That’s the opinion of Michael Mautner, Research Professor of Chemistry at Virginia Commonwealth University:
As members of this planet’s menagerie, and a consequence of nearly 4 billion years of evolution, humans have a purpose to propagate life. After all, whatever else life is, it necessarily possesses an incessant drive for self-perpetuation. And the idea isn’t just fantasy: Mautner says that “directed panspermia” missions can be accomplished with present technology.
“We have a moral obligation to plan for the propagation of life, and even the transfer of human life to other solar systems which can be transformed via microbial activity, thereby preparing these worlds to develop and sustain complex life,” Mautner explained to PhysOrg.com. “Securing that future for life can give our human existence a cosmic purpose.”
Hasn’t the relentless drive of self-propagation been shown to be somewhat problematic over the long term? Do we need a cosmic purpose? More importantly, does the cosmos need us to have a cosmic purpose? When evangelical ideology and colonialism run out of planetary surface, I guess they have to start looking further afield for things to interfere with… [image via badastronomy]
While the needle-in-a-haystack search for life on other planets continues, we still consistently find new lifeforms on Earth when we look in the right places. Our oceans are still a source of biological mystery, but that’s not the only place that extremophile life can be found: the Indian Space Research Organisation recently announced the discovery of new bacterial species in the stratosphere:
Three bacterial colonies, namely, PVAS-1, B3 W22 and B8 W22 were, however, totally new species. All the three newly identified species had significantly higher UV resistance compared to their nearest phylogenetic neighbours.
“So what,” you may be thinking. Well:
The precautionary measures and controls operating in this experiment inspire confidence that these species were picked up in the stratosphere. While the present study does not conclusively establish the extra-terrestrial origin of microorganisms, it does provide positive encouragement to continue the work in our quest to explore the origin of life.
Another potential prop for panspermia? [via SlashDot; image by country_boy_shane]
Does the Earth harbour forms of life unrelated to the carbon-based DNA-powered stuff we know about? “Impossible,” you might say, but as pointed out by astrophysicist Paul Davies, we wouldn’t know – because we’ve never looked for it.
“Our search for life [has been] based on our assumptions of life as we know it. Weird life and normal life could be intermingled, and filtering out the things we understand about life as we know it from the things we don’t understand is tricky.”
The tools and experiments researchers use to look for new forms of life – such as those on missions to Mars – would not detect biochemistries different from our own, making it easy for scientists to miss alien life, even if was under their noses.
Alternative biochemistry is inherently a speculative field, which is why it has made plenty of appearances in science fiction – Rudy Rucker has dealt with similar ideas before, for example, and Futurismic columnist Mac Tonnies has theorised about the potential of Earth being home to beings we are not able to recognise as such.
Finding examples of alien life here on Earth might add credence to theories like panspermia – but, more importantly, it would suggest that the likelihood of life developing elsewhere in the universe is closer to one than to zero. [via SlashDot; image by Haeroldus Laudeus]
Here we have a new treatment of the Drake Equation in this paper: A Numerical Testbed for Hypotheses of Extraterrestrial Life and Intelligence. From the preamble:
This paper outlines a means for applying Monte Carlo Realisation techniques to investigate the parameter space of intelligent civilisations more rigorously, and to help assign errors to the resulting distributions of life and intelligence.
The Monte Carlo method, from what I can gather from Wikipedia, involves:
…a large and widely-used class of approaches. However, these approaches tend to follow a particular pattern:
- Define a domain of possible inputs.
- Generate inputs randomly from the domain, and perform a deterministic computation on them.
- Aggregate the results of the individual computations into the final result.
There’s a lot of complex maths in the paper, and author Duncan H. Forgan says that when it comes to biological parameters the figures are basically guesswork, given that there is only one known biosphere.
Forgan applies his methods to different theories concerning the likelihood of life, including Panspermia, the Rare Life Hypothesis (life is rare, but life is likely to become intelligent), and the Tortoise and Hare Hypothesis (we assume civilizations that develop rapidly are more likely to destroy themselves) with the following scores:
- Rare life: 361 advanced civilizations
- Tortoise and Hare: 31,573 advanced civilizations
- Panspermia: 37, 964 advanced civilizations
Read the paper – if it demonstrates anything it is how much more there is to find out about our galaxy.
[via Slashdot][image from on flickr][image from Kevin on flickr]