What can old stars teach us about the birth of our galaxy?

These needles in the vast galactic haystack take more effort to find, but they help piece together our origins.

  • With billions of stars in our galaxy, why should astronomers seek out the oldest ones?
  • Age-dating stars is a complicated process, so astronomers use chemical compositions, telescopes, and prisms to determine the age of these ancient stars.
  • Some telescopes used for this purpose are in extremely remote places, where you can observe the bright band of the Milky Way with the naked eye.
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Mars 2020 will hunt for 'microfossils', signs of ancient alien life

The Jerezo crater — where Mars 2020 is set to land — could be a good place to find signs of past life on Mars.

NASA
  • The Jerezo crater is likely home to hydrated silica, a material which on Earth is especially good at preserving signs of life.
  • Mars 2020 is set to land on the planet crater in February 2021. NASA's Curiosity rover is currently the only rover operating on Mars.
  • The discovery of past life on Mars would be revolutionary, at least in science and philosophy.
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Scientists create precursor to life in thermal vent experiment

Scientists speculate that if life were to have spontaneously developed on Earth, the first thing there would need to be are vesicles.

  • The findings also suggest that life may have formed in the deep oceans of other celestial bodies in our solar system as well.
  • These are a lot like cell membranes, only they don't contain any of the complicated machinery that real, living cells do.
    • Researchers recently demonstrated that these vesicles form frequently in environments similar to the hydrothermal vents of early Earth.
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    China grew a plant on the moon — it sprouted two leaves, data indicates

    It marks the first time a plant has been grown on the moon.

    Image source: Chongqing University
    • In January, China became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon.
    • Chang'e-4 lunar rover carried among its payload a small biosphere that housed six lifeforms, including cotton seeds.
    • Using data from that biosphere experiment, researchers constructed a digital image of the cotton plant that reveals it grew two leaves before dying from the cold.
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    Could Earth have a 'shadow' biosphere?

    Some scientists think there may be a hidden, second form of life living right under our noses.

    Shutterstock
    • All life on Earth shares some basic characteristics, such as being carbon-based; using DNA, RNA, and proteins to function; and so on.
    • Many of these characteristics are simply the only ones that could work in Earth's environment, but there are also a surprising number of seemingly arbitrary features of life.
    • Under the shadow biosphere theory, some scientists argue that alternative forms of life exist right here on Earth, undetected simply because we don't know to look for them.
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