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Earth May Harbor a Shadow Biosphere of Alien Life

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the but-not-as-we-know-it dept.

Earth 267

An anonymous reader sends us to Cosmos Magazine for a speculative article arguing that a 'shadow biosphere' may exist on Earth, unrelated to life as we know it. If such non-carbon-based life were found here at home, it would alter the odds for how common life is elsewhere in the universe, astrobiologists say. "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 [it] was under their noses. ... Scientists are looking in places where life isn't expected — for example, in areas of extreme heat, cold, salt, radiation, dryness, or contaminated streams and rivers. [One researcher] is particularly interested in places that are heavily contaminated with arsenic, which, he suggests, might support forms of life that use arsenic the way life as we know it uses phosphorus."

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267 comments

get a life (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870545)

speaking of life, I need one if I got first post.

Obligatory (5, Funny)

Xamedes (843781) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870549)

It's life, Jim. But not as we know it.

Re:Obligatory (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871233)

Why is it that I always think of this [youtube.com] whenever I hear that line?

(No, it isn't Rick Astley)

Motives (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870555)

[One researcher] is particularly interested in places that are heavily contaminated with arsenic, which, he suggests, might support forms of life that use arsenic the way life as we know it uses phosphorus."

Or the researcher is secretly needing arsenic to do his more brilliant colleague in the old Victorian-era way, having learnt from too many Agatha Christie novels.

Re:Motives (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870983)

[One researcher] is particularly interested in places that are heavily contaminated with arsenic, which, he suggests, might support forms of life that use arsenic the way life as we know it uses phosphorus."

Nah, he's just getting ready to ask for a defense research grant to look for life forms that use phosphorus the way we use arsenic ... "imagine the weaponizing possibilities."

If that fails, he's going to ask for a bailout and a "retention bonus."

even if was under their noses (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870569)

even if was under their noses

ET, WHO WAS PHONE?

So something which we can't define... (3, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870575)

...may exist on Earth but we won't be able to look for it until we define it.

Sounds pretty clear to me. Maybe rocks are intelligent. How would we know? Has anybody thought to ask?

Re:So something which we can't define... (2, Insightful)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870685)

We can't communicate with rocks.

This reminds me of something I read a while back. Some scientists observed various metal molecules joining together into a helix structure.

They didn't do much beyond that, though... but it makes me wonder if carbon based life coming around on earth was just a fluke? It could've possibly gone another way, if we hadn't gotten there first?

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870901)

And yet, they clearly rock!
3...
2...
1...
*bangs head to the music*

Re:So something which we can't define... (3, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870965)

It could've possibly gone another way, if we hadn't gotten there first?

We would have just given the non-carbon lifeforms some blankets and hoped that they hadn't discovered gunpowder yet ;)

*ba-dum pssssh*

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871493)

Why "if we hadn't gotten there first"? There's not much reason to suspect that if non-carbon-based life is possible on Earth, it won't remain possible long after we're gone

Re:So something which we can't define... (5, Funny)

Gabrill (556503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870729)

After a lengthy, one-sided dialogue with the nearest rock, I conclude that your theory is false.

Re:So something which we can't define... (5, Funny)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870737)

After a lengthy, one-sided dialogue with the nearest rock, I conclude that your theory is false.

After many zen practitioners' lengthy, two-way dialogues with rocks near and far, your test criteria seem to be flawed.

Re:So something which we can't define... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870789)

You both have a point. The question is, where do you draw the line at what is life? Rocks may not have DNA or intelligence, but they do form, change, multiply and there's a recognisable process for destroying them. In a sense, rocks are a lot like the most basic forms of life that ever formed.

Let's be a little more serious now. Rocks around here probably won't ever advance beyond mimicking some very shaky comparisons to the most basic forms of life. But that doesn't stop us wondering if we're just seeing it on too small a scale to make that judgment. Perhaps it's safer to treat rocks as a failed attempt at life, one that happens too slowly to ever get beyond basic chemical reactions and simple molecular structures.

If it weren't for carbon-based life, who knows?

Re:So something which we can't define... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870877)

>Perhaps it's safer to treat rocks as a failed attempt at life
Oh great, now you are calling him a failure at life?
The guy is already heavily depressed as it is, any more and he might just give up and break.

Re:So something which we can't define... (5, Interesting)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870919)

You both have a point. The question is, where do you draw the line at what is life? Rocks may not have DNA or intelligence, but they do form, change, multiply and there's a recognisable process for destroying them.

Rocks do not have gaseous exchange (breathing) nor reproduce (cracking a rock to make two is _not_ reprodction). However, there is no definition of life that fire cannot meet, which the mule can. In other words, any non-contrived definition of life that includes the mule must also include fire. Here is a very basic explanation: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life [wikipedia.org]

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871335)

(cracking a rock to make two is _not_ reprodction)

Is that so different from the way single-celled organisms reproduce asexually? I mean, a cell divides, right? I realize its quite shaky (no DNA, for example), but we are talking about life as we don't know it. The discussion requires an open mind.

Re:So something which we can't define... (5, Funny)

Shrike82 (1471633) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871485)

I have to question the standards of a Wikipedia article entitled "Life" that ends with a section on life insurance that makes up 1/8th of the article.

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871761)

What about looking at whether it evolves, i.e., adapts to become fitter in their environment? Doesn't apply to fire, nor rocks (which change, but these changes don't make them more likely to survive).

I wonder if another definition could be made in terms of energy - an entity that uses energy to decrease entropy in a local region. Of course, a fridge would also come under this - but then fridges are products of living entities.

At the end of the day, if we came across a complex chemistry that contained characteristics such as self-replication, then that would be interesting. Saying "but you can't give me a definition that includes this, and mules, but not fire!" is just playing word games.

There are lots of things that defy a strict definition, especially when it comes to lifeforms - e.g., there isn't even a decent definition of "species" (and the mule is one counter example to the definition "if they can produce fertile offspring, they're of the same species). This obviously doesn't stop the word having any meaning at all, nor has it stopped us finding and categorising new species. You can't give me a strict definition of "Macintosh" (is the original Macintosh the same platform as an x86 "Mac" running OS X? If not, where is the line drawn?) Just because our language is fuzzy and not always well-defined doesn't mean the concepts are useless.

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

heyitsgogi (959280) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871991)

In other words, any non-contrived definition of life that includes the mule must also include fire. Here is a very basic explanation: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life [wikipedia.org]

Right. Except that fire can be spontaneously created and mules can't. So the trouble is not that mules aren't alive and fire is, the trouble is the simple wikipedia definition is wrong.

Re:So something which we can't define... (2, Interesting)

doti (966971) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870973)

we're just seeing it on too small a scale to make that judgment.

specially time-scale.

perhaps they are intelligent, but if you talk to it for days, it can be just a split-second for the rock; and if the rock want's to tell you something, it won't finish the first word before you die of old age (or boredom).

tolkien's ents come to mind..

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

doti (966971) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870981)

err.. the <quote> didn't work there on the first sentence

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

nozzo (851371) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871181)

I was thinking the same thing. To the rock we could be just flashes of light as the rock experiences time over what could be centuries to our seconds. Makes me think about those moving rocks in Death Valley - ok it was found to be weather related but hey?

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871851)

perhaps they are intelligent, but if you talk to it for days, it can be just a split-second for the rock; and if the rock want's to tell you something, it won't finish the first word before you die of old age (or boredom).

tolkien's ents come to mind..

This sooo reminds me of my boss...

Re:So something which we can't define... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26871963)

Any living thing, to be able to adapt to its environment and survive, must be able to react on time scales similar to the scale on which the environment changes. Even trees go through cycles of building and dropping leaves seasonally. So, life that takes 50+ years to utter a word would probably be maladapted, unless it were impervious to all but major geological events.

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871613)

Rocks may not have DNA or intelligence, but they do form, change, multiply and there's a recognisable process for destroying them.

How many of these things happen without an outside force causing them ?

Re:So something which we can't define... (4, Funny)

Gabrill (556503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870799)

As the Zen practicioners are indistinguishable from day-dreamers such as my 9 year old son, your refutiation is meaningless.

Re:So something which we can't define... (4, Interesting)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871345)

As the Zen practicioners are indistinguishable from day-dreamers such as my 9 year old son, your refutiation is meaningless.

Not really. They've studied the brains of Zen practitioners in meditation and have determined that Zen meditation actually increases brainwave significantly -- more so than even normal daydreaming.

Re:So something which we can't define... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870971)

After many zen practitioners' lengthy, two-way dialogues with rocks near and far, your test criteria seem to be flawed.

No offence, but the only thing you can reasonably conclude from that is that practitioners of zen buddhism (or of what uninformed "western" people think constitutes zen buddhism) are completely batshit bonkers.

Re:So something which we can't define... (2, Funny)

xstonedogx (814876) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870801)

By that criteria must we also conclude that girls are not intelligent?

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

Exitar (809068) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871231)

It simply fell asleep because you're sooooo boring...

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

pato101 (851725) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871525)

After a lengthy, one-sided dialogue with the nearest rock, I conclude that your theory is false.

Please, try again, but now taking some LSD.

Re:So something which we can't define... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26871789)

After a lengthy, one-sided dialogue with the nearest rock, I conclude that your theory is false.

Maybe you were not speaking it's language.

Maybe Rocks ARE Intelligent (1)

TheNinjaroach (878876) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871371)

Maybe rocks are intelligent. How would we know? Has anybody thought to ask?

The creative forces behind this video [youtube.com] have put some thought into it.

Re:So something which we can't define... (3, Funny)

tyroneking (258793) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871379)

I'm pretty sure Spock talked to rocks - and Kirk may have made love to one

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

harry666t (1062422) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871381)

My personal POV is that the whole universe is alive, is synonymous to God, full of love, and that all living beings share a collective super-consciousness, which is the only "place" where the "reality" actually happens. The only reason for which my theory could be any less valid than any other, could be that less people perceive the world this way.

Re:So something which we can't define... (3, Funny)

kulnor (856639) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871433)

"For animals, the entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks."
Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

Re:So something which we can't define... (1)

Legion303 (97901) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871659)

"Has anybody thought to ask?"

You find me a university that will give me tenure and a paid ten-year sabbatical to find out, and I'll give it a shot.

You know... (1)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870581)

I think everyone who's ever seen the original Star Trek Episode "Devil in the Dark" (the one with the Horta, the silicone-based rock creature that Spock mind melds with to share its emo about being a rock) has been waiting for some scientist to start looking for these things.

On behalf of all trekkies from Boomer to Gen X, it's about damn time.

Re:You know... (2, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870591)

the silicone-based rock creature that Spock mind melds with to share its emo about being a rock

Silicone? OMG smart breasts!

(I think you mean silicon).

Re:You know... (1)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870621)

I do indeed. Or do I? Silicone based life forms may indeed be worth looking for.

Re:You know... (2, Informative)

The_Wilschon (782534) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871141)

Actually yes. Silicon based life forms, or so I understand (IANA biochemist), are rather unlikely because of the chemical instability of silicon based polymers, but silicone based life forms are a much better possibility.

Re:You know... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871591)

silicone based life forms are a much better possibility.

They have already been shown to exist in Southern California.

Re:You know... (0, Redundant)

raffnix (1472681) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870593)

On behalf of all trekkies from Boomer to Gen X, it's about damn time.

"It's life, Jim, but not as we know it."

Re:You know... (1)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870613)

"I'm a doctor, not a brick layer!"

Re:You know... (2, Funny)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871099)

Kirk will lay anything.

Re:You know... (3, Funny)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870629)

Or Red Dwarf, "The End".

Captain Hollister: Just one thing before the disco. Holly tells me that he has sensed a non-human life form aboard.

Lister: Sir, it's Rimmer

Re:You know... (1)

Cally (10873) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870721)

Not only was Rimmer right ("Space aliens!"), rather more worryingly, so was David Icke. It's the LIZARD PEOPLE!!! Run for the hills!!! - NLRA Spokesperson

Re:You know... (1)

drpt (1257416) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870713)

Being the humanitarian, I would adopt two silicone life forms just for observation, with the goal of personal contact

Re:You know... (1)

VShael (62735) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870769)

You've just given me an incredible idea for a SF/porn movie!

"The woman with two brains!"

Re:You know... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870921)

Three, Patrick.

Re:You know... (3, Funny)

VShael (62735) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871127)

Oh yeah...

Re:You know... (1)

burgundy (53979) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870853)

I'll grant you it was a very shapely creature, but it was supposed to be a silicon-based life form, not silicone.

Carbon-based for a reason (5, Insightful)

Shrike82 (1471633) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870585)

Interesting theory, but I seem to remember my biology teacher discussing silicon-based life, and how it was much less likely to develop as carbon atoms produced much more stable molecules, especially on planets like Earth with water and nitrogen/oxygen atmospheres. Carbon-based life just "works" better on Earth.

On planets with radcially different environments there's probably a lot of potential for life that's totally different from ours, but I think it's fairly unlikely for us to discover it here.

Re:Carbon-based for a reason (1)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870601)

RTFA:

"Davies is particularly interested in places that are heavily contaminated with arsenic, which, he suggests, might support forms of life that use arsenic the way life as we know it uses phosphorus."

Re:Carbon-based for a reason (5, Interesting)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870999)

Exactly right. Carbon rich molecules are more diverse and larger than any other sort.

You can form chains or rings of around 6 sulphurs (with oxygen), but carbon can be found in chains of 30+ atoms and in multiple ring systems.

It's very difficult to grasp how large the isomer spaces are - and how quickly they grow, but a recent guestimate I made was that if a program (molgen) can enumerate all possible C10H16 molecules in 2 seconds, and all C13H22 in 2 minutes, then it would take 2 days for C18H36 and 1 billion years for C36H72...

Also, there are 25,000 C10s and 9 million C15s. So the sheer number of possible carbon compounds argues that carbon is the only likely candidate.

Re:Carbon-based for a reason (1)

Nazlfrag (1035012) | more than 5 years ago | (#26872003)

No, it just means it's a likely candidate, but it's not the only candidate by a long shot.

Re:Carbon-based for a reason (4, Informative)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871067)

"nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere"

Without carbon-based life, such an atmosphere would not exist on Earth.

Of course the whole problem with all this is we do not have a good definition for "life" or "intelligence". For example an ants nest can be considered as a single intelligent organisim or a swarm of mindless individuals. The same concept applied on a global scale is what Lovelock's [wikipedia.org] much maligned Gaia hypothesis [wikipedia.org] was all about.

Silicon-based life of a sort... (5, Informative)

Richard Kirk (535523) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871219)

You can't swap silicon for carbon in DNA. Silicon doesn't have the same talent for directionally bonding to itself. You can get get multiple bonds if you stick an oxygen in between, but the oxygen always has electron pairs that make it open to attack. There is no equivalent of the stable and inert paraffin chain.

If you were to have silicon-based life, then it would probably not use chain molecules. Suppose you had a planar silicate structure that catalysed the formation of a similar layer on top of it. The layers might then separate or exfoliate and then catalyse other copies of themselves. Some formations would be more stable, or would come out of solution at lower concentrations, and thereby 'predating' on less successful conformations by lowering the conentration of valuable components, and causing the other to go back into solution.

This is pretty dull sort of life - it isn't really much more than crystallization. No antennae, no ray-guns, no 'greetings earthlings, we come in peace'. However, carbon-based life was probably a pretty dull affair before the cell wall. It would have relied on random variations in ambient chemistry and temperature to do anything, and a lot of time must have been spent waiting for the right conditions for the next move. The simpler viruses are more like big chemicals than small creatures.

I remember a Scientific American article from about 1983 where it was argued that some of the lamellar structures that you can get in pre-cambrian clays may have been just such a system. No easy way of telling now, of course, because carbon based life would probably have killed it off. If it could be said to have been alive in the first place.

Re:Silicon-based life of a sort... (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871569)

Crystal life [youtube.com] ? Frankly, I find the idea of a rock that lives offensive!

Re:Silicon-based life of a sort... (2, Interesting)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871745)

There is an excellent book by Alexander Graham Cairns-Smith called "Seven Clues to the Origin of Life" that talks about such self-replicating clay

The main feature of his argument is that the clay surfaces could serve as templates for catalysis of polynucleotides (RNA, probably). These, then would form the first RNA world.

He uses the metaphor of a rope, where no strand goes from one end to the other - the rope is time, and strands within it are clayworld, rna world, dna world...

Great googa-mooga! (2, Funny)

rarel (697734) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870603)

You can pry my bottle of Head & Shoulders from my cold, dead, carbon-based hands! Now get those freakozoids out of my beloved state!

Re:Great googa-mooga! (1)

HybridST (894157) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871223)

Zinc Pyrithione to the rescue! (I thought I was the only one to see this movie...)

Alternative biochemistries and definition of life (4, Interesting)

tucuxi (1146347) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870623)

Not an expert in biology, but unless these contaminated areas have been contaminated for a very long time (read tens of thousands of years), and are quite large, the chances for life to have sprung up seem very, very slim. Current life needed millions of years to gain a firm foothold and start building up complexity. Lucky meteorites aside, starting from zero is bound to be hard.

If the experiment succeeds (here or elsewhere), and something "life-ish" is found, the results will still be tricky to classify. Can a given chemistry lead to increasing complexity, or is it just a dead end? Without hindsight, this seems like a very difficult question.

Re:Alternative biochemistries and definition of li (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870955)

Awwww, way to piss in my Cheerios :(

Re:Alternative biochemistries and definition of li (1)

N1AK (864906) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871117)

Not an expert in biology, but unless these contaminated areas have been contaminated for a very long time (read tens of thousands of years), and are quite large, the chances for life to have sprung up seem very, very slim.

Actually area available for life to live in is not really what we should be comparing. Most scientific theories regarding the creation of a life are based upon a very particular requirements, life will not for example simply spring up in the middle of your back yard. If these 'contaminated' areas contain a higher concentration of locations where life could form then this could skew results.

Regardless, even if the odds are astonishingly small (or appear to be) I don't see the harm in looking. A life form based on an entirely different structure than our own may have a far more pronounced effect on our understanding of life than any number of discoveries based on the same structure as our own.

Re:Alternative biochemistries and definition of li (1)

The_Wilschon (782534) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871245)

I think the idea is that if you kill off all the carbon life in some river, the (preexisting but uncommon) other life is much more likely to flourish and be plentiful there. Same way that we get antibiotic resistant bacteria.

We are Broodax (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870625)

We are born in flesh

It's a fairly wide misconception (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870643)

that there is tea in china, there is no tea in china, it's all tealess, really

even if was under their noses (0)

neonux (1000992) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870645)

TFA means coke could be an alien form of life?

imagine all these poor little aliens who have been snorted until now...

..use arsenic the way we know it uses phosphorus (4, Informative)

MancunianMaskMan (701642) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870655)

not buying it. (3, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870681)

some of these arguments often sound plausible until you examine the mechanics for life. water for instance, has unique properties not shared by any other compound - the ability to be neutral, liquid at reasonable temps and be able to transport other elements. the same goes for carbon. nothing else is going to be able to put together a tangible life form.

Re:not buying it. (4, Interesting)

deimtee (762122) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871579)

Neutral is what doesn't dissolve you.:) It is not neccessarily aqueous pH7 for everything.
The most likely alternate chemistry for life though, is carbon based, but using ammonia instead of water. At above about 70 psi, and somewhere below zero celsius it has a liquid range and chemistry similar to water. Given a larger, colder planet than earth with a thick atmosphere, life in liquid ammonia is the most probable option.

Time to update the bible (0)

Aerynvala (1109505) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870705)

"From (water) As [wikipedia.org] does (all) some other type of life begin" - (Orange) Yellow Catholic Bible [wikipedia.org]

wut? (-1, Offtopic)

drDugan (219551) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870725)

yawn

not news

not science

not interesting

"Does Earth harbour a 'shadow biosphere' of alien life?" No evidence for that!
"Do magic purple dragons do loop-DE-loops in the upper atmosphere?" No evidence for that either!

what's the difference?

maybe a sloooooooow news day?

And NOW for something completely different! Here is some absurd fear mongering to keep us hooked:
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-thiessen15-2009feb15,0,469161.story [latimes.com]

Re:wut? (1)

Mistshadow2k4 (748958) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870777)

"Do magic purple dragons do loop-DE-loops in the upper atmosphere?" No evidence for that either!

You obviously haven't had any good LSD.

Re:wut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26871049)

When I was in the army, my unit had a guy who claimed to have seen a dragon.
 
I don't think it was purple though.

Do they speak English in what? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870735)

If such non-carbon-based life were found here at home, it would alter the odds for how common life is elsewhere in the universe, astrobiologists say.

Magic! If we find such life here, then the rest of the universe will change!

I think you meant...

It would alter our understanding of the odds. It might even alter the odds of success in our search for life elsewhere, since ostensibly we would be looking in more places of greater variety.

What it most certainly will not do is suddenly make that type of life appear elsewhere in the universe. Well, unless we are ready to assume an EdTV universe. It is awfully convenient that we're not really able to leave our solar system. Hmm....

Wouldn't alter all that much (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870763)

Actually I don't think it would alter all that much really. It's probably true that there are simple organisms on this planet that are not carbon-based, or that survive without DNA, but simply haven't been discovered.

On the other hand, if we've lived with them all this time, and not noticed, how important can they be? A cause of many diseases, perhaps. A cure for many diseases, perhaps. None of that would be earth-shattering; we know there are new species, new causes and cures for diseases in rain forests, yet we care so little that we allow those rainforests to be destroyed.

When most people speak of alien life, they're talking about advanced, sentient alien life. A lot of this "life on mars" or "shadow biosphere" stuff is nothing more than sensationalism.

Re:Wouldn't alter all that much (2, Insightful)

brusk (135896) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871447)

Two flaws in your argument. First, if such life forms exist in a remote but abundant environment--for example, deep underground--they could be having a significant effect--for example, on geology--that we don't yet recognize. Second, even if such organisms are extremely rare on earth, studying their biology could help us find similar life forms elsewhere. We already know what signatures to look for in the atmospheres of other planets to indicate the presence of carbon-based life, but not necessarily for other biochemistries.

Re:Wouldn't alter all that much (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871609)

On the other hand, if we've lived with them all this time, and not noticed, how important can they be? A cause of many diseases, perhaps. A cure for many diseases, perhaps. None of that would be earth-shattering;

Jaded, much? A cause of and cure for many diseases which operates through a heretofore unseen mechanism would most certainly be a major event for science.

When most people speak of alien life, they're talking about advanced, sentient alien life. A lot of this "life on mars" or "shadow biosphere" stuff is nothing more than sensationalism.

Unless you're a creationist, life has to go through another stage before it can reach sentience. Finding that other stage on this planet would have potential repercussions for the rest of the galaxy.

In other words, you do not know what you're talking about, and are just typing out silly words which don't really go together. Would you please go away?

Maybe very different but still carbon based (1)

squoozer (730327) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870741)

I can easily believe that much of the fundamental chemistry of this "alien" life could be different. I'm sure there are plenty of ways to chemically move energy around that don't require phosphorous. One thing I think we will find is a constant though is that life will be carbon based*. It's just not possible to make a wide enough range of complex molecules with any element other than carbon. Even if we look at the next best atom for making complex molecules, silicon, and the simplest lifeforms we know about the molecules that allow it to function are way beyond what can be created.

This limitation isn't because we haven't looked hard enough it's a fundamental property of the orbital structure of carbon which makes it behave significantly differently to all elements. Therefore it's probably safe to assume that all the life we find will be based on carbon.

* There is, I feel, scope for non-carbon based life based around metals but it will have been created rather than evolved completely naturally - what we would currently call a machine.

isn't this the script to evolution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870785)

Nurse Tate: I'll get the lubricant...
Dr. Paulson: No time for lubricant!
Harry Block: There's ALWAYS time for lubricant!

the quote's off topic but it's a cinematic classic

Perhaps they should read this (5, Interesting)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870831)

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19826533.600-early-life-could-have-relied-on-arsenic-dna.html [newscientist.com] tried looking up some examples of non carbon based life on earth that I'd heard of but couldn't find any however the ecology of undersea volcanic vents pretty much threw most ideas about heat tolerance and toxins being a problem out of the window.

Re:Perhaps they should read this (3, Informative)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871563)

Just look up Extremophiles....

They live practically everywhere including in boiling acid, semi liquid rocks, extreme cold, and on black smokers as above ... it seems that everytime discounts an environment for carbon/DNA based life someone else finds life there ...

I doubt there are many niches for non-carbon based life around for them to exploit on Earth.... other planets may have different forms of life ...

Re:Perhaps they should read this (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871803)

Thanks for the info I knew it was there somewhere just couldn't recall what to search for (Getting old).

kent brocman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870835)

I, for one, welcome our new shadowy overlords.

I get so tired of these posts (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870837)

It MAY, but then again it MAY NOT. Can you start posting ones which aren't all conjecture?

Re:I get so tired of these posts (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870891)

Can you start posting ones which aren't all conjecture?

I don't know, can I ?

Re:I get so tired of these posts (1)

Fex303 (557896) | more than 5 years ago | (#26870989)

Can you start posting ones which aren't all conjecture?

I don't know, can I ?

Perhaps. But maybe not.

Shadow life? (0, Offtopic)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871075)

Er, you mean politicians?

I knew it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26871189)

Scientific proof for the existence of ghosts now just around the corner?

um, my professor would go ape-shit (1)

Ryogo (1303193) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871285)

I fail to see how non-carbon-based life is possible

otherkin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26871299)

If you want to find the shadow biosphere on Earth just search for otherkin

have they checked... (3, Funny)

wisdom_brewing (557753) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871539)

dark basements below older human habitation? im sure theyll find a new asexual species resembling man...

The odds don't alter ... (2, Insightful)

bcwright (871193) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871655)

I don't know what the original article said (the site is thoroughly slashdotted), but finding life based on alternative chemistry won't "alter the odds" - it will just alter our computation of the odds. That immediately raises my suspicions since it suggests that the article was written by a journalist rather than a scientist, and consequently that it might be severely distorted.

Having said that, there are a lot of possible alternative chemistries that don't involve non-carbon-based life: substituting arsenic for phosphorus as mentioned here need not also substitute something else for carbon, so the most likely possibility is that such life would be carbon based but still "alien." As far as we know now, at Earthly temperatures and pressures carbon is a far more plausible basis for life than anything else, and so far we haven't even found much that's very promising at other temperatures and pressures. But I'm not at all sure that we have sufficiently explored alternative temperatures and pressures to rule them out as possible habitats.

Deep Ocean (4, Interesting)

CustomDesigned (250089) | more than 5 years ago | (#26871791)

I didn't find it on Google, but about 30 years ago I read an account of a creature like a giant sand dollar that was dislodged from the deep ocean by an undersea earthquake. I can't verify it until I find a reference, but I recall that the scientist examining it found that it was largely silicon, hydrogen, and sulphur (and decayed rapidly giving off H2S). His theory was that it was silicon based life - and that its chemistry required deep ocean temperature and pressure to remain stable. (Note that there are carbon based ocean creatures able to process silicon to create SiO2 structures.)

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