III. A Revolutionary Organic Habitable UniVerse
H. An Astrochemistry to Astrobiological Fertility
McGuire, Brett. 2018 Census of Interstellar, Circumstellar, Extragalactic, Protoplanetary Disk, and Exoplanetary Molecules. arXiv:1809.09132. A National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Virginia physical chemist posts a 68 page survey over the past half century and especially the 2010s of our collaborative search for and detection of complex biochemical precursors across the celestial spacescape. The paper cites common facilities and techniques, detailed tables of two to 12 atom compounds, exoplanet atmospheres, and other aspects. If we may witness an innately organic universe, nature’s fecund biomateriality seems made to complexity and develop toward life and entities wherever it can.
To date, 204 individual molecular species, comprised of 16 different elements, have been detected in the interstellar and circumstellar medium by astronomical observations. These molecules range in size from two atoms to seventy, and have been detected across the electromagnetic spectrum from cm-wavelengths to the ultraviolet. This census presents a summary of the first detection of each molecular species, including the observational facility, wavelength range, transitions, and enabling laboratory spectroscopic work, as well as listing tentative and disputed detections. Tables of molecules detected in interstellar ices, external galaxies, protoplanetary disks, and exoplanetary atmospheres are provided. A number of visual representations of this aggregate data are presented and briefly discussed in context. (Abstract)
McSween, Harry and Gary Huss. Cosmochemistry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. A formidable 500 page text as a worldwide collaboration marshals a growing ability to enter, study and quantify a celestial materiality that along with resident organic biomatter seems as a fertile ground for risen life and our introspection.
Meinert, Cornelia, et al. Ribose and Related Sugars from Ultraviolet Irradiation of Interstellar Ice Analogs. Science. 352/208, 2016. An eight person team with postings in France, Mexico, and Denmark found that complex prebiotic molecules can be formed in a celestial medium of water, methanol, and ammonia under UV radiation. The most significant is the R in RNA, as a news report notes, which is a key precursor for life and limb.
Ribose is the central molecular subunit in RNA, but the prebiotic origin of ribose remains unknown. We observed the formation of substantial quantities of ribose and a diversity of structurally related sugar molecules such as arabinose, xylose, and lyxose in the room-temperature organic residues of photo-processed interstellar ice analogs initially composed of H2O, CH3OH, and NH3. Our results suggest that the generation of numerous sugar molecules, including the aldopentose ribose, may be possible from photochemical and thermal treatment of cosmic ices in the late stages of the solar nebula. Our detection of ribose provides plausible insights into the chemical processes that could lead to formation of biologically relevant molecules in suitable planetary environments. (Abstract)
Recipes for Planet Formation.
The director of the Star and Planet Formation Research Group at the Institute for Astronomy, ETH, Zurich, surveys the latest science as humankind reconstructs how our ovular earth came to be, and begins to realize a fertile cosmos which by its innate nature forms planetary objects wherever and however possible.
NASA, Astrobiological Institute. Abstracts. Astrobiology. 5/2, 2005. From the biennial meeting of the NAI, April 2005, summaries of many papers in these areas: Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems, Extrasolar Planets, Origins of Life, Futures Technologies, Exploration and Societal Issues, Evolution of Life, Tracing Life, and Evolution in the Solar System. A survey of the latest projects and progress as earthkind seeks to comprehend the universe and itself.
Ness, Melissa, et al. Galactic Doppelganger: The Chemical Similarity Among Field Stars and Among Stars with a Common Birth Origin. arXiv:1701.07829. A dozen scientists with postings in Germany, Chile, Italy, USA, UK, and the Vatican Observatory achieve a broad materiality analysis which finds a consistency between a range of Milky Way stellar objects. Once again, that collaborative, sapient humans on a minute orb can do this at all is incredible, and must have some cosmic significance it we might consider this.
We explore to which extent stars within Galactic disk open clusters resemble each other in the high-dimensional space of their photospheric element abundances, and contrast this with pairs of field stars. Our analysis is based on abundances for 20 elements, (Fe, C, N, O, Na, Mg, Al, Si, S, K, Ca, Ti, V, Mn, Ni, P, Cr, Co, Cu, Rb) homogeneously derived from APOGEE spectra. We consider 90 red giant stars in seven open clusters and find that most stars within a cluster have abundances in most elements that are indistinguishable from those of the other members, as expected for stellar birth siblings. Our analysis implies that 'chemical tagging' in the strict sense, identifying birth siblings for typical disk stars through their abundance similarity alone, will not work with such data. However, our approach shows that abundances have extremely valuable information for probabilistic chemo-orbital modeling and combined with velocities, we have identified new cluster members from the field. (Abstract excerpts)
Norris, Ray and Stootman, Frank, eds. Bioastronomy 2002: Life Among the Stars. San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2004. Proceedings of an IAU symposium suitably held on Hamilton Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia, in the locale of ancient stromatilite mats. An earthwide exploration of its solar, galactic and cosmic environs in subject areas of Extrasolar Planets, Planetary Science, Origins and Evolution of Life, Archea, SETI, Post SETI and Education and Outreach. Papers range from observational results to big picture visions of Simon Conway Morris, Jill Tarter and others.
Novotny, Oldrich, et al. Quantum State Selective Electron Recombination Studies Suggest Enhanced Abundance of Primordial HeH+. Science. 365/676, 2019. As worldwide collaborations reconstruct how the lively Universe and phenomenal human beings came to be, a 26 person team based at MPI Nuclear Physics, with other postings in the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, and Israel, cite results from the new University of Heidelberg Cryogenic Storage Ring which provide the best evidence to date for this helium hydride ur-molecule at the very onset of life’s cosmic evolution. See also a commentary First Molecule Still Animates Astronomers by Stefano Bovino and Daniele Galli in the same issue, and Astrophysical Detection of the Helium Hydride Ion HeH+ by Rolf Gusten, et al in Nature (568/357, 2019). In later 2019, we wonder how it might finally become critically possible to realize that an innately organic, astrobiological milieu exists on its procreative own.
The epoch of first star formation in the early universe was dominated by simple atomic and molecular species consisting mainly of two elements: hydrogen and helium. Gaining insight into this constitutive era requires thorough understanding of molecular reactivity under primordial conditions. We used a cryogenic ion storage ring combined with a merged electron beam to measure state-specific rate coefficients of dissociative recombination, a process by which electrons destroy molecular ions. We found a dramatic decrease of the electron recombination rates for the lowest rotational states of HeH+, compared to previous measurements at room temperature. The reduced destruction of cold HeH+ translates into an enhanced abundance of this primordial molecule at redshifts of first star and galaxy formation. (Abstract)
Pendleton, Yvonne and Jack Farmer. Life: A Cosmic Imperative? Sky & Telescope. July, 1997. Yes, by way of meteorite biochemistry and favorable chances for life in the solar system, especially on the moons of Jupiter.
It is quite possible that life will be shown to be a natural consequence of planetary evolution and ‘a cosmic imperative’ anywhere that habitable zones of liquid water are maintained for even short periods of geologic time. (47)
Piran, Tsvi, et al. Cosmic Explosions, Life in the Universe and the Cosmological Constant. arXiv:1508.01034. As a mid 2010s worldwide science flourishes, evident by prolific daily postings on sites like this, Israeli, Spanish, American, and Norwegian researchers evaluate how a sapient, observant species could naturally evolve in a somewhat inhospitable cosmos. As the quotes add, while Gamma-Rays are prevalent and lethal, it seems that along with a favorable solar system, the Milky Way galaxy is especially suitable for life and mind since its properties tend to minimize their effect.
Galactic Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) are copious sources of gamma-rays that can pose a threat to complex life. Using recent determinations of their rate and the probability of GRBs causing massive extinction, we explore what type of universes are most likely to harbour advanced forms of life. For this purpose we use cosmological N-body simulations to determine at what time and for what value of the cosmological constant (Λ) the chances of life being unaffected by cosmic explosions are maximised. We find that Λ−dominated universes favour the survival of life against GRBs. Within a ΛCDM cosmology, the parameters that govern the likelihood of life survival to GRBs are dictated by the value of Λ and the age of the Universe. We find that we seem to live in a favorable point in this parameter phase space which minimises the exposure to cosmic explosions, yet maximises the number of main sequence (hydrogen-burning) stars around which advanced life forms can exist. (Abstract)
Plaxco, Kevin and Michael Gross. Astrobiology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. A thorough text on the occasion of life and intelligence, broadly conceived, in a dynamically evolving cosmos.
Pudritz, Ralph, et al, eds. Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. New from the Cambridge Astrobiology series, the volume first updates protolife studies, and goes on to explore how suitable the planets and moons of our solar system might be for its viable presence.
Part I. Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life: 1. Observations of extrasolar planetary systems Shay Zucker; 2. The atmospheres of extrasolar planets L. Jeremy Richardson and Sara Seager; 3. Terrestrial planet formation Edward Thommes; 4. Protoplanetary disks, amino acids and the genetic code Paul Higgs and Ralph Pudritz; 5. Emergent phenomena in biology: the origin of cellular life David Deamer; Part II. Life on Earth: 6. Extremophiles: defining the envelope for the search for life in the Universe Lynn Rothschild; 7. Hyperthermophilic life on Earth - and on Mars? Karl Stetter; 8. Phylogenomics: how far back in the past can we go? Henner Brinkmann, Denis Baurain and Hervé Philippe; 9. Horizontal gene transfer, gene histories and the root of the tree of life Olga Zhaxybayeva and J. Peter Gogarten; 10. Evolutionary innovation versus ecological incumbency Adolf Seilacher; 11. Gradual origins for the Metazoans Alexandra Pontefract and Jonathan Stone; Part III. Life in the Solar System?: 12. The search for life on Mars Chris McKay; 13. Life in the dark dune spots of Mars: a testable hypothesis Eörs Szathmary, Tibor Ganti, Tamas Pocs, Andras Horvath, Akos Kereszturi, Szaniszlo Berzci and Andras Sik; 14. Titan: a new astrobiological vision from the Cassini-Huygens data François Raulin; 15. Europa, the Ocean Moon: tides, permeable ice, and life Richard Greenberg.