III. A Revolutionary Organic Habitable UniVerse
H. An Astrochemistry to Astrobiological Fertility
Genta, Giancarlo. Lonely Minds in the Universe. New York: Copernicus Books, 2007. A University professor at the Polytechnic of Torino surveys the likely cosmic occurrence of intelligent, human-like beings across a wide spectrum from world religious opinion to a possibilities of a Galactic Internet.
Gleiser, Marcello. From Cosmos to Intelligent Life: The Four Ages of Astrobiology. International Journal of Astrobiology. Online July, 2012. The Dartmouth astronomer details an episodic continuum from universe to us which traverses physical, chemical, biological, and cognitive stages. Within a multiverse milieu, “our Universe is one of infinitely many cosmoids that constantly bubble forth from a timeless realm.” Yet it is of interest to contrast the quotes. In Gleiser’s 2010 book, life is argued to be quite alien in an “imperfect universe.” While page 3 alludes to “matter’s urge” toward vitality, on page 5 it is yet cast as unintended and accidental. Surely this is the question that needs to be faced, and answered.
If we adopt the working definition of life as a self-sustaining network of chemical reactions capable of exchanging energy with the environment and of Darwinian reproduction, prebiotic chemistry addresses the emergence of such a network of reactions. In a general sense, chemistry describes matter's urge to bond in an attempt to decrease asymmetries in atomic and molecular electric charge distributions. Life is a very complex manifestation of this urge, an imbalance that recreates itself: it is not matter, but a process that happens to matter. (3)
Gomez de Castro, Ana. Is Life an Unavoidable Consequence of the Formation of the Universe? Investigating the Formation of Bio-Precursors and the Signature of Earth-Like Living Forms. Frontiers of Astronomy and Space Science. Online August, 2018. A Complutense University of Madrid, AEGORA Research Group biomathematician describes and contributes to future explorations of living systems across the cosmos. Some topical sections are ultraviolet astronomy, missing metals problem, and Earth’s UV signature.
This contribution to the Research Topic “Imagining the Future of Astronomy and Space Sciences” focuses on astrobiology and exoplanetary research. Understanding the origin of life is the main scientific challenge to this century and an interdisciplinary endeavor in itself. To that astronomy will contribute in three key issues. Firstly, by measuring the abundance of elements relevant to life in the Universe. Then by determining the preferred location for aminoacids and complex organic molecules assembly. Finally, by investigating the signatures of life in exoplanets. A new generation of facilities will need to be built to address these questions. The relevance of ultraviolet instrumentation for this purpose is highlighted in this short perspective.
Gusten, Rolf, et al. Astrophysical Detection of the Helium Hydride Ion HeH+. Nature. 568/357, 2019. MPI Radioastronomy and University of Cologne scientists report their novel findings of what is considered to be the earliest molecular form of cosmic nucleosynthesis. A popular article all about is First Molecule in the Universe by Ryan Fortenberry in Scientific American for February 2020.
During the dawn of chemistry, when the temperature of the young Universe had fallen below some 4,000 Kelvin, the ions of the light elements produced in Big Bang nucleosynthesis recombined in reverse order of their ionization potential. With their higher ionization potentials, the helium ions He2+ and He+ were the first to combine with free electrons, forming the first neutral atoms; the recombination of hydrogen followed. In this metal-free and low-density environment, neutral helium atoms formed the Universe’s first molecular bond in the helium hydride ion HeH+ through radiative association with protons.
Hatzes, Artie. The Architecture of Exoplanets. Space Science Reviews. 205/1-4, 2016. A Friedrich Schiller University, Jena astronomer divides this Earthwise study of a prolific cosmos known since 1995 to fill itself with orbital worlds into two phases. Before the 2009 Kepler satellite launch, our own home orrery was still used as the standard model. In the years since, all possible manner of celestial objects from planetesimals to small rocky orbs, super Earths, gas giants, and solar systems will a large range of stellar modes, often as binary pairs. But a analog of the familiar museum icon of nine planets in an orderly, circular series has not been found. Search Konstantin Batygin, et al for scientific reports, and The Way Forward at arXiv:1603.08238 about how studies might proceed as this auspicious finding sinks in.
Prior to the discovery of exoplanets our expectations of their architecture were largely driven by the properties of our solar system. We expected giant planets to lie in the outer regions and rocky planets in the inner regions. Planetary orbits should be circular, prograde and in the same plane. The reality of exoplanets have shattered these expectations. Jupiter-mass, Neptune-mass, Superearths, and even Earth-mass planets can orbit within 0.05 AU of the stars, sometimes with orbital periods of less than one day. Exoplanetary orbits can be eccentric, misaligned, and even in retrograde orbits. This was put on a firm statistical basis with the Kepler mission that clearly demonstrated that there were more Neptune- and Superearth-sized planets than Jupiter-sized planets. These are often in multiple, densely packed systems where the planets all orbit within 0.3 AU of the star, a result also suggested by radial velocity surveys. Exoplanets also exhibit diversity along the main sequence. Giant planets around low mass stars are rare, but these stars show an abundance of small (Neptune and Superearth) planets in multiple systems. We have yet to find a planetary system that is analogous to our own solar system. The question of how unique are the properties of our own solar system remains unanswered. Advancements in the detection methods of small planets over a wide range of orbital distances is needed before we gain a complete understanding of the architecture of exoplanetary systems. (Abstract)
Herbst, Eric and Ewine van Dishoeck. Complex Organic Interstellar Molecules. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Volume 47, 2009. Scientists from the Universities of Ohio State and Leiden write a lengthy review of the burgeoning list of biological precursors found to spring from and grace the realms of the nebulae. Examples from the six atom domain include Hydrocarbon: Methyltriacetylene CH3C6H, O-containing: Glycolaldehyde HOCH2CHO, N-containing: Vinylcyanide C2H3CN, S-containing: Methyl mercaptan CH3SH, and N & O containing: Acetamide CH3CONH2.
Of the over 150 different molecular species detected in the interstellar and circum stellar media, approximately 50 contain 6 or more atoms. These molecules...all contain the element carbon and so can be called organic. (427)
Herbst, Eric and John Yates. Astrochemistry. Chemical Reviews. 113/12, 2013. University of Virginia chemists introduce a special issue on the latest biomolecular findings across the interstellar medium. With advanced capabilities of instrumentation and computation, an innately animate cosmos that seeds itself with a complex array of precursor biological chemicals is quite evident. Chemistry in Protoplanetary Disks by Thomas Henning and Dmitry Semenov, and Astrophysically Relevant Ionic Reactions by Wolf Geppert and Mats Larsson are typical papers.
Horneck, Gerda and Christa Baumstark-Khan, eds. Astrobiology. Berlin: Springer, 2002. Extensive conference proceedings cover the range of celestial, planetary, biological and sociocultural aspects of a universe which is newly understood to sequentially complexify into sentient life.
Horneck, Gerda, et al. AstRoMap European Astrobiology Roadmap. Astrobiology. 16/3, 2016. Twenty scientists from nine countries, including Elke Pilat-Lohinger and Frances Westall, sketch a pathway for this project to explore an increasingly lively galaxy and universe. Five Research Topics are cited: Origin and Evolution of Planetary Systems; Origins of Organic Compounds in Space; Rock-Water-Carbon Interactions, Organic Synthesis on Earth, and Steps to Life; Life and Habitability; and Biosignatures as Facilitating Life Detection.
Impey, Chris. The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe. New York: Random House, 2007. The University of Arizona professor of astronomy provides an authoritative course from historical notions to life’s cosmic origins, wide extremes, and evolutionary trek. The work goes on to muse about biological traces in our solar system, and lately prevalent distant worlds. Impey asks are we alone, how might we communicate with potential neighbors, and what does it all mean? But the larger issue of whether the cosmos may possesses its own innate vitality and animation, which awaits an intended human discovery, is not addressed.
Impey, Chris, et al, eds. Frontiers of Astrobiology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Due by November, its main sections will be: Astrobiology – A New Synthesis; Origins of Planets and Life; History of Life on Earth; Habitability of the Solar System; and Exoplanets and Life in the Galaxy.
Astrobiology is an exciting interdisciplinary field that seeks to answer one of the most important and profound questions: are we alone? In this volume, leading international experts explore the frontiers of astrobiology, investigating the latest research questions that will fascinate a wide interdisciplinary audience at all levels. What is the earliest evidence for life on Earth? Where are the most likely sites for life in the Solar System? Could life have evolved elsewhere in the Galaxy? What are the best strategies for detecting intelligent extraterrestrial life? How many habitable or Earth-like exoplanets are there? Progress in astrobiology over the past decade has been rapid and, with evidence accumulating that Mars once hosted standing bodies of liquid water, the discovery of over 500 exoplanets and new insights into how life began on Earth, the scientific search for our origins and place in the cosmos continues. (Publisher)
Irwin, Louis, et al. Assessing the Possibility of Biological Complexity on Other Worlds, with an Estimate of the Occurrence of Complex Life in the Milky Way Galaxy. Challenges. 5/1, 2014. With Abel Mendez, Alberto Fairen and Dirk Schulze-Makuch, UT El Paso, University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo, Cornell University, and Washingto State University astrobiologists propose a Biological Complexity Index and a Planetary Habitability Index to aid in assessing encounters with “growing confirmations that multiplanetary systems abound in the universe.”