III. A Revolutionary Organic Habitable UniVerse
H. An Astrochemistry to Astrobiological Fertility
Dulieu, Francois, et al. How Micron-Sized Dust Particles Determine the Chemistry of Our Universe. Nature Scientific Reports. 3/1338, 2013. As the Abstract explains, Observatoire de Paris, Aix-Marseille Universite, and Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, Groningen, researchers find another feature of celestial mediums that seems inherently conducive for facilitating this vital vector of biological complexity. (And I started with a typo “chemistory” – might one wonder what stories nebulae realms do indeed have to tell?)
In the environments where stars and planets form, about one percent of the mass is in the form of micro-meter sized particles known as dust. However small and insignificant these dust grains may seem, they are responsible for the production of the simplest (H2) to the most complex (amino-acids) molecules observed in our Universe. Dust particles are recognized as powerful nano-factories that produce chemical species. However, the mechanism that converts species on dust to gas species remains elusive. Here we report experimental evidence that species forming on interstellar dust analogs can be directly released into the gas. This process, entitled chemical desorption (fig. 1), can dominate over the chemistry due to the gas phase by more than ten orders of magnitude. It also determines which species remain on the surface and are available to participate in the subsequent complex chemistry that forms the molecules necessary for the emergence of life. (Abstract)
Ehrenfreund, Pascale, et al, eds. Astrobiology: Future Perspectives. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 2004. An international panel discusses facets such as organic molecules in space, planetary plate tectonics and life’s origins.
Etim, Emmanuel and Elangannan Arunan. Accurate Enthalpies of Formation of Astromolecules. arXiv:1609.09589. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, physical chemists quantify the prolific abundance, stability, and energetics of an innately fecund cosmic spacescape.
Accurate enthalpies of formation are reported for known and potential astromolecules using high level ab initio quantum chemical calculations. A total of 130 molecules comprising of 31 isomeric groups and 24 cyanide/isocyanide pairs with atoms ranging from 3 to 12 have been considered. The results show an interesting, surprisingly not well explored, relationship between energy, stability and abundance (ESA) existing among these molecules. Among the isomeric species, isomers with lower enthalpies of formation are more easily observed in the interstellar medium compared to their counterparts with higher enthalpies of formation. Our comprehensive results on 130 molecules indicate that the available experimental enthalpy of formation for some molecules, such as NaCN, may be less reliable and new measurements may be needed. (Abstract excerpts)
Fortenberry, Ryan. Quantum Astrochemical Spectroscopy. International Journal of Quantum Chemistry. 117/2, 2017. In an issue on Computational Astrochemistry, a Georgia Southern University chemistry professor extols the significant contribution that a quantum resource for biomaterial assemblies can make. See also herein Astronomical Complex Organic Molecules: Quantum Chemistry Meets Rotational Spectroscopy by Cristina Puzzarini (search).
In this review, the origins of astrochemistry and the initial applications of quantum chemistry to the discovery of new molecules in space are discussed, along with its the application of quantum chemistry to the study of space is driving developments in large-scale computational science, cloud computing and large molecule computations are discussed. Astrochemistry is a natural application of quantum chemistry. The ability to analyze routinely and completely the structural, spectroscopic, and electronic properties of any given molecule, regardless of its laboratory stability, make this tool a necessary component for astrochemical analysis. The chemistry of the Earth is a small snapshot of the chemistries available in the universe at large, and the flexibility inherent within computation make quantum chemistry an excellent driver of new knowledge in fundamental molecular science as well as in astrophysics. (Abstract)
Foucher, Frederic, et al. A Statistical Approach to Illustrate the Challenge of Astrobiology for Public Outreach. Life. Online October, 2017. In these later 2010s when a profligate cosmos filled with potentially habitable planets in solar systems is well evident, CNRS, Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire, Paris exobiologists including Frances Westall and Andre Brack consider by way of instrumental and computational methods how their relative candidacy for life and intelligence can be detected and evaluated from microbes to civilizations. A section leads with The More Complex, the Less Probable. Since these 21st century advances are so revolutionary, such efforts could then benefit from an enhanced public, educational awareness of a deeply fertile universe which seems made and meant to form evolutionary bioworlds.
In this study, we attempt to illustrate the competition that constitutes the main challenge of astrobiology, namely the competition between the probability of extraterrestrial life and its detectability. To illustrate this fact, we propose a simple statistical approach based on our knowledge of the Universe and the Milky Way, the Solar System, and the evolution of life on Earth permitting us to obtain the order of magnitude of the distance between Earth and bodies inhabited by more or less evolved past or present life forms, and the consequences of this probability for the detection of associated biosignatures. We thus show that the probability of the existence of evolved extraterrestrial forms of life increases with distance from the Earth while, at the same time, the number of detectable biosignatures decreases due to technical and physical limitations. This approach allows us to easily explain to the general public why it is very improbable to detect a signal of extraterrestrial intelligence while it is justified to launch space probes dedicated to the search for microbial life in the Solar System. (Abstract)
Fraix-Burnet, Didier. Phylogenetic Concepts of Classification and Taxonomy. arXiv:1606.01631. A latest posting by the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble natural philosopher about his project, with colleagues, to discern and construct an Astrocladistics (Google) for galactic diversities akin to systematic groupings of organisms. Survey this e-print site for many prior articles. See also The Phylogeny of Quasars (1702.02468) and Phylogenetic Tools in Astrophysics (1703.00286) for more. A whole scale Cosmic Cladistics then seems a thought away so as to complete a universe to us developmental genesis.
Frank, Adam. Cosmic Abodes of Life. Discover Magazine. May, 2009. Rather than discrete, isolated, Tatooine-like worlds, solar, galactic, and even multiverse realms are coming to be considered as conducive spacescapes for ever-broadening definitions of viable systems.
Today our conception of life in the universe is being turned on its head as scientists are finding a whole lot of inviting real estate out there. As a result, they are beginning to think not in terms of single places to look for life but in terms of “habitable zones” – maps of the myriad places where living things could conceivably thrive beyond Earth. Such abodes of life may lie on other planets and moons throughout our galaxy, throughout the universe, and even beyond. (48)
Frank, Adam, et al. The Anthropocene Generalized: Evolution of Exo-Civilizations and Their Planetary Feedback. Astrobiology. 18/3, 2018. University of Rochester astronomer Frank, University of Washington urban planner Marina Alberti, and MPI Biogeochemistry thermophysicist Axel Kleidon continue their project (Frank 2017) to situate our home Earth into its cosmic scenario of stochastic evolutionary habitability. A proper appreciation of the chancy biospheric course from life’s origins to our technical societies might better inform and motivate what we need to do in order to achieve a viable, long-term survival and futurity. The extended Abstract lays out a theoretic and practical analysis and program. See also Frank’s new book Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth and his Atlantic Monthly essay (June 2018). While this precious, rarest ovoworld remains consumed by retro-nationalism, sectarian factions and gross military conflict, lately planning for war in space, an expansive vista of how Great Earth could be amongst a fertile raiment might serve to turn, move, unite, and save us.
We present a framework for studying generic behaviors possible in the interaction between a resource-harvesting technological civilization (an exo-civilization) and the planetary environment in which it evolves. Using methods from dynamical systems theory, we introduce a suite of simple equations modeling a population which consumes resources while running a technological civilization and the feedback those resources impose on the host planet.. Our models conceptualize the problem primarily in terms of feedbacks from the resource use onto the coupled planetary systems: (1) Civilization-planetary interaction with a single resource; (2) Civilization-planetary interaction with two resources each of which has a different level of planetary system feedback; (3) Civilization-planetary interaction with two resources and nonlinear planetary feedback (i.e., runaways). We find smooth entries into long-term, “sustainable” steady states, along with population booms followed by various levels of “die-off” and rapid “collapse” trajectories. Our results are part of a program for developing an “Astrobiology of the Anthropocene” in which questions of sustainability, centered on the coupled Earth-system, can be seen in their proper astronomical/planetary context. (Abstract excerpts)
Fridlund, Malcolm and Helmut Lammer. The Astrobiology Habitability Primer. Astrobiology. 10/1, 2010. An introduction to a special issue to survey the European Space Agency’s Cosmic Vision Program for the years 2015 – 2025. Ten papers consider the gamut of “the search for worlds like our own; origin and formation of planetary systems; dynamical habitability of planetary systems; geophysical and atmospheric evolution of habitable planets; origin and evolution of life on terrestrial planets; co-evolution of atmospheres, life, and climate; deciphering spectral fingerprints of habitable exoplanets; stellar aspects of habitability—characterizing target stars for terrestrial planet-finding missions; a roadmap for the detection and characterization of other Earths; and the far future of exoplanet direct characterization (see below).” Many entries have multiple authors, some over 20, as Earthkind altogether commences to awaken to its nebulae neighborhood.
Gargaud, Muriel, et al. Young Sun, Early Earth and the Origins of Life. Berlin: Springer, 2013. As a genesis universe proceeds to quantify, describe, and witness itself, astro- physicists, chemists, and biologists altogether offer a visual retrospective, just now possible, of how an orbiting bioplanet with profuse, evolving life came to be. Some Salient aspects can then be noted. Throughout the tacit assumption is an innately conducive physical and chemical substrate. So put, it is the prior activity of an intrinsic self-organizing dynamics that serves to impel and form this embyronic emergence. The scientist authors are from France, and seem to prefer this vital persuasion. In an Epilogue, a contrast from the 1990s is cited between Nobel laureates Jacques Monod and Christian de Duve as to Chance or “Cosmic Necessity.” As is known, Monod decries that all is accident in sterile space, while de Duve professes a universe that must be pregnant with life and our phenomenal presence. But from the 2010s it is said that new complexity theories and worldwide evidence add much support an expectant organic procreation. As a consequence, in this stellar scenario our precious Earth ought to be appreciated for a unique, auspicious significance.
As a result of self-organization processes whose details have yet to be worked out, and which were as much chemical as physical in nature, the very first living beings, capable of transforming energy and matter, and of evolving, appeared. (Abstract for The Gestation of Life and its First Steps)
Gargaud, Muriel, et al, eds. Encyclopedia of Astrobiology. Berlin: Springer, 2011. A 1897 page volume, much from French and European sources but with a worldwide array of authoritative contributors for 2,793 entries from Abiogenesis to Zircon. But with no entry for Cosmos, Universe, Nature, Philosophy, and so on, it remains an alphabetic, dictionary collection of disconnected objects and items, sans any organizing system, with no thought about or imagination of whether an encompassing organic, life-bearing genesis reality is being implied, waiting upon our discovery. Nobel chemist Christian de Duve does allude in a brief introduction, from which the quotes, but that is the extent.
A conclusion that emerges from this consideration is that life, as a product of environmentally enforced chemistry, was bound to arise under the physical-chemical conditions that prevailed at the site of its birth. This statement, at least, holds true for the early steps in the origin of life, until the appearance of the first replicable substance, most likely RNA. Once this happened, “selection” became added to chemistry, introducing an element of chance in the development of life. Contrary to what has often been claimed in the past, this fact does not necessarily imply that the process was ruled by contingency. There are reasons to believe that, in many instances, chance provided enough opportunities for selection to be optimizing, and, therefore, likewise obligatory under prevailing conditions.
Gargaud, Muriel, et al, eds. Origins and Evolution of Life: An Astrobiological Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. In a galactic and solar habitable zone, a very special bioplanet evolves, learns and stirs to collaborative retrospection. As the Table of Contents excerpt conveys, an international cadre courses through various cosmic occasions and domains of viable, sentient systems. Whenever might an earthwide natural philosophy be able to realize that an innately organic universe abides on its own, pregnant with planets, embryogenies and persons?
Part I. What Is Life? 1. Problems raised by a definition of life. M. Morange. 2. Some remarks about uses of cosmological anthropic 'principles' D. Lambert. 3. Minimal cell: the biologist point of view. C. Brochier-Armanet. 4. Minimal cell: the computer scientist point of view. H. Bersini. 5. Origins of life: computing and simulation approaches. B. Billoud. Part II. Astronomical and Geophysical Context of the Emergence of Life. 6. Organic molecules in interstellar medium. C. Ceccarelli and C. Cernicharo. 7. Cosmochemical evolution and the origin of life. S. Pizzarello. 8. Astronomical constraints on the emergence of life. M. Gounelle and T. Montmerle. 9. Formation of habitable planets. J. Chambers. 10. The concept of galactic habitable zone. N. Prantzos. 11. The young Sun and its influence on planetary atmospheres. M. Güdel and J. Kasting. 12. Climates of the Earth. G. Ramstein. Part IV. From Non-Living Systems to Life: 16. Energetic constraints on prebiotic pathways. R. Pascal and L. Boiteau. 17. Comparative genomics and early cell evolution. A. Lazcano. 18. Origin and evolution of metabolisms. J. Peretó. Part V. Mechanisms for Life Evolution. 21. The Role of symbiosis in eukaryotic evolution. A. Latorre, et al.