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ckb2001
07-06-2007, 04:37 PM
I've never been a fan of SETI (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence), but this suggestion by the National Research Council makes sense. They finished a report on how likely it is that "weird life" exists, so life that doesn't need water for example or life that doesn't contain DNA, and came to the conclusion there are good reasons to suspect such life exists.

Well, if so, we've been putting too much focus on finding water. Anyway, they urge more research into what the chemical possibilities for life could be and also urge searching Earth for these forms too, since there's evidence to suggest we evolved from it. I have this sneaky suspicion some unexpected technologies will result from that.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/06/science/06cnd-alien.html?hp

“The committee’s investigation makes clear that life is possible in forms different from those on Earth,” the scientists concluded. Their report, “The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems,” was published today by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences and posted on the NAS Web site, www.nas.edu."

To find weird life, however, scientists will have to build new kinds of detectors. “There’s no question that the surveys of life on the planet we’ve done so far would have missed it,” said Dr. Benner.

“Nothing would be more tragic in the American exploration of space than to encounter alien life and fail to recognize it,” the report concluded.
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CrunchTime
07-06-2007, 06:28 PM
That very well could be true.Extra-terrestrial organisms may have already landed on earth if you can believe this article.

Red rain could prove that aliens have landed



On 25 July, 2001, blood-red rain fell over the Kerala district of western India. And these rain bursts continued for the next two months. All along the coast it rained crimson, turning local people's clothes pink, burning leaves on trees and falling as scarlet sheets at some points.Investigations suggested the rain was red because winds had swept up dust from Arabia and dumped it on Kerala. But Godfrey Louis, a physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, after gathering samples left over from the rains, concluded this was nonsense. 'If you look at these particles under a microscope, you can see they are not dust, they have a clear biological appearance.' Instead Louis decided that the rain was made up of bacteria-like material that had been swept to Earth from a passing comet. In short, it rained aliens over India during the summer of 2001.

The characteristic of this bacteria-like organisms is that they have no identifiable DNA.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,1723913,00.html#article_continue

Mysterious red cells might be aliens




Specifically, Louis has isolated strange, thick-walled, red-tinted cell-like structures about 10 microns in size. Stranger still, dozens of his experiments suggest that the particles may lack DNA yet still reproduce plentifully, even in water superheated to nearly 600 degrees Fahrenheit . (The known upper limit for life in water is about 250 degrees Fahrenheit .)
So how to explain them? Louis speculates that the particles could be extraterrestrial bacteria adapted to the harsh conditions of space and that the microbes hitched a ride on a comet or meteorite that later broke apart in the upper atmosphere and mixed with rain clouds above India.

http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/science/06/02/red.rain/index.html

ckb2001
07-06-2007, 07:10 PM
That very well could be true.Extra-terrestrial organisms may have already landed on earth if you can believe this article.

Red rain could prove that aliens have landed


The characteristic of this bacteria-like organisms is that they have no identifiable DNA.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,1723913,00.html#article_continue

Mysterious red cells might be aliens


http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/science/06/02/red.rain/index.html

Well, those researchers hypothesizing an extraterrestrial origin are not only going to have to show their theory is plausible, they're going to have to find ways to refute all other plausible theories. Assuming an extraterrestrial origin is adding an uncertainty those other plausible theories don't have, so the level of scrutiny is going to be immense before that's the accepted hypothesis.

Here's an example of a more conventional explanation by a study commissioned by the Indian government:
http://www.geocities.com/iamgoddard/SampathAbstract.pdf

"A detailed study was carried out on the samples of red rain water obtained from Changanacherry, where the first report originated. The water was found to contain suspended particles, which settled down after several hours. The material that settled down was first separated and chemically analysed to determine its elemental composition. On microscopic examination, the substance was seen to consist of tiny circular particles that resembled spores. The sample was therefore transferred to the microbiology laboratory of the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI). The spores were found to grow well in algal culture medium. The alga was identified as a specie belonging to the genus Trentepohlia. The region in Changanacherry from where the red rain was reported was found to be densely vegetated with plenty of lichen on trees, rocks and lampposts. Samples of lichen collected from there also were cultured in the microbiology laboratory of TBGRI. The study showed that the lichen collected from the site gave rise to algae similar to the ones cultured from the spores obtained from the rain water samples. The spores in the rainwater, therefore, most probably are of
local origin."
----------------------------------


Also, keep in mind that it's nothing unusual for life forms to "rain" down. Fish, frogs, worms, etc.. have all rained down.

Either way, the researchers are going to have their work cut out for them to demonstrate that's alien life. Remember all that buzz about NASA finding a fossil of alien microbes in a Martian rock? Research carried out later mostly concluded it was of terrestrial origin. Having said that, it would be great if the red cells are alien in origin, but don't count on it.

CrunchTime
07-06-2007, 07:41 PM
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and there is not enough of it this case.

As an Electrical Engineer I prefer to follow Occam's razor which says that all other things being equal, a simpler explanation beats a complicated one- a red alga that is common in the area beats a red extra-terrestrial that is not.

It still doesnt explain the lack of DNA which of course alga or lichen would have unless there was a flawed methodology in the testing.

ckb2001
07-06-2007, 07:51 PM
It still doesnt explain the lack of DNA which of course alga or lichen would have unless there was a flawed methodology in the testing.

Note that your link actually states this:

QUOTE:
"The next significant step, explains University of Sheffield microbiologist Milton Wainwright, who is part of another British team now studying Louis's samples, is to confirm whether the cells truly lack DNA. So far, one preliminary DNA test has come back positive."
---------------------------

And wiki says this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_rain_in_Kerala

"A correction was printed in The Observer[18] regarding Dr. Wainwright's comment that the red rain lacked DNA. Dr. Wainwright asked in the correction to make clear that he currently had no view on whether the samples contained DNA and that it was physicist Godfrey Louis who is of that view.

A sample of the rain was also sent to Cardiff University for analysis by noted panspermia proponent Chandra Wickramasinghe. Wickramasinghe has reported on the 30th of March 2006 that “work in progress has yeilded [sic] positive for DNA”.[19]"
---------------------

So, it's not clear they lack DNA.

Also, even if it lacked DNA, that wouldn't necessarily mean it's extraterrestrial in origin.

Dolphin39
07-07-2007, 07:35 AM
I personally think money spent on this could be much better spent and is a waste of money.

cnc66
07-07-2007, 07:41 AM
I personally think money spent on this could be much better spent and is a waste of money.

of course you do...

Dolphin39
07-07-2007, 08:02 AM
of course you do...

And your point is?

ckb2001
07-07-2007, 02:34 PM
I personally think money spent on this could be much better spent and is a waste of money.

Let me ask you this. What criteria would you use to determine whether it's worth spending money on scientific research? So, if you controlled the purse strings, what set of rules would you use to determine which projects get funded?

I ask this because I'm pretty sure you don't understand how valuable this kind of research is (in the sense of what research like this leads to in terms of benefits for society).

Miamian
07-07-2007, 03:27 PM
To find weird life, however, scientists will have to build new kinds of detectors. “There’s no question that the surveys of life on the planet we’ve done so far would have missed it,” said Dr. Benner.

Without knowing what to look for, how can they design the sensors? Under the hypothesis that life can exist in any conceivable environment any piece of rock in space is a possibility.

ckb2001
07-07-2007, 03:38 PM
Without knowing what to look for, how can they design the sensors? Under the hypothesis that life can exist in any conceivable environment any piece of rock in space is a possibility.

Very good question! But easy to answer. Laws of physics and basic chemistry really put a bind on what the possibilities are. So, for example, a carbon-based life form can be deduced as by far the most likely just by understanding properties of elements in the periodic table. After carbon, it would be silicon, and the reasons have to do with how they bond with other atoms.

More specifically, in this case, they'll look for what they think are the most likely of those possibilities. So, they do have an idea what to look for.

Here's one quote:

QUOTE:
"DNA uses phosphorus in its backbone, for example. It might be possible to build a backbone out of arsenic instead. Instead of water, life might exist in other liquids, such as ammonia or methane."
----------------

OK, so right there you have precise goals that can be stated. Maybe first, you'd want a better theoretical understanding of what properties life that uses arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA would have. That's research one can do. Once done, you have a plethora of properties you can try to build detectors for.

So, really the simple answer to your question is we will have an idea what to look for. Oh, and you only look where it's most likely, not under every rock.

Miamian
07-07-2007, 03:50 PM
Very good question! But easy to answer. Laws of physics and basic chemistry really put a bind on what the possibilities are. So, for example, a carbon-based life form can be deduced as by far the most likely just by understanding properties of elements in the periodic table. After carbon, it would be silicon, and the reasons have to do with how they bond with other atoms.

More specifically, in this case, they'll look for what they think are the most likely of those possibilities. So, they do have an idea what to look for.

Here's one quote:

QUOTE:
"DNA uses phosphorus in its backbone, for example. It might be possible to build a backbone out of arsenic instead. Instead of water, life might exist in other liquids, such as ammonia or methane."
----------------

OK, so right there you have precise goals that can be stated. Maybe first, you'd want a better theoretical understanding of what properties life that uses arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA would have. That's research one can do. Once done, you have a plethora of properties you can try to build detectors for.

So, really the simple answer to your question is we will have an idea what to look for. Oh, and you only look where it's most likely, not under every rock.That assumes that we've already discovered all elements. But, we only know what about what is found on earth. Even so, is it possible that life could be based on forms that defy what we consider basic chemical structure? Is photonic life possible?

adamprez2003
07-07-2007, 03:56 PM
I've never been a fan of SETI (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence), but this suggestion by the National Research Council makes sense. They finished a report on how likely it is that "weird life" exists, so life that doesn't need water for example or life that doesn't contain DNA, and came to the conclusion there are good reasons to suspect such life exists.

Well, if so, we've been putting too much focus on finding water. Anyway, they urge more research into what the chemical possibilities for life could be and also urge searching Earth for these forms too, since there's evidence to suggest we evolved from it. I have this sneaky suspicion some unexpected technologies will result from that.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/06/science/06cnd-alien.html?hp

“The committee’s investigation makes clear that life is possible in forms different from those on Earth,” the scientists concluded. Their report, “The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems,” was published today by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences and posted on the NAS Web site, www.nas.edu."

To find weird life, however, scientists will have to build new kinds of detectors. “There’s no question that the surveys of life on the planet we’ve done so far would have missed it,” said Dr. Benner.

“Nothing would be more tragic in the American exploration of space than to encounter alien life and fail to recognize it,” the report concluded.
-----------------------

Might this new push not be motivated by the fact that we are coming to the conclusion that there are far less planets in the universe that contain water then we originally believed. Haven't the odds of finding life sustaining water planets been getting worse every year as we continue to discover that the universe isn't that fond of creating water bearing planets.

Don't these scientists need continued funding and if the odds get greater and greater against finding life on water planets it would seem like a natural self motivated tactic to switch to a theory that allows one to continue to get steady funding even when the supposed payoff starts to become fainter

I'm not completely opposed to this since I think we still need to explore the different types of makeup of planets but clearly when you add to it the title of "searching for life" it makes it that much easier to fund

ckb2001
07-07-2007, 04:03 PM
That assumes that we've already discovered all elements. But, we only know what about what is found on earth. Even so, is it possible that life could be based on forms that defy what we consider basic chemical structure? Is photonic life possible?

No, it doesn't assume we've discovered all elements. However, we do understand the laws of physics that allow us to create new elements. Here's the periodic table:
http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.corrosionsource.com/handbook/periodic/periodic_table.gif&imgrefurl=http://www.corrosionsource.com/handbook/periodic/&h=480&w=580&sz=19&tbnid=orJoCHoCsKQDHM:&tbnh=111&tbnw=134&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dperiodic%2Btable%26um%3D1&start=1&sa=X&oi=images&ct=image&cd=1

Many in the 90's and 100's are elements man made (well somewhere in the universe they probably occasionally come into existence, but we don't normally see them on Earth).


More importantly, the search isn't exhaustive. That means that we're not trying to find all other possible forms of life, but just the most likely (based on our knowledge) of weird life.

To the final question, the answer is who knows. But, if you're going to look for weird life, it's best to use resources on only those that are most plausible. I mean sending a mission to Titan to search for methane-based life may cost over 1 billion dollars for example.

ckb2001
07-07-2007, 04:08 PM
Might this new push not be motivated by the fact that we are coming to the conclusion that there are far less planets in the universe that contain water then we originally believed. Haven't the odds of finding life sustaining water planets been getting worse every year as we continue to discover that the universe isn't that fond of creating water bearing planets.

Don't these scientists need continued funding and if the odds get greater and greater against finding life on water planets it would seem like a natural self motivated tactic to switch to a theory that allows one to continue to get steady funding even when the supposed payoff starts to become fainter

I'm not completely opposed to this since I think we still need to explore the different types of makeup of planets but clearly when you add to it the title of "searching for life" it makes it that much easier to fund


Given the HUGE number of possible solar systems and the recent discoveries that there are planets in many of them, the odds actually went up. We aren't yet good at detecting Earth-like planets however, so that's a problem.

But, in general, the answer to your first question is we still know so little about what kinds of extra-solar planets exist that the overall odds are neither going up or down because of the huge number of solar systems.

The second question is a good one, but it's likely not something motivated by funding primarily (though funding concerns are never completely independent of what researchers propose to do of course). The total available money for research is relatively independent of this. This deals more with which areas of study are likely to be more valuable to science than others, so OF the pool of money available, how should it be best allocated.

Miamian
07-07-2007, 04:10 PM
No, it doesn't assume we've discovered all elements. However, we do understand the laws of physics that allow us to create new elements. Here's the periodic table:
http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.corrosionsource.com/handbook/periodic/periodic_table.gif&imgrefurl=http://www.corrosionsource.com/handbook/periodic/&h=480&w=580&sz=19&tbnid=orJoCHoCsKQDHM:&tbnh=111&tbnw=134&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dperiodic%2Btable%26um%3D1&start=1&sa=X&oi=images&ct=image&cd=1

Many in the 90's and 100's are elements man made (well somewhere in the universe they probably occasionally come into existence, but we don't normally see them on Earth).


More importantly, the search isn't exhaustive. That means that we're not trying to find all other possible forms of life, but just the most likely (based on our knowledge) of weird life.

To the final question, the answer is who knows. But, if you're going to look for weird life, it's best to use resources on only those that are most plausible. I mean sending a mission to Titan to search for methane-based life may cost over 1 billion dollars for example.Fine. The point is that an unknown element may bond more easily with other's than carbon or silicon. There's no way to know until we discover it.

Doesn't it make more sense both economically and logisitically to incorporate the life-detection as part of a more comprehensive exploratory procedure, i.e., when we survey a body? Much slower and less likely to produce exciting discoveries, but it seems far more practical.

ckb2001
07-07-2007, 04:21 PM
Fine. The point is that an unknown element may bond more easily with other's than carbon or silicon. There's no way to know until we discover it.

Doesn't it make more sense both economically and logisitically to incorporate the life-detection as part of a more comprehensive exploratory procedure, i.e., when we survey a body? Much slower and less likely to produce exciting discoveries, but it seems far more practical.

Well, obviously there's always SOME doubt, but the theory that predicts the properties of atoms is quantum mechanics - the single most accurate theory ever in science. So, the bonding properties of not just elements we have actually created, but also those we haven't created, are highly predictable (not all properties, but definitely bonding properties - that's actually one of the easier things to predict).

So, it's highly highly unlikely we've got that wrong.

However, one could argue there are other forms of "matter" such as dark matter for which we have no understanding how it interacts with normal matter, and that's obviously one place where science is lost right now and where novel properties will likely emerge.


As to the second paragraph, whenever possible I'm sure that will be done (probably for commercial reasons in addition to logistical ones). But, if you're looking for methane-based life forms or DNA with arsenic used, well you're not going to be able to find that in humans or animals or practically all other known living creatures.

So, you're kind of forced into doing this in labs specifically devoted to it (or in outer space).

LouPhinFan
07-13-2007, 10:08 AM
This thread reminds me of the Silicon-based life form from that episode of the original Star Trek.

I think its obvious that there could be anything out there. Our understanding is based mainly on the elements that formed in our particular solar system, and the few elements we've been able to make ourselves in a lab. A few solar systems over from here could have some extra elements that appeared in its formation that aren't found in ours. When speaking of space, the possibilities are limitless...