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New Tool Coming In Hunt For Alien Life

With the James Webb Space Telescope still more than four years away from launch astronomers are coming up with ideas on how to maximise its usefulness.
However, according to the new paper, “Current proposed methods for measuring pressure by using remote-sensing techniques that could be applicable to exoplanetary atmospheres are challenging.” The distinctive scattering of blue light that gives our sky its color is one favored suggestion  for the signature of an atmosphere like our own. However, the authors point to work showing that ozone or sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere, amongst other gasses, will mask this. The peak wavelengths for light scattered in this way are also outside the James Webb’s range. A better way, the authors suggest, is to look for dimers. Dimers are formed when two molecules become bound together without forming a new molecule. In particular two O2 molecules can become temporarily bound together, and in the process absorb light differently from individual O2 molecules (monomers). One of the differences is that dimer behavior is more sensitive to atmospheric pressure than that of monomers, with a feature known as optical depth proportional to the square of the pressure, rather than the pressure to the power of one as for monomers. While knowing the pressure in the atmosphere is important, just picking up O2-O2 dimers could matter for another reason. Oxygen wouldn’t last in our atmosphere without photosynthetic lifeforms constantly replacing it. If Oxygen dimers were detected it would be a strong hint that life is flourishing on the planet in question.
A proposal published in Astrobiology outlines a way it could be used to detect signatures of life on planets around nearby stars. Lead author and PhD student Amit Misra of the University of Washington recommends using two bands in the near infrared, with wavelengths 0.76μm and 1.06μm to measure whether the atmosphere of a planet is dense enough to maintain liquid water. “So the idea is that if we were able to do this for another planet, we could look for this characteristic pattern of absorption from dimer molecules to identify them,” Misra says. Misra and his co-authors generated data for fictitious planets around other stars and demonstrated that with the James Webb they would be able to measure atmospheric pressures equal or greater to that of Earth’s, and some techniques might push the detection to one quarter of our own pressure, depending on confounding factors. While it is always possible that life around extrasolar worlds will be “not as we know it”, the obvious place to start looking is on planets as similar as possible to our own. This includes the presence of liquid water, which in turn requires a substantial atmosphere. Low atmospheric pressure means water boils as soon as it melts.

Propagating the species is a much larger investment for females than males for almost every species. While most males have basically an unlimited amount of gametes to spread their genes onto the next generation, the ladies have to make (relatively) gigantic eggs which take up a lot of resources. Many mothers then have to carry their young inside them or find a safe place for the eggs to develop, sometimes providing constant protection. Depending on the species, the mother also has to provide for her young for a considerable amount of time after it is born, while the father may or may not be involved. Flatworms are hermaphroditic and can take on either parental role, based on who does the inseminating. Unable to have a logical conversation about the matter, the flatworms solve the problem in the only way they know how: by trying to stab the other with their penis and the first to inseminate wins. Now, the idea of love or intimacy during copulation is hands down a complete rarity among animals, but it’s not exactly the epic battle that it is with flatworms.
Being a mom can be fairly exhausting, which is why females typically show much more discretion when choosing a mate. If you’re going to go through all of that, the guy (and his genes) had better be worth it. Females typically respond best to the most virile males as a means of ensuring that her babies will be in good health with a better chance for survival. It would be a shame if all of that effort and resources were all wasted. If all other aspects in life were equal, which parental role would you choose to take on? Sure, as humans we could rationalize the situation and make the decision based a variety of factors like who wants to feel the baby kick or stay at home to breastfeed. But, if we look at this objectively at simpler lifeforms, the answer is clear: being the male is the better way to go because you still get to continue your lineage with considerably less effort. When they approach one another and are ready to mate, it is instantly game on. They sit halfway up and get their double-headed penis ready to strike. This also leaves them exposed to getting hit themselves. Penis fencing can last an hour and result in the flatworms being stabbed multiple times. Ultimately, one deposits sperm into the other and emerges victorious, completing the paternal obligation. The flatworm that lost immediately begins to search for food to make up the resources required for making the eggs.

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