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- Extraterrestrial life
- The search for life beyond Earth
- The search for life beyond Earth - Curious
We have a large world Jupiter outside of our frost line to shield the inner planets from catastrophic strikes.
Looking at worlds that are similar to Earth is a compelling place to start, but it might not be the most likely place to actually find life in the galaxy or the Universe at large. There are lots of reasons to believe that looking for a world as Earth-like as possible, around a star as Sun-like as possible, might be the best place to look for life elsewhere in the Universe.
We know that there are very likely billions of Solar System that have at least somewhat similar properties to the Earth and Sun out there, thanks to our tremendous advances in exoplanet studies over the past three decades. Since life not only arose but became complex, differentiated, intelligent, and technologically advanced here on Earth, it makes sense to choose worlds that are similar to Earth in our quest to find an inhabited world out there in the galaxy. Surely, if it's arisen here under the conditions we ourselves have, it must be possible for life to arise again, elsewhere, under similar conditions.
The small Kepler exoplanets known to exist in the habitable zone of their star. Whether the worlds classified as Super-Earth are Earth-like or Neptune-like is an open question, but it may not even be important for a world to orbit a Sun-like star or be in this so-called habitable zone in order for life to have the potential of arising. Practically no one in the exoplanet or astrobiology communities thinks that looking for worlds similar to a proverbial 'Earth 2.
But is it the smartest course of action to invest the overwhelming majority of our resources in solely looking for and investigating worlds that have these similarities to our own, life-rich planet? I had the opportunity to sit down and record a podcast with scientist Adrian Lenardic , who doesn't agree with this position at all. If science has taught us anything, it's that we shouldn't assume we know the answer before doing the key experiments or making the critical observations.
Yes, we have to look where the evidence points, but we also have to look in places where we might think it's unlikely for life to arise, thrive, or otherwise sustain itself. Deep under the sea, around hydrothermal vents, where no sunlight reaches, life still thrives on Earth. How to create life from non-life is one of the great open questions in science today, but if life can exist down here, perhaps undersea on Europa or Enceladus, there's life, too.
It will be more and better data, most likely collected and analyzed by experts, that will eventually determine the scientific answer to this mystery. Our preconceptions about how life works have been wrong before, as what we thought were necessary restrictions turned out to be circumvented not only plentifully, but possibly easily and frequently. For example, we once thought that life required sunlight. But the discovery of life around hydrothermal vents many miles beneath the ocean's surface taught us that even in the absolute absence of sunlight, life can find a way. We once thought that life couldn't survive in an arsenic-rich environment, as arsenic is a known poison to biological systems.
Yet not only have recent discoveries shown that life is possible in arsenic-rich locations, but that arsenic can even be used in biological processes. And perhaps most surprisingly, we thought that complex life could never survive in the harsh environment of space. But the tardigrade proved us wrong, entering a state of suspended animation in the vacuum of space, and successfully rehydrating when returned to Earth. A scanning electron microscope image of a Milnesium tardigradum Tardigrade, or 'water bear' in its active state. Tardigrades have been exposed to the vacuum of space for prolonged periods of time, and have returned to normal biological operation after being returned to liquid water environments.
It has to make you wonder about what else might be out there.
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The search for life beyond Earth
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The search for life beyond Earth - Curious
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