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When the Earth Was Purple

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the how-violet-was-my-valley dept.

Biotech 278

Ollabelle writes "It's always been a bit of a mystery why plants absorb red and blue light, reflecting green, when the sun emits the peak energy of the visible spectrum in the green. A new theory offers one possible answer: that the first chlorophyll-utilizing microbes evolved to exploit the red-and-blue light that older green-absorbing microbes didn't use, eventually out-competing them through greater efficiency and the rise of oxygen."

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Plants on other planets (3, Insightful)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867511)

The article mentions that when looking for life elsewhere in the universe, "We should make sure we don't lock into ideas that are entirely centered on what we see on Earth", suggesting basically that we don't just look for green plants, but accept that plants on other planets could be any color.

Duh.

I can't understand people who think that to find life on other planets we have to look for conditions similar to Earth. All of the hubbub over liquid water seems so silly to me. We have *no idea* what life on other planets might be like. I think that the only thing to look for is patterns which we don't believe could occur in nature, suggesting that the anti-entropy force of life might be present.

Anyway, I'm kind of a skeptic already, I don't think that looking for life outside our galaxy is particularly interesting or useful anyway, considering that the nearest life would be millions of years away by interstellar travel. Even if it's out there, we'll never meet it or communicate with it.

Re:Plants on other planets (4, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867549)

your just poo pooing other peoples assumptions while making your own in the same breath.

Re:Plants on other planets (2, Insightful)

BakaHoushi (786009) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868337)

And isn't that what much of science is about? "His idea seems wacky. I can't believe it. Of course, I don't have much evidence to prove my ideas, either..." This is why there's a "hypothesis" stage in the scientific method: Because people tend to have guesses or ideas, even if there is no evidence to suggest a result. The difference is, in science, one accepts that their bias is just that: a bias, and that reality will not bend or warp itself to match up with a bias.

In the case of the GP, he seems to feel that even if we discovered life exists on other planets, it'd be pretty useless to us, as they'd be too far away too reach or communicate with. I'm sure he's thought that he could be wrong, but given the information he's observed, it's merely the most logical conclusion (for him).

Re:Plants on other planets (5, Insightful)

owlnation (858981) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867575)

I can't understand people who think that to find life on other planets we have to look for conditions similar to Earth.
I guess the simple reason is that people's imaginations have been constrained by TV budgets. Earthlike is cheaper to produce and design, being the reason why the aliens in ST TOS all kind of looked a bit Middle Eastern, and in ST TNG they all had funny foreheads.

Re:Plants on other planets (2, Interesting)

Rob Kaper (5960) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867831)

Sci-fi is a bit broader than just Star Trek, although it is true that for obvious purposes humanoids are the primary choice of alien lifeform in most productions. Maybe that's one reason I liked Farscape so much, compared to other shows it definitely had a high amount of non-humanoid species.

Re:Plants on other planets (4, Funny)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867997)

Sci-fi is a bit broader than just Star Trek
Of course; it's stupid to base your ideas on one TV show. I'm basing my search for extraterrestrial life on old-school Doctor Who; one of our tests detects the presence of Bubble wrap [wikipedia.org] which we believe is likely to make up the skin of a large number of scary alien monsters.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

Falladir (1026636) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867991)

Star Trek also made a big deal about how life might not fit our assumptions. What's that famous quote?

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

Most people only care about people (3, Insightful)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868387)

I guess the simple reason is that people's imaginations have been constrained by TV budgets.


Nope. Other shows have tried weird looking aliens. Adults seem to treat them like kids' shows, and lose interest. The thing is... most sci-fi isn't about science or aliens at all; they're just re-tellings of old human stories; those alien stories are just modern versions of ghost/demon/knight stories from millenia ago, that humans find appealing.

The problem is just that most of us simply CAN'T imagine life from other worlds.

Re:Plants on other planets (4, Interesting)

smilindog2000 (907665) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867601)

I agree. I sometimes wonder if there could even be upside-down life under us, at the interface of liquid vs solid rock. What would such life forms think the universe was like? Too bad there's no such evidence in lava-rock :-)

Re:Plants on other planets (2, Informative)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867617)

Anyway, I'm kind of a skeptic already, I don't think that looking for life outside our galaxy is particularly interesting or useful anyway, considering that the nearest life would be millions of years away by interstellar travel. Even if it's out there, we'll never meet it or communicate with it.
Who said we were looking for life outside our galaxy?

We are still on the "looking for life outside our solar system (but inside our galaxy)" stage. We're not even certain that there isn't other life in our solar system, even if it is only bacteria or moulds.

Re:Plants on other planets (0, Redundant)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867657)

I guess I assumed that all of the news articles which hype up the fact that another "almost-Earth-like" planet somewhere out there (there was just one on Slashdot today I am pretty sure) are doing so because the presumption is that there could be life there.

Also, SETI.

Re:Plants on other planets (3, Informative)

49152 (690909) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867857)

That "almost-Earth-like" planet is inside our own galaxy, just about 20 light years away. This makes it one of our closest neighbors even compared to the distances within our own galaxy.

Finding planets in other galaxies is way beyond our current capabilities.

I do not know much about SETI but always believed they just piggy back on other projects and look for sign of intelligent life (radio signatures) in whatever the other projects might be looking at - in our own galaxy or not. Perhaps someone would care to elaborate.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868457)

What do you mean "only" bacteria or moulds? You're talking about the dominant life on our planet!

At least in Hollywood, anyhow. Or maybe it's lawn grass, not sure. Which has the better publicity?

Still fighting old battles (5, Insightful)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867651)

I belive that one reason is that scientists are still trying to defeat, with evidence and reason, the religious fundamentalists who believe we are the only "intelligent" life in the Universe, and on the only planet that supports life. On this argument, which I personally doubt, conclusive evidence that life existed elsewhere in the universe and could make itself known would cause the collapse of fundamentalist religions, to the enormous benefit of the rest of us.

I don't buy into it because (a) these people aren't rational and (b) taking away their religion could make them worse - they could easily be converted into Stalinists or extreme nationalists. But I am sure that this, as well as the desire to get budget for exploration, is one of the factors in the search for life on Mars, and in SETI.

Finally, looking for water is not irrelevant. Any practical life form is going to need a solvent and carrier for the various chemicals it needs to get from place to place internally. Water is unique because its strong hydrogen bonding gives it a wide liquid temperature range. Other small molecules which are good solvents also tend to have very low boiling points, meaning that the range of reactions that can take place in them is much more limited. Water has very unusual properties, in fact, that make it more probable that life would evolve on a planet with lots of liquid water than, say, one covered in methane or liquid carbon dioxide.

Re:Still fighting old battles (0, Flamebait)

mihaibu (543723) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867755)

Discovery of other (more advanced) civilisations would not only cause the collapse of fundamentalist religions. All religions will fall. Which is a _really_ big step forward. I guess that is the only chance the mankind could get; otherwise, the future will suck.

Re:Still fighting old battles (2)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867803)

I've seen this posted over and over and I never understood how the conclusion could be reached. What sort of logic leads you to believe religion would collapse? What in Christianity (for example) is incompatible with life on other planets? What in Buddhism? Judaism? Fuck, Scientology is pretty much based around the idea of extraterrestrial life. Where do you get your idea, exactly?

Re:Still fighting old battles (1, Flamebait)

EugeneK (50783) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867865)

What in Christianity (for example) is incompatible with life on other planets?

I think the problem is this: Christ (the only Son of God) died (on this Earth) to redeem mankind because of man's sins (on this Earth). Now, if there is intelligent life on other planets and if that life sinned also, then Christ would have to be incarnated there, and die there as well. I think it's not so much as incompatible as simply inelegant. It makes you want to say, "why can't Christ just be incarnated somewhere in the middle of the universe and die and rise again there for the whole universe's sins, rather than at 30 AD in Jerusalem, Earth, and at 200,000 AD on the planet Zardoz-3 in the city of Qyynax'gbtht, and..etc."

Re:Still fighting old battles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18867901)

That's a strong argument. Also, this is opposite day.

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867959)

I'll complete the quote.

"Opposite day ends at midnight, right?" "yes."

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

eraserewind (446891) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867977)

He did. That's essentially what the earliest surviving Christian writings (Paul's, and some others) say. The Gospel writers only invented the man from Nazareth, Earth at a later date.

Of course it's all made up anyway...

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

ex-geek (847495) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867999)

I think the problem is this: Christ (the only Son of God) died (on this Earth) to redeem mankind because of man's sins (on this Earth). Now, if there is intelligent life on other planets and if that life sinned also, then Christ would have to be incarnated there, and die there as well. I think it's not so much as incompatible as simply inelegant. It makes you want to say, "why can't Christ just be incarnated somewhere in the middle of the universe and die and rise again there for the whole universe's sins, rather than at 30 AD in Jerusalem, Earth, and at 200,000 AD on the planet Zardoz-3 in the city of Qyynax'gbtht, and..etc."

You could also ask why he didn't incarnate, die and rise in the 1990s live on TV, rather than in some unimportant desert ridden area on only one of many disconnected continents and relying on oral traditions of dubios quality to advertise his deed.

The world religions are full of contradictions, yet the believers pretty much don't care. My best estimate would be that if an intelligent alien species were discovered, Christians would just try to proselytise them.

Re:Still fighting old battles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18868185)

Cos everyone would think the CIA faked it in collusion with NASA and the illuminati.

Also, if Christianity didn't exist, Islam would probably have infected all of Europe, the Enlightenment mightn't have happened, the industrial revolution mightn't have happened, and TV mightn't have happened. Civilization might have stalled for millenia, or crashed catastrophically. Or not.

Re:Still fighting old battles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18868359)

Islam heavily borrows from Christianity. It wouldn't have existed in the first place without Christianity.

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

JustOK (667959) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868015)

Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

jcorno (889560) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868365)

"why can't Christ just be incarnated somewhere in the middle of the universe and die and rise again there for the whole universe's sins, rather than at 30 AD in Jerusalem, Earth, and at 200,000 AD on the planet Zardoz-3 in the city of Qyynax'gbtht, and..etc."


Holy crap, those Zardozians live a long time.

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

Tomfrh (719891) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868421)

I'm not religious but if I was I would have no problem with extra terrestrial life. It would just be more evidence of God's wondrous creativity.

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868625)

why can't Christ just be incarnated somewhere in the middle of the universe and die and rise again there for the whole universe's sins, rather than at 30 AD in Jerusalem, Earth

Because that would require knowledge of and communication with that somewhere in the middle of the universe. In 30AD, they still thought the earth WAS the sole entity in the universe and everything revolved around it.

Basically you cant introduce too much truth to the masses at once since they will never believe it.

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

mihaibu (543723) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868049)

Vatican has a cardinals 'task force' ready to bring to christianity the extraterrestrials that would made contact with our 'civilisation'. The green-men out-there must laugh their asses off. And peeing their green pants.

That's Right... (1)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867923)

Who can wait for the rise of (and the war between) the United Atheist Alliance, United Atheist League, and the Allied Atheist Allegiance? By all the Sciences, it will be a glorious day.

Re:That's Right... (1)

yoasif (969247) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868277)

That was a really unfunny episode [zsori.com] ...

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

asninn (1071320) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867797)

I don't buy into it because (a) these people aren't rational and (b) taking away their religion could make them worse - they could easily be converted into Stalinists or extreme nationalists.

Or, as the case may be, extreme earthists (to coin a new term).

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

ptaff (165113) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867817)

conclusive evidence that life existed elsewhere in the universe and could make itself known would cause the collapse of fundamentalist religions, to the enormous benefit of the rest of us

I don't argue that the fundamentalist religion collapse would greatly improve mankind's quality of life.

But look at the conclusive evidence showing evolution, dismissed by the fundamentalists.

I really don't believe extraterrestrial light footprints showing presence of life molecules, or even radio communication would defeat fundamentalists' beliefs - we have dinosaurs fossils and still they don't believe dinosaurs existed, for $DEITY's sake!

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

rohan972 (880586) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868027)

we have dinosaurs fossils and still they don't believe dinosaurs existed, for $DEITY's sake!

Well, I don't know anyone who doesn't believe dinosaurs existed, but I do know people who think that the bible's "behemoth" was a dinosaur and that dinosaurs and man coexisted. Given all the examples of dinosaur like depictions in ancient art like the examples at this creationist website: http://www.genesispark.org/genpark/ancient/ancient .htm [genesispark.org] I don't think it's unfair to say that it is a reasonable standard of evidence which should cause us to at least question if man and dinosaurs did live at the same time.

Re:Still fighting old battles (2, Funny)

richie2000 (159732) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868155)

Here be dragons.

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

richie2000 (159732) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868179)

at least question if man and dinosaurs did live at the same time.
From your link:

In 1496 the Bishop of Carlisle, Richard Bell, was buried in Carlisle Cathedral in the U.K. The tomb is inlaid with brass, with various animals engraved upon it (see right). Although worn by the countless feet that walked over it since the Middle Ages, a particular depiction is unmistakable in its similarity to a dinosaur. Amongst the birds, dog, eel, etc. this clear representation of two long-necked creatures should be considered evidence that man and dinosaurs co-existed.
It does seem like the author entertains the notion that dinosaurs roamed the earth in plain view well into the Middle Ages. Well, at least that WOULD explain the dragon mythos in medieval Europe. Perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle just published an authentic travel diary some time later? Exciting news!

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868481)

Dunno... maybe medieval palentology was more advanced than we thought ;-P

Re:Still fighting old battles (2, Interesting)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868473)

If you butchered your own meat once in a while, you would have an idea of what a bone was supposed to look like. If you then came across a really, really, big bone, you would construct a creature to match it in your mind. Isotopic dating continues to hold up well against the imaginations of historic humans.

Re:Still fighting old battles (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867921)

Water has very unusual properties, in fact, that make it more probable that life would evolve on a planet with lots of liquid water than, say, one covered in methane or liquid carbon dioxide.
Although we believe that to be true, we do not know for sure. We've far too little data in this area to draw any real conclusions yet. Not that I know any way to know when we might have enough; it would require study of a significant fraction of the galaxy for us to start to get some idea of what the real conditions for life starting are. (Once life has started, I imagine it will tend to continue for a long time and the usual evolutionary patterns will apply. But it's the first step that's a big unknown.)

Re:Still fighting old battles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18868435)

Where on are you getting the whole 'these people are psychotic berserks who could immediately convert to nazi-ism (extreme nationalist)' thing from? It's a fairly crude, uneducated generalization, and almost totally wrong.

It isn't like we need to believe something fervently or we'll die--like there's something wrong with us, like an obsession or something--it's that we CHOSE to believe something fervently, and if it's proven otherwise, finally, once and for all, never-ending(it'll take a crapload of your 'proof' though, cause a lot of your theories have a tendency to have 'oops, maybe not' said about them after x amount of years)most likely we'll just follow Paul who said that if absolutely none of this is true, then 'eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you will die'. Also, because I know you people like twisting people's words around, I'm not saying that we'll all die tomorrow, it's METAPHORICAL.

Could you put any more spin on your statement at all?

Re:Plants on other planets (5, Insightful)

Rob Kaper (5960) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867655)

I can't understand people who think that to find life on other planets we have to look for conditions similar to Earth. All of the hubbub over liquid water seems so silly to me.


It would be silly to exclude conditions not similar to Earth alltogether, but it is definitely reasonable to focus on conditions that are similar. Other conditions could qualify but that's pure speculation, for the conditions we live in we actually have a proof of concept. I'll take the refined "it works here, so why not elsewhere" over "anything could work" any day.

Your idea of looking for non-natural patterns is interesting but note that it would very much limit search results to life so intelligent that like ourselves we would consider it above natural. You wouldn't find any microbes on Europe because in our frame of reference they too would be very natural.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867701)

Those are very good points.

I think that with respect to your last comment, I think that at a certain level of detail in observation (meaning, once our ability to examine another planet outside our solar system becomes good enough), we'll be able to see even non-intelligent life forms on other planets, just as I would expect that from a far distance, if you could see Earth well enough, you'd be able to see the algae in the oceans (or infer them from other observations), or the forests on the continents.

Re:Plants on other planets (2, Interesting)

rackrent (160690) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867719)

It would be silly to exclude conditions not similar to Earth alltogether, but it is definitely reasonable to focus on conditions that are similar


While I agree it's arrogant presumption to assume that all "life" must rely on liquid water and similar to life on earth...it's all that we know about and hence, all we have the skills on which to focus. So yes, I agree. We have a decent set of tools to look for life forms that resemble ours, and that's all we have in our toolbox at present. It's natural to continue in that vein until we discover more tools that scientists can use.

Re:Plants on other planets (3, Interesting)

at_18 (224304) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868405)

Your idea of looking for non-natural patterns is interesting but note that it would very much limit search results to life so intelligent that like ourselves we would consider it above natural.

Non-natural patters wouldn't be some grid-shaped city. The basic non-natural pattern you can get is chemical non-equilibrium: if let alone, all the Earth oxygen would combine with some rocks and disappear. The presence of oxygen in the Earth atmosphere is a condition far from chemical equilibrium, and inequivocable proof that *something* keeps throwing the chemical balance out.

Re:Plants on other planets (0, Troll)

kt0157 (830611) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868539)

"You wouldn't find any microbes on Europe because in our frame of reference they too would be very natural."

I think you'll find there's intelligent life in Europe. More than you'll find in the US, anyway.

Re:Plants on other planets (5, Insightful)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867671)

Looking for liquid water isn't just human arrogance. Water is an effective and stable polar solvent, and there aren't many chemical processes as widely applicable as hydrolysis. In addition, the presence of liquid water indicates temperatures cool enough to allow organic molecules to stay stable, but warm enough to undergo the reactions necessary for life. These things are true throughout the universe, not just here.

Re:Plants on other planets (2, Interesting)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867727)

I think you're making my point for me. Why does life have to based on processes similar to our own, using chemicals similar to our own, at temperatures similar to Earth? Why can't some substance that is gaseous in Earth conditions be liquid in a colder planet's conditions, and combined with other substances which have different properties than they would on Earth under that planet's conditions, be able to support chemical structures and reactions of a different kind of life?

Sure, at Earth's temperatures and atmospheric pressures, along with who knows how many other Earth-specific variables, water works great for what it does. But why can't some other molecule in vastly different conditions serve the same purpose elsewhere?

Note that I have no idea what such a molecule might be or how it might work; but I don't think that Earth conditions are so unique that they'd be the only way for life to work.

Re:Plants on other planets (5, Informative)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867795)

The problem boils down to carbon. Of all the elements on the periodic table, there is one (1) which acts like carbon. Other molecules like nitrogen and silicon can form long chains and rings like carbon, but they don't like it. Carbon _loves_ forming itself into complicated molecules that cooperate to reproduce. There might be some non-carbon-based form of life out there, but it's very unlikely, and even if it does exist wouldn't easily evolve to macroscopic scales. It's just so unlikely there's no point looking for it.

Once you accept that life is carbon-based, the rest follows. All we know about organic chemistry, and the temperatures and conditions it requires for optimum function, apply everywhere. Heat that breaks down carbon chains and makes life unlivable in the lab makes life unlivable on a planet orbiting too close to its sun, too. Water, which is pretty much the ultimate solvent here, allowing acid-base chemistry to exist, hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis to take place, protein microdomains to move diffusively.... it all happens on other planets too. While we shouldn't look for pretty blue centaurs with eye stalks or humans with funny ears, carbon-based life is a pretty good bet fi we're looking for anything.

Re:Plants on other planets (1, Informative)

Falladir (1026636) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868031)

He's got more imagination than sense. Don't worry about him. He's thinking of crystalline creatures from Star Trek and generic "energy-beigns", and if you dismiss these things, he'll just say you're closed-minded.

Re:Plants on other planets (3, Insightful)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868213)

Oh, I don't mind him, I kinda like him. He's asking questions, isn't he? Thinking outside the box. Even if he's wrong, that's still a good thing. He's polite and reasonable about it too. Not like some of these dickheads you get around here jumping on people whenever they're in a bad mood. *innocent whistling*

Re:Plants on other planets (4, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868535)

I believe that it is inevitable that computers/robots will gain intelligence. If I am right, then there will be a non-carbon based intelligent life form on this planet. So perhaps we should be looking for steel, aluminum, and silicon instead of water and carbon.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867837)

basic chemistry dictates that life will require water and carbon. chemistry works exactly the same everywhere. at a given temp and pressure things work the same no matter where they are. this means that water is going to be the only solvent what will be able to transport elements around a life forms body. life is going to require carbon to create the complex structures needed to have a body. so unless you are looking in some upside down , things fall up type of universe, then life IS going to be quite similar to whats on earth.

other chemicals mentioned simply can't fill the most basic needs that a life form would have - such as stability and transportation.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868397)

>I think you're making my point for me. Why does life have to based on processes similar to our own, using chemicals similar to our own, at temperatures similar to Earth? Why can't some substance that is gaseous in Earth conditions be liquid in a colder planet's conditions, and combined with other substances which have different properties than they would on Earth under that planet's conditions, be able to support chemical structures and reactions of a different kind of life?
---
True, but it's easier to check for something that we may _recognize_ as life.
Why looking for gaseous life on other planets (or inside hard rock) if we wouldn't recognize it right here if it bit out butt?

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868411)

Agreed. It sounded good, until his use of the phrase "necessary for life", at which point the whole thing fell apart.

Re:Plants on other planets (4, Interesting)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867705)

I can't understand people who think that to find life on other planets we have to look for conditions similar to Earth. All of the hubbub over liquid water seems so silly to me. We have *no idea* what life on other planets might be like. I think that the only thing to look for is patterns which we don't believe could occur in nature, suggesting that the anti-entropy force of life might be present.

That idea comes from the time before we started realising that the nutty Gia concept (of the earth as a living entity) was actually a hypothesis with more than a little proof to back it up. I'd go so far as to say it's a theory.

Thing is, no matter how far down we drill, we still find life, and no matter how cold or hot or dangerous (to us) an environ we find, there is always life there.

It's taken a long time for this realisation to permeate through the wider scientific community, and it's a long way from becoming accepted fact for the general public.

Anyway, I'm kind of a skeptic already, I don't think that looking for life outside our galaxy is particularly interesting or useful anyway, considering that the nearest life would be millions of years away by interstellar travel. Even if it's out there, we'll never meet it or communicate with it.

Given how many planets exist in our galaxy that are already inconceivably far away, including this new wet planet just 20 light years away (or 4 billion years travel time away at current technology levels that are capable of carrying people), you're right, inter galactic travel is something we shouldn't waste time thinking about.

Even if we did manage to find a way to do it, we could do little more then explore the minutest fraction of another galaxy. It would be pointless for all but a minority of pioneers willing to take the risk.

The problem with travel methods that let you go huge distances (wormholes, whatever, jolly fast stuff anyhow) is that they miss all the stuff between you and your destination. That is not the way true exploration works, likely we'd miss lots of interesting things.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

prefect42 (141309) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867889)

The problem with travel methods that let you go huge distances (wormholes, whatever, jolly fast stuff anyhow) is that they miss all the stuff between you and your destination. That is not the way true exploration works, likely we'd miss lots of interesting things.
While I understand your point, that's not quite true. Explorers explore what looks interesting and what's reasonable to explore. If you think of sea explorers, they missed all sorts of little islands between them and the big stuff. But the big stuff makes a whole lot more sense to explore.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868033)

The problem with travel methods that let you go huge distances (wormholes, whatever, jolly fast stuff anyhow) is that they miss all the stuff between you and your destination.
Not to mention stretching you out to a few atoms thick during acceleration. :)

One day when our conciousness is uploadable to machines, then long distance travel might become possible. Transporting about these Earth-dependant squishy bags of meat is a little pointless - even if we survive the hard-radiation/fast moving debris in space, the native fauna/bacteria/viruses might just finish us off when we get there. I've read War of the Worlds, make sense the other way round too (us as the invaders).

Assuming, of course, they've not already sent anything out in our direction already - we have been radiating signals like crazy for more than the last 20 years. ;)

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868523)

The zeitgeist needs to move in the direction of copying ourselves into machines. I am rather fond of my squishy bag of meat, but I sure wouldn't mind something similar to me going off and exploring other worlds.

Re:Plants on other planets (4, Funny)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868009)

I think that the only thing to look for is patterns which we don't believe could occur in nature
Like life?

Re:Plants on other planets (-1, Troll)

cluckshot (658931) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868137)

Actually the answer here lies in a very simple understanding of the earth and why the sky is blue. The reason is extremely simple. The sky is blue because it is fluorescent in the blue and green bands due to X and UV radiation emissions from the sun affecting the lower atmosphere (Generally below 60,000 feet). This process produces a strong optical appearance of a "Blue Sky" but for exactly the same reason that the the primary paint colors are Red Yellow and Blue while the light primary colors are Red Green and Blue (See your color Video Monitor for details) this makes plants green. They are focused on the primary solar emission that is near omni directional during the daytime on earth.

I know somebody will argue that the sky is blue due to scattering. It isn't! It is blue because it glows. This is obvious at higher altitudes. By 45,000 feet in flight, the upper sky is black. The glow is obvious. This is also obvious by shots from the space station of the curve of the earth. It actually has color layers.

This process of atmosphere glows is responsible for the massive bloom of life in the arctic regions of the earth. The Aurora produce a strong set of emissions in the UV and IR bands that supply the life with its energy. The emission strength in the Arctic bands near the Aurora is nearly equal on a 24/7 basis to the emissions of light received at the tropical regions. These blooms of life associated with light are 1:1 and obvious. The Temperate Latitudes get most of this Blue Sky glow on earth and they get it seasonally. The result is that the region grows the most plant life. The Arctic regions get their glow on a fairly cyclic basis which is associated with March 21 and Sept 21. This corresponds to the migrations and breeding seasons of the animals and plants in the regions. This is also why they tend to be off synchronization with the normal "solar cycle".

These emissions of the atmosphere are related to Plasma Charges approaching the earth in space and with the non-visible emissions of the sun being converted to visible emissions. The sun in space is actually in the visible band quite a dim star. On earth it is much brighter due to the conversion of frequencies.

Re:Plants on other planets (2, Interesting)

mshurpik (198339) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868327)

>This process of atmosphere glows is responsible for the massive bloom of life in the arctic regions of the earth.

Lol?

>The Temperate Latitudes....grows the most plant life.

Lol! Ever heard of Brazil?

I *pray* you're a troll, but somehow, I think you're a space scientist.

Re:Plants on other planets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18868157)

Anyway, I'm kind of a skeptic already, I don't think that looking for life outside our galaxy is particularly interesting or useful anyway, considering that the nearest life would be millions of years away by interstellar travel. Even if it's out there, we'll never meet it or communicate with it.

With this kind of reasoning, America will be to discover.

Oh in fact you are right this will have been better for the locals...

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868289)

I agree for the most part, except the part about liquid water. Yes, methane or ammonia could also be the enabling solvents for life, and they (the scientists) are aware of this. However, for various reasons water is still the best candidate for said solvent and is quite abundant. Part of the reason is temperature; ammonia and methane are liquid at very low temperatures which has implications about the amount of energy available for life.

Life *as we know it* is the term they often use. Carbon based life. Seeing as both carbon and water are fairly abundant and that our body of knowledge is obviously skewed towards life as we know it, it's a good place to start.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

thePig (964303) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868379)

Anyway, I'm kind of a skeptic already, I don't think that looking for life outside our galaxy is particularly interesting or useful anyway, considering that the nearest life would be millions of years away by interstellar travel. Even if it's out there, we'll never meet it or communicate with it.
Not quite. If we were to embark on a journey that long, it would mean we are able to achieve speeds close to c. Now, at that speed, time dilation would really show it's effects. This would mean that even if the distance is millions of light years the traveller might not feel the age. i.e. even if it is millions of light years, the traveller might age in decades/years/months ??

This means our species would still go on, albeit at a long distance and time away.
And, I believe that is reason enough to be both interesting and useful.

Insightful, indeed (1)

Von Rex (114907) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868383)

I think that the only thing to look for is patterns which we don't believe could occur in nature.

Because if you want to understand a process, and you have a fully functional model which uses that process right in front of your eyes, the smart play is to completely ignore that model, right?

I don't think that looking for life outside our galaxy is particularly interesting or useful anyway, considering that the nearest life would be millions of years away by interstellar travel. Even if it's out there, we'll never meet it or communicate with it.

And after all, any probes we might send would travel at the same speed as radio waves. I see your point. Life throughout the universe: utterly worthless and uninteresting.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868427)

Life doesn't work against entropy. It exploits the fact that you can move it around. If you box our solar system, the saved up order on Earth is more or less invisible. We exist in the noise.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868527)

I can't understand people who think that to find life on other planets we have to look for conditions similar to Earth. All of the hubbub over liquid water seems so silly to me.

While I agree with you about the main argument, I would like to make a case for liquid water. First, we are looking for carbon-based life. Why ? Because carbon-based chemistry (dubbed organic chemistry) provides an array of possible molecules that is larger than any other element. It allows the most complex strutures and arbitrarily long molecule chains.

Why liquids ? Because liquids can flow and mix liquid and solid materials, that is a prerequisite to make most chemical reactions happen. Solids are a big no. Gases could theorically fulfill this role, but we don't know enough things about the gas giants composition to be sure about this, hence we have absolutely no clues about what we are looking for.

Why water ? This is one of the most common liquids out there. And the most common with a liquid phase compatible with most carbon-based reactions.

Re:Plants on other planets (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868627)

First, life occurs in nature. Second, it doesn't have anything to do with anti-entropy.

Re:Plants on other planets (0)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868657)

I can't understand people who think that to find life on other planets we have to look for conditions similar to Earth. All of the hubbub over liquid water seems so silly to me. We have *no idea* what life on other planets might be like.

Sure we do. God said he made us in his image. Therefore life everywhere should be similar.

Look at an image of human vs chicken embryo - they are visually identical. All (well most) life of this planet has the same basic feature set - segmented brain, two eyes, head, neck, four limbs, lungs, etc.. With life as diverse as what you find on this planet all having the basic same feature set, it'd be likely that life elsewhere would also be similar at this basic level.

And then the dinosaurs came (0, Offtopic)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867597)

but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil. And then the Arabs came and they bought Mercedes Benzes. And Prince Charles started wearing all of Lady Di's clothes. I couldn't believe it.

Re:And then the dinosaurs came (0, Offtopic)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867899)

(Score:-1, Offtopic)

"Um, I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all."

ATTN: SWITCHEURS! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18867599)

If you don't know what Cmd-Shift-1 and Cmd-Shift-2 are for, GTFO.
If you think Firefox is a decent Mac application, GTFO.
If you're still looking for the "maximize" button, GTFO.
If the name "Clarus" means nothing to you, GTFO.

Bandwagon jumpers are not welcome among real Mac users. Keep your filthy, beige PC fingers to yourself.

If the atmosphere was one super-thick water cloud (0)

EraserMouseMan (847479) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867611)

would that fit with plants being green? It seems like it would if I'm understanding correctly.

Which reminds me of the theory that before the global flood (Noah's ark) most of the earth's water remained in the atmosphere. If the atmosphere was a super-thick water cloud it would make sense that the earth would be purple.

Re:If the atmosphere was one super-thick water clo (0)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867625)

You use the word theory. I don't think that word means what you think it means.

Green is the new Purple (4, Funny)

emj (15659) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867623)

Green is the new purple [penny-arcade.com] , completly off topic but a scary resemblance.

obligatory... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18867647)

Well, I for one welcome our new... er OLD purple...
Ahhh... fergit it..

How about (3, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867659)

Specific wavelengths of light are required to kick the electrons in specific molecules into the required energy level... i.e. Plants are green because red & blue light is required for a successful sequence of highly specific chemical reactions.

It has nothing to do with total levels of energy absorbed from the sun, but the energy produced by the chemical reaction which is triggered by photons. Or, plants are powered by chemicals, not by heat.

 

Re:How about (2, Funny)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867677)

Your chemistry skills are astonishing. I bet you get all the girls.

Photosynthesis is non-optimal (4, Informative)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867733)

Actually, photosynthesis is a complex process involving not one but two photons and some clever quantum effects. You have it exactly the wrong way round. Plants are (usually) green because they have evolved a process which uses two frequency bands of light. Such a mechanism would not have evolved unless either:

The original form of photosynthesis resulted in a different metabolic pathway which used red or blue light and evolution took care of the rest

There were some conditions on the Earth at that time which meant that only red and blue light was available at the intensities required.

There are many possibilities why this might be so, including the nature of the media in which the first synthesising bacteria lived. I suspect the explanation when it is eventually found will be very interesting. However, it is by no means obvious that there is not a much simpler photosynthetic pathway using a single photon absorbtion, and it did not evolve simply because the conditions at the time - the predominant biochemistry of the bacteria and the wavelengths of light falling on them - were not suitable.

Re:Photosynthesis is non-optimal (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867957)

and some clever quantum effects.
All chemical processes involve some clever quantum effects.

Such a mechanism would not have evolved unless either:
Or C. The existing blue & red process produces more total energy for the same input than other processes.

However, it is by no means obvious that there is not a much simpler photosynthetic pathway using a single photon absorbtion, and it did not evolve simply because the conditions at the time - the predominant biochemistry of the bacteria and the wavelengths of light falling on them - were not suitable.
You seem to be assuming that evolution has in some way stopped. If the pathway you suggest was significantly better, more energy producing then surely there's a pretty good chance that there would be some plants/bacteria out there using it and they should in theory be more successful than the existing green ones.

 

Yes, C is correct (1)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868483)

And I was being careless. It is indeed entirely possible that the blue + red reaction is needed to get enough energy, and that perhaps it is a derivative of an earlier blue-only process. The comment on the Register article is interesting - that there are more red photons in sunlight than other types. That means that the yield of a blue + red process could be higher than, say, a yellow + yellow process, because the higher incidence of red photons would make it more probable that the scond step would occur given the first.

However, your first comment appears to be made in ignorance of the recent discovery that there is more to it than that and that a kind of quantum channeling - which I don't pretend to understand - increases the chance that the blue-excited state will last long enough for the second step to have a good chance of occurring. The operative word was clever, not quantum.

As for your third point, you misrepresent what I said. Let's assume that a "2Y" process exists and works better than the "BR" process. How would an organism evolve to use it? Evolution is not like engineering development, where the decision may be taken to expend large amounts of effort on something that may not work. An organism which starts to develop a pathway that can use a single yellow photon will have nothing useful to do with it unless this meets a specific need that improves its fitness. Somehow we have to assume that a double process would emerge in a single step, along with all the other modifications to biochemical pathways that would need to exist around it. This is exceedingly improbable. Evolution does not, in fact, present any obvious mechanism for saltation. Hence the interest in research which explains how cetacean evolution resulted in flukes that beat up and down - because the growing tail worked alongside swimming legs and had to work in the same direction.

Re:How about (4, Insightful)

daniel23 (605413) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867761)

Your argument, put another way, reads: since plants use chlorophyll and that specific molecule requires energy levels corresponding to red & blue light, things are required to be like they are. This is almost tautologic. The more interesting question would be, why something like chlorophyll evolved to power plants, instead of reactions with a potentially higher gain

Re:How about (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867907)

This is almost tautologic.
Almost. Except my argument is that it's the energy production of the specific chemical process which produces the most energy for the plant rather than the amount of energy shining down on the plant.

i.e.
It's my argument that chlorophyll produces more energy for less effort than entirely different chemical processes which make use of more abundant wavelengths. Basically, plants are chemical factories which require specific compounds and processes to function, they're not heat engines which can use arbitrary energy. Or. It's the output which matters to the plant, not the input.

 

Old news (1, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867661)

After watching Barney the Dinasoaur I think we were all able to infer that the earth was purple at some point in history.

Re:Old news (3, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867949)

And all that was purple eventually died out...

Reaffirms my faith that there's still hope for childrens' TV.

Re:Old news (1)

Herkum01 (592704) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868257)

and that Earth is not gay [ishipress.com] like the bible says.

Re:Old news (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868559)

I honestly try to find the lesser evil. Siding with a religious nutjob or letting an opportunity pass to save our children from the waving stupidity.

Maniac Mansion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18867753)

Noo!!
that whole Green Tentacle - Purple Tentacle thing again!

A-ha! Proof! (2, Funny)

therufus (677843) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867769)

This is proof that the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince has been here on earth since the dawn of time!

Re:A-ha! Proof! (1)

Vengeance (46019) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868147)

And who ever knew that Jimi Hendrix was actually looking back through time?

Red sun (2, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#18867827)

Plants originated on a planet where the sun was a different colour (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6589157 .stm) and the hairdressers and telephone cleaners who colonized earth brought them here...

Time to UPGRADE (1)

rock_climbing_guy (630276) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867877)

Can someone here afford a few hundred bucks from this scientist to replace his old computer with CGA video and monitor?

Red light zone (1)

solevita (967690) | more than 6 years ago | (#18867893)

I'm no scientist, so can somebody please explain the relationship between TFA and the article described here:

Plants may be red and yellow in galactic boonies [theregister.co.uk]

Frankly, the colour green was easier to understand when I didn't think about it...

Wonderful (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18868057)

I see trees of purple , blue roses too
I see em bloom , for me and for you
And I think to myself , what a wonderful world

Drazi Plants (4, Funny)

aapold (753705) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868167)

All the plants were split into two camps, Green! and Purple! They fought until there was only one kind left.

Not a new theory (1)

Itchy Rich (818896) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868295)

This theory has been around for ages. Is the recent discussion of this because of a new development? I don't see it anywhere.

Wrong! (5, Informative)

bananaendian (928499) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868467)

It's always been a bit of a mystery why plants absorb red and blue light, reflecting green, when the sun emits the peak energy of the visible spectrum in the green

No, it doesn't!
- Solar irradiance at sealevel [newport.com]
- Absorption-spectrum [uic.edu]

Solar irradiance at sealevel 'peaks' at 470nm which is exactly where chlorophyl-B absorption peaks. In fact the 'peaking', when put into context, is somewhat vague, since throughout the whole visible spectrum from 400nm - 700nm you have well over 50% of the real watts that you get at the peak 470nm, so an adaptation to a particular wavelenght within it gives at most only a conservative if not marginal advantage.

PA got it right again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18868587)

Haven't you heard? Green is the new Purple [pennyarcademerch.com] .

Intelligent Painter Theory. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 6 years ago | (#18868623)

The plants are green because of intelligent painting. The Intelligent Painter, (you know who, but who shall remain nameless due to legal reasons, wink, wink) said I give you green plants for food. [bible.cc] . This unwarranted attack on religion by science is totally unwarranted. Here we are, with a perfectly good explanation of why plants are green. And out of nowhere these scientists come and explain it all in a logical and credible manner. Our God of the Gaps, oops sorry The Intelligent Painter is now diminished by that much. If this attack continues, we will have no choice but to invoke the "Protection of Endangered Species Act" and demand certain "gaps in knowledge" to be preserved for ever as the sanctuary for Intelligent Painter.
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