Why Life May Be Common Throughout the Galaxy

The super-Earths discovered by NASA's Kepler mission may be better at supporting life than Earth itself, says the Harvard astronomer who coined the term super-Earth. 

What's the Latest Development?


NASA's Kepler mission has discovered thousands of planets outside our solar system which, being larger than Earth but not so large as gas giants, could harbor life. Due to their size, astronomers refer to these planets as super-Earths. Now, the Harvard astronomer Dimitar Sasselov, who coined the term super-Earth, says these planets may be better at harboring life than Earth itself: "Their larger size make its easier for them to retain their atmospheres, and they are more likely to have active plate tectonics, supporting a CO2 cycle that regulates the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere."

What's the Big Idea?

Given vastly different chemical compositions, life on other planets may look very different from the life we know on Earth. Sasselov says that the emerging field of synthetic biology will help us understand what different forms of life are possible on other worlds. Not only is Sasselov confident that life exists elsewhere, given the nearly 100 million Earth-sized planets he estimates to be in our galaxy, "he believes our growing knowledge of super-Earths and other exoplanets will help us find 'friendly harbors' beyond Earth that one day will allow us to spread life beyond our world."

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​Is science synonymous with 'truth'? Game theory says, 'not always.'

Good science is sometimes trumped by the craving for a "big splash."

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  • Scientists strive to earn credit from their peers, for grants from federal agencies, and so a lot of the decisions that they make are strategic in nature. They're encouraged to publish exciting new findings that demonstrate some new phenomenon that we have never seen before.
  • This professional pressure can affect their decision-making — to get acclaim they may actually make science worse. That is, a scientist might commit fraud if he thinks he can get away with it or a scientist might rush a result out of the door even though it hasn't been completely verified in order to beat the competition.
  • On top of the acclaim of their peers, scientists — with the increasing popularity of science journalism — are starting to be rewarded for doing things that the public is interested in. The good side of this is that the research is more likely to have a public impact, rather than be esoteric. The bad side? To make a "big splash" a scientist may push a study or article that doesn't exemplify good science.

People who constantly complain are harmful to your health

Moans, groans, and gripes release stress hormones in the brain.

Photo credit: Getty Images / Stringer
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Could you give up complaining for a whole month? That's the crux of this interesting piece by Jessica Hullinger over at Fast Company. Hullinger explores the reasons why humans are so predisposed to griping and why, despite these predispositions, we should all try to complain less. As for no complaining for a month, that was the goal for people enrolled in the Complaint Restraint project.

Participants sought to go the entirety of February without so much as a moan, groan, or bellyache.

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NASA and ESA team up for historic planetary defense test

Two space agencies plan missions to deflect an asteroid.

ESA's Hera mission above asteroid 65803 Didymos. Credit: ESA/ScienceOffice.org
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  • NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together on missions to a binary asteroid system.
  • The DART and Hera missions will attempt to deflect and study the asteroid Didymoon.
  • A planetary defense system is important in preventing large-scale catastrophes.
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