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Space Science

Stormy Alien Atmospheres May Spark Seeds of Life 44

astroengine writes "In research presented at the Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London on Friday, astronomers discussed the dusty, stormy atmospheres of exoplanets and brown dwarfs and how they could be hothouses for the formation of prebiotic molecules. These are organic molecules that are known to form the building blocks for life as we know it. 'The atmospheres around exoplanets and brown dwarfs form exotic clouds that, instead of being composed of water droplets, are made of dust particles made of minerals,' said astronomer Craig Stark, of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The idea is that lightning storms generate copious amounts of highly charged ions and electrons, which then get stuck to dust particles, using them as miniature prebiotic chemistry factories. Of particular interest is the formation of formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and the amino acid glycine, all of which underpin Earth's biosphere."
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Stormy Alien Atmospheres May Spark Seeds of Life

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  • ... generating animate matter from inanimate matter, and conscious and self-aware animate matter from non-. It's truly fascinating!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      how you think Politicians came in to being?..
      oh yeah.. that's the reverse process..

      • Try to get a Republican to understand how formaldehyde and ammonia are essential to the creation of life. Go ahead, I'll stand over here and watch.

    • "There is no God or Brahma, Who is the Creator of this world, Empty Phenomena roll on all, Subject to causality". The universe, and life, are cyclic - there is no point of origin. This universe will decay and be destroyed, and its energy and matter will give rise to another. This life will fail, and its energy will give rise to another. Samsara - the endless cycle of rebirth.
      • Well maybe this is my chance to rescue someone! To disabuse them of the notion that Buddhism offers the solution to the existential crisis that is life. For samsara does not only mean the endless cycle of rebirth but is equivalent to the endless cycle of suffering - for birth indeed in and of itself is considered suffering in Buddhist terms. An endless cycle of birth (and thus suffering), with the only way out being to stop being born - to stop rebirth in its tracks and to no longer exist in this world. Tru
    • I'll just put this here... 2013 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate Plaintext url if /. Eats the link:
  • > Stormy Alien Atmospheres May Spark Seeds of Life

    Life started at least once here, why not elsewhere?

    With any luck we'll achieve intelligent life before them too, but I'm not holding my breath.

  • Be right with you, trying to calibrate this dynoscanner...

  • So, I understand that what the article is trying to say in terms of Chemistry. Basically, these storms could provide both the raw materials and the energy required to create biotic molecules. My question though is at what point those molecules become alive? When do they start reproducing or even get the will/understanding the need to reproduce/split to survive? How does that transformation occur that takes this energy from lightning or whatever and converts it to life?
    • Re:Self Awareness (Score:4, Informative)

      by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @04:54PM (#45920721) Journal

      My question though is at what point those molecules become alive?

      Abiogenisis is just chemistry [], the point where it becomes alive depends on your definition of "alive".

      • Exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. I guess "alive" implies "being aware that reproduction is necessary to survive" at the most basic level?
        • Except that most people consider plants, fungus, and bacteria to be alive. I think the term you're looking for is "sentient", which means something else.

    • Re:Self Awareness (Score:4, Interesting)

      by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @05:12PM (#45920919)

      My question though is at what point those molecules become alive?

      When they bump into each other and form something that reproduces itself. Abiogenesis. [] After that happens evolution kicks in and they're on the course towards launching rockets towards Earth and killing us all.

      When do they start reproducing

      Good question. Once you get the primordial soup, they bump around randomly until they form things of interest. Cell membranes are easy. Lipids naturally cling to each other and make little bubbles. There's a tough call about which part of the next process came first and how they made the other half: Proteins or nucleic acids? They kind of make each other. Like I said, this is a good question.

      or even get the will/understanding the need to reproduce/split to survive?

      I don't think that bacteria particularly have/need any amount of willpower or understanding to reproduce, split, and/or survive. They just need to do it. We personify these things a lot as a teaching aide, like saying the river water WANTS to flow to the sea, but they're just dumb cells.

      How does that transformation occur that takes this energy from lightning or whatever and converts it to life?

      Oh, that's easy: the energy from lightning converts some common chemicals into some other chemicals. Specifically, methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), water (H2O), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon dioxide (CO2) or carbon monoxide (CO), and phosphate (PO43-) get electrocuted and can turn into, among other things, amino acids. These chemicals are the basic building blocks of life and the idea is that if you bump them together enough that they'll form into something that reproduces. That's the definition of life.

  • It seems inevitable that there is life in the universe besides on Earth (sorry, human exceptionalists). The issue is having refined enough tools to allow us to search for it, not unlike the invention of the microscope leading to the discovery of germs. After all, if life exists on earth, we are already past the proving that the universe can host's just a question of finding it.
    • Well yes, but the frequency at which life arises in the universe may well make the duration that life sustains itself look like a tiny and temporary blip.

    • the universe can host life

      Funny how our everyday language separates life from the rest of the universe, when all evidence points to it being inseparable. Perhaps that would change if we all took Sagan's POV and thought of life as the mechanism by which the universe that observes itself.

      Also from the Earth's history we might assume liquid water is required for single-celled critters while O2 is required to make the cologene (sic) to bind them into multicellular critters. It's said that Europa has an ocean and volcanic vents, it's

  • by tedgyz ( 515156 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @04:45PM (#45920619) Homepage

    Ash: Well, as I said, I'm still... collating, actually, but uh, I have confirmed that he's got an outer layer of protein polysaccharides. Has a funny habit of shedding his cells and replacing them with polarized silicon, which gives him a prolonged resistance to adverse environmental conditions. Is that enough?

  • Sir Fred Hoyle had something to say about this way back in the 80's. ( [] ). Life on Earth may not have originated on Earth, but rained down from space.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @08:45PM (#45922927)

    Stormy climates have to be caused by humans. Driving around in SUVs. Otherwise the atmosphere would be calm and stable and nothing would ever change.

  • Brown Dwarfs have lightning? That is quite interesting, really.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter