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Are we alone in the Universe?

The Drake Equation is used to calculate the likely number for civilisations in the Universe

This is a question that scientists have been asking for hundreds of years. We are now almost certain that there is life elsewhere in the Universe; there are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand in all the beaches of the entire Earth. If only a small proportion of these stars has planets and only a small proportion of these planets has the conditions for life that still leaves thousands of possible lifeforms in our galaxy.

The Milky Way: Our Galaxy. Is it teeming with life?


Read more here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11982757

Watch The Search for Life: The Drake Equation on BBC Four, Tuesday 14 December at 8pm or on iPlayer afterwards.

What work is being done towards the development of a Solar Sail?


There has been a recent development in the work towards making a Solar Sail – the use of the tiny force of each photon for propulsion. The effect, first shown in simulations, was proven by showing it in action on tiny glass rods (see timelapse photograph on the left).

Like the aerofoil concept of wings, the approach, published in Nature Photonics, works by making use of the radiation pressure of light.

The results are of interest for steering “solar sails”, a spacecraft propulsion based on the same force.

More here: Http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11927793

NASA finds life from a new source

Hours before their special news conference today, the cat is out of the bag: NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth. This changes everything.

At their conference today, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe Simon will announce that they have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.

But not this one. This one is completely different. Discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California, this bacteria is made of arsenic, something that was thought to be completely impossible. While she and other scientists theorized that this could be possible, this is the first discovery. The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding beings in other planets that don’t have to be like planet Earth.

No details have been disclosed about the origin or nature of this new life form. We will know more today at 2pm EST but, while this life hasn’t been found in another planet, this discovery does indeed change everything we know about biology.

More here: http://gizmodo.com/5704158/

The Universe may contain three times the number of stars previously thought.

The view from a planet in our galaxy (left) but planets in older galaxies (right) are bathed in a rosy glow from the many red stars in the night sky (artist's impression)

Their assessment is based on new observations showing other galaxies may have very different structures to our Milky Way galaxy.

The researchers tell the journal Nature that more stars probably means many more planets as well – perhaps “trillions” of Earth-like worlds.

The Yale University-led study used the Keck telescope in Hawaii. It found that galaxies older than ours contain 20 times more red dwarf stars than more recent ones. Red dwarfs are smaller and dimmer than our own Sun; it is only recently that telescopes have been powerful enough to detect them.

According to Yale’s Professor Pieter van Dokkum, who led the research, the discovery also increases the estimate for the number of planets in the Universe and therefore greatly increases the likelihood of life existing elsewhere in the cosmos.

“There are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars,” he said. “Red dwarfs are typically more than 10 billion years old and so have been around long enough for complex life to evolve on planets around them. It’s one reason why people are interested in this type of star.”

Read more here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11888362

Find original article in Nature here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature09578.html

NASA’s new space plane prepares to come back to Earth

An artist's rendition, from Nasa, of the X-37B as it might look orbiting Earth.

It looks like a miniature space shuttle, complete with solar panels for power and a cargo bay to carry satellites or scientific experiments into orbit. But unlike the venerable Discovery, Endeavour or Atlantis, the US Air Force’s X-37B space plane comes without one crucial element: human astronauts.

The space plane has been circling the Earth for the past nine months and will land some time this week at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Officially known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, it has been flying as a technology testbed for the next generation of space vehicles.

More info here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/dec/01/space-vehicle-earth

New collection of insects found in prehistoric amber.

Amber deposits in a coal mine in India challenge assumptions about India’s evolution.

Hundreds of prehistoric insects and other creatures have been discovered in a large haul of amber excavated from a coalmine in western India. An international team of fossil hunters recovered 150kg of the dirty brown resin from Cambay Shale in Gujarat province, making it one of the largest amber collections on record. The tiny animals became entombed in the fossilised tree resin some 52m years ago, before the Indian subcontinent crunched into Asia to produce the Himalayan mountain range.

Jes Rust, a paleontologist at Bonn University, said the creatures, including ancient bees, spiders, termites, gnats, ants and flies, were in remarkably good condition considering their age. In total, the team has identified more than 700 arthropods, a group of animals that includes insects, crustaceans and arachnids.

“They are so well preserved. It’s like having the complete dinosaur, not just the bones. You can see all the surface details on their bodies and wings. It’s fantastic,” Rust told the Guardian. The remains of two praying mantises were also found.

More info here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/oct/25/prehistoric-creatures-indian-amber-haul

Is the future of UK science threatened?



UK scientists on collision course over £1bn research cuts –

Officials fear planned 25% cuts could jeopardise Britain’s involvement in the Large Hadron Collider at Cern.