The Great Dying: Explosive Microbial Growth Caused Earth’s Greatest Extinction Event | The Daily Galaxy

The physical environment can produce sudden shocks to the life of our planet through impacting space rocks, erupting volcanoes and other events. But sometimes life itself turns the tables and strikes a swift blow back to the environment. MIT researchers have identified a different culprit — one coming from biology rather than geology. They argue that the carbon disruption and, consequently, the end-Permian extinction were set off by a particular microorganism that evolved a new way to digest organic material into methane.

The end-Permian (or PT) extinction event occurred 252 million years ago. It is often called the Great Dying because around 90 percent of marine species disappeared in one fell swoop. Similar numbers died on land as well, producing a stark contrast between Permian rock layers beneath (or before) the extinction and the Triassic layers above. Extinctions are common throughout time, but for this one, the fossil record truly skipped a beat.

"The end-Permian is the greatest extinction event that we know of," said Daniel Rothman, a geophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The changes in the fossil record were obvious even to 19th Century geologists.”

[Link to the original paper]

[Read more]

[Photo 1 Credit[Photo 2 Credit]

Earth-like soils on Mars? Ancient fossilized soils potentially found deep inside impact crater suggest microbial life | ScienceDaily

NASA rovers have shown Martian landscapes littered with loose rocks from impacts or layered by catastrophic floods, rather than the smooth contours of soils that soften landscapes on Earth. However, recent images from Curiosity from the impact Gale Crater, Retallack said, reveal Earth-like soil profiles with cracked surfaces lined with sulfate, ellipsoidal hollows and concentrations of sulfate comparable with soils in Antarctic Dry Valleys and Chile’s Atacama Desert.

His analyses appear in a paper placed online this week by the journal Geology in advance of print in the September issue of the world’s top-ranked journal in the field. Retallack, the paper’s lone author, studied mineral and chemical data published by researchers closely tied with the Curiosity mission. Retallack, professor of geological sciences and co-director of paleontology research at the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, is an internationally known expert on the recognition of paleosols — ancient fossilized soils contained in rocks.

[Read more]

Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy | NewScientist

Stick an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these “electric bacteria” are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form – naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

[Read more]

And she is back! 

I’m sorry for the long hiatus. I finished last semester smoothly, bumbled around with research for a while, and then went off to have some science adventures in Spain (Rio Tinto, anyone?). I’m back now and am here namely to continue to send love letters to the universe —and of course post science news and interesting thingamajigs. All for all of you.

[A few changes will be made to this website, nothing too drastic. While I would like to focus on the micro and the macro of the universe, I will now also focus on Earth science and geological systems, mainly because I will be running the Terra Society website next semester —which is a student-run science club at my department at grad school— and will be filtering posts from here to there as needed, and also because I’m coming to terms with the understanding that in order to find life out there in the universe, we have to understand life here and how it interacts with the canvas of our planet. Like it or not, rocks are important. We live on a giant hunk of one!]

I’m opened for science or general questions if needed!

I’ve missed you all, children of the universe :)

Hi all!

Apologies, for the umpteenth time. Due to the hiatus (aka, grad school), this blog will be hibernating for a while. I should be finishing up finals in a few weeks. A lot of cool science stuff has happened since the last post! I will be back in a few to bring you more of earth and space and life and mysteries and stars and galaxies and the world and everything wondrous.

So very soon.

With love,

NASA plans a robotic mission to search for life on Europa | io9

It looks like it’s finally going to happen, an actual mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa — one of the the solar system’s best candidates for hosting alien life.

Yesterday, NASA announced an injection of $17.5 billion from the federal government (down by $1.2 billion from its 2010 peak). Of this, $15 million will be allocated for “pre-formulation” work on a mission to Europa, with plans to make detailed observations from orbit and possibly sample its interior oceans with a robotic probe. Mission details are sparse, but if all goes well, it could be launched by 2025 and arriving in the early 2030s.

This is incredibly exciting. Recent evidence points to a reasonable chance of habitability. Its massive subsurface ocean contains almost twice as much water as found on Earth. The water is kept in liquid state owing to the gravitational forces exerted by Jupiter and the moon’s turbulent global ocean currents. The good news is that a probe may not have to dig very deep to conduct its search for life; the moon’s massive plumes are ejecting water directly onto the surface.

[Read more]