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March 06, 2011

The claim of extraterrestial bacteria in a meteorite is probably bullshit

This guy explains at length. RRResearch: Is this claim of bacteria in a meteorite any better than the 1996 one?
Bottom line: The Ivuna meteorite sample showed a couple of micron-scale squiggles, one of which contained about 2.5-fold more carbon than the background. One of the five Orguil samples had at least one patch of clustered fibers; these contained more sulfur and magnesium than the background, and less silicon. As evidence for life this is pathetic, no better than that presented by McKay's group for the ALH84001 Martian meteorite in 1996. The Journal and the Editor aren't very impressive either: The journal proudly announces that it is obtaining and will publish 100 post-publication reviews. But did it bother getting any pre-publication reviews? It will be shutting down in a few months, after only two years of on-line publication (the 13 'volumes' are really just 13 issues). Its presentation standards are pretty bad - there doesn't seem to have been any effort at copy-editing or formatting the text for publication (not even any page numbers). Chandra Wickramasinghe is the journal's Executive Editor for Astrobiology, and presumably is the Editor responsible for this article. I heard him give a talk pushing panspermia about 10 years ago (the audience was an undergraduate science society at Oxford). The talk was dreadful. He argued like a lawyer, not a scientist; the evidence he cited to support his arguments wasn't actually untrue, but he twisted everything to make his arguments seem stronger than they were. Thus I wouldn't trust his scientific judgment about anything concerning astrobiology.
[via Mike Sterling]

February 20, 2011

There are 500 million habitable planets in our galaxy alone

Our galaxy is home to more than 50 billion planets...and 500 million habitable ones
The Kepler telescope discovered more than 1,200 planets in just one tiny corner of the Milky Way. Crunching the numbers, a conservative estimate says there should be at least fifty billion planets in the entire galaxy, and about 500 million of those should be inside the habitable zone. But how many of those planets have life on them, let alone other intelligent beings? That's the question we still can't answer...but we're getting closer. The latest estimates suggest there are roughly 300 billion stars in our galaxy. Assuming the Kepler sample is representative, there should be at least one planet for every six stars, and even the 50 billion figure might be far too low. After all, Kepler can still only detect planets that orbit relatively far away from their stars, and we're only going to see exoplanets at all if the observational conditions are right. That means there are likely even more planets that we're not seeing, and in particular we might be missing out on plenty of planets in the habitable zones.

February 15, 2011

10% of China’s rice is poisoned with cadmium

China’s rice contaminated with heavy metals Caixin Online - MarketWatch
BEIJING (Caixin Online) — As much as 10% of China’s rice may be tainted by poisonous cadmium, a heavy metal discharged in mine and industrial sewage that makes its way into rice paddies, according to agricultural researchers at a major university. Much of this poisoned rice is consumed by farm families or sold in areas of the nation’s food market beyond the reach of government safety regulators. . . . Rice is a staple food for 65% of the population in China, where annual rice farm output is about 200 million tons. Sidi’s rice paddies have been polluted by sewage from a nearby lead and zinc mine. The Nanjing researchers, led by farm scientist Pan Genxing, took 91 samples from markets in six regions nationwide in 2007 and found elevated cadmium levels in 10% of the commercially sold rice.

February 14, 2011

The Mystery Of The Giant Planet Hidden In Our Solar System

The Mystery Of The Giant Planet Hidden In Our Solar System | TPM Idea Lab
There's a giant planet right here, hiding in our Solar System. One that nobody has ever seen, even while it is four times larger than Jupiter and has rings and moons orbiting it. At least, that's what two astrophysicists say. The name of the planet is Tyche. The scientists are John Matese and Daniel Whitmire, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. According to them, this colossus is hiding in the Oort Cloud--the asteroid beehive that forms the outer shell of our home system, one light-year in radius. They claim that data already captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer proves its existence. It only needs to be analyzed... over the next two years. Matese and Whitmire are convinced that Tyche is very real now, however. 15,000 times farther from the Sun than Earth, Tyche would be made mostly of hydrogen and helium. The titanic planet would orbit the Sun with moons and rings around it, bubbling with clouds and storm systems similar to Jupiter. It would even have a mild temperature (-73C/-99.4F) compared to the asteroids around it, which are almost near absolute zero. Whitmire says that the temperature difference is because a titan of this size takes a long time to cool off after its formation. Would Tyche be the 9th planet of our Solar System, after Pluto's demise?