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Exoplanets, alien atmospheres and life, Jim…but not as we know it!

newseditor12 June 2013

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Exoplanet by NASAblueshift on Flickr

Artist’s impression of the exoplanet Tau Boötis b from
NASAblueshift on Flickr.

Written by David Robertson, who attended a lecture by Dr Giovanni Tinetti (UCL Physics & Astronomy) at the Cheltenham Science Festival, entitled ‘Exoplanet explorers’.

1992, was the year it hit me! As I entered the brave new world of primary education, I remember being startled with the knowledge that we lived on a ball of rock, travelling some 67,000 miles per hour around a massive burning ball of fire. Naturally, this was a pretty terrifying turn of events!

As the shock subsided, and my terror turned to awe, I was told that the Earth was one of a small group of planets orbiting our local star.

There was more.

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Nick Lane: Is complex life a freak accident?

GeorgeWigmore31 January 2012

“In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.”

While the above Douglas Adams quote may aptly describe the prevailing universal sentiment, we still continue to search the skies with SETI for any signs of complex life.

In the 50 years of searching, SETI has turned up nothing, yet the question still remains as to whether complex life itself is a freak accident, or an event that could have occurred somewhere else in our universe.

It was this question that Dr Nick Lane (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment) and author of Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, aimed to answer in the 35 brief minutes that he had to contextualise, and explain the background to an incredibly difficult question that is still hotly debated.

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