s.
The average dust devil is slow-moving and may carry several tons
of dust within its height of 1.2 miles (two kilometers).
Each lasts for a few hours at most during the hottest part of the
Martian day in the late afternoon, Malin said. Although the winds in
these vortices are sufficient to raise dust, they have much less power
than tornadoes on Earth, which develop under very different
Global Surveyor's camera has also returned tantalizing evidence
of recent shifting sands in dune fields first seen in Mariner 9
pictures of Mars from the early 1970s. Scientists are interested in
dune fields isolated within large impact craters
because their dark color suggests that the dust which covers much of
the rest of the planet does not accumulate on their sandy surfaces.
"This indicates that the dunes must be moving and that over time
we may be able to see changes that will allow us to measure the rates
of wind erosion on Mars," Malin explained.
Sand dunes also are giving Mars scientists some new insights as
to how Mars' seasonal polar ice caps retreat at the end of each winter
as seasonal warming occurs. The most dramatic views show patches of
dark sand poking through fields of carbon dioxide frost. First seen
in 1998 in the north polar region, the same features have been seen
this year on dunes near the south pole.
"These pictures look like aerial photographs of dunes on Earth,"
Malin said. "They are so unusual in this context that we thought for
a while that we were looking at a process that involves small
'explosions,' but the new images showed that wind was responsible for
the streaks we were seeing."
The dark spots on frost-covered dunes continue to grow and spread
as spring approaches until, eventually, the entire dune field is
A variety of new images of Mars is available on the Internet at:
August 1, 1999 -- CNI
LUNAR PROSPECTOR ENDS MISSION WITH HOPEFUL CRASH
Shortly before 6 am eastern daylight (US) time on July 31, the intrepid Lunar
Prospector spacecraft made its final bid for science history by crashing into
a crater near the lunar south pole. Scientists hoped that the crash would
send up a plume of water vapor that could be detected by telescopes, proving
the existence of water on the moon.
It was the end of a highly successful 18 month mission during with the
Lunar Prospector scanned the moon's surface in unprecedented detail and
analyzed lunar chemistry, gravity and magnetic fields. During passes over the
moon's poles, the spacecraft detected the presence of hydrogen, which NASA
scientists interpreted as likely evidence of water ice.
It is possible, they believe, that as much as 200 million metric tons
of ice could be mixed with the surface soil at the poles, deposited there
over billions of years by impacting icy comets. The presence of so much
water, if proven, would be a large incentive to accelerate plans to establish
permanent human habitats on the moon.
Lunar Prospector was directed by ground controllers at Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to fire rockets that would slow its
orbital speed and send it on a collision course into a large crater thought
to contain water ice. The maneuver was tricky at best -- the speed and angle
of descent were critical, and the spacecraft had to clear the half-mile high
crater rim just before plunging the last two and a half miles to the crater
floor. Then, for the experiment to succeed, it had to hit a patch of ice at
the right angle to send up a large plume of vapor that could be detected by
Earth-based telescopes. In all, scientists said, there was only a ten percent
chance of complete success.
Early indications are that the spacecraft did not loft a visible water
plume from the lunar surface. However, NASA scientists say it could take
three months to analyze the data. And failure would not mean there's no
water. It would only mean that further effort would be required to determine
if water does exist on the moon.
August 1, 1999 -- CNI
POSSIBLE HYDROCARBON SEAS ON SATURN'S MOON TITAN
A July 28 announcement from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory says that
the best images ever taken of Saturn's giant moon Titan reveal a complex
surface that may be home to icy landforms and frigid hydrocarbon seas.
Astrophysicists from Lawrence Livermore and the University of
California campuses at Los Angeles and Berkeley captured the images using the
10-meter Keck I telescope, the world's largest, on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
According to Livermore astrophysicist Claire Max, the new Keck images are
sharper than any previously obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope. They
show dark regions that may be seas of liquid hydrocarbons such as methane or
ethane, as well as bright regions that may be ice-and-rock continents or
highlands. The results appear this month in the planetary-science journal
At 3,200 miles in diameter, Titan is larger than the planet Mercury
and is the only body in the solar system with a nitrogen-rich atmosphere like
the Earth's. Located 900 million miles from the Sun, Titan is much colder
than Earth, with a surface temperature of minus 180 degrees Celsius (minus
290 degree Fahrenheit).
Observing Titan is extremely difficult. High in Titan's atmosphere,
ultraviolet light changes methane gases into a thick smog-like organic haze
that hides Titan's surface. When the Voyager spacecraft passed by in 1980, it
saw only the orange-brown top of Titan's smoggy skies. Titan is so far away
that conventional telescopes see only a fuzzy blob. Even the Hubble Space
Telescope lacks sufficient resolution to see much detail. But the Keck
science team used a special observing technique known as "speckle
interferometry" to obtain the highest-resolution images of Titan ever seen.
The next major breakthrough in observing Titan will come in 2004, when
the Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft drops its Huygens probe into the
atmosphere of Titan. The probe is expected to send back vast amounts of data
before impacting Titan's surface.
Along with the planet Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa, Titan is
considered by some scientists to be a possible candidate for exotic
lifeforms, despite its intense cold.
June 16, 1999 -- CNI
PRIMITIVE BACTERIA GROW WELL IN MARS CONDITIONS
Scientist Timothy A. Kral of the University of Arkansas, reporting at a
national meeting of the American Society for Microbiology on June 2, 1999,
said he had successfully grown a primitive type of bacteria in conditions
simulating those of Mars.
The bacteria, known as methanogens, thrive on Earth deep underground
or at the bottom of the sea in conditions that would kill most other forms of
life. They shun oxygen and create methane gas as they metabolize hydrogen,
carbon dioxide and small amounts of minerals.
Kral and graduate student Curtis Bekkum began with ash from a Hawaiian
volcano that they believe is similar to the regolith, or finely ground
surface material, of the Red Planet. They introduced only traces of water,
along with carbon dioxide and hydrogen, then observed that the bacteria grew
"just fine and dandy," according to Kral.
Acknowledging that this experiment does not prove life could exist on
Mars, Kral says it "cautiously increases our belief that life on Mars is
possible, or at least it was possible."
He added that, even if there are no such bacteria on Mars now, it is
quite possible that they would thrive if introduced from Earth. Since they
produce methane -- a powerful greenhouse gas -- cultivating such bacteria on
the Martian surface could be a first step in the long process of terraforming
the planet. Methanogen bacteria could also be useful to the first human
settlers of Mars by making methane for heating, electric power, ground
transportation and even rocket fuel.
June 16, 1999 -- CNI
JUPITER'S EUROPA MIGHT BE INHOSPITABLE TO LIFE
A news release from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) on June 7,
1999 said that the theoretical ocean covering much of Jupiter's enigmatic
moon Europa "is unlikely to harbor any life form more complex than
single-celled organisms -- and maybe not even that." The problem, according
to scientists at Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is energy.
"Nearly all forms of energy used by life on the Earth are unavailable to the
organisms that might live beneath Europa's surface ice layer," the
According to Caltech geobiologist Eric Gaidos, on Earth even the
bizarre organisms that inhabit toxic volcanic vents at the bottom of the
ocean indirectly derive some energy from sun-driven surface chemistry. But on
Europa, which is more than four times farther from the sun than Earth, no
solar-driven chemistry is likely to penetrate the mile or more of surface ice
to reach organisms that might exist in liquid water below. And the energy
available from deep inside the moon is just not enough, Gaidos says.
This does not rule out life on Europa, but it puts big limits on what
life is possible -- at least in terms of life as we know it. "Complex life is
very unlikely, but there are other possible alternatives for simple organisms
to acquire the necessary energy," Gaidos says.
CNI News comments: Live on Earth surprises scientists again and again.
Life turns out to be far more inventive, more resilient, and more able to
exploit hostile environments than anyone imagined a few decades ago.
Therefore, if life in any form has gained a foothold on the water world
Europa, it is possible that life there will prove to be just as surprising as
life on Earth.
May 1, 1999 -- CNI
LIFE GETS WEIRDER: NOW, A SUPER-GIANT BACTERIUM
One of the things that most excites scientists looking for extraterrestrial
life is the discovery of new, unexpectedly weird forms of life on planet
Earth. These discoveries -- such as tubeworms flourishing in super-hot
volcanic vents or bacteria thriving in solid rock -- demonstrate that life
can survive in many places once thought far too hostile. This opens up many
new possibilities for extraterrestrial habitats.
Life also assumes a profusion of forms that defies imagination --
again, demonstrating the possibility that ET life may be much weirder than we
think. A new discovery of a super-giant bacterium is a case in point.
According to a report in the journal Science, the new bacterium was
found in ocean dredgings in the South Atlantic. It is by far the largest
single-celled organism ever found -- so large that it can easily be seen with
the naked eye. The largest specimen measures an incredible 0.75 millimeter
across -- thousands of times bigger than ordinary bacteria and more than 100
times bigger than the previous largest microbe ever found.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, who
made the discovery, dubbed their find Thiomargarita namibiensis, meaning
"Sulphur pearl of Namibia." This refers to the fact that the microbes join
together in long pearl-like strings -- and have unusual eating habits.
Thiomargarita namibiensis lives in an environment with high levels of
hydrogen sulfide, which is highly toxic to most other forms of life, and
metabolizes sulphur and nitrates. The sulphur is food, while the nitrates
substitute for oxygen, which is in short supply in the microbe's muddy
habitat. Even the nitrates can run low, however -- so this microbe has found
a way of storing nitrate in a central sack -- in effect "taking a deep
breath" and holding out until ocean activity stirs up the mud and replenishes
the nitrate supply. No other form of bacterium has been known to adapt this
March 18, 1999
Subject: NASA Scientists Claim That Two Other Martian Meteorites Contain
Clues Of Bacterial Life
Source: Discovery (Channel) Online News
Scientists have unveiled more evidence of "microfossils" in Martian
meteorites, rekindling the debate over the existence of bacterial life
on the Red Planet.
On Thursday, a five-member team led by David McKay at the Johnson
Space Center revealed new images and chemical signatures from two
Martian meteorites, called "Nakhla" and "Shergotty," that the team
argues contain further evidence of bacterial life on Mars. The
announcement came during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference
this week in Houston.
Co-author Everett Gibson of the Johnson Space Center explained that
past studies have dated water-borne deposits to ancient periods on
Mars. With ALH 84001, the meteorite that started the debate in 1996,
the carbonate minerals containing worm-like shapes were shown to be
3.8 billion years old -- older than any natural rock on Earth. The
rocks bearing the new fossils are much younger.
"With Nakhla, the age is 1.3 billion years. With Shergotty, it's
between 300 and 165 million years," Gibson says. "This is more than
evidence of life on early Mars -- it suggests a continual chain of
subsurface life in groundwater throughout the planet's history. The
Mars of 165 million years ago was about like Mars today."
The new evidence includes electron microscope images of clumps of
balls resembling bacteria and of a gooey substance called "biofilm."
Challenging the claim are new studies of the two meteorites, also
presented at the conference, suggesting that both rocks have been
colonized by Earthly microbes. Although neither of these studies
examined the same parts of the meteorites as the McKay team, the
team's critics take them as evidence that any fossils in the rocks
probably came from Earth.
"Precisely because of the contamination threat, we looked only inside
of clays (and mineral grains) that someone else had already proved
formed on Mars," Gibson counters. "In every case, the structures we
found were bound up inside the minerals -- they were part of the
deposit. That's very different from the contaminant organisms found on
the surface and in the cracks."
Days before the announcement, other scientists attending the
conference had already begun to challenge the team's claims.
"The advance mood is one of extreme skepticism," Martian meteorite
expert Allen Treiman said on Tuesday. "I'm not convinced by what
they've put in the abstract. But maybe they've got some surprises to
bring out in the talk itself. I know I'd like to be convinced."
McKay's team plans to present additional evidence of Martian life in
the two meteorites in a paper to be submitted to a scientific journal
later this year.
By Michael Ray Taylor in Houston for Discovery Online News
March 16, 1999
Douglas Isbell, 202/358-1547
David Morse, 650/604-4724
Lunar Data Supports Idea That Collision Split Earth, Moon
Analysis of data from NASA's Lunar Prospector spacecraft has
confirmed that the Moon has a small core, supporting the theory that
the bulk of the Moon was ripped away from the early Earth when an
object the size of Mars collided with the Earth.
Scientists presented this result and other findings today in a series
of papers at the 30th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in
Houston, TX. Their data show that the lunar core contains less than
four percent of the Moon's total mass, with the
probable value being two percent or slightly less. This is very
small when compared with the Earth, whose iron core contains
approximately 30 percent of the planet's mass.
"This is a critical finding in helping scientists determine how the
Earth and Moon formed," said Dr. Alan Binder of the Lunar Research
Institute, Tucson, AZ, principal investigator for Lunar Prospector.
Similarities in the mineral composition of the Earth and the Moon
indicate that they share a common origin. However, if they had simply
formed form the same cloud of rocks and dust, the Moon would have a
core similar in proportion to the Earth's. A third theory suggests
that the moon was captured fully intact by the Earth's gravity.
Based on information first gathered during the Apollo era, scientists
suggested that the Moon was formed when a Mars-sized body hit the
Earth during its earliest history. "This impact occurred after the
Earth's iron core had formed, ejecting rocky, iron-poor material from
the outer shell into orbit," Binder explained. "It was this material
that collected to form the Moon.
"Further analysis of Lunar Prospector data to refine the exact size
of the lunar core and the amounts of elements like gold, platinum and
iridium in lunar rocks -- all of which are concentrated with metallic
iron -- is required," Binder added. "This will do much to pin down
for good if the 'giant impact' model of the formation of the Moon is
correct, or if the Moon formed in a different manner."
The current data come from gravity measurements conducted by Dr. Alex
Konopliv of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. His
results indicate that the Moon's core radius is between 140 and 280
miles (220 and 450 kilometers). This result is consistent with
independent magnetic data, evaluated by Dr. Lon Hood of the
University of Arizona, Tucson, which suggest that the core radius is
between 180 and 260 miles (300 and 425 km).
In other results from Lunar Prospector, Dr. Robert Lin of the
University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Mario Acuna of NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, and Hood also found that
a broad section of the southern far-side of the Moon has large
localized magnetic fields in its crust. These fields occur opposite
the large Crisium, Serenitatis and Imbrium basins -- three of the
"seas" that cover much of the Moon's near side. This result supports
earlier evidence linking strong magnetized concentrations on one side
of the Moon with young, large impact basins on the other side.
Results of efforts to map the composition of the lunar crust have
surpassed the expectations of the spectrometer team, led by Dr.
William Feldman of the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National
Laboratory in New Mexico. Data obtained are so good that the
distribution of thorium has been mapped with a resolution of 36 miles
(60 kilometers). At this amount of detail, scientists can detect
individual deposits rich in thorium and related elements. Their
current observations suggest that thorium was excavated by impacts of
asteroids and comets, and then distributed around craters, rather
than being deposited by volcanic activity.
Lunar Prospector conducted its primary mapping mission at an altitude
of 63 miles (100 kilometers) for almost one year after its arrival in
lunar orbit on Jan. 11, 1998. In December and January, the
spacecraft's altitude was lowered to approximately 15
miles by 23 miles (24 kilometers by 37 kilometers). Analyses of data
from the lower-altitude observations are expected to further improve
scientific understanding of the origin, evolution and physical
resources of the Moon.
The $63 million mission is managed by NASA's Ames Research Center,
Moffett Field, CA, and was developed under NASA's Discovery Program
of lower-cost, highly focused small scientific spacecraft.
Further information about Lunar Prospector, its science data return,
and relevant charts and graphics can be found on the project website
February 16, 1999 -- CNI
NEW EXTRASOLAR PLANET MAY BE SMALLEST SO FAR
A team of Swiss scientists working at the European Southern Observatory in
Chile has announced the discovery of a new extrasolar planet circling a star
very similar to the sun at a distance of about 70 light years from Earth. If
their analysis is correct, the new planet could be the smallest planet found
to date around a sunlike star in our own galactic neighborhood.
Techniques currently used to detect extrasolar planets are not
sensitive enough to discover planets much smaller than our own Jupiter, but
those techniques are steadily improving. According to the discoverers, led by
Michel Mayor of the Geneva Observatory, this new planet could have a minimum
mass only 42% that of Jupiter, or about 1.4 times that of Saturn.
The new planet circles a sunlike star designated HD75289. It completes
one orbit every 3.5 days at an estimated distance of only 4.3 million miles
from its star. By comparison, Mercury is about 36 million miles from the sun,
and Earth is 93 million miles out.
The new planet is at least the 18th extrasolar planet found since the
announcement of the first such planet around the sunlike star 51 Pegasi in
The long-term objective of extrasolar planet research is to detect
worlds similar in size to the Earth, which is only about 1% as massive as
Jupiter. It is likely that such discoveries will have to wait for a new
generation of space-based instruments such as the proposed "Terrestrial Planet
Finder," which theoretically could be stationed in a solar orbit not far from
Jupiter sometime within the next 20 years.
Meantime, however, the numerous discoveries of planets similar in size
to Jupiter have taught astronomers several important things, such as:
-- Planets are common throughout the galaxy. This bodes well for the
discovery of Earth-like planets in the future.
-- Large planets frequently show up very close to their parent stars.
More than half of the extrasolar planets found so far are apparently orbiting
closer to their stars than our Mercury. This does not bode well for the
discovery of many solar systems arranged like our own, with habitable smaller
planets at moderate distance from the parent star and large planets farther
However, the detection techniques now in use are best at finding not
only very large planets but also planets very close to their stars. It is
possible that large, distant-orbiting planets as well as smaller planets are
far more common than currently suspected, just not very easy to detect yet.
February 16, 1999 -- CNI
JUPITER'S MOON CALLISTO REPORTEDLY HAS ATMOSPHERE
The more scientists look at the moons of Jupiter, the more strange things they
see. So it should perhaps come as no surprise that something very strange has
lately been found on Callisto, the most distant and second largest of
Jupiter's four major moons. Callisto, it seems, has an atmosphere.
As reported by Discovery Online News, the Galileo spacecraft has
recently detected evidence of a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere on Callisto.
The moon previously gained notoriety as the second of Jupiter's satellites,
after Europa, to show signs of a possible ocean of liquid water beneath thick
ice. Unlike Europa, however, much of Callisto's surface is heavily cratered
The discovery of a wispy atmosphere was made by Robert Carlson, a
research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
California. Reporting in the journal Science, Carlson says he currently
suspects the carbon dioxide is venting from the interior of Callisto. A
colleague, Jeff Moore of NASA Ames Research Center, says the carbon dioxide
could be causing unusual "swiss cheese" patterns in Callisto's rocky surface
through a process called sublimation erosion.
February 16, 1999 -- CNI
CONTROVERSY OVER LIFE-SIGNS IN MARS ROCK CONTINUES
The famous meteorite from Mars known as ALH84001 remains at the center of a
running controversy concerning possible evidence of life on the Red Planet.
Ever since tell-tale evidence of bacterial remains in the meteorite were first
announced at a packed NASA press conference in August, 1996, the findings have
been attacked from every angle, and the consensus among space scientists has
lately been running strongly against the supposition that the rock shows true
signs of life.
One objection has been that tiny worm-like structures observed in the
rock could not be fossilized bacteria because they are much smaller than any
bacteria known on earth. Now, however, a leading proponent of the life
hypothesis says new evidence shows that earth bacteria sometimes leave very
similar remains in rocks when they die.
According to a BBC News Online story dated February 11, 1999,
researcher Kathie Thomas-Keprta of Lockheed Martin Space Mission Systems in
Houston, Texas says, "We believe we have clearly shown that features similar
in size and shape to those in the Martian meteorite do exist within the
biological record on Earth."
In Thomas-Keprta's research, bacteria that live and die inside solid
rock were found to become fossilized in as little as eight weeks after death.
Tiny filaments attached to the bacteria also fossilized, and the remains of
those filaments look remarkably similar to the remains found in the Mars
Thomas-Keprta was quick to admit that this does not prove definitively
that the meteorite features are fossilized organisms.
Note from Dave:
This supports a view (see my views section) I've had for a long time that
we have no clue how large the universe might be. We've drawn false
conclusions based on what we could see. Now we can see further and find
out there are more galaxies, and the Universe is larger than we thought.
Imagine That !!
JANUARY 08, 1999
Galaxy Estimates Have Increased
By PAUL RECER
AP Science Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A long look deep into space by the Hubble
Space Telescope has led astronomers to increase their estimate of the total
number of galaxies in the universe.
In an experiment called the Hubble Deep Field South, the space telescope
was focused on a small portion of the sky above the Southern Hemisphere
for 10 days, taking images of galaxies out to about 11 billion light-years.
Based on the number of objects detected by the telescope, astronomers
estimated that the universe contains about 125 billion galaxies.
In an earlier study, called the Hubble Deep Field North, the total number of
galaxies was estimated at 80 billion.
Henry C. Ferguson of the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore said the
new estimate is higher because the space telescope has new instruments
that allowed it to look farther than was possible in the first deep field study.
Because it could look deeper, he said, the telescope detected a greater
density of galaxies.
Ferguson said the new study focused on an ordinary part of the sky over
the Southern Hemisphere. The target was incredibly small, about the
apparent size of a grain of sand held at arm's length.
But the telescope looked through some 11 billion light-years of space,
exploiting the absolute limit of the telescope's keen vision.
The idea of the study was to capture a narrow beam sample of what the
universe is like. It is rather like a core sample of the heavens. The images
now will be studied by hundreds of astronomers worldwide.
The first deep field study by the Hubble resulted in dozens of new discoveries
and increased a general understanding about the nature of the most distant
part of the universe.
December 22, 1998
Expanding universe tops 1998 discoveries list
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The discovery that a strange force is helping
push the universe apart tops a list of the 10 leading scientific discoveries
of 1998 announced on Thursday by the American Association for the
An international group of astronomers from the United States, Latin America,
Australia and Europe, known as the High-Redshift Supernova Search Team, had
been looking at exploding stars in the expectation that they would find that
the expansion of the universe is slowing.
Instead, they found it is speeding up.
``This implies that gravity is no match for the force that is pushing the
universe outwards in all directions and that the expansion may continue,
perhaps indefinitely,'' the AAAS said in a statement. It publishes its top
list in this week's issue of its journal Science.
On Thursday one of the team's members, Saul Perlmutter of the Lawrence
Berkeley Laboratory in California, said measurements of an even more distant
supernova supported the earlier findings.
``This one is nearly 10 billion years back in time,'' he told a news
conference. It is the oldest and farthest supernova ever seen, and readings
its faint light support the idea of some force battling the effects of
gravity, which would have tended to bring the universe back into an eventual
``It's likely never to stop, never to collapse, never to come to an end,''
December 1, 1998 -- CNI
NEW PLANET DISCOVERED AROUND NEARBY STAR
Swiss scientists working at a Chilean observatory announced on November 24 the
discovery of a Jupiter-like planet orbiting a star called Gliese 86, part of
the constellation Eridanus (The River) visible from Earth's southern
The scientific team included Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor, the two
Swiss astronomers who are credited with discovering the first extrasolar
planet around a sunlike star in 1995. Their latest discovery took place at the
European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in Chile. They were using a
new telescope equipped with a spectrograph specifically designed for seeking
extrasolar planets. The new equipment had been in full operation only a few
months when this first discovery was confirmed.
Gliese 86 is an orange dwarf star of spectral type K, about 79% as
massive as our sun and only about 40% as luminous. However, K type stars are
considered possible candidates to support earthlike planets with life. Because
Gliese 86 is only 35 light years from Earth, it can be seen with the unaided
Gliese 86 is also part of a long-period binary system, meaning that it
and another companion star orbit around each other. However, Gliese 86 is far
enough from its companion to have its own planets -- an important discovery,
since the majority of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy occur in binary systems.
Another planet was previously found around a star in a binary system called 16
The planet around Gliese 86 is estimated to be nearly five times more
massive than Jupiter, and to be orbiting its star at only about 0.11
astronomical units, or slightly over 10 million miles. By contrast, Mercury
orbits our sun at about 36 million miles. The newly discovered planet orbits
Gliese 86 about every 16 days.
Scientists at the European Southern Observatory Silla facility are at
the beginning of an ambitious program intended to search 1,000 candidate stars
for orbiting planets. They say that the high precision of their new telescope
and spectrograph will make this massive search effort feasible.
November 1, 1998 -- CNI
EVIDENCE OF LIQUID WATER ON ANOTHER JUPITER MOON
Much has been reported in the last two years about Jupiter's moon Europa,
where, according to many space scientists, a liquid ocean probably exists
under a layer of ice. The likely presence of an ocean on Europa makes it one
of the top prospects, alongside Mars, for extraterrestrial life.
Now, new evidence from the Galileo spacecraft indicates a strong
possibility of liquid water on another Jovian moon, Callisto. This moon, the
outermost of Jupiter's four major satellites and the third largest moon in the
solar system -- bigger than Earth's moon -- was not thought a likely spot for
liquid water. But Galileo measures strong electrical activity around Callisto
that can best be explained by large amounts of liquid salt water.
The new findings were reported in the October 22 edition of the journal
Nature. According to Margaret Kivelson, professor of space physics at UCLA,
Galileo has found distortions in the magnetic field of Jupiter in the vicinity
of Callisto, indicating an electric field around that moon. Ice, which covers
Callisto's surface, is a poor electical conductor. But salt water is a strong
Kivelson said her group considered and rejected other possible
explanations for Callisto's magnetic field effect. The best answer is an ocean
that extends as much as five to 10 miles below the surface ice, she said. But
why Callisto has liquid water is not easily explained. "It's making all of us
go back to our models and think about our understanding of these icy bodies,"
comments Ronald Greeley, an Arizona State University geologist.
Callisto will now join Mars and Europa as a prime target in the
accelerating search for extraterretrial life within our own solar system.
August 7, 1998 -- NASA
Exotic-looking microbes turn up in ancient Antarctic ice.
Mickey Mouse, Klingon, porpoise, sphere, and leftover turkey are nicknames
given to objects found in ancient Antarctic ice from as deep as 1,249 meters
beneath Vostok Station.
March 13, 1998: Two scientists exploring a microworld locked in ancient ice
have found a wide range of lifeforms from fungi, algae, and bacteria to a few
diatoms - and a few items with strange shapes.
" We've found some really bizarre things - things that we've never seen
before," said Richard Hoover of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Hoover
and Dr. S.S. Abyzov of the Russian Academy of Sciences have
been examining deep ice core samples from the Vostok Station about 1,000 km
(620 miles) from the South Pole.
The objects have fanciful names - like Mickey Mouse and Klingon - based on
passing resemblances. Hoover expects that most will fall into known categories
of microorganisms as he and Abyzov study the images.
"We're exploring a new world," Hoover said. "Until we get a lot more
experience, we're going to see brand new things all the time."
Web LinksDiatoms prove polar ice sheet melted (ABCNews)
Life In Antarctic Ice May Compare To Mars.
High wire act may be best way to explore Europa - Using a tether to grab power
from Europa's magnetic field may allow future spacecraft to explore that
intriguing moon "faster, better, and cheaper."
Clues to possible life on Europa may lie buried in Antarctic ice
The ice harboring these finds is as old as 400,000 years, depending on the
depth. Russian scientists at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute in St.
Petersburg, Russia, developed the technology for drilling ice cores without
contaminating the samples. Since 1974, they have worked at Vostok Station,
extracting cores from ever greater depths.
In 1996, the Russian Academy of Sciences announced that a large lake of liquid
water lies beneath the 3 km-deep glacier at Vostok.
Meanwhile, the ice samples from above the lake's surface (which has not been
breached) are stirring interest in the scientific community. In the 1970s,
Abyzov discovered - and in some cases revived - microorganisms in ice that
conventional wisdom had said was sterile.
Now the discovery of ice and slush on Europa and mounting evidence of water on
Mars and on our own Moon are leading scientists to rethink the possibilities
of life elsewhere in the universe.
"These are very important questions for future cosmic research on places like
Europa, comets, the Martian ice caps," Abyzov said of the mysteries in the
This "Mickey Mouse" shape is actually part of a colony of fluffy microbes
buried for several thousand years in the Antarctic ice. What appears to be
Swiss cheese (in the enlargements) is actually the filter through which the
melted ice was drained. Electron beams drilled holes. Each of these images is
linked to a 1350x1050 pixel JPG, 280K to 640K in size. Please use with the
following credit line: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center.Hoover and Abyzov are
using Marshall's Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM) to examine
material found in the ice. Their work is a collaborative effort between
NASA/Marshall and the Institute of Microbiology of the Russian Academy of
Sciences working in collaboration with the St. Petersburg Mining Institute and
the Institute of Arctic and Antarctic Research in St. Petersburg, Russia.
"This is very useful," Abyzov said, "because we do not have this equipment in
our laboratory. We have scanning electron microscopes, but without the
additional equipment you have."
Richard Hoover of NASA/Marshall and Dr. S.S. Abyzov of the Institute of
Microbiology (right) check ESEM images of microbes found in ancient Antarctic
ice. The ESEM is visible behind Abyzov (ESEM operator Greg Jerman is partially
visible behind Hoover). This image links to a 1,500x1,082-pixel, 576K JPG.
Photo credit: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center.As might be expected, they
have found a lot of atmospheric dust and debris, and possibly some cosmic
"There are some dust particles with unusual spectra," Hoover said. "Which may
be cosmic dust particles." The ESEM allows the operator to designate a point
on a specimen and then scan with X-rays to determine what elements are
present. The ratios found in some of the dust particles do not match ratios
expected in terrestrial dust grains.
"Mickey Mouse" and other colonies of small microbes appear to be out of the
ordinary. These are fluffy white objects, about 1 micron wide and resembling
"Here's the shocker," said Hoover, pointing at the ESEM monitor, "these small
coccoid bodies are covered with all this incredible fibrous structure." The
filaments appear to be about 30 to 40 nanometers wide (that's about 1/10th a
wavelength of visible light).
"It's difficult for me to say what it is," Abyzov said, "but I tend to agree
that this is biological."
"There are all sorts of microorganisms in the ice. Some are readily
recognizable as cyanobacteria, bacteria, fungi, spores, pollen grains, and
diatoms, but some are not recognizable as anything we've ever seen before,"
Hoover said. Many will turn out to be known. It's just that they look
different under the ESEM, which provides details that are not available
through other microscopes.
Familiar items include bits of sponge and feather, and diatom fragments,
Hoover's other area of personal interest and expertise (he works at Marshall
as an X-ray astronomer).
They have also found a number of large cyanobacteria with nanobacteria
"What is clearly going on is that when microorganisms freeze, they shut down
and go into this anabiotic state," Hoover explained. Anabiotic means alive but
inactive, like suspended animation. Russian scientists have been able to
revive and culture bacteria, yeast, fungi, and other microbes found in ice
"One of the things that was really exciting was that many of the cyanobacteria
from 1,243 meters down had lots of antimony," Hoover said. The X-ray spectrum
showed carbon, oxygen, zinc, silicon, aluminum, and potassium - all chemicals
common to life. But it also showed an abnormal amount of antimony, a toxic
"It was not just one of these that had it," Hoover said, "but microorganism
Gregory Jerman, the ESEM operator, noted that the metal content has varied
with depth. At some levels the microorganisms show large quantities of
antimony, while in others zinc rings the bell
More unusual shapes found in the Vostok Station ice resemble a porpoise,
Thanksgiving leftovers, and a sphere. These names will give way to proper
scientific names as Hoover and Abyzov identify them in the coming months. Each
of these images is linked to a 1350x1050 pixel JPG, 280K to 640K in size.
Please use with the following credit line: NASA/Marshall Space Flight
Center.With more than 150 ESEM images and almost as many spectra recorded,
Hoover and Abyzov next go to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
California. There, Dr. Ken Nealson will try to extract genetic material from
As Hoover talked, another new image appeared on screen.
"It's pretty big," he said of an object that looked like a porpoise (above)
and probably is a protozoan.
"The work of identifying and classifying everything in the ice will be long
and challenging," Hoover said. He compared it to his own initiation in the
world of diatoms where for years everything looked new until he became
familiar with it. Then he could quickly recognize the rare unusual specimen.
"It's necessary to know what to look for and the kinds of things you can see,"
Like the Klingon's forehead, a wrinkled object resembling a character from
Star Trek, or the porpoise. For now some of them just have nicknames, until
Hoover, Abyzov, and their colleagues analyze their exciting images and obtain
more definitive identifications of these microscopic beasts of the frozen
For July 29, 1998
Somewhere out there, vital signs await NASA
By Elizabeth Weise
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON - The search for the origins of life in the universe
is just starting to pick up speed.
Between now and 2006, NASA will send out probes to sample comet,
asteroid and star dust, Martian soil, and a gust of solar wind
Other missions will send back information about their
destinations, from Jupiter's icy moon Europa to the primordial
nebula that formed our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
"Basically, we've got rides to all the places of interest to
start piecing together the chain of events behind the origins of
life," says Lynn Harper, head of NASA's astrobiology program.
Where and how to look for those origins - and perhaps examples of
extraterrestrial life - are the questions NASA put to a group of
leading scientists who met for three days last week at the
NASA/Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California.
Their goal was to start mapping a five-year plan for the space
agency's emerging astrobiology program. They were to provide
direction for research, next-generation missions and technology
NASA isn't expecting to drop in on ET. What it imagines we might
find is more along the lines of microbes and clues in the
chemical signature of objects to indicate the presence of those
But microbes beget larger forms of life, and finding anything
living beyond Earth means there's a good chance something as
complex as - if not more complex than - us exists among the
millions of planets in our galaxy.
In a wrap-up session, Michael Mumma, a chief scientist at Goddard
Space Flight Center, put it succinctly: "There are two basic
questions: Where did we come from, and are we alone?"
To answer those questions, the first task is to decide in what
range of conditions life might arise. It turns out to be a much
broader area than many suspected, even here on Earth.
In recent years biologists have discovered microbes living inside
salt crystals and rocks, deep undersea at enormous pressure, in
utter darkness and in boiling hot springs in Yellowstone National
Park. One species of bacterium even lives half a mile beneath the
surface of the planet and gets its energy from the weathering of
Although such arcane substances as liquid hydrocarbons salted
with polar molecules and ammonia-water are two media that might
support life, in general it's agreed that liquid water is a
prerequisite. That defines the "habitable zone" within which to
begin the search.
But there are other possibilities.
Water clouds might exist at the edges of the habitable zone, and
water might be found under the surface on planets and moons
outside the zone.
The most likely spots in our solar system are Mars, which may
have a liquid aquifer buried hundreds of feet below ground, and
Jupiter's moons Europa and Callisto, which are believed to have
water beneath their icy surfaces.
Some astronomers think Pluto may harbor liquid oceans in its
interior, based on evidence of tidal forces. "It looks squashed"
is how one scientist put it.
One of the goals of last week's meeting was to think about
designs for experiments that could piggyback on planned missions,
possible because of NASA's recent "better, faster, cheaper" push.
Whereas a mission once might have taken the better part of a
decade, quicker turnaround times and more nimble missions allow
scientists to test their ideas quickly.
One proposal is the Europa ice clipper. As soon as it was clear
that Europa had the potential for liquid water beneath the frozen
surface, a mission was proposed to do a flyby and shoot something
into the surface that would chip up some of the ice and collect
Another is the New Millennium Mars Microprobe, which will
piggyback on the Mars polar lander going up in January. This
volleyball-size probe literally will be thrown off the lander as
it enters the atmosphere.
"It whacks into the planet, the front part penetrates into the
soil, maybe up to 2 meters, and the aft portion remains at the
surface and communicates back to Earth," says Michael Meyer, an
astrobiologist out of NASA's Office of Space Science in
The probe will measure water content in the soil and temperature
change over time, giving scientists an idea of the extremes life
would have to exist within.
As for Pluto, the Pluto Express is planned to launch in 2004,
meaning scientists have a few years to put together experiments
to expand our knowledge of Pluto's secrets.
When it's not possible to drop by and grab some samples, remote
sensing techniques must be developed and refined to look at
planets many light-years away.
Long-range telescopes can analyze the atmosphere of a planet to
look for chemical signatures that might mean the presence of
Because we know what elements are most common in the universe and
what combinations of those elements don't seem to happen by
themselves, we can guess that some biological process might have
A good example of this is Earth.
When the Galileo probe flew by Earth, it saw oxygen, methane and
nitrous oxide in our atmosphere. But those three can't coexist
"If you bottled it very long, the methane or the oxygen would
disappear," Meyer says. And in an atmosphere, oxygen ends up as
ozone, which is even easier to spot.
"And if you have CO2 (carbon dioxide) and ozone, which are two
easy things to see, then you'd be very suspicious because it
might be a life process."
One of the main research focuses the scientists agreed on sounds
the most unlikely but hinges on that very fact. The proposed
Mission to Early Earth would explore our planet's origins by
examining paleontological remnants and looking at extreme
environments deep beneath the seas and Earth's crust, where life
forms left from the early, pre-oxygen Earth might be found.
Figuring out what happened on Earth might help us guess what
happened, or is happening, on other planets, as life appears now
to be almost automatic, given certain circumstances.
"If you put the right kinds of elements together, you get a
planet. If you have a planet in the right place, you get a
climate. And if you have the right kind of climate, life
develops," says John Hayes of the Woods Hole Oceanographic
On Earth, that's exactly what happened.
After the appearance of liquid water - the precursor of all life
- on our planet 4 billion years ago, paleontologists date the
first chemical signs of life at 3.8 billion years ago.
"Life came pretty quickly as soon as water existed," says Jill
Tarter, who's with the Search for Extraterrestrial Life Institute
in Mountain View, Calif.
If life's pretty much a given when certain conditions are met,
then what about Mars, which early on sported liquid water and was
much more similar to Earth than it is now?
"Mars in fact might have been a better place for life to start
because it had fewer (asteroid) hits," Tarter says.
There are whose who posit that it might have had life, then
"seeded" Earth, explaining the rapid (geologically speaking)
appearance of life here a mere 200 million years after liquid
water became available.
Chris McKay, one of the NASA research scientists who announced
two years ago they had found what appeared to be fossilized
microbes on a meteorite from Mars, isn't necessarily one who
follows that theory, but he can explain how it might have
"Natural processes can spread life from one planet to another; it
doesn't require intelligent life," he told the assembled
Rocks thrown out of a planet's or moon's orbit by the force of a
meteorite crashing to the surface are slowly drawn by the
gravitational force of nearby bodies.
"After an impact on Mars, rocks start arriving on Earth within a
few years," he says. There's abundant proof of this, as 12
meteorites found in Antarctica all came from Mars.
Those rocks haven't been heated beyond a few hundred degrees, and
their interiors stay intact, shielding any hitchhiking microbes
from ultraviolet radiation and the other rigors of space travel
without the benefit of a space capsule.
"If you were coming from Earth and going to Mars, you'd be
well-protected in a small rock - if you were a bacillus," McKay
To test some of these ideas, one experiment is planned that would
expose to the vacuum of space various Earth-based bacteria from
It's not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Spore-forming bacteria have reportedly been revived from the
stomachs of wasps entombed in amber for more than 25 million
After their intensive three days of discussions, the scientists
went back to their universities and laboratories, but they
haven't ended talks. NASA has created a "virtual" Astrobiology
Institute, using high-speed Internet links initially among 11
academic and research institutions.
See: www.astrobiology.arc.nasa .gov
It will be "in the forefront of the increasingly important link
between astronomy and biology," NASA administrator Daniel S.
With $9 million in funding for 1999 and $20 million in 2000, NASA
expects the research to take us even farther along the road to
understanding our planet and our place in the universe.
copyright © 1998 FLORIDA TODAY.
July 1, 1998 -- CNI
NEW DISCOVERY SUGGESTS MANY PLANETS IN GALAXY
New Technique May Allow Detection of Earth-Size Planets
[CNI News thanks Stig Agermose for contributing to this story.]
In the last week of June, 1998, scientists announced the discovery of a new
extra-solar planet around a small, nearby star that strongly suggests such
planets should be very common in the galaxy.
Meanwhile, earlier in the month, other scientists at the U.S. Naval
Observatory announced a new technique that may greatly enhance the prospects
of detecting planets similar in size and mass to the earth. At present, only
planets near the size of Jupiter or larger, well over 100 times as massive as
the earth, can be detected around other stars.
On June 26, astronomer Geoffrey Marcy of San Francisco State University
announced the discovery of a Jupiter-like planet orbiting a small star called
Gliese 876. The discovery, made at the giant Keck Observatory in Hawaii, was
confirmed by another team in Switzerland.
The new planet is estimated to be 1.9 times bigger than Jupiter.
The find is important for several reasons. Gliese 876, a "red dwarf," is the
smallest star yet found with a planet. It is only one-third as large as the
sun and less than 5% as luminous, meaning that it is burning at a much more
leisurely rate than the sun and has an extremely long life expectancy -- tens
of billions of years. Red dwarfs are the most common kind of star in the
Gliese 876 is also the closest neighboring star with a confirmed planet --
only 15 light years away.
"It's not spitting distance, exactly, but spacecraft distance perhaps for
future generations," Marcy said.
He added that the discovery of a planet around Gliese 876 dramatically raises
the odds that many more planets may be found relatively close to our own solar
"This is an incredibly important finding," said Stephen Maran, a spokesman for
the American Astronomical Society. "This has to mean there are planets all
over the Milky Way." And because red dwarfs never change, he added, "you have
forever for life to evolve."
The newly found planet is estimated to orbit Gliese 876 every 61 days. It is
closer to its star than Mercury is to the sun, but because the star is so dim,
the planet's surface temperature is thought to be well below zero. The planet
is also thought to be a gas giant, like Jupiter, and therefore unsuitable for
life. But other red dwarf stars may well have more earth-like planets.
Meanwhile, according to a press release dated June 9, astronomers at the U.S.
Naval Observatory announced the first results from a new type of instrument
which may soon lead to the discovery of earth-sized planets orbiting other
Dr. Arsen R. Hajian and Dr. Tyler E. Nordgren have developed an instrument
called a "multi-channel Fourier Transform Spectrometer" (mFTS) which they
expect will be able to measure the extremely subtle motion of stars caused by
earth-sized planets orbiting around them. The mFTS employs a process called
interferometry to detect minute changes in light wavelength caused by "Doppler
shifts" of a wobbling star.
Preliminary observations of the star Betelgeuse, taken with their prototype
instrument mounted on a telescope located near Flagstaff, Arizona, were
released on June 9 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in San Diego,
"Right now the hunt for extra-solar planets is like when Lewis and Clark
returned from the Pacific Ocean almost two hundred years ago," said Dr.
Nordgren. "Now that we know it can be done, the rush to find what else is out
The discovery of a planet like the earth is the ultimate goal for many
astronomers engaged in the search for other worlds.
Preliminary results of the new interferometry device of Hajian and Nordgren,
involving observations of Betelgeuse, confirm the theoretical predictions of
the mFTS's performance. The results from the prototype instrument suggest
that, with a telescope 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter, planets a few times the
size of the Earth could be detected around many of the stars visible to the
naked eye in the night sky.
Presumably, larger telescopes equipped with improved versions of the mFTS
should be able to detect earth-sized planets.
One of the exciting advantages of Hajian and Nordgren's technique is that it
can work with existing terrestrial telescopes. Other astronomers have assumed
that only a space-based telescope many times more sensitive than the Hubble
would be likely to find earth-like planets.
A huge new telescope called the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) is in the
design phase now. Like the mFTS, the TPF also employs a type of
interferometry, but it would only work if positioned in a solar orbit far from
June 1, 1998 -- CNI
NASA ANNOUNCES FIRST DIRECT IMAGE OF EXO-PLANET
On May 27, a NASA news release announced "what may well be the most important
discovery to date for NASA's Hubble Space Telescope: the first direct look at
what may be a planet outside our solar system.
"The planet is estimated to be 2 to 3 times the mass of Jupiter and apparently
has been ejected from the vicinity of a newly forming pair of binary stars.
Although still early in the research process, the data is being released
because of its potential importance and the compelling nature of the image,"
Full details of the spectacular new find were released on May 28 during a
televised, interactive Space Science Update at NASA headquarters in
Panelists at the presentation included the planet's discoverer, Susan Terebey
of Extrasolar Research Corporation, Pasadena, CA; Dr. Alan Boss of the
Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC;
Dr. Steve Strom of the University of Massachusetts; Dr. Anne L. Kinney of the
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD; and Dr. Ed Weiler, Director
of NASA's Origins Program, panel moderator.
The following information is summarized from an Associated Press report by
Paul Recer, dated May 29.
Astronomer Susan Terebey is credited with finding what may be an image of a
rogue planet that had been ejected from a double star system some 450 light-
years from Earth. NASA officials said rigorous review of Terebey's findings
strongly support the interpretation that the Hubble image shows a planet. But
more analysis is required.
"Although the data are compelling, they are preliminary," said Edward Weiler,
a NASA science program director. Weiler said the finding boosted a major
effort by NASA to search for other planets and, ultimately, to seek evidence
of life beyond Earth.
If the object found by Terebey is confirmed as a planet, it would become the
first planet beyond the solar system to actually be sighted and photographed.
The presence of at least eight other planets has been implied by other
researchers who detected a distinctive wobble of the parent stars, but those
planets have not been directly seen.
Terebey said her planet, designated TMR-1C, could not support life. But even
so, it represents an important advance in the search for extraterrestrial
"This is part of a journey, exploring the universe, looking for intelligent
life out there," she said.
NASA is already planning a new generation of space-based telescopes that can
find and analyze Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars.
"In the next 10 to 20 years, we'll get a lot closer to the ultimate goal of
finding a planet like Earth with an atmosphere that will support life," Weiler
April 16, 1998
GROWING EVIDENCE OF LIFE ON MARS, AND BEYOND
Editorial by Michael Lindemann, CNI News Editor
Many of the stories in this edition of CNI News focus on the question of
evidence for life on Mars and other distant points in space.
We begin with the latest news from Mars Global Surveyor. At first glance, two
new MGS images of the famous "Face" and "City" landforms at Cydonia do not
bolster hopes for evidence of intelligent activity on the Red Planet. But
analysis of the new images has barely begun, and much remains to be seen,
including another image scheduled for April 23. At least one independent
Cydonia analyst, Tom Van Flandern, flatly says the new image of the Face
supports the claim of artificial construction.
Meanwhile, there is much else in the news that augurs well for life on Mars,
and beyond. Newly announced evidence lends further support to the claims that
a meteorite from Mars shows signs of life. Other evidence suggests that a
large rock-like object on Mars might be the remains of an ancient life-form.
Still other evidence suggests that Mars may have deposits of a substance
similar to oil-shale -- a substance that would virtually require the very
widespread, if ancient, presence of life on Mars.
There is news as well from other locations in our solar system. The Saturnian
moon Titan has lately been shown to have water. Titan, already known to have a
dense atmosphere, now joins the Jovian moon Europa and Mars itself as one of
the best places to look for life.
In point of fact, water is showing up all over the known universe. Another new
discovery demonstrates the presence of massive amounts of water in an area of
the constellation Orion known to be a center of star-formation. This suggests
that water may be present in large quantities in the formative stage of many
star/planet systems, furthering bolstering the growing belief among mainstream
scientists that the conditions for life, and life itself, may be commonplace
Here at CNI News, we consider it essential to bridge the gap between the
findings of space science and the claims of UFO experiencers and researchers.
Mainstream science continues to resist the idea that earthlings are being
visited by extraterrestrials in UFOs. Until recently, this resistance was
based in large part on the assumption that there is little or no evidence for
life elsewhere in space. But that assumption is now all but defunct,
signalling a massive change in scientific viewpoint that opens the door to
possible future acceptance of UFO claims.
Thus, while this edition of CNI News dwells more heavily on mainstream science
than usual, we think the latest news from the science front is mostly good
news for UFO research.
April 16, 1998 -- CNI
MORE EVIDENCE SUPPORTS LIFE IN MARS METEORITE
[This text is excerpted from a longer story in the Boston Globe, dated March
21, 1998, written by David L. Chandler.]
HOUSTON -- The case for life on Mars, albeit in the very distant past, was
strengthened by a new report on March 20 that a Martian meteorite contains
crystalline traces of living organisms.
The assertion that the meteorite from Mars known as ALH 84001 shows evidence
of life, first ventured by a team of scientists in 1996, remains
controversial. But no evidence has refuted it, and new findings make it more
difficult to find a nonbiological explanation, several scientists said.
The most significant new evidence is that the rock contains crystals of
magnetite that have a shape only found in magnetite produced by living
While magnetite grains can easily be produced by nonliving chemical processes,
none of those have ever been found to have the six-sided columnar shape seen
in these grains, said Kathie Thomas-Keprta, a coauthor of the original paper
reporting evidence of life in the Martian meteorite.
"We found a variety" of shapes of magnetite crystals in the meteorite, Thomas-
Keprta said. But the unusual hexagonal forms, she said, "are produced by
bacteria in anaerobic [oxygen-free] environments. We don't know of any
nonbiological process" that can produce such shapes, she said.
Magnetite crystals found in the Mars meteorite match those found in microbes
on Earth "in size, shape, chemistry, and the lack of structural defects," she
According to Thomas-Keprta, one of her coauthors on the new research, Dennis
Bazylinski, has been doing research on the magnetite grains in microbes for 20
years and has never found any such forms being produced nonbiologically. The
unusual crystals appear in such quantities, Thomas-Keprta said, that she
stopped counting after she documented over 100 of them.
"We think that's our strongest evidence," McKay said of the new magnetite
research. And unlike some other possible signs of life that critics have said
might be contamination that entered the rock on Earth, the magnetite grains
are incorporated in the rock and clearly came from Mars.
The findings were reported at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science
conference held at the Johnson Space Center.
In 14 talks and dozens of poster presentations at the conference, scientists
on both sides of the contentious debate over the significance of the Martian
meteorite presented their latest results, but none appeared to significantly
undermine the original assertions of possible biological remains in the rock.
[See http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe/globehtml/080/ for full text.]
April 16, 1998 -- CNI
SCIENTISTS CLAIM POSSIBLE GIANT FOSSIL ON MARS
Glasgow U. Experts See Strong Evidence for Martian Life
[CNI News thanks Stig Agermose for forwarding this story from the BBC's online
Researchers at Glasgow University say a huge rock formation on the planet's
surface is probably a giant fossil created billions of year ago by microbes.
The Glasgow team believes that photographs of the fossil on the white rock --
a 17 km-wide feature in a giant crater -- are the strongest proof to date of
life on the Red Planet.
Professor Mike Russell says he believes the formation was caused by bacteria
whose growth was fueled by the sun and nutrients in the water in a crater
However, he believes that the lifeforms probably retreated below ground
billions of years ago when conditions became harder and water disappeared from
"There probably is still life on Mars, but not actually on the surface.
Wherever there is water on a planet there is likely to have been life. But
Mars now has a dry desert surface so there probably is not any life near the
surface," he said.
Dr. Russell also believes it possible that the formation on the white rock
could be similar to magnesium-rich deposits found on Earth, which were created
by micro-bacteria feeding on magnesium, carbon dioxide and iron and light.
April 16, 1998 -- CNI
RESEARCHER SEES EVIDENCE OF OIL SHALE ON MARS
[This story is excerpted from a longer text that appeared in Florida Today's
Space Online, dated April 10, 1998, written by Billy Cox. CNI News thanks Stig
Agermose for alerting us to the original text.]
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- John Brandenburg, a scientist associated with research
on the Cydonia landforms of Mars, believes that the Red Planet once teemed
with so much life that it now contains massive supplies of oil.
"We have meteorites that say Mars had a history of liquid water much longer
than anyone suspected, maybe 2 to 3 billion years, and that it was awash in a
rich, organic soup," says Brandenburg, a plasma physicist with the RSI
Corporation in Lanham, Maryland.
"What I've discovered is oil shale on Mars. That could make going to Mars the
equivalent of purchasing 500 new Alaskas."
Brandenburg's research traces back to 1965, when a geologist named Bartholomew
Nagy published his findings on exotic meteorites known as carbonaceous
chondrites (abbreviated C1). The extraterrestrial clay-like stones were filled
with tarry matter called kerogen, a biological substance found on Earth that
resembles oil shale.
Brandenburg, a NASA Advisory Board member on reusable launch vehicles, located
the literature on eight CI meteorites, discovered in Africa, India, Antarctica
and Europe, and began comparing notes. The result was a paper in the May 1996
Geophysical Research Letters journal assigning the C1 meteorites to Mars,
based on oxygen isotopes and noble gases. He says NASA chief Administrator
Daniel Goldin encouraged him to continue his research.
"What it means is that early Mars was crawling with life and perhaps supported
an Earthlike climate as recently as the Coal Age, maybe 500 million years
ago," Brandenburg poses.
"What this means is that Mars suddenly becomes very easy to colonize. Rocket
fuel, the production of plastics, food sources -- Mars is a treasure, and
making it our 51st state should be our goal."
Richard Hoover, an astrophysicist at Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Alabama, included Brandenburg's paper during a Society for
International Engineering conference last year in San Diego. Hoover is a
fence-sitter when it comes to Brandenberg's theories. "He's advanced some
arguments that may have merit," he says. "I don't think many people are going
to argue that CIs have complex organics. But whether they're from Mars --
that's another matter."
Harold McSween, a University of Tennessee geologist and a leading authority on
meteorites, labels the Martian origins of C1 "ludicrous," and says the
puzzling meteorites are most likely primitive debris left over from the
formation of the solar system.
"When Brandenburg proposed that we have these kinds of meteorites included
with Mars samples, he was met with a kind of stunned silence," McSween says.
"It goes against how we think meteorites are formed. It's not as controversial
as the Face is, but it's... so implausible that most people have ignored it."
Brandenburg's most recent campaign for peer support came last month, when his
work was featured in the Martian meteorite section of the Lunar and Planetary
Science Conference in Houston. He is undeterred by the critics, comparing the
intransigence of conventional thinking to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
"When the wall fell, it only seemed to take a few days, but it was crumbling
for decades because it was built on a flawed premise," he says.
"Outside of Jerusalem, Mars is the most political piece of real estate in the
solar system," Brandenburg adds. "Maybe the only thing we can all agree on is
that the Mars story is just going to get bigger and bigger."