It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Artist's conception of Titan, © Kees Veenenbos

and I feel fine.

The Internets (a series of Tubes), social media sites, and even CNN are all a-Twitter (sorry) about a press conference to be held tomorrow afternoon.

Much of the speculation has centered on this hidden meaning in this cryptic news release from NASA.

“NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

As you might imagine, this has brought everyone out of the woodwork, from the sobersided astrophysicist types I tend to hang with all the way to the tinfoil-hat crazies.

Blogger Jason Kottke has channeled many of the crazies with a blog post entitled “Has NASA Discovered Extraterrestrial Life?” Way to drive traffic to your blog, Jason.

The answer appears to be “no”. Based on what I’m reading, the best guess seems to be that scientists will announce a new breakthrough in arsenic exobiology. Nitrogen, phosphorus and arsenic all share the same ability to trade electrons. (Pokemon-style electron trading is rampant amongst atoms and is the basis for chemical bonding.)

Nitrogen and carbon are the basis for proteins; phosphorus and carbon are the basis for nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) plus the “energy currency” of the cell, adenosine triphosphate or ATP. When the cell wants to store energy, it stores it in the bond between phosphate #2 and phosphate #3 of ATP (phosphate = phosphorus + four oxygens). When it needs energy, it breaks that bond and releases energy for use by other things. This works exactly like a currency in economics, smoothing the commerce within the cell by providing a common medium of exchange.

It’s possible they’ve discovered that arsenic can be used in the same way, and that there is even an example at hand (like Saturn’s moon Titan). Or, it could be they’re just discussing arsenic chemistry in an existing lifeform here on Earth.

Or, maybe Michael Stipe is right, and it’s the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine.

Six o’clock – TV hour. Don’t get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn,
return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning,
blood letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. Light a candle,
light a motive. Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh,
this means no fear – cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament,
a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives
and I decline.


About Monotreme

Monotreme is an unabashedly liberal dog lover, writer, and former scientist who now teaches at a University in an almost-square state out West somewhere. |
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26 Responses to It’s the End of the World as We Know It

  1. Bart DePalma says:


    Damn son, why did you get me all excited. You don’t have to be a tinfoil hat crazy to get really excited about NASA finding evidence of extraterrestrial life.

    Now I’m bummed….

  2. shiloh says:

    Beam me up Scotty, there’s no intelligent teabaggers on this planet …

  3. Monotreme says:

    I was pretty jazzed too, but it appears that we’ve got the situation where yet another group is fighting for funding in a very restrictive environment and is trying to make an impression on peer reviewers.

    It happens a lot in science, sadly. There will always be those who go for sizzle over steak.

    Still, we’ll have to wait until noon (MST) tomorrow to see what happened.

  4. filistro says:

    @Bart.. Damn son, why did you get me all excited.

    I hear you, Bart. I feel exactly the same way 😦

    But I’m still holding out some hope. I want one of the Mars explorers to have photographed a trail of footprints.

  5. filistro says:

    Speaking of heavenly objects… did any of you notice the little snowflakes falling across your screen? We’re in the holiday spirit, very festive…

    I love this place 😉

  6. Mr. Universe says:

    Such a pretty picture. It matches our header.

  7. filistro says:

    Hey… you can use the cursor to change the direction of the snowflakes!

    It takes so little to amuse me 🙂

  8. dcpetterson says:

    Wait wait wait, we may have found a point of human contact with Bart.

    Do we have a shared interest in things like extraterrestrial life?

    Bart, you don’t like science fiction, do you?

  9. filistro says:

    It’s always so distressing when Bart turns out to be human.. (and sort of likeable)..

    I wish he’d cut that out… 😉

  10. Monotreme says:

    A tweet from my friend the sobersided astrophysicist:

    Rumor is it’s about astrobiology breakthrough on Earth- arsenic bio. So probably not really anything I’m too interested in yet.

  11. GROG says:

    If aliens tried to attack the U.S. could they be tried for treason?

  12. Monotreme says:


    No, they would be confined to Guantanamo as unlawful alien combatants. See “District 9” for further details.

  13. filistro says:

    @GROG.. If aliens tried to attack the U.S. could they be tried for treason?

    Okay, that made me LOL… really loud… and I haven’t even had my coffee yet 🙂

  14. dcpetterson says:

    I think the border fence with Mexico would keep them out.

    But maybe we should erect a fence around the planet. Perhaps the Arizona state legislature could fund it?

  15. Mr. Universe says:

    District 9

    Not bad for a low budget sci-fi greek tragedy play. I liked it.

  16. dcpetterson says:

    NASA’s announcement has been leaked.

    NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of ANYTHING else on planet Earth

  17. Realist says:

    Next week, I expect NASA to announce that they found another life form that lives on nothing but old lace.

  18. filistro says:

    Next week, I expect NASA to announce that they found another life form that lives on nothing but old lace.

    LOL!… or possibly on old ladies?…. 😉

  19. This is pretty cool news. Inhofe should be crapping his pants right about now.

  20. dcpetterson says:

    One of the NASA scientists compared this discovery to finding the Horta.

    Very cool.

  21. Mr. Universe says:

    Looks like we were right about the Mono Lake angle.

  22. DC: mmm…Silicon…

    Mono Lake (& all of the Eastern Sierra) is definitely worth a visit. You will be able to tell your Grandchildren about how you were able to see the Tufas before they got submerged.

  23. Monotreme says:

    I’m a doctor, Jim, not a bricklayer.

  24. Monotreme says:

    I found this really cool YouTube:

  25. shiloh says:

    I’m a doctor, Jim, not a bricklayer.


  26. Monotreme says:

    As usual, science cartoonist xkcd nails it.

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