There is, for me, no question more intriguing than “where did life come from?” We know that, as Carl Sagan reminded us, and as Joni Mitchell put into song, “we are stardust.” The basic atoms and elements that make up everything on Earth and in us were created in supernovae, exploding stars. We’re put together from the debris.
Even so, how did elements combine into complex structures and amino acids that eventually became self-replicating and evolved. Is Earth unique? Scientists have speculated for years that amino acids, the building blocks of life as we know it, could be common in space. It’s one of the things they’re searching for on Mars. It’s one of the reasons the Wild 2 Mission swept through the tail of a comet and returned to earth with what it found there.
One of the things it found was glycine: (Building Block of Life Found in Comet):
The chemical, glycine, “is an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a comet,” said Jamie Elsila of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Our discovery supports the theory that some of life’s ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts.”
The discovery “supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and… that life in the universe may be common,” added Carl Pilcher, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute which co-funded the research.
At the current end of life’s spectrum, we’re awash in technology and it’s likely that “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Nanolaser technology could eventually make the electronics we have in today’s gadgets look as primitive and bulky as yesteryear’s vacuum tubes. Tiny “nanolaser” could change face of computing:
Researchers say they have created the world’s smallest semiconductor laser, a device that can generate visible light in a space smaller than a protein molecule.
“This work shatters traditional notions of laser limits, and makes a major advance toward applications in the biomedical, communications and computing fields,” said Xiang Zhang, head of the University of California, Berkeley research team behind the work.
The scientists said their work could help lead to applications such as tiny lasers that can probe, manipulate and measure properties of DNA molecules; optics-based telecommunications many times faster than current technology; and optical computing in which light replaces electronic circuitry, with a resulting leap in speed and processing power.
Somewhere on the spectrum between glycine in comets and next decade’s technology lies the here and now, with its day-to-day product announcements for the consumer products that seem to be an essential part of current existence.
Apple introduced a new generation of slightly tweaked iPods in time for the Christmas season, but there is so little new about them there’s not much to report. Lower prices, some models include video capture, and lots of colours to choose from.
The big news of the week was Leica’s formal announcement of two new models of digital Leicas, the Leica M9 and Leica X1. The M9 is the first full-frame digital Leica, giving the RF faithful what they’ve always said they wanted: a digital rangefinder in which a 21mm lens is a 21mm lens. It should be a delectable, but very expensive, machine.
I personally find the X1 more interesting. It’s tiny and offers a fixed 35mm f/2.8 equivalent lens on an APS-C size sensor, similar to the Sigma DP-1. It’s stylishly designed with aperture and shutter speed dials on the top, where they should be. Smart-looking. The perfect little street shooter, again, for those who can afford it.