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We use recent results from astrobiology, particularly the A-form of the Drake equation and combine it with data on the evolution of life on Earth to obtain a new assessment of the prevalence of technological species in our Universe. A species is technological if it is, in theory, capable of interstellar communication. We find that between seven and 300 technological species have likely arisen in the Milky Way until today, the current state of which however unknown. Assuming that we are currently alone in our Galaxy, we estimate that we would need to wait for roughly 26 million years for a 50% chance of another technological species to arise. By relating our results to the much-debated Fermi–Hart paradox, we discuss if and to what extent our results may help quantify the chances of humanity to manage the transition to a long-term sustainable path of existence.
Liquid water on Mars might be created by deliquescence of hygroscopic salts or by permafrost melts, both potentially forming saturated brines. Freezing point depression allows these heavy brines to remain liquid in the near-surface environment for extended periods, perhaps as eutectic solutions, at the lowest temperatures and highest salt concentrations where ices and precipitates do not form. Perchlorate and chlorate salts and iron sulphate form brines with low eutectic temperatures and may persist under Mars near-surface conditions, but are chemically harsh at high concentrations and were expected to be incompatible with life, while brines of common sulphate salts on Mars may be more suitable for microbial growth. Microbial growth in saturated brines also may be relevant beyond Mars, to the oceans of Ceres, Enceladus, Europa and Pluto. We have previously shown strong growth of salinotolerant bacteria in media containing 2M MgSO4 heptahydrate (~50% w/v) at 25°C. Here we extend those observations to bacterial isolates from Basque Lake, BC and Hot Lake, WA, that grow well in saturated MgSO4 medium (67%) at 25°C and in 50% MgSO4 medium at 4°C (56% would be saturated). Psychrotolerant, salinotolerant microbes isolated from Basque Lake soils included Halomonas and Marinococcus, which were identified by 16S rRNA gene sequencing and characterized phenetically. Eutectic liquid medium constituted by 43% MgSO4 at −4°C supported copious growth of these psychrotolerant Halomonas isolates, among others. Bacterial isolates also grew well at the eutectic for K chlorate (3% at −3°C). Survival and growth in eutectic solutions increases the possibility that microbes contaminating spacecraft pose a contamination risk to Mars. The cold brines of sulphate and (per)chlorate salts that may form at times on Mars through deliquescence or permafrost melt have now been demonstrated to be suitable microbial habitats, should appropriate nutrients be available and dormant cells become vegetative.
The recent announcement of a Neptune-sized exomoon candidate orbiting the Jupiter-sized object Kepler-1625b has forced us to rethink our assumptions regarding both exomoons and their host exoplanets. In this paper, I describe calculations of the habitable zone for Earth-like exomoons in the orbit of Kepler-1625b under a variety of assumptions. I find that the candidate exomoon, Kepler-1625b-i, does not currently reside within the exomoon habitable zone, but may have done so when Kepler-1625 occupied the main sequence. If it were to possess its own moon (a ‘moon–moon’) that was Earth-like, this could potentially have been a habitable world. If other exomoons orbit Kepler-1625b, then there are a range of possible semi-major axes/eccentricities that would permit a habitable surface during the main sequence phase, while remaining dynamically stable under the perturbations of Kepler-1625b-i. This is however contingent on effective atmospheric CO2 regulation.
Haughton crater in the Canadian Arctic has been extensively used as a Mars (and lunar) analogue over the past 20 years. Here we report on small scale, dark, semi-seasonal slope streaks formed by melt water flowing down the crater walls that we observed during the Mars Society-sponsored M160 expedition to the F-MARS facility on the NW rim of the crater. The streaks are formed by biofilms colonizing snow melt flowing from semi-permanent snow patches in Haughton crater on Devon Island and elsewhere in the Canadian Arctic. These features superficially resemble the dark slope streaks and recurring slope lineae (RSL) observed on Mars and may serve as analogues for wet models for their formation and a contrast with dry formation models. Their significance to astrobiology and planetary science is three-fold: (1) as examples of dark recurring streaks known to be associated with water they provide a benchmark to compare with Martian slope streaks and RSL. (2) The melt streaks may have potential as astrobiological analogues for wet models of slope streaks and RSL. (3) They are natural laboratories to study planetary protection issues associated with robotic and astronaut exploration of potential water-related slope features on Mars.
We use the critical step model to study the major transitions in evolution on Earth. We find that a total of five steps represents the most plausible estimate, in agreement with previous studies, and use the fossil record to identify the potential candidates. We apply the model to Earth-analogs around stars of different masses by incorporating the constraints on habitability set by stellar physics including the habitable zone lifetime, availability of ultraviolet radiation for prebiotic chemistry, and atmospheric escape. The critical step model suggests that the habitability of Earth-analogs around M-dwarfs is significantly suppressed. The total number of stars with planets containing detectable biosignatures of microbial life is expected to be highest for K-dwarfs. In contrast, we find that the corresponding value for intelligent life (technosignatures) should be highest for solar-mass stars. Thus, our work may assist in the identification of suitable targets in the search for biosignatures and technosignatures.
Although pyroxenes are found abundantly in igneous rocks, this mineral group stands out for being one of the ferromagnesian mineral groups that constitute rocks of several different compositions. Hence, the purpose of this work is to demonstrate how these minerals may be relevant to Astrobiology. Essentially, through geochemical analyses of pyroxenes detected in Martian meteorites, it may be possible to find evidence of the existence of water in hydrothermal flows located in deep regions below the Martian surface. To this extent, it is also very important to highlight the whole collection of observational data from Mars, in which it is possible to notice that pyroxenes are found in a wide variety of geological environments. Therefore, based on Martian surface observations, meteorite analysis and experimental data, it is conceivable that, given the appropriate conditions, pyroxenes might be related to the formation and release of water molecules in the Martian environment.
The concept of a rapid spread of self-replicating interstellar probes (SRPs) throughout the Milky Way adds considerable strength to Fermi's Paradox. A single civilization creating a single SRP is sufficient for a fleet of SRPs to grow and explore the entire Galaxy on timescales much shorter than the age of the Earth – so why do we see no signs of such probes? One solution to this Paradox suggests that self-replicating probes eventually undergo replication errors and evolve into predator-prey populations, reducing the total number of probes and removing them from our view.
I apply Lotka-Volterra models of predator-prey competition to interstellar probes navigating a network of stars in the Galactic Habitable Zone to investigate this scenario. I find that depending on the local growth mode of both populations and the flow of predators/prey between stars, there are many stable solutions with relatively large numbers of prey probes inhabiting the Milky Way. The solutions can exhibit the classic oscillatory pattern of Lotka-Volterra systems, but this depends sensitively on the input parameters. Typically, local and global equilibria are established with prey sometimes outnumbering the predators. Accordingly, we find this solution to Fermi's Paradox does not reduce the probe population sufficiently to be viable.
The in situ detection of organic molecules in space is key to understanding the variety and the distribution of the building blocks of life, and possibly the detection of extraterrestrial life itself. Gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) has been the most sensitive analytical strategy for organic analyses in flight, and was used on missions from NASA's Viking, Phoenix, Curiosity missions to ESA's Rosetta space probe. While pyrolysis GC-MS revealed the first organics on Mars, this step alters or degrades certain fragile molecules that are excellent biosignatures including polypeptides, oligonucleotides and polysaccharides, rendering the intact precursors undetectable. We have identified a solution tailored to the detection of biopolymers and other biomarkers by the use of liquid-based capillary electrophoresis and electrochromatography. In this study, we show that a capillary electrochromatography approach using monolithic stationary phases with tailor-made surface chemistry can separate and identify various polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nucleobases and aromatic acids that could be formed under astrophysically relevant conditions. In order to simulate flyby organic sample capture, we conducted hypervelocity impact experiments which consisted of accelerating peptide-soaked montmorillonite particles to a speed of 5.6 km s−1, and capturing them in an amorphous silica aerogel of 10 mg cm−3 bulk density. Bulk peptide extraction from aerogel followed by capillary zone electrophoresis led to the detection of only two stereoisomeric peptide peaks. The recovery rates of each step of the extraction procedure after the hypervelocity impact suggest that major peptide loss occurred during the impact. Our study provides initial exploration of feasibility of this approach for capturing intact peptides, and subsequently detecting candidate biomolecules during flight missions that would be missed by GC-MS alone. As the monolith-based electrochromatography technology could be customized to detect specific classes of compounds as well as miniaturized, these results demonstrate the potential of the instrumentation for future astrobiology-related spaceflight missions.
Investigations into the existence of life in other parts of the cosmos find strong parallels with studies of the origin and evolution of life on our own planet. In this way, astrobiology and paleobiology are married by their common interest in disentangling the interconnections between life and the surrounding environment. In this way, a cross-point of both sciences is paleometry, which involves a myriad of imaging and geochemical techniques, usually non-destructive, applied to the investigation of the fossil record. In the last decades, paleometry has benefited from an unprecedented technological improvement, thus solving old questions and raising new ones. This advance has been paralleled by conceptual approaches and discoveries fuelled by technological evolution in astrobiological research. In this context, we present some new data and review recent advances on the employment of paleometry to investigations on paleobiology and astrobiology in Brazil in areas such biosignatures in Ediacaran microbial mats, biogenicity tests on enigmatic Ediacaran structures, research on Ediacaran metazoan biomineralization, fossil preservation in Cretaceous insects and fish, and finally the experimental study on the decay of fish to test the effect of distinct types of sediment on soft-tissue preservation, as well as the effects of early diagenesis on fish bone preservation.
In this reply to Losch (2019), I show that, Losch's own judgement notwithstanding, his plea for a concept of (trans-)planetary sustainability does propose conceptual change. I further argue that he has not provided convincing reasons to think that the label ‘planetary’ is superior to ‘trans-planetary’. I summarize my concerns about the plea for introducing the notion of (trans-)planetary sustainability and a related ethics.