Monday, July 9, 2007

Zeitgeist Alert: Will we know extra-terrestrial life when we see it?

National Geographic News has a pop-sci piece on alien life forms that begins like this:

Think life on Earth is weird? It might be even weirder on distant planets and moons, according to a new report. Instead of thriving on water, extraterrestrial organisms might live in a sea of liquid methane. Or instead of getting energy from the sun, they might thrive on hydrochloric acid. These possibilities could revolutionize future space missions in search of life elsewhere in the solar system, says the report, issued today by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The report concludes that scientists need to consider an expanded list of characteristics that define life, including so-called "weird" life-forms that may thrive where Earth organisms couldn't...

"We don't want to not recognize a life form because it doesn't exactly resemble Earth life," Baross said.

All I can say is - no shit, Sherlock. I think this occurred to me when I was about, um, eleven? In fact, we had a school yard pretend-play game where we would invent just such creatures. Whenever I've seen a sci-fi movie or many sci-fi books (but not all) I have usually been disappointed at how similar the alien creatures are to humans or other familiar animals, sometimes assuming human form (although why they haven't assumed the form of a more ubiquitous animal, like a bacterium for example, is not clear to me). Never mind the fact that so many of them also seem to communicate easily in English.

It seems as though many studying the possibility of alien life forms in the sciences have been as lacking in imagination as those in tv and film. Glad to hear of the report, I'll have to read it and see if they themselves use the word "weird" or if that was an interpretation of National Geographic. "I mean, wow, we've just discovered some weird aliens, man," would be the content of this report.

Thank you to the always interesting 3 Quarks Daily for that!

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Cool, very interesting post!