Does life exist outside the earth? An infamous question constantly revolving around scientists and curious citizens. Astrobiology is the interdisciplinary scientific field that studies the origin, nature, distribution, and the future of life across the universe (Clemmitt). The main goal of astrobiology is really to find evidence of past or present life beyond Earth. There are numerous amounts of mysteries about planets and moons, solar systems, galaxies, and the makeup of the space between them that will be confronted along the way. The search for extraterrestrial life is possible, only as part of an exploration of the makeup, the dynamics, the history and the many as yet unknown wonders of the cosmos. While no clear evidence has been found, the possibility that life exists outside Earth is growing more and more likely. (Kaufman). However, even knowing microbial life is out there, it is extremely hard to find it. (Clemmitt). Scientists are constantly conducting experiments and searching into the depths of space. No one can say for sure what kind of life might be discovered by these experiments, but it would more than likely be microbial. Single-celled life can live in many environments. Telescopic searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are also part of astrobiology’s extensive research palette (Budden). In order to understand Astrobiology, it is necessary to examine living conditions on other planets, what we have discovered, and how close we are to developing the technology required to answer our questions.
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For organisms to survive on other planets, the living conditions on those planets must be suitable for the needs of organisms. A new consensus has grown among those who study Mars that the currently dry and very cold planet was once much warmer and wetter — a far more hospitable place for microbial and maybe even more complex life (Kaufman). Oceans can be kept warm despite being very far from the Sun because of gravitational interactions between the moons and their host planet. Other discoveries primarily due to the Galileo space probe suggest that some of the moons of Jupiter, as well as Saturn’s moon Enceladus, might have long-lived liquid oceans under their icy outer skins (Budden). Scientists have reported spotting an Earth-sized planet orbiting at the right distance from its star to have liquid water, another sign of potential habitability, in a solar system 490 light-years away (Clemmitt). The wide-scale presence of the element oxygen or molecule ozone in the atmosphere of an exoplanet would strongly suggest that life is present. That's because the two bond very quickly with other elements and molecules. They would be widely present in their unattached state only if something was producing them in large and consistent amounts. What we know of chemistry says that something would have to be alive (Kaufman). The development of intelligent life such as humans is such an unlikely event that it may be unique to Earth. Nervous systems and the brain's large mass require so much oxygen that it's really a burden to the animal (Clemmitt). However, many astronomers' searches tend to assume that the aliens would be superior to earthlings, perhaps evolved beyond Earth's ability to comprehend them (Morrow). However, scientists have learned that microbial life is far more tenacious than ever imagined and able to survive deep underground, in glaciers, alongside hydrothermal vents, and even floating in the atmosphere (Kaufman). The living conditions are suitable, we just have not been able to prove there is life living in them.
While we may not know everything about astrobiology, the amount scientists have discovered is remarkable. More than 500 complex carbohydrates have been positively identified in the past 15 years (Kaufman). Thousands of exoplanets have been officially identified via NASA missions like Kepler as well as ground-based observations. Billions more await discovery. That’s just in our Milky Way galaxy. The rover Curiosity has firmly decided that ancient Mars was substantially more wet and warm, and turned into a wholly habitable region for microbial lifestyles. All the ingredients wished for existence: the proper chemicals, a constant source of energy, and water that likely became present and strong on the surface for millions of years. Another high-profile example is the ExoMars task sponsored with the aid of the European Space Agency, with assistance from the Russian Space Agency and NASA. The most important goal of this mission was to check for the organic gasoline methane within the martian atmosphere. While European scientists have made very international methane detections in the past, it was NASA’s detection of massive plumes of released methane that focused this ExoMars mission (Kaufman). NASA Mars landers and satellites orbiting the planet have found remnants of river deltas and gullies, as well as ice frozen just below the surface (Kaufman). Two American astronomers have found a planet or two outside our solar system whereon conditions exist (liquid water the temperature of hot tea, for example) that may be hospitable to life (Morrow). A team under the leadership of NASA's Michael Mumma at the Goddard Space Flight Center has determined that the gas methane spurts out of the Martian surface at regular times and in particular places (Kaufman). So much has been discovered, It’s a wonder that not enough has been found to have a clear ruling on whether or not life beyond earth exists.
With the information we know about astrobiology, a common question to occur is, “How close are we to finding the answers we need?” With the end of NASA's space shuttle program coming soon, many Americans have complained that the nation's efforts in space are flagging. Nothing could be further from the truth. They're just changing (Kaufman). Scientists are constantly researching and trying to answer questions like the following: What steps were taken that led non-living materials like rocks, sediments, organic compounds, and water to come together and build living organisms? How did new life come about on Earth? How do water and organic compounds arrive on planets and moons? Is it possible to tell from chemicals and minerals on the surface of planets whether or not microbes might live there? Is it possible that life exists elsewhere based on elements other than carbon and a system different than DNA (Kaufman)? Overall, it is very hard to decipher how close we are to the answers we need.
In order to understand Alien Existence, it is necessary to examine living conditions on other planets, what we have discovered, and how close we are to developing the technology required to answer our questions. We do not yet have conclusive evidence one way or another, but an answer could be found at any time. While it is very likely at least microbial organisms are living on other planets, Scientists still have neither adequate observational instruments nor sufficient understanding to determine whether distant, potentially habitable exoplanets do, in fact, support life (Clemmitt). Curiosity is killing the people. Patience is key, and one day, scientists are very confident that, we will have indisputable evidence that organisms outside of Earth are out there.
- Budden, Albert. UFOs, Psychic Close Encounters: the Electromagnetic Indictment. Blandford, 1995.
- Clemmitt, Marcia. “Search for Life on New Planets.” CQ Researcher, 20 June 2014, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2014062000.
- Kaufman, Marc. “Life, Here and Beyond.” NASA, 13 Jan. 2020, https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/about/.
- Kaufman, Marc. "Reaching for the Stars: It's Alive Out there! Scientists Seek Out.." McClatchy Newspapers, 17 Jun 2011. sirsissuesresearcher, https://explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2266253024?accountid=66739.
- Morrow, Lance. “Is There Life in Outer Space?” SIRS Issue Researcher, 5 Feb. 1996, https://explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2267929217?searchid=1578945436&accountid=66739.
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