Jumbled Thoughts - 13 Mar 2013

Jumbled Thoughts covers all the little stuff which doesn't merit its own post. Anything goes!

The results from the analysis of Curiosity's first drilling further strengthen our growing picture of Mars as a past habitable world.  The discovery of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus is a pretty big deal - all six of these elements are present in life on Earth.  In addition, at least 20% of the sample was made up of a clay which forms in the presence of water.  It sure seems as if this region must have been warm and wet in the (possibly distant) past.  Certainly great conditions for the evolution of life!

I mentioned the other day that any discovery of extraterrestrial life would require extraordinary and unquestionable proof.  I wrote that story in the context of trouble avoiding contamination in samples here on Earth, but it very well could have (should have!) been about the recent claim of meteorite-embedded fossils.  This isn't the first-ever claim of finding evidence for life inside of meteorites, but it must be one of the hastiest.  The work was published in an obscure journal, lacked any consultation from outside experts, and had only a semblance of peer review.  The kicker?  Their sample might not even be a meteorite, but an terrestrial rock.  Imagine that - an Earth rock embedded with Earth life.

We've discovered the third-closest star system to Earth, but I wouldn't pull out your telescope just yet.  This system is made up of a pair of brown dwarfs, which are the runts of the galaxy.  Depending on your definition, they might not even be stars.  Why not?  It's because some define stars as objects large enough to turn hydrogen into helium through the process of nuclear fusion.  Brown dwarfs are too small to generate the pressures needed for this process.  Instead, their can only split hydrogen through the process of nuclear fission, the same reaction which is the foundation of atomic bombs (so-called Hydrogen bombs actually use fusion, not fission).  These objects straddle the fence between large planet and small star.