In this month’s Lightning Round video, I answer a couple of questions about life in the universe, both how close we are to finding traces of life outside of Earth, and the experiments regarding how life began on Earth, and possibly other places. Also questions about solar panels, water towers, and time travel.


Brian Beswick – Discord

The Curiosity rover found more evidence of potential former life on Mars. Many new moons were recently discovered around Jupiter. We continue to learn more about Europa and its subsurface ocean. Do you think we’ll find definitive proof of alien life in our lifetime?

I don’t know if we will, but I’ll say the chances of finding something have never been better.

It’s pretty much the biggest question. Are we some unbelievably random thing that happened or is the universe basically geared for life?

Not saying it was designed, just that the fundamental forces and particles happen to line up this way.

Thing about if we find any kind of life somewhere else in our solar system, it would mean the universe is teeming with life. And maybe abiogenesis is almost guaranteed if given the right conditions for long enough time. Whether that gains in complexity and becomes something like us is another question.

But there’s a lot of stuff happening right now on that front.

The Curiosity rover news that he’s referring to

“The rover is traversing an area of Mars called the “sulfate-bearing unit” that researchers previously thought would only show evidence of mere trickles of water, as scientists believed the rocks there formed as the surface of the red planet was drying out. Instead, the rover found some of the clearest evidence yet of ancient waters.”

“The sulfate-bearing unit is a region previously identified by the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter as containing salty mineral deposits just beneath an 18,000-foot (5,500-meter) mountain called Mount Sharp. Scientists consider the sulfate-bearing unit to be a location rife with clues about how and why Mars morphed from a watery planet into the frozen place it is today,”

Europa Clipper mission

The whole point of the Europa Clipper mission is to explore the possibility of life forming on Europa.

Europa has all the ingredients for life: water, chemistry, energy,

Under the icy shell of Europa lies a planet-wide ocean with twice as much water as on Earth.

Traces of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur have been found, all of which are building blocks for life

And the tidal forces of Jupiter provide heat energy inside Europa .

“Europa Clipper will be only the third spacecraft to orbit the largest planet in our solar system, and the second spacecraft to run on solar power at Jupiter’s distance from the Sun. It will also be the first NASA mission to exclusively study a moon other than Earth’s Moon.”

Europa Clipper’s science payload consists of ten instruments grouped as the following:

  • Cameras and spectrometers will create high-resolution images and composition maps of the moon’s surface and thin atmosphere.
  • An ice-penetrating radar, a magnetometer, plasma sensors, and a gravity investigation will reveal the moon’s ocean and deep interior.
  • The spacecraft’s thermal camera will pinpoint warmer ice and might reveal recent eruptions of water.
  • A dust analyzer and a mass spectrometer will study the chemistry of particles in space near the moon.

Scheduled to launch in October of 2024.


Europa Lander mission

Currently scheduled to launch in 2027.

a spacecraft would land on Europa and collect samples from about 4 inches (10 centimeters) beneath the surface. This is a depth at which the complex chemistry of materials from the ocean below would be protected from the damaging radiation that exists in space around Jupiter.

The samples would be analyzed by a miniature laboratory within the robotic lander, similar to the way samples on Mars have been studied by landers and rovers on the Red Planet. 

Ultimately we want to get under that icy surface though.

Under ice buoyant wheeled thing:

Also the ice shell on Europa is 20km thick – Kola superdeep borehole is 12k

ADIOASTRONOMY – new Wow signals

Very Large Telescope array about to search for alien signals:

“The SETI Institute said this week that the Very Large Array, a National Science Foundation telescope in New Mexico, will join the hunt for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.”

“The VLA is the go-to instrument for radio astronomers, but this is the first time we are using it in a wide-ranging and continuous search for technosignatures,” said Andrew Siemion, the Bernard Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute, in an institute release.

The VLA’s ordinary (comprehensive) scouring of radio sources in the night sky will continue, but a copy of the data it collects in those efforts will be passed along to a receiver collecting a specific channel of radio waves—the channel associated with artificially produced radio waves. The system is named the Commensal Open-Source Multimode Interferometer Cluster (you can just call it COSMIC.)

From SETI:

“Unlike many previous SETI observations, a wide variety of transmissions, such as pulsed and transient signals, can be recognized by this new experiment. The range of frequencies to be monitored is unprecedented, and the tally of star systems examined will be approximately ten million.”

Recently found an Earth-sized planet with a magnetic field through radio signals, but it’s really close to its star so this is like a Jupiter-Io situation. Unlikely to have life. But an Earth-like rocky planet with a magnetic field is a good sign.

All of this of course is on top of James Webb and all the other satellites and arrays that are scanning the skies for these kinds of things so yeah, there’s a lot happening.

Again, I don’t know if this could happen in our lifetime, but the chances have never been higher.

Thomas Lovse – Patreon

Hi Joe! Have you ever heard of the Miller-Urey experiment? If so, what are your thoughts on the results of it?

This definitely piggy-backs on the previous question about how life was created.

I remember hearing about this back when I was a kid and thought it was fascinating.

It was an experiment in 1953 conducted by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey at the University of Chicago where they tried to simulate the conditions of the early Earth and see if they could create life.

They didn’t, but they did manage to create more complex organic molecules.

The experiment used water (H2O), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), hydrogen (H2), and an electric arc (the latter simulating hypothesized lightning).

The idea was that if you combined these chemicals in the right way, provide heat and zap them with electricity, could these basic elements create the building blocks of life, and it did.

Miller identified five amino acids present in the solution: glycineα-alanine and β-alanine were positively identified, while aspartic acid and α-aminobutyric acid (AABA) were less certain, due to the spots being faint.[3]

It also created things like formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide that can be combined chemically with these same ingredients to create simple sugars.

Other experiments that followed were able to create even more complex amino acids like adenine.

In 2007 when Miller died,  scientists examining sealed vials preserved from the original experiments were able to show that there were actually well over 20 different amino acidsproduced in Miller’s original experiments. That is considerably more than what Miller originally reported, and more than the 20 that naturally occur in the genetic code

More recent evidence suggests that Earth’s original atmosphere might have had a composition different from the gas used in the Miller experiment, but prebiotic experiments continue to produce racemic mixtures of simple-to-complex compounds—such as cyanide—under varying conditions.[7]

Since 1953, the understanding of those prebiotic conditions on Earth has changed a bit and they don’t think that the results of the original experiment were 100% accurate, but we also know that some amino acids already existed in the early days of the universe.

Look into what was found in comets


IN 2016 They found: They include the amino acid glycine, which is commonly found in proteins, and phosphorus, a key component of DNA and cell membranes.

suggests it is formed within interstellar icy dust grains or by the ultraviolet irradiation of ice, before becoming bound up and conserved in the comet for billions of years,” 

“But the important point is that comets have not really changed in 4.5 billion years: they grant us direct access to some of the ingredients that likely ended up in the prebiotic soup that eventually resulted in the origin of life on Earth.”

We know that the Earth was bombarded by comets in its early days so it’s likely that these simple ingredients for life could have been deposited here and then the conditions were right to see it replicate itself.

One interesting thing I found was the Origins of Life Laboratory at McMasters University

It’s the Miller Urey experiment on steroids

It has the ability to create the conditions of any planet. In our solar system, in exoplanets; the chemicals, the temperatures, the radiation, and see if those conditions can create the building blocks of life.

None of these quite get to the answer of how these building blocks evolve to replicate themselves as life forms but there are plenty of theories around that that are also being tested.

John | Right handed neutrino – Discord

Have you taken any precautions after the 2021 Texas Power Crisis to make your house more resilient if it happens again? Tesla PowerWall, generator, solar panels, etc?

Find details about my system, how many KWh, etc.

23 PV panels making 10kw with 9kw battery system – Generac PWRCell. Expandable to 18, which I haven’t done yet. Modular.

Says it can run the house on that for 6-8 hours, which is enough to get through the night and use the sun in the morning

There’s only been a few months where I’ve made as much or more as I’ve consumed. April was good. Thinking of expanding the battery and set it to run off the battery for a few hours into the night to stay above the consumption.

Fishtail – Discord

How do water towers work? Do they refill using siphoning or pumping?

Tie back to my power generation stuff

Meghan January Discord

What useful knowledge would you have to share if you were zapped back to medieval England and how would you present it without being accused of witchcraft?

I don’t think I’d be useful at all in medieval England. I wouldn’t even be able to communicate with them (how much English has changed)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more interested in how people lived. Like how they arranged their home life and even social structure around things like the way the kitchen was set up, because of their technological status. Lived history is interesting to me.

I think we’ve forgotten so much about how we used to live, and honestly I’d be pretty useless if I went back in time like that.

Ideas like the germ theory of medicine feels like would be good to pass on, but you’re right, I’d probably be accused of witchcraft or going against the church. The idea of tiny bugs that you can’t see making you sick would sound insane to them.

Just the fact that I could read and write would probably give me a huge boost in status though.

Maybe I could write a book that explained medicine and astronomy and made really specific predictions and bury that in a cave somewhere just to blow everyone’s minds when it got discovered hundreds of years later.

I would truly be Joestradamus.

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