Monday, January 25, 2010

A Couple of Science Lists

First, at Listverse, 15 Fascinating Planets Outside Our Solar System. Here's the one I find most fascinating to consider, for fairly obvious reasons:
1 Most Earth-like Exoplanet Yet: Gliese 581 d (April 24, 2007)

At 7 to 14 times the mass of Earth this planet is considered to be a super-Earth but remarkable in that its orbit is inside the habitable zone, and has a solid surface allowing for any water present on its surface to form liquid oceans and even landmasses characteristic of Earth’s surface, although with a much higher surface gravity. So striking is its resemblance to Earth that it has inspired some people to send greetings intended for possible intelligent life forms that could have developed similarly to us.
Plus 14 others that are almost as amazing. All the pictures, of course, are "artist's conceptions," but they are mesmerizing to look at and think about.

Next up is actually a review at The Guardian, of the book Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, by Nick Lane. It seems clear to me that writing a book of this nature will open the author to all sorts of quibbling and second guessing, but it does seem like a wonderful sort of day-dreamy puzzle to ponder. Here's the cut-to-the-chase list without any discussion:
Life itself, DNA and photosynthesis are the first three of Lane's 10 great inventions of evolution. The others are the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and evolution's trump card, death, the agency that permits more life and more variety.
Now there is at least one on that list I might quibble with, but instead, I'll focus on the one I think is terribly important that many may have never really considered. It's fairly easy to imagine an immortal, planetary-scale organism, but it's difficult to imagine this changing substantively through time. As I think I've written here before, death is a profoundly important aspect of life as we know it; without death, there is no room for new generations, nor for evolution through time. It may not be a cheerful thing to consider, and you may not, as I do, take much comfort in the fact that our mortality is a key characteristic that allows the beauty and diversity of organisms that our planet supports and has supported.

And just think... some creature on Gliese 581 d may well be considering much the same thing at this moment.

No comments: