Tag Archives: science

Shadow Biosphere: Mono Lake Hypothesis Redux

By John Jaksich

The unfortunate refutation of Dr. Wolfe-Simon’s work by mainstream microbiology led me to further consider how and why the work was so far off? Reconsideration of the work leading-up to her “ground-breaking” paper does not, shall I say, add up correctly. The hypothesis of a possible “shadow” biosphere may not be too far off; however, the means used to strengthen an otherwise interesting hypothesis may have been incorrect. Using what I try to term as Occam’s razor—the methods used to obtain the data and conclusion by Dr. Wolfe-Simon et al were far too complicated. The methods of aqueous wet chemistry can be exceptionally problematic—cross contamination is the norm even for the most skilled of analytical chemists. The methods which they used were to reproduce the actual chemistry of arsenic loving bacteria—a feat of extreme difficulty as the refutation publications attested—were too complicated.


Tuffa Towers of Mono Lake--Could the Arsenic-uitilizing bacteria left clues of their existence in the towers?credit: Photo by Richard E. Ellis via Wikipedia

Tuffa Towers of Mono Lake–Could the Arsenic-uitilizing bacteria left clues of their existence in the towers? It might be worth a look?
credit: Photo by Richard E. Ellis via Wikipedia


By my personal recollection of lab work—there is always the question of “mass-balance” in any type of chemical reaction. Or, to put the terms in a different perspective, one must balance the chemical equation of any reaction to know the means by which a reaction does or does not proceed. Assuming the lead-up publications to the Science article by Wolfe-Simon were correct, then it may stand to reason that a more refined methodology may further refute the hypothesis or strongly, rebut refutation. So, given the nature of the hyper-saline, caustic environment—there may have been a different manner to detect the presence of these arsenic-utilizing bacteria.

After reviewing later literature*, it is apparent that amorphous, bacterial “species” can “include” metals and organic molecule structures in sub-fossilized bacteria—or stated in another manner, finding the missing arsenic in the sub-fossilized bacteria (along with the organic molecule structures) goes a long way to making the claim of arsenic-utilizing bacteria more tenable.

Definition of Term and Bibliography

Sub-fossil: incompletely fossilized remains—which may include organic molecules, or inorganic metals used to further classify the remains

E. Couradeau, K. Benzerara, E. Gerard, D.Moreira, S.Bernard, G.E.Brown Jr.and P.Lopez-Garcia “An early-branching microbialite cyanobacterium forms intracellular carbonates”(Science 27 April 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6080 pp. 459-462)

E. Couradeau, K. Benzerara, D. Moreira, E. Gerard, J. Kazmierczak, R. Tavera and P. Lopez-Garcia (2011). “Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Community Structure in Field and Cultured Microbialites from the Alkaline Lake Alchichica (Mexico).” (PLoS ONE 6(12): e28767)

Hypothesis Article

Signatures of a Shadow Biosphere

Paul C.W. Davies, Steven A. Benner, Carol E. Cleland, Charles H. Lineweaver,

Christopher P. McKay, and Felisa Wolfe-Simon


Volume 9, Number 2, 2009


Better Techniques of Bio-molecule Detection on Mars and Beyond ?

 Credit: Andrew Aubrey and Frank Grunthaner, JPL

Credit: Andrew Aubrey and Frank Grunthaner, JPL

“. . . An all-in-one chemical analysis instrument — currently under development — could potentially detect a single amino acid in a gram of Martian soil. . . .”

See the link: http://www.astrobio.net/exclusive/5325/searching-for-organics-in-a-nibble-of-soil

Methodologies have advanced tremendously since the Viking Probes in 1976!

Murchison Meteorite



John Jaksich

As the world was celebrating the Apollo moon landing in 1969, humanity was greeted by a visitor—and a very welcome one, at that. On the morning of September 28, 1969, Australians witnessed a meteorite fall in Murchison, Australia—this piece of space rock has become one of more celebrated visitors from space (second only to the ALH84001, the Alan Hills Meteorite).

By Art Bromage  via Wikipedia

By Art Bromage via Wikipedia

 Murchison Meteorite

The Murchison meteorite is celebrated for many reasons, mainly of course; the detailed analysis of its constituents has yielded a treasure trove of data and some speculation, also. Firstly, speculation is, at times, part of the human condition—so I will put it aside.

Technically, the Murchison meteorite is known as a carbonaceous chondrite and it said to be about as old as the Solar System, itself. But, one major, distinguishing feature of this rock is the amount of organic compounds that have been identified within its matrix. According to two publications (listed below), it contains up to several thousand different organic compounds (many of the compounds may have some biological significance). Although it should be emphasized that no DNA, RNA—or fossilized remains of any type of organism were found within the Murchison meteorite.

The organic compounds, just the same, are very significant because many of these molecules yield important clues as to the nature of the protostellar disk—the type of chemistry which was prevalent before life took a foothold in our Solar System.

There have been skeptics—many of whom voiced legitimate concerns: contamination of the “rock” with terrestrial organics, ablation of meteor—resulting in significant alteration of the meteor, and “bad” handling processes by scientists and technicians. All the publications (three are listed below) which I have studied seemingly address the issues.

What does all of this mean? Molecular constituents that bear a resemblance to life’s constituents were “here” –in the protostellar disk, prior to us, prior to the dinosaurs, prior to the formation of our planet. That is a significant finding from a scientific point of view—almost (but not nearly close enough) as if we had found microbes on Mars, Europa, Enceladus, or Titan. Perhaps, it anything, this can serve as a rallying point for those of us who believe in science and its pursuits.

Publication reference list:

Schmitt-Koplin and others, 2010, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Pizzarello and Shock, 2010, Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology.

(Cold Spring Harbor Perspect. 2010;2:a002105)

Callahan and others, 2011, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Please note that you may have to pay for access—these references are copyrighted.

Black Holes



John Jaksich


Results of computer simulation of stars and gas orbiting a black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

credit: ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann

image source: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1151a

For many of us, the subject of black holes and their properties is a mysterious conglomeration of fanciful fact and magic. In loosely paraphrasing the author, Arthur C. Clarke—I mean the science of black holes is like magic for most of us —the subject is as indistinguishable as the practice of religion from the magic of Harry Houdini. In short, we may never stumble upon one during our entire life.

Einstein never completely accepted the notion of black holes in General Relativity—however the first solution to his “relativistic field equations” suggested their existence. This solution was published in 1916; the author (Karl Schwarzschild) suggested the existence of a singularity—or in modern parlance, a point mass. Schwarzschild’s solution, in relativistic dynamics, is known by the term: static singularity. Furthermore, Schwarzschild’s static singularity is the simplest, theoretical black hole; in fact, it may even be the simplest way to understand some of the more complex notions of the Universe. The term black hole has its origins in classical mechanics, when it was suggested separately by Pierre-Simon Laplace and John Michell (both in the 18th century) that there may exist bodies, like stars, whose gravity did not allow light to escape from the surface. However, black holes are small compact objects with masses that may be many hundreds of times that of the Sun—but of course the object is dark. Because of their extreme mass, black holes are said to distort the “space surrounding them,” they act as powerful sources of gravitational attraction. Black holes, also, radiate X-Rays when objects fall into them—and it is said that object’s “information is lost forever.” However, Dr. Stephen Hawking, through his pioneering work in 1970s, discovered that black holes can radiate “heat.” This radiation is known as “Hawking-Unruh radiation.”

The discovery of the first black hole seems to be all but physically confirmed; it was discovered by Riccardo Giaconni and his group in the early 1970s, when he utilized data from an X-Ray satellite, Uhuru. Approximately a decade prior to Giaconni’s discovery, NASA satellites had detected strong X-Ray sources emanating different points in the sky. Giaconni proposed the launch of an “orbiting observatory” for the express purpose of searching for X-Ray sources. Uhuru was launched in 1970; and by 1978, there were more than 300 X-Ray sources. Many of these sources are black hole candidates or, as in the case of Cyg X-1; the first confirmed black hole candidate. Giaconni was awarded a Nobel in 2002 for his initial use of an X-Ray observatory to break open the field of X-Ray astronomy.





Having praised “Citizen Science” in a previous post, I believe it is wise to call attention to one of the latest undertakings from the individuals at COSMOQuest.org.  It is called Vesta Mappers; the aims of the endeavor are to map outstanding features of the “mini-world,” Vesta.

Vesta is found in the asteroid belt and it is one of the larger known bodies.  It is known to be a rocky body; and also, known meteorites, from Vesta, have been found (on Earth).  Vesta behaves somewhat like a “small, small planet”–it is nearly spheroidal and possesses a rotational period of approximately 5 hours and 10 minutes.  The composition (according to  JPL) appears similar to “lava flow-type” rock.  I must emphatically emphasize–no one currently understands  with certainty–how this “type” of mineral came to be in the middle of the asteroid belt.  It is widely regarded that asteroids, such as Vesta, are  remnants of the early Solar System.  One little known fact is that the “body” of Vesta could fit into the entire Pacific Ocean–(amazing and cool)!

COSMOQuest link is found here:  http://cosmoquest.org/mappers/vesta/

NASA  link is found here:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/ceresvesta/index.html

JPL Dawn mission here: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/




John Jaksich

Astronomy is indebted to Einstein; and in many ways, he helped propel the subject of astrophysics to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. Replacing Newton’s paradigm of gravity was no easy task, either. In my very humble opinion, his ranking stands with Newton and Archimedes for outstanding scientists. And, although there have been many outstanding scientists who walked upon the Earth in the past 3000 years, my reasons for those three are (to me) simply justified. Not only did each individual have revolutionary ideas, but each invented a new mathematical insight to explain the Universe—a better way to quantify a physically difficult concept. (Whether or not any “current” scientists achieve that pinnacle—is uncertain.)

By Photograph by Oren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J. (The Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsYear 1947

By Photograph by Oren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J. (The Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Year 1947

Einstein’s insights into gravity and cosmology appear mathematically foreign to most of us uninitiated with Tensor Calculus. His approach is distinctly algebraic, but the shorthand is primarily geometrical. The latest (?) findings—or postmortem photographs of his brain—tend to lend credence to his purported geometrical reasoning processes.

Perhaps, one way to appreciate his many discoveries is to attempt to sift through his publications. According to Wikipedia, (see link at end of blog), and the Einstein archives co-hosted by the American Physical Society and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the topics of scientific publications range from thermodynamics, magnetism, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics to (of course) relativity. His reported aversion to quantum mechanics may be traced (possibly) to his personal philosophy of “a determined Universe.” In short, he was unable to reconcile the statistical nature of quantum mechanics with his view of the cosmos. One little known fact is his patent for a noisless-refrigerator—cooled through an electro-magnetic pump (see link at end of blog.)

credit Wikipedia and U.S. Patent Office

credit Wikipedia and U.S. Patent Office

Important Links: (please do not abuse)

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientific_publications_by _Albert_Einstein






John Jaksich

Credit: WikipediaSun in Ultraviolet

Credit: Wikipedia
Sun in Ultraviolet

Current climate problems are, in part, our own doing; however, for most of us the weather is seen as either a major inconvenience or time to play. Nevertheless, during the last 650 years, there have been notable disruptions and setbacks to human endeavors when adverse weather has either decimated large farming communities or contributed to widespread pandemics. Climatologists, scientists, and astrophysicists have attempted to understand the if adverse conditions occur in cycles, and their conclusions may illuminate and confound us further.

Prior to the industrial revolution, many current scientists will tell you tales of the miniature ice age that befell the world in 1600-1670 AD. This period of time is well-recorded since it coincided with the first Thanksgiving. (Also, artists, novelists, “newspapers” of the time period bear an imprint testifying of the conditions.) Many history lessons surround the first Thanksgiving, but not enough people understand the significance of the weather. Some may recall from history lessons that the “pilgrims” were starving at the Plymouth colony; their crops failed. At that time, throughout much of the world, farming collectives failed. (This vaunted time is also known as the Maunder Minimum.)

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Two possible reasons may be in play: volcanic ash dimming the sunlight and a fifty-year lull in sun-spot activity. (In 1600, Peruvian volcano Huaynaputina erupted for a full month.) The scientific community has spent the last 100 years attempting to understand correlations between sun-spots and anomalous weather. Dating from China 1000 BCE to start of the Scientific Revolution, many have observed sun-spots. Nominally, sun-spots ebb and flow in approximate 11 year cycles. But, the start of the Scientific Revolution is a crucial point due to the “rigorous” study in which nature had garnished for itself. Since that crucial juncture in humanity’s existence—scientists have correlated the ebb and flow of sun-spots with anomalous weather patterns. Although climatology is a true, complex (and possibly) chaos-driven science, the recorded data prior to the industrial revolution should prove to be crucial in the coming years.

Although correlating sun-spot activity to weather patterns of the past times seems out-of-place, that serves as a baseline from which to understand how our current deposition of “carbon” may exacerbate possible climate changes.

Credit WikipediaCarbon14 levels

Credit Wikipedia
Carbon14 levels

The final figure details how temperature minima during certain epoch correlate with carbon 14 levels.