Scientists discover star with building blocks of life in it

Dwarf star 200 million light years away contains life’s building blocks
UCLA-led team discovers object in the constellation Boötes with carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA – LOS ANGELES

Rendering of part of a planetary system in orbit around a white dwarf star (the white spot at the center of the red ring). The foreground shows rocky asteroids; the red ring represents the rocky debris that remains of former asteroids or a minor planet that have already been broken apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf. CREDIT University of Warwick

Rendering of part of a planetary system in orbit around a white dwarf star (the white spot at the center of the red ring). The foreground shows rocky asteroids; the red ring represents the rocky debris that remains of former asteroids or a minor planet that have already been broken apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf. CREDIT University of Warwick

Many scientists believe the Earth was dry when it first formed, and that the building blocks for life on our planet — carbon, nitrogen and water — appeared only later as a result of collisions with other objects in our solar system that had those elements.

Today, a UCLA-led team of scientists reports that it has discovered the existence of a white dwarf star whose atmosphere is rich in carbon and nitrogen, as well as in oxygen and hydrogen, the components of water. The white dwarf is approximately 200 light years from Earth and is located in the constellation Boötes.

Benjamin Zuckerman, a co-author of the research and a UCLA professor of astronomy, said the study presents evidence that the planetary system associated with the white dwarf contains materials that are the basic building blocks for life. And although the study focused on this particular star — known as WD 1425+540 — the fact that its planetary system shares characteristics with our solar system strongly suggests that other planetary systems would also.

“The findings indicate that some of life’s important preconditions are common in the universe,” Zuckerman said.

The scientists report that a minor planet in the planetary system was orbiting around the white dwarf, and its trajectory was somehow altered, perhaps by the gravitational pull of a planet in the same system. That change caused the minor planet to travel very close to the white dwarf, where the star’s strong gravitational field ripped the minor planet apart into gas and dust. Those remnants went into orbit around the white dwarf — much like the rings around Saturn, Zuckerman said — before eventually spiraling onto the star itself, bringing with them the building blocks for life.

The researchers think these events occurred relatively recently, perhaps in the past 100,000 years or so, said Edward Young, another co-author of the study and a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry. They estimate that approximately 30 percent of the minor planet’s mass was water and other ices, and approximately 70 percent was rocky material.

The research suggests that the minor planet is the first of what are likely many such analogs to objects in our solar system’s Kuiper belt. The Kuiper belt is an enormous cluster of small bodies like comets and minor planets located in the outer reaches of our solar system, beyond Neptune. Astronomers have long wondered whether other planetary systems have bodies with properties similar to those in the Kuiper belt, and the new study appears to confirm for the first time that one such body exists.

White dwarf stars are dense, burned-out remnants of normal stars. Their strong gravitational pull causes elements like carbon, oxygen and nitrogen to sink out of their atmospheres and into their interiors, where they cannot be detected by telescopes.

The research, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, describes how WD 1425+540 came to obtain carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen. This is the first time a white dwarf with nitrogen has been discovered, and one of only a few known examples of white dwarfs that have been impacted by a rocky body that was rich in water ice.

“If there is water in Kuiper belt-like objects around other stars, as there now appears to be, then when rocky planets form they need not contain life’s ingredients,” said Siyi Xu, the study’s lead author, a postdoctoral scholar at the European Southern Observatory in Germany who earned her doctorate at UCLA.

“Now we’re seeing in a planetary system outside our solar system that there are minor planets where water, nitrogen and carbon are present in abundance, as in our solar system’s Kuiper belt,” Xu said. “If Earth obtained its water, nitrogen and carbon from the impact of such objects, then rocky planets in other planetary systems could also obtain their water, nitrogen and carbon this way.”

A rocky planet that forms relatively close to its star would likely be dry, Young said.

“We would like to know whether in other planetary systems Kuiper belts exist with large quantities of water that could be added to otherwise dry planets,” he said. “Our research suggests this is likely.”

According to Zuckerman, the study doesn’t settle the question of whether life in the universe is common.

“First you need an Earth-like world in its size, mass and at the proper distance from a star like our sun,” he said, adding that astronomers still haven’t found a planet that matches those criteria.

The researchers observed WD 1425+540 with the Keck Telescope in 2008 and 2014, and with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. They analyzed the chemical composition of its atmosphere using an instrument called a spectrometer, which breaks light into wavelengths. Spectrometers can be tuned to the wavelengths at which scientists know a given element emits and absorbs light; scientists can then determine the element’s presence by whether it emits or absorbs light of certain characteristic wavelengths. In the new study, the researchers saw the elements in the white dwarf’s atmosphere because they absorbed some of the background light from the white dwarf.

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104 thoughts on “Scientists discover star with building blocks of life in it

  1. This is really great! I sure do hope it doesn’t have the kind of “carbon” we have here, you know, the nasty kind! But maybe they can tax it?

  2. apart from tons of mindless speculation, it’s totally unclear from this exactly what they HAVE seen/discovered. Just what are their “findings” ?

      • ristvan

        I agree completely with you. The presence of these elements in the atmosphere of this white dwarf are likely because of nucleosynthesis.

        They could be there as a result of ionic sorting in a plasma discharge, or because the dwarf is youthful despite being a dwarf.

        This is not even entertained as a possibility in the astronomical model.

        The the syllogisms here:
        >There must be a Kuiper belt-type structure around more stars
        >>because there is a planet which was delivered to this star
        >>>because this star has N H O C in its atmosphere

        have been constructed because of the assumption here:
        “White dwarf stars are dense, burned-out remnants of normal stars. Their strong gravitational pull causes elements like carbon, oxygen and nitrogen to sink out of their atmospheres and into their interiors, where they cannot be detected by telescopes.

      • What I meant is it is unclear what they have observed and where the facts end and a the speculation starts. I presume that this comes form a Eureka Alert press release or some such and was probably written by a media studies undergrad who knows next to nothing about astronomy, but as usual it does not even include so much as a ref or even the title of the alleged “study”.

        since it says that these elements usually sink deeper into the star where they are no longer visible, presumably they are “supposed” be the there , just not visible. So how did they find them, or was that speculation too?

        Like I said, it is totally unclear what , if anything, was actually discovered: as in uncovered or observed.

        Why anyone would bother writing a press release and not giving a means to find the paper itself defeats me. Probably part of media studies is learning how to lecture others on what world is like whilst avoiding giving anyone enough to information for them to check the accuracy of what is being reported.

      • Well I figured with a lame press release like that I’d just have to start from the only concrete information: one of the co-author’s names and try to find a ref to a recent paper.

        https://www.ioes.ucla.edu/person/benjamin-zuckerman/

        WTF , even astronomy now comes under the “Institute of Environment and Sustainability” !

        Has “Earth Sciences” swallowed the whole of academic funding now to the point that stars 200 million light years away are funded under “Environment and Sustainability” ??

      • From his personal web site we get the ‘eco’ angle on astronomy:
        http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~ben/
        ” Professor Zuckerman believes that if astronomy is to have a viable future then people must confront the declining environmental health of the world. ”

        Yep, no point in working on astronomy if the world is about to end.

        “… consider a peopled mission to Mars… ” Oh wow, like a PC version of a manned mission, hope they can find some transgender astronauts , they’ll be valuable asset in setting up a socially representative colony on Mars.

      • Hey Greg, here’s a link for you. Here’s the abstract.

        The Kuiper Belt of our solar system is a source of short-period comets that may have delivered water and other volatiles to Earth and the other terrestrial planets. However, the distribution of water and other volatiles in extrasolar planetary systems is largely unknown. We report the discovery of an accretion of a Kuiper-Belt-Object analog onto the atmosphere of the white dwarf WD 1425+540. The heavy elements C, N, O, Mg, Si, S, Ca, Fe, and Ni are detected, with nitrogen observed for the first time in extrasolar planetary debris. The nitrogen mass fraction is ~2%, comparable to that in comet Halley and higher than in any other known solar system object. The lower limit to the accreted mass is ~1022 g, which is about one hundred thousand times the typical mass of a short-period comet. In addition, WD 1425+540 has a wide binary companion, which could facilitate perturbing a Kuiper-Belt-Object analog into the white dwarf’s tidal radius. This finding shows that analogs to objects in our Kuiper Belt exist around other stars and could be responsible for the delivery of volatiles to terrestrial planets beyond the solar system.

      • Greg Goodman, maybe the proposal for funding was:

        “The Effects of Climate Change on the Abundance of Life-supporting Elements in White Dwarf Stars.”

        I have joked about adding “The Effects of Climate Change …” to astronomy proposals. I never thought it could actually happen until now.

  3. “The findings indicate that some of life’s important preconditions are common in the universe,” Zuckerman said.

    They found one star in one galaxy from which they conclude these things are common? And all the study of all the stars in our own galaxy which are closer and hence much easier to study (and in higher detail) have so far produce zero instances of same?

    Well my own opinion is that as our tools improve, we probably WILL find more of the same, and even that we will find life, even intelligent life, as time goes on. But that is simply a belief which I have zero evidence for. They have only slightly more than I do. It isn’t a scientific assertion.

    • Almost all stars have these elements in them, so the title of the post is not useful.
      The real news is that a white dwarf has also been observed with those elements.

      • Well thanks for the clarification Leif. But no where in the article does it say that these elements are common in other stars. It only says holy sh*t we found some in a white dwarf which apparently we haven’t before.

        Even if this is “real news” it is lost in the article. The lay audience doesn’t have time or inclination to go researching what we already know about other stars in order to put THIS article into context, nor (for the vast majority) access to people like you who can set the record straight with a single comment. The write up conveys an inaccurate perception.

      • David, that is most likely because the person who wrote the press release does not know the first thing about the subject. This seems to be par for the course. Probably a media studies undergrad.

      • most likely because the person who wrote the press release does not know the first thing about the subject.

        Responsibility is on the writer to ensure they conveyed an accurate message and also upon the researcher to ensure the writer understood and that the final product was accurate. I forgive neither of them.

        Of course, on that standard, 99% of all reporting is garbage. Sigh.

  4. “The scientists report that a minor planet in the planetary system was orbiting around the white dwarf, and its trajectory was somehow altered, perhaps by the gravitational pull of a planet in the same system. That change caused the minor planet to travel very close to the white dwarf, where the star’s strong gravitational field ripped the minor planet apart into gas and dust.”

    Remember how Mercury’s eccentricities were used to verify Einstein’s GR?

    • Yes but that was based on Mercury being there and being observed, not having disappeared 200 million years ago and speculating that it may once have been there.

      • Planetary migration was never considered as a possible cause of the eccentricities of Mercury. I am basically saying that the argument ad ignorantium was used. “We don’t know what else it could be so it must be because the mass of the sun is warping space-time.”

        Now everything moves out, in, sideways — and perturbation by other planets is also used to explain the orbits of exoplanets.

  5. Well, they have an utterly unsurprising observation. All main sequence stars <~8-10 solar masses go through a fusion process starting with hydrogen and ending with iron. These elements escape the star in the red giant phase before the final collapse to a white dwarf. They don't escape the stars gravitational field. So unusual circumstances allowed direct observation of bog standard stellar nucleosynthesis.
    All the elements above iron are synthesized in supernova explosions of stars more massive than 8-10 stellar masses.

    • Thanks Istvan, you confirmed exactly what I was thinking.

      All they found was what current solar theory says should be there. Still, it’s nice to have confirming evidence of a theory.

      Now, if they spotted a cloud of CHON mixed with trans-uranics, THAT would be news.

      • ‘The findings indicate that some of life’s important preconditions are common in the universe,” Zuckerman said.’

        Well yes, Zuckerman is right.

    • They don’t escape the stars gravitational field.

      Of course they can escape the stars gravitational field – whenever 2 massive objects collided in our solar system and one of the remnants of the collision finds a trajectory so that e.g. Jupiter, Saturn’s mass accelerated that thing to extrasolar space.

      Why not.

    • But first: in the nebulae between the galaxies there’s already simple forms of alcohol to find: C6H12O6 – basic elements for life.

  6. Of course we can be sure that a Mr Sugarman will be the first to find carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
    Sorry.

    We really do here have monster confusion over chickens & eggs, cause & effect.
    We’re told a ‘rocky planet’ fell into the star and broke up, releasing C, N, O and other stuff,

    Erm, where did the rocky planet get that stuff from?
    Don’t tell me, another rocky planet.

    Then we get all this ‘building blocks’ rubbish, straight out of primary skool science.
    I don’t wanna rain on your parade but. would not a little bit of cement/mortar be useful?
    Stuff like P, Na, Cu, Co, Mg, Ca etc etc etc

    I bet these empty headed clowns think you turn a desert into a garden simply by adding CO2, water and nitrogen fertiliser. They#re not alone in that bit of magical thinking either.

    Sorry but this is just Yet More Noise- and I’m as guilty as anyone in even commenting on it

    • Peta,

      – other stuff is irrelevant. The planet has to be in a habitable zone: enough water, enough energy from it’s sun.

      – when there’s the right composition of minerals live will find a way.

    • 200 ly makes more sense in “light” of that estimated 100,000 years ago event. At the 200M ly distance we wouldn’t know about the event for another, well, 200M years.

    • Besides, 200M Ly would put the object well outside our local group of *galaxies* (and likely be individually unobservable at that distance, since it’s a white dwarf).

  7. For a guy whose boyhood was filled with Science Fiction, these reports are exciting — but only until one reads the details.

    Intriguing if one is an astronomer or exo-planet researcher, but over-hyped for the general public.

    The report theory and hypotheses as if they were facts, and report findings are are really more like scientific hints of things.

    Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in all existence — and is found even in interstellar space (which means its absorption spectrum might just represent interstellar clouds of hydrogen between us and the star in question). Oxygen is the third most abundant element — seeing its absorption signature from a distant star is certainly no surprise. Yes, when banged together at the right temperatures and pressure, they make water, but not IN A STAR, only on a planet. Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass, so no surprise there. Nitrogen, the other element noted, is in the top ten.

    Kudos however for the image properly labeled a “Rendering” (a piece of imaginative artwork created by a graphics artist from descriptions for other of what such a thing look like — of course, it might look like something altogether different.).

    [Opinion Trigger Warning — those not wishing to read opinions or who might be upset by the opinions of others, should stop reading now]
    Personally, I have no doubt whatever that there are other habitable planets — the idea that Earth is a one-off in a visible Universe as large as we can see now with the new space telescopes is a ridiculous idea of the “we are oh so special” crowd.

    • Somewhere in a galaxy far far away, there is another blue ball harboring inhabitants arguing about the ravages of pollution and poisoning by the very substances that are the foundations of their beings.

      I, therefore, predict that the first artifact from another life-bearing planet will be a gold-plated plaque with a smoke stack depicting billowing smoke, juxtaposed beside a lone, white, furry creature balancing on an ice cube.

    • Kip Hansen,

      “- the idea that Earth is a one-off in a visible Universe as large as we can see now with the new space telescopes is a ridiculous idea of the “we are oh so special” crowd.”

      To me, nobody special, it seems like simple open-mindedness to refrain from eliminating that idea/possibility from one’s mind, until there is clear evidence to the contrary. Since the simplest life forms I am aware of consist of billions of hyper-organized molecules including extremely elaborate functional “coding”, which seems to me utterly unlikely to come together by chance, I have no rational reason to think that it would happen even once, let alone many times, such that the idea of just once is rendered “ridiculous” to me.

      It’s got nothing at all to do with any “we are so special” anything . . life certainly is though, according to everything I know about this question/matter. I favor freedom of the mind, and am somewhat saddened to see you speak in such a derogatory way about those who don’t share your (to me) absolutist fervor for driving potentials from one’s mind, based on what appears to me to be little more than a phantom calculation of odds you can’t possibly know . .

      Having an opinion on such a matter is one thing, but insulting and accusing all who don’t unquestioningly ascribe to it of some sort of narcissistic cult membership, seems like just plain bigotry to me, frankly. I advise you not do that again . . to me, sir.

      • JohnKnight ==> I did give the modern university-required warning : “Opinion Trigger Warning — those not wishing to read opinions or who might be upset by the opinions of others, should stop reading now”

        You should have stopped reading as advised.

      • You did not give a “Bigotry” warning, sir, and if you commit it again in my eyes, I’ll call you out again, sir.

      • Hansen logic;

        If you find a gold watch in a very big desert, it is ridiculous to think there are not many more gold watches out there somewhere ; )

      • I saw no bigotry, and took no offense. I am surprised that anyone would have.

        Wait, did I just commit bigotry? Did I just offend?

      • Having an opinion on such a matter is one thing, but insulting and accusing all who don’t unquestioningly ascribe to it of some sort of narcissistic cult membership, seems like just plain bigotry to me, frankly. I advise you not do that again . . to me, sir.

        DISCLAIMER: You might not like this, but …

        There can be more than one cult, right? — the “cult” that does believe in many possible life-bearing planets and the “cult” that does NOT. Just call the person who offends you a member of his/her OWN cult, and don’t feel insulted. I think that YOU inferred the “cult” label on yourself without attributing a similar possibility to the person seemingly offending you.

        It appears to me that you could have excluded all those who don’t share your fervor using an equally excluding remark. Instead, you chose to target yourself with a label that was never used, thus, seemingly sealing your fate as the very thing you wish to avoid being associated with.

        I sense an Earthcentric/humancentric vibe in your tone, which divides you from opposing views to the point of seemingly defining an opposing form of “bigotry”. But that’s a really loaded term, and maybe even a bit misapplied.

        This practice of appropriating words from one sphere to another seems to be getting out of hand these days.

        For example, anything seemingly can invoke the label, “racist” or “bigot”. One might even suggest that you are a “racist” against extraterrestrials. I, for example, am a “racist” against elves, because I just don’t believe in the little suckers — they are inferior to real humans — they have no rights in my book — they have no place in human public schools or in human public transportation. It’s a harsh stance that I take towards these darling little beings, but I’m just being honest — elves are vile, lowly perpetrators of misguided hopes and dreams, especially with gullible children, which also makes them “child abusers”.

      • “I saw no bigotry, and took no offense.”

        Neither did I . .is there something substantive you wish to discuss?

        The concept that I would need to “take offense” before defending freedom of the mind, as in not closing one’s mind to various potentials, is somewhat puzzling to me. Characterizing the retention of an idea that is compatible with what we have evidence for right now, as indicative of some sort of psychological problem is what I objected to, on general principles.

        On this site I see and participate in attempts to overcome what to my mind are defamatory ‘PC’ claims about psychological flaws inherent in those who do retain an open mind about the CAGW hypothesis, and spoke up about what to me was a similar “smearing” of those who might do so with regard to the potential that life is not a widespread phenomenon in the universe. It’s real possibility, unless and until we see clear evidence to the contrary, it seems to me, and no membership in any “we are so special” crowd is required to justify entertaining the idea.

        Again, it’s freedom of the mind I am defending, not any particular idea one might entertain in one’s thinking about complex matters. Had he said something like;

        *“- the idea that life exists in many other places is a ridiculous idea of the “we are not so special” crowd* , I might have made a similar comment bemoaning the use of such “othering” tactics in espousing a belief/opinion . . it’s the (apparent) attempt to infuse a “social cost” on retaining a potential in one’s consideration that I protested here.

      • John Knight
        Complex doesn’t mean improbable. Spontaneous nonlinear pattern formation makes complexity routine and ubiquitous. Read about “Spiegelmann’s monster” to see how even the biochemical origin of life might have been quite straightforward.

      • Ptolemy,

        You’re right.

        And RNA studies have come a long way since 1965, when Sol Spiegelman created his “monster”.

      • Ptolemy,

        “Complex doesn’t mean improbable.”

        It doesn’t mean probable either . . I’m not into treating the fantasies of dorks as if empirical evidence, thanks anyway ; )

      • John,

        What fantasy? Which dorks?

        The demonic spirit which you imagine without a shred of evidence made the universe is, thank God (so to speak) a fantasy. The fable and fairy tales in which you believe were made up by prescientific authors

        That the development of life on earth (or off it) was based upon RNA is an observation, ie a scientific fact, not fantasy. As is the demonstrable fact that RNA self-assembles and serves both as a repository of genetic information and as a catalyst, ie capable of doing the jobs of both DNA and protein enzymes in today’s microbes. Bilayer lipid membranes also self-assemble, so miraculous supernatural intervention is required for a protocell to emerge from a soup of precursor molecules, which are ubiquitous in the universe.

      • Look,

        We know the “building blocks” of actual living things, and if some science heads want me to believe it’s probable that they can self assemble into a living thing, they ought to demonstrate that they can (the scientific method, you surely have heard tell of ; ) . . which apparently they have virtually no confidence they can do. Logic (such as a fool like me possesses ; ) tells me that they would have a whole lot more confidence that they could demonstrate this self assembly of living things idea, if they didn’t think it was at least pretty damn improbable.

      • John,

        I summarized the state of origins of life science for you. Great advances have been made in our understanding. A few engineering problems remain before making artificial protocells, but every year more are overcome. What will happen to your faith in the demonic spirit when these issues are resolved?

      • Gloateus writes,

        “That the development of life on earth (or off it) was based upon RNA is an observation, ie a scientific fact, not fantasy.”

        Anyone else who wants me to see them as extremely ignorant and/or irrational, now’s yer chance; agree with that statement and get what you want ; )

      • Gloateus,

        Because I care about you ; ) I will inform you that when you include a “loaded” phrase like ‘the demonic spirit’ I believe in, you greatly reduce the possibility that I will answer. Kinda like someone asking a man “When did you stop beating your wife?” . . Or, “Why do you insist on spouting total nonsense?”, etc. To answer involves a tacit agreement with the offensive premise included in the question.

        As to what might happen to my faith in God, if someone eventually demonstrates that with just the right ingredients under the just right circumstances, something not alive could be made alive; Nothing. In fact, when a clinically dead person comes “back to life”, that’s what’s happening, as I see it. Life is not magic to my mind, but extremely advanced technology in action.

      • John,

        Your supposedly omnipotent sky spirit is demonic because, if it’s as you imagine, it is evil (as the Bible itself says), incompetent and deceptive.

        The god of the gaps is a problem for creationists since the gaps keep getting filled. A great insight was that the ribosome, which assembles proteins from amino acids in all cells, is a ribozyme related to transfer RNA.

        This recent RNA World video is already outdated. We have made great strides recently in directed evolution of ribozymes and in finding naturally occurring backbone connecting enzymes:

        It’s PC in showing no white male researchers, when in fact most are.

        The problems of cellular membrane formation and splitting have already been solved experimentally in Nobel winner Szostak’s Harvard lab.

        Origin of life researchers estimate that artificial protocells will be made in the lifetime of most people now living. Probably won’t happen in five years, but very likely within 50. Best guess would be ten to 20 years. That might sound like the ever receding promise of controlled fusion, but the engineering problems for life in the lab are presently less challenging. In the meantime, many important medical and biological discoveries, understandings and techniques have come out of OOL work.

      • Isaiah 45:7 has God creating evil (KJV):

        I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

        In the OT at least, God is not love.

      • The whole message of Isaiah (including Is 45 verse 7) is to warn that Judah is just about to be invaded and conquered by the Babylonians.

        I wonder how many readers here have studied sieges of walled cities and conquest by the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires?

        What they were just about to experience was not fun, aka “evil, calamity, mischief, harm.”

        Moral of the story: fear God and have some integrity; but if you are bad, your land too may be invaded and conquered by a very nasty, brutal World Empire.

        Moral of the story 2: Babylon, the instrument of “evil, calamity, mischief, harm” to all of those surrounding nations and cities:

        evil and empires and reichs, oh my

        is also judged and experiences “evil, calamity, mischief, harm” (later). Babylon was a massive, massive fortified city that Jeremiah said would fall in one day:

        And it did.

      • “Your supposedly omnipotent sky spirit is demonic because, if it’s as you imagine, it is evil (as the Bible itself says), incompetent and deceptive.”

        Deep thoughts, by Gloateus Handey ; )

        “The god of the gaps is a problem for creationists since the gaps keep getting filled.”

        The only god of the gaps I know of, is the god of bit by bit you worship, slick. You know, the one that fills in the gaps between actual critters we can actually see evidence existed, with imaginary ones that change bit by bit so something kinda like creature A, can be “seen” changing into something kinda like creature B, in our imaginations? . . ’cause we can’t see ANY of them doing it in the actual “fossil record”? Yeah, I know about that god of the gaps ; )

      • John,

        Yes, the biblical prophets blamed the victims, spinning the captivity and destruction of the northern Lost Ten (and a half) Tribes of Israel by the Assyrians (Isaiah, 8th century BC) and then the southern Judah by the Chaldeans or Neobabylonians (6th century) such that the Hebrews were being punished by falling away from Yahweh’s 631 commandments. Akin to Orthodox rabbis blaming the secularism of European Jewry for the Holocaust, another punishment by God for straying from the paths of righteousness, with H!tler in the role of Sargon II, Shalmaneser V and Nebuchadnezzar II.

      • JohnKnight
        February 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm

        I worship no god. I just go by what I see and what others have observed of the real world. I have no need for made-up, pretend fairy tales to try to explain nature.

      • “Yes, the biblical prophets blamed the victims, spinning the captivity and destruction of the northern Lost Ten (and a half) Tribes of Israel by the Assyrians (Isaiah, 8th century BC) and then the southern Judah by the Chaldeans or Neobabylonians (6th century) such that the Hebrews were being punished by falling away from Yahweh’s 631 commandments.”

        While you, with your amazing technicolor imagination (augmented by google ; ) know better, eh god-man? ; )

      • PS ~

        “I have no need for made-up, pretend fairy tales to try to explain nature.”

        Fair enough, I’m quite sure the real one has no need of you at all, O pretend understander of all that exists ; )

    • Kip, agreed!

      Leaves the question of time: probability if other live happens in ‘our’ time.

      • Elementary, my dear Wareson.

        A very off topic PS “If your kid’s favorite bedtime story is “Curious George and the High Voltage Fence”, you might be a redneck.” – Jeff Foxworrthy
        (Sorry George. 8-)

      • Water is not an element, but when the two elements Hydrogen and Oxygen link up, they like to stay together forever as in billions of years. Part of the article notes that water came to Earth from meteors and asteroids. Ridiculous, all the water was here as the planet formed because water is a very common molecule in our solar system and all the constituent parts that made up the Earth was carrying water with it.

  8. “Dwarf star 200 million light years away contains life’s building blocks”

    Oops, I think we meant 200 light years from what I saw on phys.org :-)

  9. Life of some sort is probably ubiquitous in the universe but the vast range of potential physical variations and the vast distances between locations occupied by life together with the potentially vast differences in levels of consciousness are together likely to present an overwhelming obstacle to contact and if contact does occur to any prospect of meaningful communication.
    It is bad enough for communication between members of the same species on the same planet.

  10. Why should every solar system “breed” its own “life’s ingredients” when those “life’s ingredients” are already travelling through space.

    Easy to catch by massive objects / planets.

    • The dubious theory of panspermia does not solve the life origins problem, it only pushes it back in time and so up in ‘probability’ if one ignores the impact on ‘life’ of interstellar space.
      A highly recommended short book on lifes origins: Seven Clues to the Origins of Life, by Cairns-Smith, Cambridge University Press, 1985 first edition. 0ne of my favs. The clay hypothesis. Dunno if right, but sure as heck interesting.

      • Rud ==> Aren’t we lucky we haven’t been tasked with the assignment to discover “the origins of life”?

        Personally, I think the question — the origins of life — is outside of the purview of science altogether.

      • Personally, I think the question — the origins of life — is outside of the purview of science altogether
        Personally, I think that your view is much too narrow. The origin of life is very much something that is within the purview of science. [Natural] Science being defined as concerned with things that exist, how they come into existence, how they evolve, how they die. Living organisms are clearly within that framework.

      • lsvalgaard ==> Opinions vary, as always. We don’t have a very good handle on the difference between a live cat and a dead cat, or a living human and a dead human — do we really have a good understanding of what goes missing when a person dies? What if the answer lies in the spiritual realm? A realm science is forbidden to even consider? Many scientists respond to that question with an outright denial that there can even be a spiritual realm….leaving a bit of a problem in assigning them to do the research.

      • Personally, I think the question — the origins of life — is outside of the purview of science altogether.

        In what purview is it then? … I think I know the answer, but let me suggest another — philosophy, if you are not favorable to science. Would you accept it in the purview of philosophy?

        Science is also in the purview of philosophy. Is there only one view within which we SHOULD regard the question? Wouldn’t that be a case of paradigmatic “bigotry”? — excluding all purviews except one?

      • Kip,

        The origins of life is nothing but a scientific question, quite aside from definitions of “life”.

        Biochemistry is still chemistry and organisms obey the laws of physics. Tremendous strides have been made in origin of life research in recent decades, especially in this century. It’s a fascinating scientific endeavor and you should treat yourself to studying up on the topic.

      • Note Breakthrough Prize winner:

        https://techcrunch.com/2016/12/04/breakthrough-prize-2017-winners/

        Harry F. Noller, Director of the Center for Molecular Biology of RNA at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for connecting the dots between RNA’s central role in the ribosome and the origin of life.

        Could have been any number of researchers. The field is advancing on all fronts.

        Not origin of life, but recent breakthrough in origin of eukaryotes (already known to be from the symbiosis of the prokaryotes, bacteria and archaea):

        https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/our-origins-in-asgard/512645/

      • I’m more of an ice man myself, but life could have developed in different environments.

        Its building blocks (not just the elements mentioned in this paper, but large, complex organic molecular precursors), such as amino acids and the bases in nucleic acids, are ubiquitous in the universe.

  11. I thought such light elements were ubiquitous. I guess the learning is they are not. Or they are, and this team discovered the obvious.

    • They are, because of main sequence star nucleosynthesis. Been going on for about 13.5 billion years. That is a long time and a lot of nucleosynthesis.

    • gamecock == from mine above somewhere:

      “Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in all existence — and is found even in interstellar space (which means its absorption spectrum might just represent interstellar clouds of hydrogen between us and the star in question). Oxygen is the third most abundant element — seeing its absorption signature from a distant star is certainly no surprise. Yes, when banged together at the right temperatures and pressure, they make water, but not IN A STAR, only on a planet. Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass, so no surprise there. Nitrogen, the other element noted, is in the top ten.”

  12. I worry for the future citizens of this solar system.

    I think it is an imperative that climate scientists join together and all embark now on a mission to prepare the perfect world for the citizens to inhabit.

    They would receive my full support and I might even chuck in a few pounds to help them cover the cost.

  13. I have no problem with scientists getting outside of their field if they do their homework. They can contribute, but its dangerous, done it myself. However, do you have be a advertised politician in your own field? From his website.

    “This huge imbalance in spending between something so fundamentally negative as the military and something so positive as exploration of Mars, is a sad and ultimately dangerous commentary on our country and the world.”

    Us biologists like a little more stuff for building blocks. We were also taught that science is not about value judgements.

    • For the most part, it’s the spending on the military that gives scientists the peace, and sometimes the technology, to plan for the exploration of Mars.

    • Defense spending gave us such technology as jet engines, nuclear power, electronic computers and stereo sound. Before that, metallurgy, the spoked wheel, stirrup and screwdriver were invented to meet military needs.

  14. If the star can be resolvedby the Keck it can’t possibly 200 million lightyears distant but ismore like 200 lightyears away. Carbon and Oxygen in white dwarfs are nothing new. The thing that sets this object apart is the evidence for a planet.

  15. Mr. Layman here.
    A question.
    Probes and samples have been analyzes from the Moon, Mars, Jupiter etc. Often when a physical object has been physically examined, a few surprises result.
    Since all we have to examine from a star systems is light, a speck of light, how can they be so sure?
    I mean, a mass-spectrometer requires an uncontaminated physical sample to be “burned” for it’s light to identify its elements.
    I’m not asking for a grad-school level reply but, how can they be so sure the light analyzed wasn’t “contaminated” by a speck of dust or even a few atoms in the atmosphere that happened to pass in front of the lenses of whatever was used to “take a picture” of one of those “specks of light” out there?
    (And, NO!, I’m not saying, asking or implying that any of those elements can’t exist anywhere but on Earth.)

    • I mean, a mass-spectrometer requires an uncontaminated physical sample to be “burned” for it’s light to identify its elements.
      The high temperatures of stars do that handily.

      • Leif,
        Any chance that the light from the star could be contaminated traveling 200 mm light years through a variety of interstellar dust, gas, molecular clouds, etc not to mention our atmosphere, on its way to the mass spectrometer? Molecular matter would be of particular concern I would think?

  16. Always have to laugh with Hollywood science fictions when aliens fight on ‘our’ planet against us:

    1. we’d see them [light]years before their arrival

    2. they wouldn’t have to ‘fight’ against us just give our atmosphere a dose of ‘no human alive next morning’

  17. 2.1 chemistry, biological, neutron bombs – choose their weapons.

    3. why should that powerful aliens do that to us: habitable planets enough in our galaxy, more fun in the neighborhood !

  18. 200 million light years distance. Does the equipment to discern enough detail that far away exist???. I find it somwhat unbelievable.

  19. I don’t see the importance of this announcement. We know all the elements of the periodic table exist throughout the universe. My gosh, there are even galactic clouds of alcohol :-)

    As for the probability of life in the universe, we know that to be 1.0. The probability of intelligent life is yet to be determined.

  20. Announcements don’t have to be important – they just have to be timely, interesting, entertaining, catering to popular interest, current. These elements make it … “important”. Otherwise, define “important.”

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