Reverse-Engineering Aliens on Titan

We’ve been gazing longingly up at Saturn’s moon, Titan, since the Huygens probe touched down, and frankly, for some time before that. Although it’s very dark and cold there, Titan does possess some interesting features that might suggest some kind of alien life forms there: liquid oceans of methane. Also an atmosphere containing hydrogen, acetylene and ethane, each of which appear to be consumed somehow by some as-yet unidentified process,

Our Terran model of life depends on a membrane composed of two layers of lipids. The cell walls in your body are made in such a manner. This membrane was evolved with liquid water, and basically depends on the availability of liquid water in order to main cell function and – live.

Now on Titan, liquid methane is the way to play; water is only available as a solid, and the temperature is very cold. So what sort of cell membrane would have to exist in order for life on Titan to thrive?

I can’t believe somebody has worked this out.

From the research article by , and

“We take a step toward answering this question by proposing a new type of membrane, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds, that is capable of forming and functioning in liquid methane at cryogenic temperatures. Using molecular simulations, we demonstrate that these membranes in cryogenic solvent have an elasticity equal to that of lipid bilayers in water at room temperature. As a proof of concept, we also demonstrate that stable cryogenic membranes could arise from compounds observed in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, known for the existence of seas of liquid methane on its surface.”

Is this what we will be encountering when we finally launch another probe to Titan?

Read the original report:

If we ever talk to Alpha Centauri…

There’s a star system near our sun; it’s distance from us is only 4 light years and change. This Alpha Centauri system (AC) has long fascinated science fiction visionaries, since its close distance makes interstellar travel a little easier to imagine.

But consider this: while we are not even close to being able to send a probe to AC at even a fraction of the speed of light, we can, today, send radio messages to this nearby system, with a chance of it being detected within a human lifetime.

Let’s review what kind of system that might be over there. The AC system consists of two stars, both are approximate analogs to our sun. Assuming that it’s possible for planets to have formed around these stars (this would require both stars to have formed at a greater distance apart, then moved closer together), there would then be two habitable zones.

Imagine a habitable planet around each star, or better yet, TWO habitable (and inhabited) planets around Alpha Centauri A, with another around Alpha Centauri B.

Suppose our Venus was not only habitable, but also possibly inhabited. Wouldn’t our space exploration experiences be a little different today? Would our civilization be different? And our attitude toward space exploration?

Inhabitants of one of the planets around Alpha Centauri A would, after exploring and perhaps colonizing, and certainly learning from their Venus, would be prepared to explore Alpha Centauri B’s planet, and possibly then Proxima Centauri.

What I am saying is, that it’s very possible that our nearest star system could be an ideal place to search. The civilization there would not have to be much more advanced than our own, but due to their environment and experiences, they could have a rich set of data for us.

Unfortunately, AC cannot be seen by those of us north of the equator, at about -60 degrees of declination. And more to the point, many scientists are wary about deliberately sending out a message into space, imagining that ET would look like Darth Vader and seek our solar system for reasons that would not benefit humanity.

Keep in mind, however, that faster-than-light travel may be completely impossible, that even a practical sub-light trip to AC would take more resources than any responsible civilization would commit (involving cannibalization of their home star). Further, we may safely presume that any interstellar civilization capable of coming to our star system and wreaking havoc, probably knows about us already.

That said, there is a new radio-telesope array being prepared, south of the equator, that will be capable of detecting radio signals from the AC system. This is the Square-Kilometre Array or SKA (

The SKA will be capable of detecting extremely weak extraterrestrial signals if existing, and may even detect planets capable of supporting life. Astrobiologists will use the SKA to search for amino acids by identifying spectral lines at specific frequencies. SKA will be able to detect an airport radar within 50 light years.

One of the candidate radiotelescopes in this array is located in Murchison, Australia, close to where the legendary Murchison meteorite was found. Perhaps that is a harbinger for this project’s future success.

Aliens will be here next year, and they will want our beer

Altair is a bright star in the contellation of Aquila. It is only 16.7 light years away. We don’t yet know if there are Earth-sized planets on Altair, but we have just begun to learn how to look.

Nishi-Harima Astronomical Observatory

Here’s the problem: In 1983, Hisashi Hirabayashi and Masaki Morimoto were two astronomers at the Nishi-Harima Astronomical Observatory…

Well, this is awkward. It seems that they had enjoyed a little something to drink.

NOT one of our esteemed scientists…

And they sent out a message in the direction of Altair.

“KANPAI!” Was the message, a traditional Japanese toast. They also sent the details of an alcohol molecule.


This was not the first message that Earthers have sent in the direction of the stars. The famous Arecibo message was sent in 1974, for instance.

But what’s interesting, and a little concerning, is that the signal to Altair will have already arrived by now (ca 1999), and if any Altairians received this message, and if they decided to reply right away, we will receive their message (or their light-speed invasion ships) sometime in 2015.


Alien life will be discovered soon – NASA
NASA in 2014 announced that discovering life on another planet is within our reach within 20 years. Mark your calendar now

NASA astronomer Kevin Hand suggested that the moon of Jupiter, Europa, could prove to have a form of life.
Now, that’s kind of a rash statement for a scientist to make, since all we know is that Europa has some form of water. Certainly frozen, with a possibly liquid form deep under that icy crust. That is VERY speculative.

Unless you’ve been pointed to that satellite by someone with more advanced technology.

Maybe that 20 years is not the time frame for the technology to be developed (although we will have powerful exoplanet-hunting telescopes on orbit by that time), but a period for humanity to be become accustomed to the idea that we are not alone.

James Webb observatory

A bug that eats metal

Science continues to find life – on Earth! – that evades our definition of what life should be. That’s on Earth.

Scientists have discovered a “metal munching” plant (Rinorea niccolifera) in the Philippines. “Professor Fernando said that the Rinorea niccolifera’s leaves can take in up to 18,000 parts per million of nickel. This is a thousand times more than what any other known plant species can safely absorb.”

We need news such as this, to help us prepare for the likely undefinable life that we will encounter on other stars one day.

Of course, it’s ironic, that the first thought upon this discovery, is who we can make money from it, putting it to work in our mines.


Obviously we have seen evidence of “tidal heating” in some of the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn. So if there are any “Super-Earths” that are orbiting outside of a star’s “Goldilocks zone” then they still might be worth checking out.

This article misses the fact that our planet-finding capabilities are currently weighted towards finding very large planets in very close orbit around very small stars. Using these current techniques, we would not be able to find Earth from Alpha Centauri.

So, we cannot assume that there are NO Earth-sized planets there.

Earth is the only known example of an inhabited planet in the Universe, so the search for alien life has focused on Earth-like worlds. But what if there are alien worlds that are even more habitable than Earth-like planets?

A recent paper in the journal Astrobiology examines the potential for so-called “superhabitable” worlds. One such planet might even exist around the stellar system closest to Earth: Alpha Centauri B.

The study was authored by René Heller of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and John Armstrong of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, USA. According to the authors, their collaboration was “inspired by a question John Armstrong asked online during an AbGradCon talk in 2012.”

The Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon) is supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and is organized by graduate students and post docs in fields related to astrobiology. AbGradCon provides early career researchers with the chance to discuss research, network and collaborate. AbGradCon 2014 will be held at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York. For more information, visit:

To be habitable, a world (planet or moon) does not need to be located in the stellar habitable zone (HZ), and worlds in the HZ are not necessarily habitable. Here, we illustrate how tidal heating can render terrestrial or icy worlds habitable beyond the stellar HZ. Scientists have developed a language that neglects the possible existence of worlds that offer more benign environments to life than Earth does. We call these objects “superhabitable” and discuss in which contexts this term could be used, that is to say, which worlds tend to be more habitable than Earth. In an appendix, we show why the principle of mediocracy cannot be used to logically explain why Earth should be a particularly habitable planet or why other inhabited worlds should be Earth-like.

Superhabitable worlds must be considered for future follow-up observations of signs of extraterrestrial life. Considering a range of physical effects, we conclude that they will tend to be slightly older and more massive than Earth and that their host stars will likely be K dwarfs. This makes Alpha Centauri B, which is a member of the closest stellar system to the Sun and is supposed to host an Earth-mass planet, an ideal target for searches for a superhabitable world. Key Words: Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Extraterrestrial life—Habitability—Planetary environments—Tides. Astrobiology 14, 50–66.


There could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive

Absolutely what I have been saying all along: when we meet genuine alien life forms or intelligence, we will have difficulty recognizing it for what it is.

“They could be staring us in the face and we just don’t recognize them. The problem is that we’re looking for something very much like us, assuming that they at least have something like the same mathematics and technology.”

The intriguing remark was made by Lord Martin Rees, a leading cosmologist and astrophysicist who is the president of Britain’s Royal Society and astronomer to the Queen of England. Rees believes the existence of extra terrestrial life may be beyond human understanding.

“I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive. Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there as aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains,” Rees observed.
An alien might have four limbs, just like we humans. Or it might sport 17 tentacles, depending on evolutionary pressures. We can observe, quantify and describe such things. But how can we truly gauge the workings of an alien mind?


The bug hunter diaries


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