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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Californialien Part II: comments by the head of the Vatican Observatory


Title: "If someone breathe arsenic"
from:www.vatican.va
published: Dec 5, 2010
author: José G. Funes
(translate by google)

"Astrophysics is a science that always reserves surprises. The search requires a daily effort, often hidden, but often is rewarded with significant results. This week the media reported discoveries that will undoubtedly provoke many questions and open up new areas of study.
The first concerns a "red dwarf" stars, small (30 per cent of the mass of our sun) and low gloss. Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University, and Charlie Conroy, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, published in Nature on a job eight elliptical galaxies - observed by the Keck telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii - who are at a distance of between 50 and 300 million light years. As you know, the universe is made of about a hundred billion galaxies, which are classified according to their shape in elliptical, spiral and irregular. Our Milky Way is a spiral.
Using powerful tools, van Dokkum and Conroy were able to obtain spectra that correspond to red dwarfs. Hence the hypothesis that these stars in elliptical galaxies are much more abundant than previously thought. I would note that the new results depend on the stellar population synthesis models, which allow you to do the "sum" of the light of all the billions of stars that form a galaxy. Therefore, only further studies can confirm them.
In any case, if this hypothesis were proved, would have consequences for our understanding of the universe. In that it increases the number of stars, while decreasing the proportion of dark matter in galaxies. Now we know from cosmology that the universe is made for the 4 percent atoms, 73 of the dark energy and dark matter for 23.
We will then change these proportions? If there are more stars in elliptical galaxies, most likely increases the number of planets. And with these increases the probability of life in the universe. Although you may never know. These galaxies too far away to observe individual stars. Even the lively imagination of the authors of Star Trek and Star Wars has imagined the possibility of exploring other galaxies.
But we do a stage in our journey less remote extragalactic. On the site of "Nature" you can read an article on the discovery of an atmosphere on a so-called super earth. The planet orbiting GJ 1214b a red dwarf star 42 light years away, with a period of 38 hours. The mass of the planet is 6.5 times that of Earth. The new spectroscopic observations - made with the Very Large Telescope in Chile by a team led by Jacob Bean, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics - suggest that the atmosphere of GJ 1214b is composed of water vapor, or at least, is dominated by dense clouds .
Research on super-Earths is very interesting. These bodies, which do not exist in our solar system, representing an intermediate situation between the terrestrial planets, like Venus and Mars, and Jovian planets such as Uranus and Neptune. Understanding the formation of other star systems will help us better understand the formation of our own. And maybe we will get to a model that accounts in a "universal" the formation of planets orbiting other stars.
The study of extrasolar planets with atmosphere once again the question about the possibility of life in the universe. A group of NASA researchers found in Mono Lake in California, the first known organism that can grow and reproduce using a toxic substance such as arsenic. This living being replace the arsenic to phosphorus in the components of the cells. In a nutshell, is a microbe that breathed arsenic. Clearly, if we seek ways of life in the universe, we must at least know what to look for: ie define what is a living being. This new discovery certainly help to widen our conceptual horizons in the field.
And who knows whether, in a distant elliptical galaxy, someone who lives on a "super-Earth" orbiting a "red dwarf" Arsenic and breathe at the moment is getting the same questions."

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