from-dust-of-stars: Aahhhh. Mother Earth in all it’s beauty!
58 minutes of Skyrim music. I am in heaven.
from-dust-of-stars: Ah, Skyrim music. Delightful!
from-dust-of-stars: Beauty, in a simple picture. Damn!
Scale of the universe
Scroll to your hearts content from the Planck length to the diameter of the observable universe - click on any object and it will open an info box - I can’t imagine how much work must have gone into this. A few surprising things: Pluto has a smaller diameter than the width of the USA and Vatican city can fit in central park multiple times.
Find it here
from-dust-of-stars: Can’t stop drooling. These are just so… Damn!
from-dust-of-stars: Emerging tech is so Hot! Harnessing solar energy more efficiently, so very cool.
Future Of Solar Cells Brightened By Shiny Quantum Dots
April 15, 2014
Image Caption: Quantum dot LSC devices under ultraviolet illumination. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory
The project demonstrates that superior light-emitting properties of quantum dots can be applied in solar energy by helping more efficiently harvest sunlight.
A house window that doubles as a solar panel could be on the horizon, thanks to recent quantum-dot work by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers in collaboration with scientists from University of Milano-Bicocca (UNIMIB), Italy. Their project demonstrates that superior light-emitting properties of quantum dots can be applied in solar energy by helping more efficiently harvest sunlight.
“The key accomplishment is the demonstration of large-area luminescent solar concentrators that use a new generation of specially engineered quantum dots,” said lead researcher Victor Klimov of the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (CASP) at Los Alamos.
Quantum dots are ultra-small bits of semiconductor matter that can be synthesized with nearly atomic precision via modern methods of colloidal chemistry. Their emission color can be tuned by simply varying their dimensions. Color tunability is combined with high emission efficiencies approaching 100 percent. These properties have recently become the basis of a new technology – quantum dot displays – employed, for example, in the newest generation of the Kindle Fire ™ e-reader.
A luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) is a photon management device, representing a slab of transparent material that contains highly efficient emitters such as dye molecules or quantum dots. Sunlight absorbed in the slab is re-radiated at longer wavelengths and guided towards the slab edge equipped with a solar cell.
Klimov explained, “The LSC serves as a light-harvesting antenna which concentrates solar radiation collected from a large area onto a much smaller solar cell, and this increases its power output.”
“LSCs are especially attractive because in addition to gains in efficiency, they can enable new interesting concepts such as photovoltaic windows that can transform house facades into large-area energy generation units,” said Sergio Brovelli, who worked at Los Alamos until 2012 and is now a faculty member at UNIMIB.
Because of highly efficient, color-tunable emission and solution processability, quantum dots are attractive materials for use in inexpensive, large-area LSCs. One challenge, however, is an overlap between emission and absorption bands in the dots, which leads to significant light losses due to the dots re-absorbing some of the light they produce.
“Giant” but still tiny, engineered dots
To overcome this problem the Los Alamos and UNIMIB researchers have developed LSCs based on quantum dots with artificially induced large separation between emission and absorption bands (called a large Stokes shift).
These “Stokes-shift” engineered quantum dots represent cadmium selenide/cadmium sulfide (CdSe/CdS) structures in which light absorption is dominated by an ultra-thick outer shell of CdS, while emission occurs from the inner core of a narrower-gap CdSe. The separation of light-absorption and light-emission functions between the two different parts of the nanostructure results in a large spectral shift of emission with respect to absorption, which greatly reduces losses to re-absorption.
To implement this concept, Los Alamos researchers created a series of thick-shell (so-called “giant”) CdSe/CdS quantum dots, which were incorporated by their Italian partners into large slabs (sized in tens of centimeters) of polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA). While being large by quantum dot standards, the active particles are still tiny – only about hundred angstroms across. For comparison, a human hair is about 500,000 angstroms wide.
“A key to the success of this project was the use of a modified industrial method of cell-casting, we developed at UNIMIB Materials Science Department” said Francesco Meinardi, professor of Physics at UNIMIB.
Spectroscopic measurements indicated virtually no losses to re-absorption on distances of tens of centimeters. Further, tests using simulated solar radiation demonstrated high photon harvesting efficiencies of approximately 10% per absorbed photon achievable in nearly transparent samples, perfectly suited for utilization as photovoltaic windows.
Despite their high transparency, the fabricated structures showed significant enhancement of solar flux with the concentration factor of more than four. These exciting results indicate that “Stokes-shift-engineered” quantum dots represent a promising materials platform. It may enable the creation of solution processable large-area LSCs with independently tunable emission and absorption spectra.
A research paper, “Large-area luminescent solar concentrators based on ‘Stokes-shift-engineered’ nanocrystals in a mass-polymerized PMMA matrix,” is published online this week in Nature Photonics.
Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory
Topics: Technology Internet, Environment, Quantum Electronics, Chemistry, Physics, quantum dots, Light-emitting diode, Absorption spectroscopy, Photon, Luminescent solar concentrator, Quantum dot, Nanomaterials, Energy conversion, Emerging technologies, spectroscopy, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of Milano-Bicocca
from-dust-of-stars: Wild New take on the Smartphone… Wow, very different, fascinating take indeed! Like putting Lego pieces together… Hmmm
Building blocks: how Project Ara is reinventing the smartphone
A handful of Google engineers and designers are building a phone the DARPA way
By Dieter Bohn on April 15, 2014 11:45 am Email @backlon
In a spare, drab office park in Sunnyvale, California, a bunch of two-by-fours and foamboard have been nailed together into a makeshift model of a shipping container. Inside, a bare, unlit Edison bulb hangs from a wire, over some simple IKEA furniture and a table with Lego blocks on it. The blocks are stand-ins for modules that might someday go into the Project Ara phone, which in theory will let users swap in different components on the fly instead of replacing the whole phone when it’s time to upgrade.
The model is there because the people behind Project Ara are currently trying to think through potential retail experiences that would help people configure their phones. Not included inside the model are the non-invasive biometric monitoring tablets that measure galvanic skin response as a trigger to present the simplified configurator experience the team is looking into. Such technical jargon is par for the course inside Google’s Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) group, which is in charge of Project Ara. As near as I can tell (without an engineering degree, at least), the only person in the room who needs such terms explained is me.
At ATAP, simple things like Lego blocks represent ridiculously complex ideas. This tiny group of engineers and designers has given itself the task of creating a phone with several unproven, next-generation technologies. They intend to make a phone cheap enough to be accessible to 5 billion people. To do so, they need to create an ecosystem of hardware manufacturers robust enough that it could literally challenge giant incumbents like Foxconn and even Samsung. The head of Project Ara, Paul Eremenko, says he is planning “the most custom mass-market product ever created by mankind” without a trace of irony in his voice.
He and his team have just one year left to do it.
The broad outlines of Project Ara have already been announced and had plenty of doubt cast on them. It’s an attempt to encourage hardware manufacturers to build modules that will slot into a metal “endoskeleton,” which serves as the basic core of a phone. The camera, screen, and any other feature that you’d traditionally associate with a smartphone would exist only as a modular tile — even the processor and the power jack would be removable.
The challenges that ATAP needs to overcome are formidable to say the least. Since well before the iPhone, mobile technology has been on an inexorable march towards integration. Putting as many parts as possible on a single circuit board — or even a single chip — has benefits that are impossible to ignore. Integration saves on battery life, weight, thinness, and cost, among other things.
"IT’S SORT OF ANALOGOUS TO ANDROID FOR HARDWARE, PUSHING THE ANDROID CONSTRUCT DOWN TO THE HARDWARE LEVEL."
For nearly every one of those concerns, ATAP has a new and surprising solution that’s meant to address it. Many — if not most — of those innovations consist of technologies that have never been put into use in a mass consumer product. This week, ATAP is holding its first developer conference, where hardware makers can begin to learn about that technology and how to use it to make modules for Project Ara.
But first, you should know that Project Ara is not, technically, a phone. It’s not even that accurate to call it a project. It’s more like a mission. The end goal for ATAP is to hand off a viable product and stewardship of a hardware ecosystem to Google — Eremenko and his small team aren’t just building a series of proof-of-concept prototypes; they’re attempting to build an industry within an industry.
ATAP, which is also the home of Project Tango at Google, is tasked with coming up with big ideas and then actually executing them. It’s not unlike the “moonshots” like self-driving cars or floating internet balloons that comprise the mysterious work of another division, Google X. Except that everybody within ATAP has a self-imposed deadline — two years — by which they need to actually create and sell real things to real people.
Paul Eremenko, head of Project Ara
It’s a philosophy that’s imported from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where Eremenko and his boss, Regina Dugan, once worked. Dugan came to Google in 2012, where she was put in charge of ATAP, which was then meant to help reinvigorate the Motorola division. When Motorola was sold off to Lenovo, Google kept ATAP — and given the projects the team is working on, it’s not difficult to see why.
Within ATAP, there’s a lot of talk about the “DARPA model of innovation,” which involves using cutting-edge science and technology to pursue real, practical goals rather than just pursuing so-called “pure research” or rehashing existing technologies in new forms. ATAP works with outside companies and universities to come up with surprising ways to solve problems — problems like the limitations you might run into with a modular phone.
For example, having different components physically far away from each other should mean that they’re slower to communicate (since the bits need to travel farther), but ATAP is trying to push a communication standard called “UniPro” into widespread adoption a year or two ahead of schedule. Eremenko says that once UniPro is utilized by modules, an Ara phone should be fast enough to overcome that speed issue, thanks to “10 gigabits of throughput to most modules from the on-device network with a couple-microsecond latency.” That’s good enough for things like storage and cellular radios but not good enough for RAM, which will need to be on the same module as the processor.
Ara modules need to have a way to communicate with the rest of the phone, but physical contacts are often dirty and unreliable. So instead, the modules will use “capacitive interconnects,” which are wireless and theoretically more reliable, especially at high speeds. The capacitive pads also will help save space on the modules, since they’re smaller than physical pins.
When it comes to keeping the modules in place, physical latches are fiddly and can easily break. Instead, Ara phones will use electropermanent magnets to hold them in place. “It’s kind of a cross between a permanent magnet and an electromagnet, in that it has an on state and an off state,” Eremenko explains. “It uses an electrical pulse to switch between those two states, but it’s a passive component, meaning it consumes no power in both the off state and the on state.” An app on the phone will let you toggle the magnets on and off, and the 30 newtons of force in the on state should keep the modules from flying off when you drop the phone.
Project Ara is working with 3D Systems to develop a new kind of 3D printer that’s capable of mass producing custom shells (the plastic pieces on the back of each module). Normally, Eremenko explains, a 3D-printer head needs to go back and forth, stopping on each side of the thing it’s printing. The new system would place many tiles on a giant “racetrack,” so the 3D-printer head could simply zip around the oval nonstop, without waiting for parts to set or dealing with the inertia of starting and stopping. If that weren’t enough, Eremenko says the system would be “a first in terms of surface finish and color, 600 DPI, full color, and sub-micron RMS surface finish,” the latter of which basically means that the system can print glossy finishes.
While it all sounds great in theory, it also sounds like the sort of project that could languish in a lab for years while the engineers work out the bugs. But that’s where another piece of DARPA philosophy comes in. Eremenko says that ATAP projects “can’t just culminate in theory or PowerPoint or a lab demo. So the DARPA mantra is that we do demonstrations at convincing scale.”
"WE HAVE TO HIT CRITICAL MASS IN THE DEVELOPER ECOSYSTEM BEFORE THIS IS AN INTERESTING PRODUCT FOR CONSUMERS."
For Project Ara, a “demonstration at convincing scale” means much more than producing a compelling prototype. It means getting a critical mass of module developers actually making hardware; it means actually producing the endoskeleton; and it even means selling all of the above to real consumers in real markets. Only at that point will Ara be considered a success and be ready to hand off to Google, which will handle the marketplace for selling modules going forward. Anything less will fail to “retire all the key technical business and market risks,” to use the terminology DARPA adopts when trying to convince the military to adopt its technologies.
Eremenko says that the mantra was hard-won at DARPA, because just creating a prototype or a lab demonstration wasn’t enough to get the military on board. “Saying ‘Yeah, look, we demonstrated stealth. Air Force, here, you take it.’ The Air Force says ‘not interested.’” Perhaps not coincidentally, while at DARPA Eremenko worked on projects that seem remarkably close to the work he’s doing with Project Ara. The Adaptive Vehicle Make program tried to rethink how war vehicles were designed. The fractionated spacecraft program considered ways to allow spacecraft to be made up of multiple, modular, disconnected pieces — each communicating wirelessly. Fractionated phones seem relatively tame by comparison.
"THERE’S NO FREE LUNCH."
Similarly for ATAP, every technical innovation has a practical purpose. Eremenko contends that the benefits of a modular phone will become compelling to consumers once ATAP can get issues of weight, battery life, and size reduced down to a certain point, which he hopes will happen with the next prototype, sometime later this year. “We think the crossover point is somewhere at the one-third overhead point,” he argues, summing up all those issues into a single number. “We think we’ll come in at about one-quarter, about 25 percent overhead.” Still, he admits, “There’s no free lunch.”
Even so, 25 percent worse battery life, weight, and thickness doesn’t sound like a great deal, but ATAP is betting that the benefits of a modular phone will make them worth it. Eremenko cites the example of batteries that might offer double the usual runtime at the expense of fewer life cycles. That’s the kind of thing that would never make it into a mainstream phone, because a “very large, risk-averse, fairly slow (comparatively speaking) OEM” wouldn’t be willing to take a chance on it. Small-time hardware manufacturers, using open source design tools created by ATAP, could develop and sell modules at a fraction of the cost of developing a fully integrated product.
But while custom enclosures and super-charged batteries may appeal to the high end of the market, the wealthy are far from the only — or even primary — target. “What we don’t want to create is the consummate nerd toy that doesn’t have a market outside of Silicon Valley,” Eremenko says. The other, more important targets are the 5 billion people who don’t yet use a smartphone.
Next year, ATAP hopes to produce what it’s calling a “gray phone,” a bare-bones device with little more than a processor, Wi-Fi module, and screen. The target Bill of Materials cost would only be $50 (though the retail cost could be higher or lower, depending on Google’s largesse or desire for profit). A consumer could buy and use the gray phone, or use an on-phone app to buy module upgrades or custom shells.
“No monolithic phone will ever become a 5-billion-person phone,” Eremenko says, but he believes that devices based on the Ara platform could reach that market. That’s where the shipping container comes in – it’s just one of several different retail experiences the Ara team is considering.
"When this goes to market, this will be the most custom, mass-market product ever created by mankind," Eremenko argues. The closest thing to that level of customization is "maybe Chipotle burritos," he jokes. But the key problem is that when it comes to building out an Ara phone, people will "have to make a huge number of choices that are quite difficult to make, both aesthetic and functional."
Like the modular phone itself, choice is much better in theory than it is in practice. “When presented with choice, if it’s not appropriately curated … or presented to them, they freak out. They tend to get stressed out, they frequently seize up.”
To solve the paradox of choice, the Project Ara team is looking into an on-device app, social experiences, and “friend modes” for phones, where users could hand their phone to a friend and let them “clone” their setup as a starting point. They’re also investigating non-invasive biometric scanners that measure your pupil dilation and sweat to see if you’re stressed by figuring out all your options (though whether such a system ever becomes reality seems unlikely).
Google will host the store that sells the modules and also will sell the plastic, 3D-printed shells (the latter is because, Eremenko says, the antennas for various modules will have to go into the shell and Google will be responsible for proving to the FCC that they’re safe and don’t interfere with anything). It will not, however, sell the modules, leaving that to hardware partners. If Project Ara is successful, Google could have a business on its hands that rivals — or even exceeds — Android.
Just as importantly, though, Project Ara could have a ripple effect on the entire mobile industry. One of the goals is to “democratize the hardware ecosystem, break it wide open, basically disintermediate the OEMs,” Eremenko says, “so that component developers can now have privy with the consumer.”
"DEMOCRATIZE THE HARDWARE ECOSYSTEM, BREAK IT WIDE OPEN, BASICALLY DISINTERMEDIATE THE OEMS."
When a component maker, say a camera company or a battery company, wants to get its part into a smartphone, it needs to convince both the factory and the actual smartphone company to include it. But if they can sell the part directly to the consumer — with the help of Ara’s design tools to build the module and Google’s help to market it — then the Ara ecoystem wouldn’t need giant manufacturers like Foxconn, Pegatron, or even Samsung and HTC to build Android phones. “We want to empower the consumer to make those decisions,” Eremenko says, “rather than having the component developer go through an OEM to do that.”
It almost goes without saying that Project Ara is wildly ambitious. It’s the sort of thing that typically would involve billions of dollars and multiple years of research and development. Instead ATAP is trying to pull it off with three full-time Google employees, a handful of contractors, and outside companies contributing key parts. And it’s trying to do it all in two years, a seemingly arbitrary deadline that’s just as crazy as the technology itself. “Innovation under time pressure is higher quality innovation,” Eremenko argues. “It tends to get rid of red tape, it tends to get rid of dithering, and an inability to make decisions. And it tends to take away risk aversion.”
Project Ara — both the proposed phone and the organization trying to create it — is a complicated system. All the pieces have to fit, they have to talk to each other, and they have to all work as promised. That’s assuming the modules get produced in the first place, which isn’t anything close to a sure bet. But even if all that happens, expect the result to be somewhat inefficient, a little confusing, a tad bulky, and still the most intriguing thing to happen to phones in years.
from-dust-of-stars: Life, life, everywhere? Prospects not precluded by “fluctuating tilt in a planet’s orbit”. Very interesting?
Tilted worlds may harbor life
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
A fluctuating tilt in a planet’s orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah’s Weber State University and NASA. In fact, sometimes it helps.
That’s because such “tilt-a-worlds,” as astronomers sometimes call them — turned from their orbital plane by the influence of companion planets — are less likely than fixed-spin planets to freeze over, as heat from their host star is more evenly distributed.
This happens only at the outer edge of a star’s habitable zone, the swath of space around it where rocky worlds could maintain liquid water at their surface, a necessary condition for life. Further out, a “snowball state” of global ice becomes inevitable, and life impossible.
The findings, which are published online and will appear in the April issue of Astrobiology, have the effect of expanding that perceived habitable zone by 10 to 20 percent.
And that in turn dramatically increases the number of worlds considered potentially right for life.
Such a tilt-a-world becomes potentially habitable because its spin would cause poles to occasionally point toward the host star, causing ice caps to quickly melt.
"Without this sort of ‘home base’ for ice, global glaciation is more difficult," said UW astronomer Rory Barnes. "So the rapid tilting of an exoplanet actually increases the likelihood that there might be liquid water on a planet’s surface."
Barnes is second author on the paper. First author is John Armstrong of Weber State, who earned his doctorate at the UW.
Earth and its neighbor planets occupy roughly the same plane in space. But there is evidence, Barnes said, of systems whose planets ride along at angles to each other. As such, “they can tug on each other from above or below, changing their poles’ direction compared to the host star.”
The team used computer simulations to reproduce such off-kilter planetary alignments, wondering, he said, “what an Earthlike planet might do if it had similar neighbors.”
Their findings also argue against the long-held view among astronomers and astrobiologists that a planet needs the stabilizing influence of a large moon — as Earth has — to have a chance at hosting life.
"We’re finding that planets don’t have to have a stable tilt to be habitable," Barnes said. Minus the moon, he said, Earth’s tilt, now at a fairly stable 23.5 degrees, might increase by 10 degrees or so. Climates might fluctuate, but life would still be possible.
"This study suggests the presence of a large moon might inhibit life, at least at the edge of the habitable zone."
The work was done through the UW’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, an interdisciplinary research group that studies how to determine if exoplanets — those outside the solar system — might have the potential for life.
"The research involved orbital dynamics, planetary dynamics and climate studies. It’s bigger than any of those disciplines on their own," Barnes said.
Armstrong said that expanding the habitable zone might almost double the number of potentially habitable planets in the galaxy.
Applying the research and its expanded habitable zone to our own celestial neighborhood for context, he said, “It would give the ability to put Earth, say, past the orbit of Mars and still be habitable at least some of the time — and that’s a lot of real estate.”
from-dust-of-stars: Damn amazing perpetual solar energy! This is incredibly exciting and hopeful for our future and steps toward energy independence.
Scientists Discover How to Generate Solar Power in the Dark
by Christopher Orr. April 15 2014, 1:27 PM ET
Meet ‘photoswitches,’ a breakthrough set of materials that act as their own batteries, absorbing energy and releasing it on demand.
Pic: Andres Gutierrez/AP
The next big thing in solar energy could be microscopic.
Scientists at MIT and Harvard University have devised a way to store solar energy in molecules that can then be tapped to heat homes, water or used for cooking.
The best part: The molecules can store the heat forever and be endlessly re-used while emitting absolutely no greenhouse gases. Scientists remain a way’s off in building this perpetual heat machine but they have succeeded in the laboratory at demonstrating the viability of the phenomenon called photoswitching.
“Some molecules, known as photoswitches, can assume either of two different shapes, as if they had a hinge in the middle,” MIT researchers said in statement about the paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry. “Exposing them to sunlight causes them to absorb energy and jump from one configuration to the other, which is then stable for long periods of time.”
To liberate that energy all you have to do is expose the molecules to a small amount of light, heat or electricity and when they switch back to the other shape the emit heat. “In effect, they behave as rechargeable thermal batteries: taking in energy from the sun, storing it indefinitely, and then releasing it on demand,” the scientists said.
The researchers used a photoswitching substance called an azobenzene, attaching the molecules to substrates of carbon nanotubes. The challenge: Packing the molecules closely enough together to achieve a sufficient energy density to generate usable heat.
It appeared that the researchers had failed when they were only able to pack fewer than half the number of molecules needed as indicated by an earlier computer simulation of the experiment.
But instead of hitting a projected 30 percent increase in energy density, they saw a 200 percent increase. It turned out that the key was not so much packing azobenzene molecules tightly on individual carbon nanotubes as packing the nanotubes close together. That’s because the azobenzene molecules formed “teeth” on the carbon nanotubes, which interlocked with teeth on adjacent nanotubes. The result was the mass needed for a usable amount of energy storage.
That means different combinations of photoswitching molecules and substrates might achieve the same or greater energy storage, according to the researchers.
So how would molecular solar storage work if the technology can be commercialized? Timothy Kucharski, the paper’s lead author and a postdoc at MIT and Harvard, told The Atlantic that most likely the storage would take a liquid form, which would be easy to transport.
“It would also enable charging by flowing the material from a storage tank through a window or clear tube exposed to the sun and then to another storage tank, where the material would remain until it’s needed,” Kucharski said in an email. “That way one could stockpile the charged material for use when the sun’s not shining.”
The paper’s authors envision the technology could be used in countries where most people rely on burning wood or dung for cooking, which creates dangerous levels of indoor air pollution, leads to deforestation and contributes to climate change.
“For solar cooking, one would leave the device out in the sun during the day,” says Kucharski. “One design we have for such an application is purely gravity driven – the material flows from one tank to another. The flow rate is restricted so that it’s exposed to the sun long enough that it gets fully charged. Then, when it’s time to cook dinner, after the sun is down, the flow direction is reversed, again driven by gravity, and the opposite side of the setup is used as the cooking surface.”
“As the material flows back to the first tank, it passes by an immobilized catalyst which triggers the energy-releasing process, heating the cooking surface up,” he adds.
Other versions of such device could be used to heat buildings.
Kucharski said the MIT and Harvard team is now investigating other photoswitching molecules and substrates, “with the aim of designing a system that absorbs more of the sun’s energy and also can be more practically scaled up.”
from-dust-of-stars: Where Life began on Earth? Fascinating and exciting.
New Study Outlines ‘Water World’ Theory of Life’s Origins
April 15, 2014
Life took root more than four billion years ago on our nascent Earth, a wetter and harsher place than now, bathed in sizzling ultraviolet rays. What started out as simple cells ultimately transformed into slime molds, frogs, elephants, humans and the rest of our planet’s living kingdoms. How did it all begin?
A new study from researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the Icy Worlds team at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., describes how electrical energy naturally produced at the sea floor might have given rise to life. While the scientists had already proposed this hypothesis — called “submarine alkaline hydrothermal emergence of life” — the new report assembles decades of field, laboratory and theoretical research into a grand, unified picture.
According to the findings, which also can be thought of as the “water world” theory, life may have begun inside warm, gentle springs on the sea floor, at a time long ago when Earth’s oceans churned across the entire planet. This idea of hydrothermal vents as possible places for life’s origins was first proposed in 1980 by other researchers, who found them on the sea floor near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Called “black smokers,” those vents bubble with scalding hot, acidic fluids. In contrast, the vents in the new study — first hypothesized by scientist Michael Russell of JPL in 1989 — are gentler, cooler and percolate with alkaline fluids. One such towering complex of these alkaline vents was found serendipitously in the North Atlantic Ocean in 2000, and dubbed the Lost City.
"Life takes advantage of unbalanced states on the planet, which may have been the case billions of years ago at the alkaline hydrothermal vents," said Russell. "Life is the process that resolves these disequilibria." Russell is lead author of the new study, published in the April issue of the journal Astrobiology.
Other theories of life’s origins describe ponds, or “soups,” of chemicals, pockmarking Earth’s battered, rocky surface. In some of those chemical soup models, lightning or ultraviolet light is thought to have fueled life in the ponds.
The water world theory from Russell and his team says that the warm, alkaline hydrothermal vents maintained an unbalanced state with respect to the surrounding ancient, acidic ocean — one that could have provided so-called free energy to drive the emergence of life. In fact, the vents could have created two chemical imbalances. The first was a proton gradient, where protons — which are hydrogen ions — were concentrated more on the outside of the vent’s chimneys, also called mineral membranes. The proton gradient could have been tapped for energy — something our own bodies do all the time in cellular structures called mitochondria.
The second imbalance could have involved an electrical gradient between the hydrothermal fluids and the ocean. Billions of years ago, when Earth was young, its oceans were rich with carbon dioxide. When the carbon dioxide from the ocean and fuels from the vent — hydrogen and methane — met across the chimney wall, electrons may have been transferred. These reactions could have produced more complex carbon-containing, or organic compounds — essential ingredients of life as we know it. Like proton gradients, electron transfer processes occur regularly in mitochondria.
"Within these vents, we have a geological system that already does one aspect of what life does," said Laurie Barge, second author of the study at JPL. "Life lives off proton gradients and the transfer of electrons."
As is the case with all advanced life forms, enzymes are the key to making chemical reactions happen. In our ancient oceans, minerals may have acted like enzymes, interacting with chemicals swimming around and driving reactions. In the water world theory, two different types of mineral “engines” might have lined the walls of the chimney structures.
"These mineral engines may be compared to what’s in modern cars," said Russell.
"They make life ‘go’ like the car engines by consuming fuel and expelling exhaust. DNA and RNA, on the other hand, are more like the car’s computers because they guide processes rather than make them happen."
One of the tiny engines is thought to have used a mineral known as green rust, allowing it to take advantage of the proton gradient to produce a phosphate-containing molecule that stores energy. The other engine is thought to have depended on a rare metal called molybdenum. This metal also is at work in our bodies, in a variety of enzymes. It assists with the transfer of two electrons at a time rather than the usual one, which is useful in driving certain key chemical reactions.
"We call molybdenum the Douglas Adams element," said Russell, explaining that the atomic number of molybdenum is 42, which also happens to be the answer to the "ultimate question of life, the universe and everything" in Adams’ popular book, "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy." Russell joked, "Forty-two may in fact be one answer to the ultimate question of life!"
The team’s origins of life theory applies not just to Earth but also to other wet, rocky worlds.
"Michael Russell’s theory originated 25 years ago and, in that time, JPL space missions have found strong evidence for liquid water oceans and rocky sea floors on Europa and Enceladus," said Barge. "We have learned much about the history of water on Mars, and soon we may find Earth-like planets around faraway stars. By testing this origin-of-life hypothesis in the lab at JPL, we may explain how life might have arisen on these other places in our solar system or beyond, and also get an idea of how to look for it."
For now, the ultimate question of whether the alkaline hydrothermal vents are the hatcheries of life remains unanswered. Russell says the necessary experiments are jaw-droppingly difficult to design and carry out, but decades later, these are problems he and his team are still happy to tackle.
The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.
from-dust-of-stars: Damn! So beautiful, but mostly makes me think: ‘damn, I need a girlfriend!’ Aaagggghhh
reblog if you are gay and you are proud of it!"
Join the new gay & lesbian social network!
Just be proud of who you are and who you love !
from-dust-of-stars: Gay and proud!
um if you don’t reblog this
bc i have them myself.
i so would
i am, and he’s perfect.
Yes cause everybody makes mistakes. And I was one there..