April 24, 2009
Handy Planets

Scientists have developed a technique which could allow them to find inhabited planets without actually observing the surface. The trick is to look for reflected light that's been altered by biochemistry's "handed-ness." If the light indicates it's been altered in this way, it could be a very strong indicator of life.

No, I didn't completely understand it either. Chemistry makes my head hurt.

Posted by scott at April 24, 2009 09:27 AM

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Certain molecules, when they're formed organically, have a right-handed twist (IIRC). If they're formed via non-organic processes, twist to the left. I don't quite remember all the specifics surrounding why this happens*, but it's one of those wierd coincidences that works well here. Honestly, I didn't realize that it was possible to see that in the reflected light across distances in light years, but that's damned cool.

*Sure, I could look it up. But that's a whole lot of work. I think chemistry's neat, but not enough to read up on it that much.

Posted by: ronaprhys on April 24, 2009 11:13 AM

Well, from how I understand it, inorganic processes driven by chaos alone tend to be fairly random when it comes to left- or right-handed molecules. The defining feature of life (as we know it) is self-replication, right down to the molecular level, and as life grows and spreads, more and more molecules will begin aligning in the same direction, as more molecules become components of living creatures, and the breaking down and rebuilding of them at random occurs less often in comparison.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian on April 24, 2009 02:40 PM

Tat - I might get bored enough to confirm one of our stories, just because it'd be useful to know. Unfortunately, my attention span just ain't having it right n...

hey. look. shiny things.

Posted by: ronaprhys on April 25, 2009 07:40 AM
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