Sunday, January 27, 2013

JLC to JPL: Huh?

Readers, help me out here: what am I missing about this NASA-JPL press release? (thanks to Phenomena for the tip). I mean, I grok where they're trying to go - investigating OOL chemistry through construction of a hydrothermal vent simulator - but the text feels all jumbled-up! For instance:

"Scientists with the NASA Astrobiology Institute's JPL Icy Worlds team have built this series of glass tubes, thin barrels and valves with a laser and a detector system"

Wait, they built it with a laser? (Must be for the spot-welds)

"They want to see if sending these two liquids through a sample of rock that simulates ancient volcanic ocean crust can lead to the formation of simple organic molecules such as ethane and methane, and amino acids, biologically important organic molecules. Scientists have long considered these compounds the precursor ingredients for what later led to chains of RNA, DNA and microbes."

Hang on just a second, that sounds rather confusing, NASA. I think you mean complex molecule generation paves the way for future complexity. Methane, ethane, and amino acids aren't going to spontaneously assemble into DNA. Ever.

That word, "ancient,"
I do not think it means what you think it means...
"This experiment has its roots in a theory from Russell in 1989 that moderately warm, alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean could have hatched life about 4 billion years ago. The ancient ocean at these vents contains carbon dioxide, which provides the supply of carbon that could be reassembled into organic molecules."

"Ancient Ocean?" Is there a secret time-bubble hidden deep in the present-day mid-Atlantic? In case you're counting, they use the clunky 'organic molecules' some six times in the release.

"Scientists will alternately send the two solutions through a thin barrel of iron-magnesium-silica-volcanic-type rock that was synthesized by Shibuya..."

A what? A zeolite, maybe? There are so many qualifiers in that adjective conglomeration, I can't even figure out whether it's really a rock...

Source: NASA JPL
Also, PPE alert: If you're showing off your experiment, which is under pressure (100 atm) and heat (near to boiling), wear your goggles! We don't want Jyllian including you in the weekly round-up!

OK, maybe I'm being too harsh. In no way do I mean to impugn the actual science, which seems fascinating, just the strange retelling of it. 

But hang on, aren't these the same folks (NASA Astrobiology Institute) who wrote that "Extraterrestrial Life on Earth" presser just two years ago? We all know how that turned out

One would think they'd be very careful wording future releases.

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