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What Silicon-Based Life Might Be Like

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the would-want-totally-different-cable-channels dept.

NASA 92

Nancy_A writes "While the world as we know it runs on carbon, science fiction's long flirtation with silicon-based life has spawned a familiar catchphrase: 'It's life, but not as we know it.' Although non-carbon based life is a very long shot, this Q&A with one of the U.S.'s top astrochemists — Max Bernstein, the Research Lead of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington,D.C. — discusses what silicon life might be like."

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92 comments

Easy (5, Funny)

ericloewe (2129490) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256298)

A large clump of silicon that lays eggs and produces and extremely corrosive acid to chew through rock.

Re:Easy (4, Informative)

Snard (61584) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256336)

For those who don't get the reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horta_(Star_Trek) [wikipedia.org]

Re:Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38260274)

Didn't the alien also have a silica based skin? I think it was mentioned at least is the third movie.

Re:Easy (1)

niktemadur (793971) | more than 2 years ago | (#38260586)

What, no mention of "Home Soil" [wikipedia.org] ", you insensitive ugly bags of mostly water?

Re:Easy (1)

ericloewe (2129490) | more than 2 years ago | (#38263420)

Do they ever mention it being silicon-based?

Re:Easy (1)

niktemadur (793971) | more than 2 years ago | (#38263816)

Do they ever mention it being silicon-based?

It was crystalline and of unmentioned metals, but concerning the topic of this thread, and since silicon is a metalloid, the principle is too similar to dismiss.

Re:Easy (1)

hardburlyboogerman (161244) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256628)

Yea,straight out of Star Trek TOS(Devil In The Dark) The Horta was such a creature.If you follow the timeline placed by the books,1 served aboard the Enterprise as an assistant science officer.He could munch a rock sample and give you a readout of what it was made of,like a gourmet describing a good meal..
Sci-fi aside,isn't there a deep water crab from the Pacific that is silicon based?(the blue crab).I remember reading about this odd critter quite a few years ago.

Re:Easy (1)

pionzypher (886253) | more than 2 years ago | (#38257552)

All known life on earth is carbon based*. Exoskeletons are made using multiple minerals depending on species and biome but that doesn't imply that we have aragonite-based life forms.

*Theoretical shadow biospheres notwithstanding.

Re:Easy (5, Insightful)

meerling (1487879) | more than 2 years ago | (#38258468)

We have a lot of divergent lifeforms from what was taught when I was little.
They used to say nothing could survive in the vacuum of space, the bottom of the ocean, in geysers, highly acidic conditions and so many other places. If they knew about the oceanic geothermal vents (like the black smokers) back then, they'd have sworn they would be lifeless.
Now of course, we have the entire category of Extremophiles that live in those very places and conditions.

Additionally, we have lifeforms that have copper based blood instead of iron, ones that respire sulfur instead oxygen, and diatoms build their skeletons/shells/cell walls out of silica. And now they may have found one that exchanges its phospates for deadly arsenic and lives.

All in all, there are significant portions of life on this world that was considered science fiction several decades ago. Does that mean it's possible that life in other parts of the universe can be very different than ours? Sort of. It means that our understanding of what is necessary for life is incomplete due to our exposure to only our own type of biology. There may be very strange biochemistry out there, but most of it that we might recognize as life will probably be similar to ours. (That's the biochemistry, not the form, or if intelligent, culture.)

Re:Easy (5, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256776)

What's funny about attempts to visualize other types of life forms is, we tend to visualize those life forms in our own environmental terms. That is, we tend to assume some basic atmospheric conditions, pressure ranges, and temperature ranges. We "assume" certain basic conditions that resemble our own conditions.

Silicone? How about we break the cycle by trying to visualize silicone under hundreds of thousands of tons of pressure, and thousands of degrees, with and atmosphere of ammonia? Or, alternatively, in a vacuum at tens of thousands of degrees? Partial pressure atmospheres at near 0 degrees kelvin?

Of course, the question arises then, how and why are mankind interacting with such creatures under such conditions?

Of course, I was enamored with the idea of "living rock" as I child. Some story I read mentioned it, and I had the idea that some rock was really alive. Of course, it isn't - or IS IT?!?!? Nothing says that we are smart enough to recognize alien life when we see it. Geologic time and man's time are so different, that we might not even recognize that a rock actually breathes, or moves, or reproduces. Again, let's step outside our own familiar conditions. Assuming that time might be entirely different for some other life form in conditions that are inimical to us, why would we hang around long enough to collect the data necessary to determine that this or that rock really is alive?

I certainly don't have any answers about the existence of life outside our own experience. But, it amuses me to see the almost idiotic assumptions that people make when considering and debating the possibility. “It’s life, but not as we know it” How about the possibility that a face to face meeting with another life form might be fatal to one or both of the participants in the meeting? His environment is a poisonous atmosphere (to me) and my own body radiating heat might be fatal to him!

Actually... (4, Interesting)

denzacar (181829) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256950)

How about we break the cycle by trying to visualize silicone under hundreds of thousands of tons of pressure, and thousands of degrees, with and atmosphere of ammonia? Or, alternatively, in a vacuum at tens of thousands of degrees? Partial pressure atmospheres at near 0 degrees kelvin?

Max Bernstein mentions something very similar to that in TFA.

Dorminey â" DO YOU THINK THAT SILICON-BASED LIFE MIGHT EXIST SOMEWHERE OUT THERE?

Bernstein â" Maybe deep below the surface of a planet in some very hot hydrogen-rich, Oxygen-poor environment, you would have this complex silane chemistry. There, maybe silanes would form reversible silicon bonds with selenium or tellurium.

 
 

How about the possibility that a face to face meeting with another life form might be fatal to one or both of the participants in the meeting? His environment is a poisonous atmosphere (to me) and my own body radiating heat might be fatal to him!

A biochemist's vision of such an encounter, for your listening pleasure. [youtube.com]

Re:Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38257598)

Who said rocks are not alive? Then how are these moving?

http://digital-desert.com/death-valley-geology/racetrack/

Also, I always liked that about Babylon 5, there were different atmospheres and conditions set for various lifeforms on the station.

Re:Easy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38261414)

The two assumptions that I see most often are these: that other life will function on similar time scales to us (which you mention), and that it will exist on similar spatial scales to us (i.e., big enough for us to see, small enough to notice us). What if life existed as, say, self-replicating patterns of magnetic turbulence in the lobes of radio galaxies, with each organism being thousands of light-years across? Or as microscopic agglomerations of nuclei in the condensed matter on the surface of a neutron star, living and dying in a matter of minutes? (This last one is from a science fiction story by Robert Forward - but as a physicist, he went to some effort to make sure that the idea was plausible.)

The conditions under which molecular chemistry (carbon chains, silicone, etc) exist are exceedingly rare in the universe. If life can exist under different conditions - not just a different chemistry, but a different set of interactions altogether - then it will be vastly more common than our own form of life.

Re:Easy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38262788)

"Silicone"? Sorry, can't take your post seriously, or be bothered to read it, if you cannot distinguish between a compound and an element.

Re:Easy (1)

blind_abraxas (446151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38267594)

What's funny about attempts to visualize other types of life forms is, we tend to visualize those life forms in our own environmental terms. That is, we tend to assume some basic atmospheric conditions, pressure ranges, and temperature ranges. We "assume" certain basic conditions that resemble our own conditions.

There's little to no point in imagining alien life if you can't get with it, Captain Kirk-style, and everyone knows that.

More than meets the eye (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256328)

More than meets the eye?

There was a pretty insightful comment (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256344)

.. on there talking about pre-conditions.

As RNA may have been a pre-condition to DNA, carbon-based life could very well be the pre-condition for silicon-based life.
Life doesn't need to come about naturally, there is no universal definition, if it happens it happens.

Silicon life forms may actually need to be designed by intelligence because of how hard it is to get a stable start up in environments. It could be some sort of really rare form of life due to the energies required.
Likewise that case of arsenic life, the chances of that evolving in a carbon soup could be very low because how dangerous arsenic is to things, but given enough time it came about.

Given our knowledge of biology and biochemistry synthesis, perhaps someone at some point in the near future could have a shot at it.

Re:There was a pretty insightful comment (2)

houghi (78078) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256474)

Silicon life forms may actually need to be designed by intelligence because of how hard it is to get a stable start up in environments.

That is what many religions say about life in general.

Re:There was a pretty insightful comment (2)

chew8bitsperbyte (533087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256780)

The difference is, religions typically believe their "creator was, and always has been". OP (I believe) realizes that humans evolved without a "divine touch" and is talking about a possible next step in evolution. Just because "nature" doesn't make it happen, doesn't make it any less significant. We are a product of nature and evolution after all.

Re:There was a pretty insightful comment (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256522)

The problem is of people envisioning silicon-based life in a manner that's too similar to carbon-based life. Silicon life, if ever found, is essentially guaranteed to not have any long Si-Si-Si-.... chains; they're not stable. The silicon equivalent in terms of stability is Si-O-Si-O-Si-O... etc (silicone). Silicon also has some fascinating complex chemistry in the form of silanols, which can form membranes, catalysts, and all sorts of other fascinating stuff [ic.ac.uk] ... so long as they don't get too hot or in too acidic or basic of a chemical environment.

Re:There was a pretty insightful comment (2)

tuxicle (996538) | more than 2 years ago | (#38257426)

so long as they don't get too hot or in too acidic or basic of a chemical environment.

Isn't this also true of carbon-based proteins (usually what membranes and catalysts are made of)?

Caps Lock Elevates Accessibility (5, Funny)

papar (893096) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256354)

I love it how Dorminey IS CONSTANTLY YELLING HIS QUESTIONS AT BERNSTEIN. Oh good God I can't even get this post past Slashdots caps filters!

Re:Caps Lock Elevates Accessibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256836)

Came here for the comment about the shouting, left satisfied

Re:Caps Lock Elevates Accessibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38262442)

This comment gave me a chuckle. That was simply for the editor to more easily differentiate between the questions and answers; sorry you found it perturbing. Next time, I'll submit my questions in upper and lower case italics. Hopefully, that will soothe your feelings. Best, Bruce Dorminey

God (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256368)

God created life as we see it. Everything is on the bible. Everything else is to dangerously play with the devil. Stop the idiotism.

Re:God (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256470)

You're on the crack.

And crack is a gateway to slang.

Why not here? (5, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256436)

Why not evolve Si life here?

Dorminey — WHERE ARE THE LARGEST CONCENTRATIONS OF SILICON HERE?
IN SAND?

Bernstein — In sand or rock. There are literally megatons of silicate minerals on Earth.

Talk to a geologist like my ex roommate. I knew there was something fishy about that so I checked the actual numbers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_in_Earth's_crust [wikipedia.org]

Silicon 277200 ppm second only to oxygen
Carbon 300 ppm second to pretty much everything but vanadium and stuff like that. By weight the earth has about as much Rb as C.

For all intents and purposes the earth is not the idea place for a carbon based life form. Its the equivalent of a unit train full of high fructose corn syrup tank cars for a silicon lifeform. If they can't form here and absolutely gorge themselves on what to them would be the equivalent of a giant pizza, there is not a more ideal place out there to form...

The reason why we're made out of relatively rare C instead of tremendously available Si is C chemistry is incredibly better than Si chemistry for bio, or heck, chemistry in general. The fine article didn't give it enough justice or maybe the editors edited out the chemistry rants. Lets just say that Xe biochem is not all that more unlikely or difficult than Si biochem would be (in other words, nearly totally freaking almost incomprehendibly impossible vs just merely incredibly extremely impossibly unlikely)

It all has an air of speculative fantasy fiction, like trying to intellectually debate if its easier to make vampires, werewolves, or zombies...

Re:Why not here? (5, Informative)

meglon (1001833) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256458)

Better yet, talk to an organic chemist. First day of organic our prof detailed why silicon based life is a non-starter. Make chains of carbon and you get such an incredible variety of things that they make up over half the compounds known; make chains of silicon and you get: more sand.

Re:Why not here? (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256486)

There's more ways to form a complex compound than just Si-Si-Si-Si... chains (which, as you note, tend to oxidize into crystaline silicon dioxide). As a random example as proof, look at silica gel. Si-O-Si-O-Si-O... etc. Chain it pretty much as long as you want, functionalize the side chains, etc.

When it comes to LNAWKI (Life Not As We Know It), I think a lot of people lack creativity to a tremendous degree -- envisioning the situation as altering only one parameter (say, substituting silicon for carbon but otherwise keeping the chemical structures roughly the same).

Re:Why not here? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256574)

OK, I would concede the general point that it somewhat depends on how one defines "life", but I would still argue that the grandparent posts are largely correct:

As noted above, the fact remains that Si - Si bonding is much weaker than C - C bonding due to the relative positions of these elements in the periodic table, which means that any kinds of polymerized molecular species that you might want to try to kick off life with still probably wouldn't last as long in a primordial environment as their carbon-based counterparts. They're more susceptible to being broken up into shorter-chained fragments by UV radiation, cosmic rays, etc.

Things like repeated Si-O chains simply require more factors to be favorable: both elements in the same place, physical conditions that favor sufficiently large quantities of specific silicon oxidation over any other process, etc. Not saying it's impossible, but it just seems significantly less likely to be the dominant chemistry than comparatively strong organic polymerization processes, particularly given the cosmic elemental abundance distributions (i.e. where you get silicon & oxygen in sufficient quantities, you probably get enough carbon as well).

Re:Why not here? (2)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 2 years ago | (#38257438)

Long Si-O-Si-O chains are all through the mineral kingdom, forming chains, linked chains, sheets, 3-D cages, and I don't know what else.

Worried that the bonds are too stable? Evolve it in a hotter environment.

Re:Why not here? (3, Informative)

polymeris (902231) | more than 2 years ago | (#38260298)

where you get silicon & oxygen in sufficient quantities

Everywhere on the earth's crust? [wikipedia.org]

I don't actually understand enough about the chemistry of Si & C to make a direct comparison, but regarding the issue of bonding strength you mention, wouldn't other factors, like temperature and pressure affect this? Possibly even making Si-based life fitter for some environments?

Re:Why not here? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38300922)

As noted above, the fact remains that Si - Si bonding is much weaker than C - C bonding

Which is why silicon-based life would primarily use Si-O chains instead of C-C chains, as previously mentioned. Once again, you reinforce my main point: most people are way too uncreative, only looking at a direct C/Si substitution, which isn't at all realistic. You want to talk stability? Bake cookies on a plastic sheet sheet, then bake them on a silicone baking sheet, and tell me which survives the ordeal better.

Things like repeated Si-O chains simply require more factors to be favorable: both elements in the same place, physical conditions that favor sufficiently large quantities of specific silicon oxidation over any other process, etc.

Silicon and carbon are the two most common elements in planetary crusts, and they prefer to bond to each other rather than their own kind. Carbon, on the other hand, is rare in planetary crusts and prefers to bond to oxygen (yielding CO2 when done sufficiently, not chains). Silicon has its own weaknesses, mind you -- the preferred state of Si-O is silica, not silicone, but then again, carbon overcame its similar weaknesses.

The crazy thing is that you *haven't* hit on the real difference in silicone (Si-O... chains) vs. carbon chemistry. There is one notable difference in the two chains' behavior, and it's not stability, formation ability, ability to functionalize and react or any of those other things. Its that single-bonded carbon chains can generally freely rotate, while silicone chains cannot. What implications that has for life, I have no idea, but it is a notable difference. Also, it's harder to get multiple bonds between elements in a silicone chain, but then again, it's hard to say if that's a limiting factor or not, given the near countless range of *possible* chemical bonding structures.

Re:Why not here? (2)

meglon (1001833) | more than 2 years ago | (#38259746)

Unfortunately, imagination isn't the issue, chemistry is. Silicon simply doesn't do what carbon does when it forms bonds. Substituting silicon into place of carbon chains would not yield molecules that do the same thing, act the same way, or even look the same (silicon is a much larger atom).

Re:Why not here? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38300930)

Which is the whole point: we're not talking about a direct substitution. Your argument is like saying "Java programs can't exist, because if you substitute a line of C code in a C program with a line of Java code, the program breaks."

Re:Why not here? (1)

meglon (1001833) | more than 2 years ago | (#38302022)

Actually, it has to be a direct substitution. Carbon is the backbone of the molecules in ours, and every living thing on the planets, bodies. Carbon is it.. it's the skeleton all the other stuff gets attached to carbon, and only carbon. There isn't a mixture of a few carbon based molecules here, a few silicon based molecules there, a few boron based molecules over that direction... just carbon; and there is a very specific reason for that.

My argument is a lot less like substituting a line of code into a program of a different language, and more like me saying if you hook up your mouse, monitor and hard drive to a tree stump, it's not going to work the same as if you'd hooked them up to your computer. Different computer languages are still computer languages; carbon is unique in what it does, there is nothing else that comes remotely close.

If you truly want to have your mind blown with what carbon is capable of making and how it works, take the chem majors version of organic chemistry (the pre-med version ain't got squat on it, fraking bio-majors).

Now, we can keep going through the 1950's pulp sci-fi ideas about silicon, or boron, or whatever, but the chemistry just is not there. They make a few good stories, and a few bad ones, and maybe, just maybe if the universe is infinite, someday, somewhere incredibly exotic we might stumble upon one of these 1950's ideas in real life (after all, science can't prove a negative).... but if we do, it won't be able to live up to half of the criteria we use to define life (pun probably intended).

Re:Why not here? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38311146)

Carbon is the backbone of the molecules in ours, and every living thing on the planets, bodies

In *ours* and every living thing that evolved from primitive carbon-based organism on *Earth*'s bodies. We're not talking about life on Earth. We're talking about xenobiology. You're arguing from a dataset of precisely one element. The question is not what is life on Earth like, but whether all life must be like it is on Earth.

My argument is a lot less like substituting a line of code into a program of a different language, and more like me saying if you hook up your mouse, monitor and hard drive to a tree stump, it's not going to work the same as if you'd hooked them up to your computer.

That's not your argument at all. If you think silicon-based compounds are as "computationally" inert as a tree stump is to a computer, read this for a random example [ic.ac.uk] for just one class of silicon compounds. Silicon compounds are just as capable of complex reactions as carbon. The problem is that they're not really compatible with carbon-based life; very different optimum environments. For the most part, it's either one or the other.

but the chemistry just is not there

Name one class of life-essential reactions that you don't think a silicon/silicone/silanol/etc equivalent could exist for.

Re:Why not here? (2)

lazy genes (741633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38263102)

Its all in the ability to store information with the least decay in this multidimensional universe. The quantum geometry of carbon has no equal.

Re:Why not here? (4, Informative)

sFurbo (1361249) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256538)

No, you don't get sand. The silicon equivalent of organic compounds are polysilanes, not polysiloxanes. Making them seems to have been a rather popular niche in the 70's. However, they are unstable, as Si can form more then 4 bonds, so isomerisation is much more rapid than with carbon.

The reason 90 % of the known compounds are organic is because a) there is amble supply different carbon-based compounds to manipulate, as life has made sure, and b) they are more interesting as pharmaceuticals then inorganics. Based on pure chemistry, boron is nearly as versatile as carbon, but starting blocks for boron chemistry is harder to come by, as is funding.

Boron and Sulfur (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#38263440)

Based on pure chemistry, boron is nearly as versatile as carbon, but starting blocks for boron chemistry is harder to come by, as is funding.

Sulfur is another candidate often cited for its bonding capabilities.

Re:Why not here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256484)

They are underground!

Re:Why not here? (4, Insightful)

thomst (1640045) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256518)

vlm answered the musical question:

Why not evolve Si life here?

Thusly:>/p>

Carbon 300 ppm second to pretty much everything but vanadium and stuff like that. For all intents and purposes the earth is not the idea place for a carbon based life form.

Incorrect, I'm afraid.

If you exclusively look at the abundance of carbon in the Earth's makeup, you miss the most crucial aspect of hydrocarbon-based biochemistry: the abundance of water as a solvent for hydrocarbons, particularly here on the surface of the planet, where the incredible profusion of possible compound-producing reactions benefits tremendously from sunlight as a source of energy input to trigger the making and breaking of hydrocarbon bonds.

A world where carbon is greatly more abundant - but water is largely absent - wouldn't necessarily be more conducive to the evolution of life.

The reason why we're made out of relatively rare C instead of tremendously available Si is C chemistry is incredibly better than Si chemistry for bio, or heck, chemistry in general. The fine article didn't give it enough justice or maybe the editors edited out the chemistry rants. Lets just say that Xe biochem is not all that more unlikely or difficult than Si biochem would be (in other words, nearly totally freaking almost incomprehendibly impossible vs just merely incredibly extremely impossibly unlikely)

This, on the other hand, is a much better point ... and, IMnsHO, one deserving of an "Insightful" upmod.

Re:Why not here? (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256572)

The reason why we're made out of relatively rare C instead of tremendously available Si is C chemistry is incredibly better than Si chemistry for bio, or heck, chemistry in general. The fine article didn't give it enough justice or maybe the editors edited out the chemistry rants. Lets just say that Xe biochem is not all that more unlikely or difficult than Si biochem would be (in other words, nearly totally freaking almost incomprehendibly impossible vs just merely incredibly extremely impossibly unlikely)

One explanation I've heard is simply that silicon atoms are larger than carbon. Thus there is more space to attack the bonds. For example, in SiH_4 the hydrogen atoms are further apart, compared to CH_4. The technical explanation probably involves the variety of orbitals as well, since carbon only has s and p, but silicon also has d orbitals, again making the attack space bigger.

Re:Why not here? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256674)

For all intents and purposes the earth is not the idea place for a carbon based life form. Its the equivalent of a unit train full of high fructose corn syrup tank cars for a silicon lifeform. If they can't form here and absolutely gorge themselves on what to them would be the equivalent of a giant pizza, there is not a more ideal place out there to form...

Assuming, incorrectly, that complex, silicon-based chemistry works well within...
a) in the presence of later amounts of water
b) in the presence of free atmospheric oxygen at Earth temperatures
c) at a wide variety of pH ranges, including the common neutral pH of water.

It turns out that none of these are true. Earth is an absolutely horrible place for silicon-based life, if it's even possible. If silicon-based life uses oxygen-based respiration, its by-product is a solid at Earth temperatures. Water reacts corrosively with silanes, and they're unstable except in highly acidic environments. The ideal planet for silicon-based life might be a corrosive, molten hell-hole for carbon-based life. ("Might be," because most silanes have combustion points well below the melting point of SiO2.)

Re:Why not here? (1)

joshamania (32599) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256784)

Though not proof, I think your reasoning is sound. I've begun to wonder whether or not DNA isn't a fluke any more than say, carbon monoxide, or water, or methane. Molecules have specific ways...finite ways...in which they can form...one cannot just make up new bonds and create crazy random molecules. DNA follows the rules. Why wouldn't it exist elsewhere?

Re:Why not here? (1)

surd1618 (1878068) | more than 2 years ago | (#38271892)

I dunno. I think that the oxygen content is the issue, more than the abundance of silicon. Perhaps on a planet where all of the oxygen is tied up in iron or aluminum, silicon could make some complex chemistry with sulfur, phosphorus, and/or other elements. And why not life primarily made of silicon that extensively uses carbon, like carbon life extensively uses phosphorus?

I do think that carbon-based life that dwells in ammonia and carbon dioxide is more likely than silicon-based life, but I don't think these ideas are on par with werewolves and vampires at all.

Mammals? (5, Funny)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256444)

They better be mammals, otherwise all those nice silicon-based polymers are udderly wasted.

Ob (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256478)

Sort of like a white spiky coral that kills everyone unless they hide in a cave with an android.

It can be killed with music.

Where will the anus be? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256520)

Just wondering.

Re:Where will the anus be? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38257348)

Just wondering.

Why? You mean to tell me that they're speculating on the mere possibility of silicon-based life......and already you want to fuck it?

Jesus...

Life (0)

kekePower (956665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256618)

Everything in this universe is an expression of life, a life that begun as the universe was created and permeated with love.

silicon based religions (5, Funny)

allo (1728082) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256626)

will believe the universe only exists since 1.1.1970.

Re:silicon based religions (3, Funny)

Snard (61584) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256672)

If there is no Silicon Heaven, then where do all the calculators go?

Re:silicon based religions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256818)

Into Stallmans' pockets

Re:silicon based religions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38265560)

DLL Hell

Re:silicon based religions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38267222)

They...just...die?

Re:silicon based religions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38268124)

If there is no Silicon Heaven, then where do all the calculators go?

7734

Stupid rocks (4, Insightful)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256700)

There should have been a question like "is there an environment that might make it more plausible for Silicon life"? What about planets that are molten or have oceans, lakes, and rivers of acid. Why would an intelligent rock walk around in place where they will become immobile? Sounds like something only dumb rocks would do.

Re:Stupid rocks (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38258670)

Why would an intelligent rock walk around in place where they will become immobile? Sounds like something only dumb rocks would do.

Most plants are relatively immobile but you wouldn't call a tree dumb would you? I mean I probably have called one dumb but it's usually me being dumb and walking into one of them.

The real evolution of intelligent silicon (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38256792)

"Honey? When did your boobs start talking?"

Hmm (1, Insightful)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256802)

Interesting. Though I am curious why Silicon life hasn't already evolved on the Earth.

Think about it. There isn't necessarily a reason why Silicon / Carbon / other-based lifeforms can't all evolve in the same environment. There's no law, save those of Physics / Chemistry / etc., that says that if you have one, you cannot have the other.

So, why is earth filled with only Carbon-based lifeforms (to our knowledge)? Perhaps there is something poisonous about our planet, with regards to Silicon lifeforms, such that they might evolve on other, more hospitable planets.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38258104)

Good point. Carbon based life exists only in a very thin layer on the surface of the Earth, though some carbon based extremophiles have been found fairly deep in the crust. When you pause to think about the volume of the Earth's mantle with it's high temps and pressures, a silicon based life form might be right at home 60+ miles beneath our feet.
 
One thing is certain, given number of stars, planets, brown dwarfs, neutron stars and other possible environments, non carbon based life has formed somewhere in the Universe. Unless it is totally impossible given the laws of nature it does, has or will exist somewhere. Might only be a virus sized self replicating crystal, or complex sentient creatures but somewhere, some when, it does/did/will exist.

Poor guy must be deaf by now. (1)

Mal-2 (675116) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256856)

I would imagine it was hard to respond to questions calmly and intelligently when THEY WERE ALL SHOUTED AT HIM by Dorminey.

No, no, no, wrong! (1)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256896)

Real life is NOT based on your computer and its silicon chips. Real life is in the outside world, away from your computer!

Re:No, no, no, wrong! (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38262078)

Real life is NOT based on your computer and its silicon chips. Real life is in the outside world, away from your computer!

How would we know?

Silicon dioxide respiration considered difficult (1)

NotWallaceStevens (701541) | more than 2 years ago | (#38256916)

Disadvantages of exhaling silica dust: many. Advantages of exhaling silica dust: possible abrasive for lapping processor die, as well as immunity to the dreaded pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

"Research Lead" mailing it in from Washington DC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38257610)

Max Bernstein, the Research Lead of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington,D.C. — discusses what silicon life might be like

Washington-based usually means you're more bureaucrat than scientist.
But I love bureaucrats talking science as much as the next guy.

What I said there (2)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#38258678)

If you think about it, the people claiming that advanced civilizations would create self-replicating Von Neumann machines that would spread throughout the galaxy, are really claiming that carbon-based life would create (and maybe be supplanted by) silicon-based life. In the same way that RNA-life may have been necessary to get to DNA-based life, carbon-based life may be a necessary pre-condition for silicon based life. (We might think of those Von Neumann machines as robotic spacecraft, but those that can evolve would likely supplant those that cannot, and in a few billion years take on forms that we cannot predict.)

I for one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38259130)

...welcome our lava-monster resembling and geologically-paced slow moving overlords.

Hopefully they don't mind the comparably very cold yet oxygen-rich environment here that would cause them to suddenly burst into flame and then become all hard and crusty.

We don't know (2)

uvajed_ekil (914487) | more than 2 years ago | (#38261456)

Although non-carbon based life is a very long shot...

Isn't this a really big assumption? Sure, we haven't seen any non carbon-based life, but we also haven't found carbon-based life on more than one little planet.

They're made out of silicon (1)

halightw (539485) | more than 2 years ago | (#38262628)

A dialogue with apologies to Terry Bisson
Shamefully adapted From "Alien/Nation" in the April 1991 issue of Omni Magazine.

"They're made out of silicon."

"silicon?"

"silicon. They're made out of silicon."

"silicon?"

"There's no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way through. They're completely silicon."

"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars."

"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."

"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."

"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. silicon made the machines."

"That's ridiculous. How can silicon make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient silicon."

"I'm not asking you, I 'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they're made out of silicon."

"Maybe they're like the Orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a silicon stage."

"Nope. They're born silicon and they die silicon. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take too long. Do you have any idea the life span of silicon?"

"Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part silicon. You know, like the Weddilei. A silicon head with an electron plasma brain inside."

"Nope. We thought of that, since they do have silicon heads like the Weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're silicon all the way through."

"No brain?"

"Oh, there is a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of silicon!"

"So... what does the thinking?"

"You're not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The silicon."

"Thinking silicon! You're asking me to believe in thinking silicon!"

"Yes, thinking silicon! Conscious silicon! Loving silicon. Dreaming silicon. The silicon is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?"

"Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of silicon."

"Finally, Yes. They are indeed made out silicon. And they've been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years."

"So what does the silicon have in mind."

"First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the universe, contact other sentients, swap ideas and information. The usual."

"We're supposed to talk to silicon?"

"That's the idea. That's the message they're sending out by radio. 'Hello. Anyone out there? Anyone home?' That sort of thing."

"They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?"

"Oh, yes. Except they do it with silicon."

"I thought you just told me they used radio."

"They do, but what do you think is on the radio? silicon sounds. You know how when you slap or flap silicon it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their silicon at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their silicon."

"Omigod. Singing silicon. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?"

"Officially or unofficially?"

"Both."

"Officially, we are required to contact, welcome, and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in the quadrant, without prejudice, fear, or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing."

"I was hoping you would say that."

"It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with silicon?"

"I agree one hundred percent. What's there to say?" `Hello, silicon. How's it going?' But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?"

"Just one. They can travel to other planets in special silicon containers, but they can't live on them. And being silicon, they only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact."

"So we just pretend there's no one home in the universe."

"That's it."

"Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet silicon? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you have probed? You're sure they won't remember?"

"They'll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their silicon so that we're just a dream to them."

"A dream to silicon! How strangely appropriate, that we should be silicon's dream."

"And we can marked this sector unoccupied."

"Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?"

"Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotation ago, wants to be friendly again."

"They always come around."

"And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the universe would be if one were all alone."

"A very long shot" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38263134)

How do you qualify that?

One true quesiton (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38263524)

The real question, will it superconduct and at what temperatures? (Think Trolls form Terry Pratchett's Discworld)

I'll stop yelling at my computer ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38266274)

... just in case silicon based life would get pissed at this extreme disrespect.

Fake Boobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38318616)

We already know what Silicon life forms look like. Just go to Hollywood and check out all the Silicon-Carbon hybrids such as Pamela Anderson.

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