Monday, December 5, 2016

Will you know an alien when you see one?

Or put differently, how will you know Alien life if you should stumble across it?

Give it some thought. I mean really think about it! Everyone up until now has been 1000% positive that the only road to life was the Carbon-based entities we are aware of, but perhaps we should expand our definition! But then again; to what?

Rather than consider what their biological make up might be or perhaps we need to embrace other possibilities.

Consider this; when discussing the challenges when our robotic probes finally land on a watery world – let’s say Jupiter’s Europa, what is it that scientists will need to see to state unequivocally that life exists now or did exist there? John Grunsfield, a retired astronaut asked that question of colleagues at NASA, and guess what, they were exactly sure.

BUT now NASA is discussing all kinds of thoughts and has expanded their queries to the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In fact, they have a meeting set for on Monday. 

It seems there is a big interest in something called bio-signatures. AND since NASA has some kinda important missions coming up such as Europa in the 2020s and the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be scanning the atmospheres of planets around other stars, so probably sure no what to look for regarding alien life.

Now honestly it doesn’t seem that they can come to a consensus on what exactly life is, but that’s okay! It doesn’t mean they can’t locate it; potentially know life when they see it. One doesn’t have to know what something is made up of (be it silicon…)what it breaths, (maybe Methane? How about CO2). What one needs to know are those things that are likely common to all things?

Bio-signatures don’t mean it is only a chemical signature, but a signature that can also be suggested by a magnetic bio-signature.  Another possibility might be the morphology since the shape and size of certain objects could indicate the presence of life - past or present. Take for instance, the microscopic magnetite crystals found in the Martian meteorite ALH84001 and long-debated for potential bio-signatures due to the belief (that has since changed) that only bacteria could create crystals of their specific shape. However, features that deviate from what is standard should certainly be investigated further, because, well, we don’t actually know what we are looking for!  Basically, such features constitute a working hypothesis, not a confirmation of detection of life. Concluding that evidence of an extraterrestrial life form (past or present) has been discovered requires proving that a possible bio-signature was produced by the activities or remains of life. For example, the possible bio-mineral that was studied in the Martian ALH84001 meteorite included supposed microbial fossils, tiny rock-like structures whose shape was a potential bio-signature merely because it resembled known bacteria. Most scientists ultimately concluded that these were far too small to be fossilized cells. Emerging from these discussions has been a consensus, that perhaps this should be one of the critical requirements and it should lead to a demand for further evidence and any morphological data that may support such prodigious claims.

That we understand what it is that we don’t know is monumental, that we are considering options on how we might identify life, awesome! Can you believe that today we are asking these questions but tomorrow (okay in a decade or so) we will actually be finding the answers? 

Kind of takes your breath away!

NOW we need to figure out communications…that will take a bit longer!





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