Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagExtraterrestrial life

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Backgrounds 3D illustration Alien planet Sci-fi Game

Would Advanced Aliens Be Fully Mechanical? Or Like Octopuses?

Astrobiologist Dirk Schultze-Makuch muses on the possibilities

Musing on a recent open-access study at PNAS, astrophysicist Dirk Schulze-Makuch notes at BigThink a couple of things that separate really smart life forms from the others. One of them, he guesses, is bilateral symmetry (life forms whose left and right sides are mirror images): “symmetry requires less information for DNA to encode and allows more flexibility to develop future traits that may be advantageous.” He also notes that smart life forms tend to be mobile rather than stationary: “We don’t know of any intelligent plants or fungi, for the simple reason that stationary things don’t have to be smart.” Well, wait. It’s not so much that stationary life forms don’t have to be smart as… what good would it…

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alien planet landscape, beautiful forest the surface of an exoplanet

NASA Develops a Scale for Assessing the Chances of ET Life

We’ve come a long way from mere snatches of (maybe) information to the need for standards in evaluating the expected incoming mass

Geoscientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, co-author with William Bains of The Cosmic Zoo (2017) and a number of other books on planetary habitability, thinks science needs standardized scales for assessing claims about extraterrestrial life. There are lots of claims: life on Mars detected by the Viking landers (1976), fossil life in a Mars-origin meteorite (1996), phosphine on Venus (2020) … all have some evidence in their favor. But scientists need a way to express degrees of certainty. Recently, NASA has proposed the Confidence of Life Detection Scale (CoLD), featuring seven benchmarks. The main problem is that evidence that might suggest life could just as easily be a non-biological process: Consider Jupiter’s moon Europa. A large asteroid impact could have volatilized ice on…

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alien

Physicist: Why Extraterrestrials Couldn’t Look Much Like Us

Except in films. They follow the same natural laws but conditions differ on each planet

Physicist Marcelo Gleiser, author of The Island of Knowledge (2014), points out that the fact that there are trillions and trillions of worlds in our universe does not mean that anything we imagine can somehow exist: While the laws of physics and chemistry allow for similar processes to unfold across the Universe, they also act to limit what is possible or viable. Even if science doesn’t allow us to completely rule out what cannot exist, we can use the laws of physics and chemistry to infer what might. Marcelo Gleiser, “What is life like elsewhere in the Universe?” at Big Think (December 22, 2021) There is limit to diversity. While it may be possible for life to be based on…

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Exploration of Mars the Red planet of the solar system in space. This image elements furnished by NASA.

Will the Fossils We Find on Mars Be Fakes?

No, no, this is NOT a broadcast from Moonbat Central! False fossils are objects that look like fossils but aren’t

As we sift more and more of the surface of Mars, we’d love to find fossils. But then we may run into a problem that dogs paleontologists on Earth. From the University of Edinburgh: Rocks on Mars may contain numerous types of non-biological deposits that look similar to the kinds of fossils likely to be found if the planet ever supported life, a study says. Telling these false fossils apart from what could be evidence of ancient life on the surface of Mars — which was temporarily habitable four billion years ago — is key to the success of current and future missions, researchers say. University of Edinburgh, “Life on Mars search could be misled by false fossils, study says”…

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Another World Far Away

Exoplanets: The Same Laws of Physics Means Similar Life Forms

Even on Earth, life forms of widely differing ancestry, arrive at the same solutions to physics problems, leading scientists note

Famous paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) was sure that, if the deck were reshuffled, humans would never evolve — even on this planet — again. As Paul Parsons puts it at BBC’s Science Focus Magazine, His reasoning was that evolution is driven by random sets of genetic mutations, modulated by random environmental effects, such as mass extinctions, and that it would be extremely rare for the exact same set of effects to crop up twice. Paul Parsons, “Could humans be the dominant species in the Universe, and we just don’t know it yet?” at Science Focus (November 19, 2021) But as very large telescopes, capable of peering into exoplanets, are under development, current analysts are rethinking that approach. There are…

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Flu. Influenza viruses with RNA, surface proteins hemagglutinin and neuraminidase,  medically 3D illustration

Astrobiologist: ET Viruses Likely Exist on Planets That Host Life

Paul Davies points to viruses as “mobile genetic elements” that transfer information between life forms — for better or worse

University of Arizona astrobiologist Paul Davies, author of many books, including the recent What’s Eating the Universe? (2021), told The Guardian, recently that if cellular life exists on other planets, something like viruses probably also exist — to transfer genetic information from one life form to another. Viruses, said Davies, can be thought of as mobile, genetic elements. Indeed, a number of studies have suggested genetic material from viruses has been incorporated into the genomes of humans and other animals by a process known as horizontal gene transfer. Nicola Davis, “Viruses may exist ‘elsewhere in the universe’, warns scientist” at The Guardian (September 6, 2021) Horizontal gene transfer, by which life forms “swap” genes, are common in bacteria and have…

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alien world, exoplanet in the habitable zone, planet with moon, water and plant life

Could the Universe Be Swimming in Watery Planets?

A new hypothesis of planet formation means that watery worlds may be common rather than rare

As the Mars Rover Perseverance motors around looking for evidence of past life on a now- mostly dry planet, some researchers are asking, can we be sure that most planets in our galaxy are dry? A common assumption among exoplanet experts is that most planets got their water via a chance hit early on from an icy asteroid. But researchers from the GLOBE Institute at the University of Copenhagen offer an alternative scenario, based on the millimetre-sized particles of ice and carbon that orbit all the young stars in our Milky Way galaxy. If masses of these particles are incorporated into a planet from its beginning, it isn’t a matter of chance whether the planet has water. It is a…

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collection of alien planets in front of the Milky Way galaxy, nearby exoplanets

Why Search for Extraterrestrial Life? Why Not Make It Ourselves?

A NASA astrobiologist’s bold suggestion is likely to spark debate

Recently, we have been looking at the question of why we don’t see aliens, with as many as 75 hypotheses offered. But one astrobiologist has a bold suggestion: Why not just seed life on various suitable exoplanets, once we have the means to do it? We need not search for extraterrestrial life if we can learn how to create it ourselves. There are a lot of reasons to think very carefully about doing something like that, as Betül Kaçar (pictured), director of the NASA Astrobiology Consortium MUSE, acknowledges: Rather than regarding the overwhelming majority of planets and moons as failures unworthy of further study, we should instead recognise them for what they are: they’re not empty. In fact, a very…