Every starry-eyed dreamer who ever looked up into the sky and saw the possibility of life somewhere else out there in the cosmos did a double-take when NASA announced that they would be making a special announcement on Dec. 2 that would, according to the NASA press release, “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”
Speculation fired the Internet as the blogosphere and science reporters entertained the idea of a major discovery that would point to extraterrestrial life. Had NASA scientists found some alien microbe on Mars? Had they seen some type of artificial satellite or some form of alien artifact that pointed to a sentient extraterrestrial builder orbiting an exoplanet? Or was it a discovery of something a bit more mundane, but with far-reaching, even star-spanning, implications?
Extraterrestrial life is a subject that has fascinated mankind for millennia. From the multitude of origin myths that point to the stars as the birthplace of humanity, to Ezekiel’s Wheel in the Christian bible to science fiction books and movies, there has always been a curiosity innate in the human consciousness that pondered the existence of other life forms perhaps somewhere not of this world’s origins. That curiosity has produced all manner of strange and wonderful — as well as truly alien and frightening — ideas about the features, biologies, technological capabilities, cultures, intentions, and a myriad other aspects of imagined extraterrestrial life forms.
NASA, knowing all this, has used it to their advantage, sending out a press release that hints at a tantalizing discovery and, at the same time, appeals to our species-wide desire to not be alone in this vast and seemingly — at least up until the present — otherwise lifeless universe.
Astrobiology, as the NASA press release explains, is the “study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.” This, of course, has led to many wild extrapolations as to what might be announced at the conference, a very natural result of such a titillating press release and imaginations that grew up around “E.T.” and “Alien,” “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” But it is doubtful that NASA will be unveiling proof of the alien bodies from the crash site in Roswell or those kept on ice at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, nor is anyone expecting the gathered scientists to admit that alien life was what has been studied at Area 51 all these decades.
In fact, it is doubtful that the astrobiological news will have anything to actually do with actual extraterrestrial life — save through theorized extension — at all.
According to Gizmodo, the NASA announcement will revolve around the discovery of a life form, a type of bacteria, found in a poisonous lake in California. Felisa Simon-Wolfe, a NASA Research Fellow, is apparently set to announce the discovery of the first life form whose DNA does not follow the “life as we know it” pattern. Although theoretically plausible, scientists had never before found life that existed that was constructed of DNA material other than that which makes up all living entities on Earth. Until now.
It would seem that a bacterium in Mono Lake, Calif., has DNA that is made up of arsenic. What this means for astrobiology and all those avid star-gazers and E.T. dreamers is that the possibility of extraterrestrial life being extant in the universe has increased exponentially. No longer will the search for extraterrestrial life be constrained by the limitations of environments suitable only for life consisting of DNA akin to that which dominates our own world.
Although not as exciting as an announcement that astrobiologists have uncovered an intact starship — with crew — buried beneath the Arctic ice, the NASA announcement — if the Mono Lake bacteria is indeed its focus — opens up vast new worlds of scientific experimentation, exploration, theory, and speculation.
Not to mention new avenues for the starry-eyed dreamers…
“Media Advisory,” NASA.gov
Jesus Diaz, “NASA Finds New Life,” Gizmodo.com