I like to tell my viewers that death is inevitable , which it is - some people call me negative all the time but I like to think of myself as a futurist, a realist.
Death is inevitable but it can be avoided if you listen to this episode of TES/read this article of sciencethatstuff.com , because sooner or later aliens are going to come crashing down from space and tell us we’re not alone in the universe, now I want you to be as mentally prepared for that as possible so I’ve made this article/episode especially for you!
Now I'm not one to believe definitively in one singular thing, but there is one exception. I for one with my whole heart and soul believe that there is life out there that we will come across in the next 1000 years or so. It just will happen - I'll explain why this is so likely and what we need to think about if we are going to interact with so called 'aliens'.
When someone says astrobiology, you probably think we're searching for little green men and women right?
Well maybe, but I think successful astrobiology is looking out there among the stars, away from the comfort of our own planet for the bare fundamentals of life as we know it - this could mean the molecules and compounds like carbohydrates, proteins and compounds like water. These give us some sort of reliable indicator that we have potentially found life on another planet or in another solar system.
First we need to define what life is:
I think Life is not something that is just straight up defined or straightforward to define, which is why there are so many interpretations of what life is and why that is so.
Well the good thing is that good ol' Carl Sagan split life's definition into 5 key components.
Physiological - life defined as a system capable of carrying out a series of functions (eat, metabolise, breathe, grow, move, excrete) - response to external stimuli
Metabolic - life consumes energy in order to move, grow or reproduce - life has a definite boundary and exchanges material with its surroundings
Biochemical - life has reproducible, hereditary information
Thermodynamic definition - second law - entropy always increases
life is a self-contained system that takes in energy to create order locally in an environment that continues to grow disorderly
an example is an organism that creates heat to survive
local reason of order surrounded by disorder
Is there a possible link to chaos theory? The equation?
Crystals grow locally and produce highly ordered structured
5. Darwinian/Genetic - capable of undergoing evolution
Personally I don't think a single category has enough weight to describe life in its entirety, so I'm going to go with physiological, biochemical and metabolic. Let me know in the comments what your definition of life would consist of out of these options!
Having this list handy in our brains is key so we know what we would look for on other worlds in the cosmos - but what if life elsewhere doesn't fall into any of those categories - then what?
It's all about the basics.
You'll find that because of the big bang, the most basic elements are the most common elements - hydrogen, carbon, helium, nitrogen - these make up the most basic compounds and molecules that are the basis of life on earth
Again, it's all about the basics.
space rocks yaay!
Much of the common elements and basic life supporting molecules and compounds (amino acids, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, lipids) can be found on C-type asteroids that have travelled through millions of solar systems across the universe.
It's exactly why I believe that life's origin on Earth started with asteroids and meteorites. But then doesn't this mean that life is almost certainly guaranteed elsewhere in the galaxy and wider universe?
If the key ingredients for life were carried here on asteroids (c-type), then who's to say that they haven't been carried to various other planets, leading to the evolution of life - not necessarily intelligent life, but perhaps even the simplest life forms we can imagine.
Life on earth from far-travelling asteroids = high probability of asteroids causing life elsewhere.
Miller-urey experiments were carried out in the 50's to test the conversion of simple inorganic compounds (found on asteroids and meteorites) into more complex organic ones through lab-simulated ancient atmospheric conditions from billions of years ago.
The experiment produced 20 different types of amino acid in the end after rigorous testing of electrically discharging inorganic compounds against Ammonia, Methane, Water vapour and Hydrogen.
although it was later discovered that volcanic eruptions 4 Ga (giga annum - billion years) ago were frequent, so the presence of CO2, Sulphur Dioxide too would have been helpful in the experiment, making it more accurate nad leading to a great many more organic compounds and varieties formed.
But what this experiment really shows you, is that it is totally viable and entirely possible that life started on Earth because it's ingredients were brought by asteroids, meteorites and survived prehistoric atmospheric entry.
Think for a moment
But one thing is I WANT you to think about - think, hard really hard - is say that we find life elsewhere, there must be some ethical questions to address, right?
Whose jurisdiction is it on that planet/body?
philosophical (as suggested by NASA's Gravity Assist podcast) questions
do we interfere with their home? Do we have a right to do that?
Would we be interfering purely anthropocentrically (for the benefit of humankind only)?
Will we cause the same damage there as we have to our own native species here on Earth?
god put on hold
I'll tell you one thing that is guaranteed. Not everyone will agree with the contact or interaction with extraterrestrial life. With religion still as important as it was 200 years ago, many believe that God only allowed life to flourish and to be made on one planet, Earth. Hence discoveries of other planets or bodies hosting life would go completely against that belief.
As the famous Carl Sagan said in his book 'The Cosmic Question',
Space exploration leads directly to religious and philosophical questions - Carl Sagan
"We would need to consider whether our faiths could accommodate these new beings – or if it should shake our beliefs to the core." - BBC
This is certain because such keystone events will for sure be streamed worldwide due to the its popularity and the rising number of people with TV's and internet access today.
These in my opinion at least are really important things to consider when dealing with extraterrestrial life - people need to be prepared for contact between our species and one we've never encountered before - the possible pros and cons of that are endless.
wwyd (what would you do?)
But let's imagine for a moment that tomorrow the headlines are that we've found life on another world or there has been a huge breakthrough in making mars habitable. It makes us think whether it is worth saving our planet or it is worth exploring up and out there - should we be worrying so much about animals and the environment down here when a door has just opened up there? Should we care as much?
Well yes and no - if we leave earth then I think there's no point because the earth's environment will do us no good if we live in space - but then there are people who think about using Earth in its entirety as a farm - yes this keeps me up at night.
What if we lived in space and mined, extracted, fracked all of its materials for our benefit - anthropocentric in nature I know - would there be anything left for future intelligent life on earth if it were to evolve?
Would we be sending the innocent, already existing species into decline and extinction by doing that? (Well we all know the answer is YES to this one).
But what if it did matter? then what? Should we do things Noah's Ark style and take one of each species with us? Surely that's impossible because there are almost 9 million species that we have identified so far.
Would you want 9 million animals in the same area as you? Trust me we cannot even begin to simulate all of Earth's biomes to facilitate that many species.
stop! Wait a minute.
I don't want to give too much away before the next article/episode, so I'll leave you with this thought about what we as a species should do, what is our next move on the chessboard of life if we find life elsewhere or want to take our species away from earth and into the cosmos?
What if the decision on what to do lay in your hands, what would you have our species do?
And I'll leave you with that.
But you think about that and drop me an email or a comment about what you think about this stuff!
If we made contact with aliens, how would religions react? - https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20161215-if-we-made-contact-with-aliens-how-would-religions-react - date accessed 2/9/21
Princeton University Imagining other Earths Coursera Course - https://www.coursera.org/learn/life-on-other-planets/home/welcome - date accessed 12/8/21
How to Build a Habitable Planet - Book by Wally Smith Broecker - date accessed 1/9/21
NASA Gravity Assist: What is Astrobiology? With Mary Voytek - https://www.nasa.gov/mediacast/gravity-assist-what-is-astrobiology-with-mary-voytek - date accessed 4/8/21