August 5th, 2008
Amidst all the chatter and news stories about who said what in the Presidential race and how SUVs have become undesirable, there was a story last week that will be one that 2008 will be remembered for, at least in the scientific community. NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander found ice on Mars!!
As long as humanity has known about the solar system there has been conjecture as to whether there was life anywhere else. Mars has always been the prime suspect and has led to many books, movies and one famous radio event about Martians. Most of the time such life forms have been presented as strange angry creatures that attack earth as we humans have trouble thinking other wise. Those of us who believe in the statistical inevitability of life elsewhere have waited for concrete evidence.
The discovery of water on Mars does not suggest that there has or is life on Mars. We do currently believe however that water is essential for the existence of life. We now know, conclusively for the first time that water exists on another planet. That is an incredible discovery. It is a first. Water is not unique to earth.
In an earlier column here I discussed the fact that scientists found another sun and planetary system that is similar to ours. I also suggested in another column that perhaps the definition of life should be expanded as we search for it in space. The fact that â€˜life’ should be narrowly defined by earthly …
November 15th, 2007
All my life I have believed that there must be other intelligent life in the Universe. When you gaze upon the endless starry night it seems statistically impossible that there isnâ€™t some form of intelligent life out there. It may not be human-like but life there must be. In a prior column, I wrote about the fact that scientists looking for life elsewhere have redefined the definition of life as it was concluded that perhaps our earth bound definition needs to be greatly expanded.
Last week there was an announcement that astronomers had discovered that there were five planets circling a star called 55 Cancri where it had been thought there were only four. This makes this planetary system the most extensive found outside our own. Further, this fifth planet has some earthly characteristics relative to its distance from 55 Cancri, so that it just might have water. This discovery came about as scientists are in transition from studying planets to studying planetary systems. As Geoff Marcy, a professor at University of California, Berkeley said: â€œWe now know our Sun and its family of planets is not unusualâ€.
Another way of saying this is that scientists, in their effort to locate life elsewhere have moved from looking for planets that are earth-like to solar systems that are similar to ours. This is an obvious and logical progression. Technology is not yet at the stage where we can find small planets. Evidently the smallest size detectable is on the scale of Jupiter. …
July 10th, 2007
I have always been in the camp of those that think that there is life elsewhere in the universe. Statistically, the universe is too vast, practically beyond human comprehension, for there not to be some form of life elsewhere. Those that have argued otherwise always come from the point of view that Earth and itsâ€™ biosphere is unique and have a definition of life that is completely Earth centric.
It was therefore with great interest that I read the report published last week by the National Research Council. This report suggested that life with an alternative biochemistry to that of life on Earth may be possible elsewhere in the universe. It went on to say that the search for extraterrestrial life should be broadened to consider this possibility and recommended research and missions in which the federal government should invest to increase our knowledge in this area.
Using the phrase â€œweird lifeâ€ the Council suggested that â€œthe fundamental requirements for life as we generally know it — a liquid water biosolvent, carbon-based metabolism, molecular system capable of evolution, and the ability to exchange energy with the environment — are not the only ways to support phenomena recognized as lifeâ€. The chair of the committee that published this recommendation, John Baross, professor of oceanography at the University of Washington said â€œ”Our investigation made clear that life is possible in forms different than those on Earth,”.
The assumption that â€œlifeâ€ should be defined by what we know about life on Earth has always impressed …