|From: Cover Browser|
"A new result from ESO's [European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere] HARPS [The High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher] planet finder shows that rocky planets not much bigger than Earth are very common in the habitable zones around faint red stars. [...] This is the first direct measurement of the frequency of super-Earths around red dwarfs, which account for 80% of the stars in the Milky Way. [...]
Our new observations with HARPS mean that about 40% of all red dwarf stars have a super-Earth orbiting in the habitable zone where liquid water can exist on the surface of the planet," says Xavier Bonfils (IPAG, Observatoire des Sciences de l'Univers de Grenoble, France), the leader of the team. "Because red dwarfs are so common — there are about 160 billion of them in the Milky Way — this leads us to the astonishing result that there are tens of billions of these planets in our galaxy alone."
— Science Daily
"'The more we learn about life, the more we learn about its ability to grow and survive and prosper in environments that we formerly thought were too inhospitable,' said David Morrison, a senior scientist at NASA's Astrobiology Institute.
University of Colorado scientist Ted Scambos is sure there will be microbes found in [Antarctica's] Lake Vostok when the long process of examining samples starts — something that may be months away because of logistical problems. He said ice many feet above the lake had bacteria, so it makes sense that the lake does.
Still, what makes Lake Vostok more important than other extreme environments is its incredible isolation.
For example, in Atacama, life probably blew in from elsewhere, NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay said. But Lake Vostok microbes, if found, could not have blown in.
More than 10 million years ago there was little or no ice there, so life could easily have existed then. But with no heat or sunlight after the ice set in, life there now would have had to find another way of getting energy, said molecular chemist and astrobiologist Steve Benner. And that's key.
If life finds a way to adapt to strange conditions in this awful place, why couldn't it live on Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Enceladus, scientists ask. Both bodies have water trapped under crusts of ice, just like Lake Vostok, and are both prime targets in the search for life beyond Earth. The big disagreement among scientists is not about the potential for life on those two moons, but which one has the most potential and should be explored first."
— Associated Press (via KATC.com)
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