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One of the things you’ll often hear when asking people why they are religious is that it is comforting. The idea of life after death, an eternity with your loved ones and belonging to something greater than yourself can be immensely reassuring to many people. By comparison, the scientific view may seem cruel; the universe doesn’t care about your existence and once you die, you simply cease to exist.

It’s been said many times that what’s comforting is completely irrelevant to the pursuit of truth. I completely agree. I posit that anyone who needs such comfort so desperately as to turn a blind eye to the truth is a sad and sorry person indeed. Anybody who uses this reason as a justification for their religious beliefs is, perhaps, so damaged or so afraid of responsibility that it may not be healthy to wean them off religion by encouraging the pursuit of truth.

So I offer an alternative view. I have never questioned the value of my existence because of this simple fact.

Something is only precious because it is rare.

Think about that for a moment. The rarer something is, the more precious it becomes. What’s the rarest thing of all? Life. You will only ever have one life and it is an opportunity for you. If you were born to die, the only thing that defines you is what you do while you are alive.

What theists consider to be comforting – the promise of eternal life – I think is just cheapening the value of life. It is no longer rare because it is no longer fleeting. It is not precious.

If you have an infinite amount of time to do something, there is no urgency to make every moment count. There’s no strong need to love, learn, spend time with your family or even live.

As for belonging to something greater than yourself, what bigger thing is there than the universe? The atoms in your left hand could have come from a different star than the atoms of your right hand, billions of years ago somewhere in the universe. Some people feel insignificant when they think about how vast the universe is, but just imagine – your entire existence was created by things infinitesimally greater than yourself.

So what’s more comforting? That’s up to you to decide. But for me, life has never been more fleeting, and thus precious, more tiny, and thus grand, than when I discovered science and truth.

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“Aliens can’t exist because we haven’t found them yet”. I never really believed that people were stupid enough to base an entire “logical” thought process on this “evidence” but apparently many people do. Well, here’s a pretty famous quote (paraphrased) that’s been used to refute this poorly thought out argument against extraterrestrial life:

It’s like taking a scoop out of the ocean with a cup and saying there are no such things as whales because there are none in my cup.

Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Humans have been leaking radio waves for 70 years now so our radio bubble is approximately 70 light years. Our galaxy has a diameter of around 110,000 light years. There are around 170 billion galaxies in the universe.

The top three elements in the human body are oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. The most abundant elements in the universe are hydrogen, helium, oxygen, neon, nitrogen and carbon. And that is assuming that alien life must be identical to human life, which is highly unlikely.

But wait, what about the Goldilocks zone? Well, I’ve heard this term tossed around quite a lot and it always ends up being misconstrued somehow. The “Goldilocks” loosely describes inhabitable planets/regions. The Goldilocks zone specifically denotes a distance from a star that is the perfect distance for liquid water to exist on a planet (not too far to be frozen and not too close to be evaporated). In our solar system, Earth and Mars are the only two planets within this zone.

What’s the significance? Well as far as we know, water is really the only thing necessary for life to exist. There are bacteria that can survive in 400,000 times our gravity, in ridiculously high and low temperatures, and can feed of poisonous elements like sulfur. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s life out there that doesn’t need water.

When they (Deguchi et. al.) spun E. coli up to the equivalent of 7,500 G’s (7,500 times the force of Earth gravity), however, they found that the microbe didn’t miss a beat. It grew and reproduced just fine.

But wait, let’s just assume water is a necessity. The Goldilocks zone isn’t even exclusive as the only place with liquid water. For example, it’s been theorised that Europa (the ice moon of Jupiter) could be hiding a vast ocean under its icy crust. How? The moon is outside the Goldilocks zone but its orbit around Jupiter is elliptical. This means that the gravitational pull on the moon is uneven. Essentially, it is being constantly contracted and expanded. This gives it the potential to heat up the ice at its core enough to form water. There could be an alien species living in that ocean, oblivious to the rest of the universe as it is unable to penetrate the icy shell of Europa.

There’s more. Let’s limit our search even further and only look at Goldilocks candidates. Those of you that have kept an eye on the news might recall a few Goldilocks planets being found. Here’s a fun picture showing their similarities to Earth:

Goldilocks Planets

 

If you think that’s impressive, wait ’til you hear this. The Kepler telescope and the NASA team behind it predict as many as 500 million planets in our galaxy fall into the habitable zone. And yes, that’s just our one, lonesome galaxy.

And the truth is, life is not as elusive as it’s often made out to be. If you remember my post on Panspermia you’ll recall that bacteria and amino acids are commonly found in the tails of comets.

Now I did mention the Curiosity rover, but in all honesty, there’s not much I can say right now. For those of you that missed it, Curiosity found evidence of organic compounds on Mars, including water. However, there’s still a possibility the data was contaminated by Earth compounds, so I’ll refrain from drawing any conclusions (as the NASA team hasn’t drawn any conclusions yet either). All I can say is that I look forward to great findings over the entire expedition by Curiosity, just as many in the science world are. And I wouldn’t be surprised by any positive results.

But I want to leave you all with something mind-boggling to think about. I’ll try my best, though the more informed of you may scoff.

You may be asking: Why haven’t we seen any signs of aliens? or Why haven’t any aliens contacted us? Well, think about the vastness of the universe. We aren’t even capable of staying in contact with any probes to leave our solar system, and those few probes presumably to have left our solar system haven taken almost half a century to get that far. Our technology is so limited that contacting alien life would be close to impossible. In fact, if you consider that our galaxy is 110,000 light years in diameter, you’ll quickly realise our limitations. If you abide by classic physics and take light speed as the maximum possible speed (and there’s no evidence to the contrary right now), that means that even the most infinitely advanced alien life would still take 110,000 years to cross our galaxy. It could be that life in the universe is not destined to ever meet, and that light speed is the great limiter placed on the entire universe. At the very least, NASA recognises a problem in fuel based propulsions – something I’ll do a post about later. Basically, we have no possible technology that could ever be sufficient to let us explore into our own galaxy, let alone the rest of the universe.

And finally, a thought inspired by another Neil deGrasse Tyson quote, as well as predictions by Stephen Hawking. Most likely, we are either infinitely more advanced than alien life and overlook its existence or do not recognise it as life (such as bacteria), or we are infinitely inferior to alien life, so they see us as nothing more than insects and ignore us. After all, when was the last time you stopped and had a conversation with a worm?

So since the Higgs Boson thing, I haven’t really written much about science. I thought I’d do a quick one on panspermia to amend this little problem.

Of all the theories on how life on Earth originated (or to be more specific, how it accelerate at such a rate), panspermia stands out as the most likely (in my opinion).

We all know life evolved over billions of years (it’s estimated that the earliest forms of life existed on earth around 3 billion years ago, if I remember my astronomy course correctly), but there was a period of time where evolution was sped up beyond predicted levels, allowing multicellular lifeforms to evolve in a much shorter time than they would normally have needed. I feel lazy tonight so I’m going to do most of this off the top of my head. If there’s anything I’m a bit hazy on, I’ll say so. I’m pretty solid on my facts of panspermia itself, I’ve just forgotten the exact timing and order of bacterial evolution on Earth. Feel free to research this yourself.

Anyhow, let’s not get into an argument over whether evolution is real or not. That would be stupid and unscientific, both of which automatically disqualify your opinion. I’m not here to say god doesn’t exist, you’re welcome to believe that he/she/it designed evolution, but the fact that evolution exists is a scientific truth on par with saying that atoms exist.

Panspermia is the hypothesis and process by which life is spread throughout the universe. The scientifc theory (let’s get this straight too, there’s a difference between a theory and a scientific theory) states that the universe is full of life (mostly at a very small and unevolved stage, such as bacteria) and these simple life forms travel around on comets, meteors and asteroids. When space rocks collide with a planet, they “seed” the planet with these simple life forms (by which I mean bacteria, carbon and amino acids). In layman’s terms, this means that life on Earth came from outer space, and very likely from Mars (because 7.5% of Mars rocks land on Earth).

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Here’s my own little twist to the theory (although I doubt nobody else has thought of it before). The universe, and thus life, was creating in the Big Bang. Originally, the Big Bang created hydrogen, helium and trace amounts of lithium. All the other elements on the periodic table were created in the furnaces of stars and released through supernovae, which scattered these elements throughout the universe (loosely quoted from Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson). As we know, stars are formed in nebulae, which are huge regions of dust and ionised gases, often containing these elements that were spread across the universe by other stars (which were formed by the original three elements of the Big Bang). The star’s gravity then attracts more space dust which orbit around it, eventually clumping together and forming planets. It thus follows that Earth was created in the same way, and either our nebula contained carbon (which is not unreasonable as it is one of the most common elements in the universe), or during its formation, Earth was bombarded by space rocks containing carbon. This is an absolutely necessary process as we (all life as we know it) are a carbon based life form. By that logic, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Earth was formed with existing life forms already on the planet, though sparse.

Predictions for the time that these simple life forms would take to evolve into multi-cellular life forms, given their density and state of evolution, don’t coincide with actual figures. Something boosted them along the way. Considering 7.5% of rocks from Mars reach Earth, it’s very likely that Earth was further fertilised through panspermia, boosting the bacteria numbers and speeding up the process of evolution.

So if you’ve ever wondered where life on Earth came from, the answer is space. Of course, everything was once in space (and still is) so I guess that answer should be obvious. What I mean, though, is the majority of the basic, microscopic life forms that evolved into all life around us came flying here on meteors, so if your heritage was traced back far enough, you could mostly likely claim that you’re a Martian.

Those who want to hear some evidence may look at this list I’ve quickly compiled:

  • In 1984, scientists discovered the meteor Allan Hills 84001. This meteorite had been blasted off the surface of Mars around 15 million years ago, and was found in Antarctica. In 1996 ALH84001 was shown to contain structures that may be the remains of terrestrial nanobacteria. Several tests for organic material have been performed on ALH84001 and amino acids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been found. (http://www.panspermia-theory.com/)
  • Bacteria can survive the harsh environment of space, and indeed, it is a well-documented fact that organic compounds are commonly found in the tails of comets. Carbon, early bacterial ingredients and amino acids are frequently found protected in meteors.
  • Mars is a more protected planet than Earth, and may have developed an inhabitable atmosphere long before Earth did (it was less hot, is more protected from bombardment, and had oxygen before Earth).
  • Recently, scientists discovered life in a sample of rock taken from Mars a few years back. Originally, they hadn’t understood what they were looking at. Unfortunately, they destroyed this life during experiments, as they had no idea what they were doing. This was in the news recently.
  • Basic life ingredients like carbon (the best building block for complex life, followed by silicone) are abundant throughout the universe. They have also been proven to be able to survive in meteors, and are always shooting around through space at high speeds. Occasionally they land on a planet, and have been proven to be able to survive that impact (prove by many examples on Earth). It follows that life in space is frequently transported around to different planets.

The chilling, mind boggling and awesome extrapolation from this information is that perhaps humans once had a powerful civilisation on Mars, which eventually destroyed the planet through our well-known penchant for unsustainable living. As the planet could no longer support life (remembering that there is evidence of old river beds on Mars), we died out there as a species, leaving traces of our existence in bacteria and amino acid forms. Panspermia then brought us from Mars to Earth, where we reset the cycle and evolved all over again. If so, it’s ironic that we’re committing the same mistake again and destroying Earth. I can’t help but think, in the near future, we’ll drain this planet too, die out again, and then our remnants will be carried off as Earth, stripped of its protective atmosphere, is blasted to pieces, and perhaps we will re-evolve again on some other planet.

Well, if you’ve ever needed something to keep you up at night thinking, there it is. Man, science is awesome.

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