Podcasting for the first time from our sound studio in CollabSpace, Ottawa, Canada.
Our sensors are picking up a new planet, 920 light years away is orbiting a star in what’s called a 'Neptunian Desert'. This is an area of space so close to a star that if were the size of Neptune with all that beautiful blue super-thick atmosphere, would simply have it all blown away by its parent star.
Enter NGTS-4b, three times bigger than Earth, so close to it’s star, it takes 1.3 days to orbit, atmosphere intact, not possible, forbidden. Beach weather here a 1,000 degrees Celsius on this planet.
How can it exist? One idea is that it’s core is a super heavyweight, with gravity itself keeping a hold on the atmosphere. Whatever the reason for this forbidden planet to exist, it may be stretching what we previously thought were limits of planet formation.
This is also a first from Earth. The transition method used to detect such a small signal, of a forbidden planet. If we can find one, we can find more.
Maybe Neptunian Deserts are wetter than we thought.
This episode of Deep Space Drones was sponsored by
The Great 415ppm CO2 Event
All planets, as far as we know, have atmospheres. We can see alien atmospheres by looking at the light from their own sun passing through them.
When looking for new life, a target atmosphere must be able to protect life on the surface. Although the sun gives life, without the right kind of atmosphere, the Sun's rays can break apart the chemical bonds of life’s essential organic molecules.
An atmosphere also has to be thick enough not to let water evaporate into space. Water boils at a lower temperature in a thinner atmosphere, thus evaporates quicker.
Our atmosphere is like a blanket around the Earth. There has to be enough to help regulate the transfer of heat to and from space. Otherwise it’s more boiling hot days, ice cold nights, and less beach weather.
Of course what’s in the atmosphere matters too. The air on Earth itself wasn’t always as hospitable as it is today. There was a time when bacteria lived in a world with no oxygen in the air, until one day 2.5 billion years ago the cyanobacteria arrived, exhaling oxygen. The new comers were so successful they would kick-start the great oxygenation event, recalculating who and what could live in this world.
Today, we are kick-starting another great event. This time it’s not bacteria though, It’s us making carbon dioxide. How much? We just set another record, 415ppm, and are showing little signs of slowing down. More gasses like Co2 in the air means a warmer planet, more ecological malfunctions, and warmer, expanding, rising water levels.
But, don’t worry, most farmland, industry, and the world’s population live near the ocean. So, if we sit around and don’t do enough, Mother Nature herself is going to clean up this whole mess.
Then Earth will be ready for the next great event.
It’s in our DNA. That’s a big statement.
For life to build itself up, it needs structure which comes from the elements, carbon, oxygen, calcium, everything that we find in stars. But to take all that building material, and turn it into a living, breathing life form, well you’re gonna need instructions.
A, T, C, & G. Every living thing we know of has a set of four letter instructions encoded into it’s DNA, that defines their properties, everything from what species they are, to what skin, eye, or hair colour it’s host will have.
We just had a huge success in building synthetic organisms. The latest last week when US scientists redesigned E coli bacteria. Nothing dangerous. I mean, if going to expect success, don’t go creating a T-Rex, right off the bat.
The new designer life forms are longer, and grow slower than the God made ones, but are nevertheless alive, as far as we can tell.
We are getting better at creating synths faster, and cheaper. Yes, I know, it’s just a bug right now. But when you think about it, we’ve just designed DNA for an Artificial Life Form.
Can we redesign our own naturally selected DNA, and improve the human condition?
In the early 2000s, data about extra solar planets was trickling in at dial-up modem speed.
As of right now May, 2019, we have data on l over 4’000 planets. Exoplanet are detected using a handful of methods. One way, called the transit method, is the best way to find and learn about most of them.
When a planet crosses the path (transits) between us and a star, the amount of light reaching us dips down giving us numbers to calculate our how big that planet is. Some of that light travels through the exoplanet’s atmosphere and reveals information about the distant world.
So what is the information telling us? It’s saying that most stars that we’re analyzing have planets in orbit around them for one. Two, most of our sensors are picking up very large planets, way bigger than Jupiter.
A lot of the smaller planets aren’t picked up by our sensors. Sensor upgrades to detect more small Earth like rocky world are in the works. A kick-ass space telescope to replace Hubble is less than two years away from launch is one of the planned upgrades.
But hey, we’re not going to wait around for everything to be perfect. We have data loaded about alien atmospheres right here, right now. Let’s get to work.
In our continuing quest to discover alien life one question keeps popping up. How will we recognize alien life when we find it?
Life is a word with multiple meanings. We don’t yet have a perfect definition for what life is, but it hasn’t stopped us from trying.
What we have done is define some of life’s main attributes.
1. Life is chemistry based, an ordered network of chemical reactions.
2. Life is also not in equilibrium, it needs a source of energy to organize itself.
3. Life can adapt and self-improve.
4. Life is enclosed in cells.
5. Life molecules work well with water
Life as we know it is built on four types of molecules, proteins, nucleic acids (our DNA), sugars (carbs), and lipids or fat.
We are biased in our definition, especially that last one that needs water. That’s what life on Earth needs. Still, an excellent starting point. This rules out stars, gas clouds in between them, or anywhere too cold or too hot for liquid water to exist.
NASA defines life as a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution. (OMG, evolution. Hold on to your hat’s folks, this podcast is for the brave and adventurous.
As the knowledge of our cosmic neighborhood grows, we will use these definitions as a guide to help us find signatures of alien life.
Earth, the only planet in the Universe, known to harbour life. And life on Earth has flourished, some say maybe too successfully. If everyone ate like an average American, we would need four Earths. Whew! I’m sure glad we don’t all eat like average Americans.
A Super-Earth is a planet bigger than earth, not as big a Uranus and Neptune. These ice giants are 15 and 17 times more massive. Forget about gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter, they’re even bigger.
No, a super-Earth is somewhere between Earth and Uranus.