Did life originate with a bang?

By Adi


Well, the answer depends on what we mean by the “origin of life”. One could say that it all started 13.8 billion years ago with the birth of the universe – the “shock and awe” process we call the Big Bang. The impetus that kick-started the processes which led to primitive life-forms may have come from the seeding of our planet with molecules such as amino acids on asteroids, comets, stardust, or other cosmic bodies crashing into our young planet. Perhaps, the jolt to bring inanimate abiotic molecules together to form the precursors to biological molecules could have come from lighting strikes. This process of prebiotic synthesis was first experimentally tested back in 1952 by a graduate student Stanley Miller.

Stanley Miller, 1999. Credit: James A. SugarThe now famous Miller-Urey experiment was an impressive attempt to show that it was possible to synthesis life’s building blocks by simulating conditions of the early Earth. With nothing more than hydrogen, water, methane and ammonia, Miller was able prepare a concoction of amino acids – the building blocks of everything alive on Earth. Continue reading “Did life originate with a bang?”

Does My Moon Look Big In This?

By Adi

It happens at least once every month. Sometimes, rarely, it happens twice a month. It’s when lunatics roam the streets and when drivers get distracted by what they see up there in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a FULL MOON.

Yesterday, inspired by the beautiful sight of the Moon outside my window and soon after reading Thomas’s post about impact craters on the different hemispheres of the Moon, I wanted to find out if there were others around the world who were also thinking about the Moon. It turned out there were lots of people tweeting about the Moon (hashtag analysis suggested atleast hundreds of tweets per hour). Historical statistics suggested the around this time of each month, the webosphere goes wild about the Moon and so I began digger deeper. I plotted data from Google Trends and noticed how periodic peaks in searches for the keywords “Big Moon” coincided with the days around a full moon. Over the last few years, since social media took over the world, annual Supermoon events sparked the most interest with about 4 times as many Google searches than a typical day in the year.

2013 Google Search Trends for the term 'Big Moon'.

So, what’s the fascination with the size of the Moon?
Continue reading “Does My Moon Look Big In This?”

Lindau – An experience of a lifetime

By Adi

63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate MeetingAlfred Nobel’s philanthropic gesture of establishing the Nobel Prizes enabled our society to annually recognise some of those who, in Nobel’s words, conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.

This is the story of how an annual event that celebrates the achievements of the Laureates, continues to spread the spirit of the Nobel Prizes and inspire the next generation. Continue reading “Lindau – An experience of a lifetime”

Earth seeks new management

By Adi

Last Saturday, Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott emphatically declared “Australia is under new management”. Since then, he has been briefed by a multitude of senior bureaucrats in Canberra. Apart from getting acquainted with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, our new PM has met the heads of Treasury and Finance, and the chiefs of the Defence Force and Department of Foreign Affairs. But what about the head of Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education? It seems like the PM-designate hasn’t yet sought* a briefing from this super-department… and that disturbs me. So is there anything we can do about it? Continue reading “Earth seeks new management”

Tell me your idea. You have 3 minutes.

By Adi

What if you had just three minutes to leave your mark on the world? Could you share your contribution to humanity in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee?

In this age of texts, tweets and likes, it is time for young scientists around the world to join, the Three Minute Club. Recently, a multitude of top-rated journals have begun offering researchers the opportunity to summarise their work in a few minutes as video abstracts. See for example, Paper Flicks at the journal Cell or the AudioSlides offered by the journal publisher Elsevier. Continue reading “Tell me your idea. You have 3 minutes.”

Stunning Satellite Visualizations

By Adi

In today’s post, I was planning to tell you all about my trip in the last few weeks to Germany where I attended the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. This was an incredible opportunity to be inspired by 34 Nobel Laureates, discuss the latest in science and it’s role in our society, and meet other passionate early-career researchers from around the world. However, I would like to share some of the highlights from lectures at the meeting in this post, which are currently being processed by the media technicians at the meeting and so my post on my experiences at Lindau will happen at a later date (soon, I hope).

Instead, today I’d like to share with you a video that caught my attention last week as it offers stunning visuals that highlight the complexity and beauty of the Earth’s climate system. The 11-minute video, worthy I think of a re-post in our blog, was created by folks at the Youtube channel SpaceRip using material created at NASA from satellite observations. It is a good demonstration of how effective visuals can be to communicate science but also do interesting science by picking out signals which only become apparent when the datasets are viewed at different scales in time and space.

I encourage you to view the video in high resolution on your computer and share it with others. Then read this Scienctific American blog post for clarification of the science presented within the video by Eric Snodgrass (Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

Random Sample: Periodic

By Adi

We begin this week with what might seem to be a collection of random videos and stories that lead us from earthly elements to stellar spectacles. Individually, they are all interesting but there is also a common thread… Can you identify the “periodic” feature in all the stories?

The NEW Periodic Table Song (In Order)
You have probably heard the Elements song by Tom Lehrer or heard a rendition of that song by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter). There have been a number of other interesting takes on it but this new attempt by ASAP SCIENCE to sing the Period Table in order of the elements for the 21st century audience is awesome!

Continue reading “Random Sample: Periodic”

A new way to see the good old views

By Adi

I have always wondered if there will ever be a day when we shall be able to control time and space. You know, fast forward things we experience, then slow them down… Zoom into our world and then zoom back out simply with a two-finger pinch? For the time being at least, such control of our everyday experience seems to be in the realms of science fiction. But I recently discovered three new web-based visualization apps that can give us a feel for how useful such control would be for scientists.

Satellite imagery lets you follow terrain changes over time.
Google Earth enters the fourth dimension.

I invite you to try out these novel ways of looking at the Earth, the planets and the stars! Continue reading “A new way to see the good old views”

When bugs talk

By Adi

Microbes make the world go round. There are more microbial cells on you and in you, than your own cells – in fact 99% of them are not human! Some members of our microbiome enable us to digest the food we eat while others play an essential role in maintaining our immune system that fights off other pathogenic microbes. They are central to biogeochemical cycles of elements such as carbon and nitrogen and they have been doing so for billions of years. Long story short – you and I wouldn’t be alive without them!

Checkout the video Seven Wonders of the Microbial World if you want to find out more about the tiny critters that we depend on. Today, we pay homage to our most valued cousins – by talking to them!

pathogenic microbes cartoon Continue reading “When bugs talk”

A new Pope and a new particle – is it déjà vu?

By Adi

Habemus Papam et Deus Particular – We have a Pope and the God particle.
The news bears an eerie likeness to Dan Brown’s plot in Angels and Demons.

Last week two important events took place. In the Vatican, the College of Cardinals were guided by the Holy Spirit (or so the legend goes) to choose Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. As the world learned more about Pope Francis (who as it turns out is a chemistry graduate), not far from Rome, in La Thuile in Italy, physicists upped the ante. Guided by results from the Large Hadron Collider, the physicists announced they were now sure that they had found the God particle.

So what? Well, in one meeting men dressed in red gowns chose a new direction for their institution. In the other meeting, men and women, some in suits, others in jeans, proclaimed it was time to move on to the next stage of understanding the universe we live in. As this is a science blog, let’s look at the latter news in more detail. Continue reading “A new Pope and a new particle – is it déjà vu?”

The World is ending today, so we’re taking some time off…

By Claire

Shortly the Earth will begin to disintegrate, or will explode from the inside out, or will get hammered by something from space, or will erupt and shake itself to pieces (not to mention the zombie plague) so it seems like a good time to reflect on the first year of our blog.

My David Attenborough impersonation
My David Attenborough impersonation

The magnificent Kelly Strzepek, blog founder extraordinaire kicked off the blog with a post on her midterm in December last year. Since then, she has blogged her way to Antarctica and back, shared the highs and lows of life as a PhD student, filled us in on countless new scientific discoveries, and some not so scientific ones…

wichwonwerks128650332134104553We’ve also been brought on a journey by Nick, who has walked us through his PhD, posting about his stalagmite’s journey from a cave, to a rock saw, to the polisher, to the mill, to the weighing room, and (finally) to the mass spec… still using the mass spec… WORK DAMN IT!!


Lava spewing from a volcano near Eyfafjallajokull, Iceland, 2010 (Source:

Brendan has been a never ending source of information about volcanoes in Australia, volcanoes under the sea, supervolcanoesvolcanic YouTube clips and, well, anything to do with volcanoes really. Not that this is all he posts about. We’ve also read some great stories about selling T-Rexs, Mercury, Lasers and pennys.

Evan "clearly" convinced that he has found some dinosaur footprints.

Evan – our resident geophysicist – has brought us posts about, everything really. From conferences and fieldtrips, failures of justice, failures of Google and failures of science, oceanography, seismology, climatology and geology, we’ve learnt about it all.

c_06182010And then there’s myself, the climate change nut. I’ve posted about all things weather and climate (including the difference between the two). I’ve ranted about the carbon tax, arctic sea ice loss, sea level rise, greenhouse gas emissions and our inability to limit the worst effects of climate change. I’ve given lessons on interpreting weather maps, posted about thousands of spiders and campaigned for renewable energy. No wonder my husband thinks I’m a hippie!

port-tumblr_m8chcbHQ5U1rozo50o1_500-620x414We’ve also had some great posts from our guest contributors. Mike has taught us about the importance of cats in geology, brought us the latest in hairstyles and alien geologists. Kate has posted about elephants, giving presentations and fieldwork. Adi has kept us up to date with all things “space”, posting about Curiosity, the Higgs Boson, views from space and scientific experiments from the international space station.

As you can see, we’ve had a hugely busy year, posting about all things earth science and we are taking a well earned break.

But don’t despair! We will be running a series called “From the archives” over the holidays, where we re-visit some of our earlier posts.

We will be back and blogging on the 7th January.

Until then, have a great Christmas and thanks for all your support in 2012.

From the oncirculation team.

The core of OnCirculation from top, Kelly Strzepek and Evan Gowan, and bottom, Claire Krause, Nick Scroxton and Brendan Hanger
The core of OnCirculation from top, Kelly Strzepek and Evan Gowan, and bottom, Claire Krause, Nick Scroxton and Brendan Hanger

Relive the Landing of Year

By Adi

Scientists compare models to observations to better understand their
system. Here is a beautiful example where a computer simulation is
compared to observations literally out of this world!

The next best thing

By Adi

In recent days, Curiosity has been busy with self-inspections and calibration of its instrument suite. It has clocked about 150 meters and continues to work in good health.

You might have already seen some photos of the red planet from this or past missions but prepare to be amazed by this impressive panorama.

The Mars Science Laboratory might only sport a 2 Mega Pixel camera (so that it can send it photos in a reasonable time frame back to Earth), but thanks to the clever people at NASA and photographers like  Andrew Bodrov, we can get a taste for what it might be like to stand on Mars and look around.

Interactive Mars Panorama

360-degree Mars panorama

Access this link on your computer or mobile device (iPad works really well!)

Wanna build your own Mars Science Laboratory? Now you can, with these step by step instructions and it won’t cost $2.5 Billion 😉

Come fly with me

By Adi.

Ladies and gentlemen, NASA has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign as we approach Gale Crater on Mars. Weather conditions remain within seasonal norms with the skies being dominated by diffuse water ice clouds.

If you haven’t already done so, please cancel all your appointments on 6th August. Please take your computer and browse to Make sure your chair and table are in a comfortable position and hold-on tight!

If you are in a city with a space centre or university with a planetary science department, please read carefully the special instructions located here. If you are unable to reach a public event, make sure you have a good internet connection and follow the event at or on NASA TV.

Continue reading “Come fly with me”


By Adi.

cu·ri·os·i·ty [kyoor-ee-os-i-tee]

1.[noun] a state in which you want to learn more about something
Synonyms: wonder

2.[noun] something unusual
Synonyms: curio, oddity, oddment, peculiarity, rarity

In this picture, the rover examines a rock on Mars with a set of tools at the end of the rover's arm, which extends about 7 feet (2 meters).
Curiosity — Robot Geologist and Chemist in One!

Well, there couldn’t be a better word to describe the Mars Science Laboratory, which this week is on the final stages of its flight to Mars.

Brush up on all your Curiosity trivia at

What I learned: Curiosity weighs 900 kilograms, or about 2,000 pounds and has a million kilometers to the finish line – a heavyweight champion on a ultra-marathon!

MSL goes for GOLD

By Adi.

Every 4 years, the Olympics bring us together to witness the best in
human endurance, athleticism and sportsmanship. This week as medals are won and each country’s tally grows, there is one team that has its sights on a prize outside this world.

When NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission lands on the red planet, communication antennas in Canberra, Australia will be listening.

They have trained for years, learnt from past exploration missions, used the latest  and some of the most remarkable innovative technologies and perfected instruments to excellence. Now they wait for their dream machine to perform what it was built for – land on the Red planet and do science.

If you are in Canberra, why not immerse yourself in a once in lifetime event at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex and be amongst the first to know when the signals from the spacecraft are received at the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station.

If you are elsewhere in the world, checkout events in your city or join online at NASA TV. Curiosity will land near the Martian equator about 3:30pm in Canberra (15:31  Aug. 6 AEST ; 22:31 Aug. 5 PDT). Coverage begins about two hours before landing.

NASA engineers have performed the final trajectory correction that MSL is likely to need to enable a successful targeted landing at Gale Crater. If the success of Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars Exploration Rovers that began exploring Mars in 2004 are anything to go by, NASA engineers are expected to out-perform expectations. Let’s wish them the very best and hope the landing goes to plan.

In the meantime, the scientists have begun sharpening their pencils (if they still use them!) and clearing out their emails. They are getting ready for the data stream from the red planets to come through. Thanks to the way Curiosity is packaged up, it is primed to begin science operations almost as soon as it lands.

Continue reading “MSL goes for GOLD”

Could Higgs help us find life elsewhere?

by Adi.

4th of July 2012, a date which will live in infamy, at least for the physicists amongst us. It was the day when the ‘God particle’ gained its independence from the realm of the unknown and could no longer be called the god-damn particle! I have been wondering if the discovery of the Higgs Boson could help astrobiologists find life elsewhere…

Chances are that you’ve already heard about the announcement of the observation of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. In fact, you might have heard about it so many times on different blogs and news stories that you could be forgiven if you thought Apple was launching a new revolutionary device called Higgs Boson!

The story started in the 1960s when Peter Higgs and others proposed the mechanism by which elementary particles such as quarks (that make up neutrons and protons) gain mass by interacting with the Higgs field that permeated all space soon after the Big Bang and continues to do so today. According to the standard model, all quantum fields have a fundamental particle associated with them, and so it was expected that Higgs field should also be associated with a particle – the Higgs particle.

As a test for the standard model, over many years scientists have attempted to find the particle that mediated the Higgs mechanism but it remained elusive, earning it the nickname the ‘goddamn particle’ (which for sake of politeness became the God particle, and the name stuck). However, a concerted effort by scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider finally led to its detection which culminated in the announcement of the preliminary results last week. The discovery immediately validated the Standard Model and excluded technicolor theories of particle physics.

We can thank the Higgs particle for making astrobiologists. Without the Higgs, the universe would be a very different place. For one, if we did not have the Higgs particle, all matter that is made of neutrons, protons and electrons would not be able to form chemical bonds. In other words: no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no life on Earth, no humans, no astrobiologists. Continue reading “Could Higgs help us find life elsewhere?”

7 minutes sure to keep us on the edge

by Adi.

In exactly 1 month, we will be treated to one of the most exhilarating rides in the solar system. Curiosity (The Mars Science Laboratory) may have had a pretty long journey since its launch last year but the hardest, most dangerous part is yet come…

Continue reading “7 minutes sure to keep us on the edge”

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