Looking Out for Life

Although Curiosity has not found evidence of life on Mars, NASA announced yesterday that its suite of dirt analyzers works perfectly. Meanwhile new discoveries on Earth and the planet Mercury continue to imply the possibility of extraterrestrial life. On ERV, Abbie Smith marvels at the extremophile bacteria that have been locked under an Antarctic ice sheet for the last 2800 years, “happily (but slowly!) generating proteins in their hypersaline, super cold, no oxygen, ton of iron environment!” And though Smith would love to work in Antarctica, she says it “might be more fun to go to Europa with a shovel.” On Starts With a Bang, Ethan Siegel explains the counterintuitive presence of water ice on Mercury, writing “any rocky planet with no atmosphere and a sufficiently small axial tilt should have permanently shadowed craters at its poles, which will contain ices and other frozen materials common to that Solar System.” Which gives life on Mercury, approximately, a snowball’s chance in hell.

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Making Waves

On Built on Facts, Matt Springer writes that “there’s really no such thing as a purely continuous monochromatic light wave” and “any pulse of light that lasts a finite amount of time will actually contain a range of frequencies.” Pass this pulse of light through a medium such as glass, which “can have a different refractive index for each frequency,” and some very weird things start to happen. On Life at the SETI Institute, Dr. Lori Fenton explains her study of “aeolian geomorphology – how wind shapes a planetary surface.” As it does on Earth, weather makes wave patterns in the dunes of Venus, Mars, and Saturn’s moon Titan, leaving a record of the meteorological forces at play. On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel takes a step back from wave-particle duality. Researchers have observed wave interference in molecules that “contain up to 430 atoms, and are several nanometers across, making them by far the largest objects anybody has ever seen displaying wave behavior.” This brings the “quantum-classical boundary” a little closer to the human scale. But for now, we still behave a lot like particles.