Life As We Don't Know It
In a vacuum of dark matter and radiation, comets blaze trails bearing the pure hue of doves, stars wail as they die in a cosmic caprice, and gas clouds form seraphic kingdoms fit for a thousand suns. Galaxies swirl, cascade, and once in a blue moon, come into contact and flirt with one another, creating a celestial choir that echoes not through sound, but through its spectacular luster.
In the vastness of it all there lies a marble of water and earth, an oasis of biological sustainability, possessing a hierarchical order for life governed by a curious species longing to prove that the canvas of the Universe harbors other planets like their own – Earth. Humans have advanced significantly in the philosophical understanding of existence and relinquished the introverted assumption that the human race is superior in its uniqueness. In the scientific field, simple yet revolutionary ideas such as the heliocentric theory have displaced the thought of Earth as the lone guardian of life at the center of cosmic activity, and injected into the scientific community fervor over the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Affirming this excitement will bring enlightenment to people on a mammoth scale. If contact within mankind alone between varying races and beliefs has historically brought industrial and religious awakenings, one can only ponder the ramifications of contact with foreign worlds.
Although time proves unyielding to this quest, the endeavor of solving the Big Question would mark a cornerstone in modern science and give professionals in any field of astronomy and biology a fresh, more peripheral standard in examining life. The consequences of making contact with extraterrestrial life will dually impact man’s extroverted, scientific view of the Universe and the more introverted, philosophical plane of thinking. The almost infinite number of possible repercussions from answering the Big Question can drive impassioned space enthusiasts to a state of deliration. While this optimistic atmosphere triggers positivity, time seems to grow scarcer as research into the structure of space reveals secrets that work against mankind’s plight for contact with extraterrestrials. Dark matter sits as the secret in question and one of the most elusive entities to ever enter the field of astrophysics.
Composing an estimated 20% of the Universe and acting as cosmic glue, dark matter neither interacts with light nor can be measured by conventional means (“Dark Energy, Dark Matter,” 2011). Wearing a veil that stimulates debates about its identity, purpose, and even existence, dark matter has long been the missing component of Hubble’s Theory. Hubble’s equation, v = Ho * d, implies that the recessional velocity of an object is directly proportional to its distance from Earth, multiplied by the Hubble constant. The further an object with mass resides from Earth, the faster it will move away from the Milky Way (“The Hubble Law,” 2003). The trigger for this phenomenon is dark matter. Dark matter’s role as metaphorical glue is not one-sided.
Not only does dark matter hold together “normal matter,” but also stands responsible for the acceleration of the expansion of space. Attesting to dark matter’s influence in the cosmos, the Bullet Cluster stands as the greatest ally to supporters of dark matter. In this phenomenon, two galaxies have collided into one another as a result of gravitational attraction, and over time, solid matter such as planets outpaced the gases in the impact. As a result, the point of contact where the galaxies met holds the most concentration of gas that originally permeated within the two galaxies. Now, gravitational laws have it that more mass means more gravity. One can plausibly say that the two galaxies, having left behind 90% of their masses in the gas that diffused into each other at the point of impact, should have lost spatial form and structure.
Dark matter, however, held the planets in place and formed the Bullet Cluster (Salpietra, 2008). The behavior of this mysterious property of space can ultimately dictate the dynamic of the Universe, which can act as a hindrance to the search for intelligent life. So how does the unpredictable behavior of an obscure property of space specifically correlate to the Big Question, one might ask. The dilemma of dark matter and the expansion of space should inculcate a sense of urgency in those who wish to correspond with extraterrestrials. The laws of space-time convergence formulate conjectures that imply decreasing friction of distance as methods of communication and travel improve.
Space probes, shuttles, and remote sensing have all aided researchers in overcoming distance. SETI, an acronym for the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life, has included projects such as META I (the Million-channel Extraterrestrial Assay) that have received feedback through radio signals from the galactic plane (Ulmschneider 267). There appears no doubt that such bold projects have made progress in affirming the curiosity of millions, but space-time convergence relies on a constant – the space in between two points. With dark matter and Hubble’s Theory supporting the dynamic nature of space, the separation of planets will increase geometrically through constant acceleration while man’s ability to counteract this through technological advancements will face a limit depending on the era. In the race to find extraterrestrial life, space’s properties are outpacing human efforts.
Therefore, the criticality of making contact with intelligent life grows ever more urgent, and should be emphasized before elaborating on philosophical and scientific benefits to establishing communication with extraterrestrials. Of the many dimensions of enlightenment mankind can attain from alien life, biology will face some of the most revolutionary, though-evoking ideas. Since Darwin and the earliest classifiers of the animal kingdom, biologists have been restricted to the same formula for life, with a uniform system of genetic codes and acids, mostly DNA and RNA. Although Earth possesses eukaryotes, prokaryotes, multi-cellular life, and an array of other microscopic organisms, their basic organic infrastructures are almost identical. Earth does not stand alone in its biological uniformity; some of the same ingredients can apply to the Universe as well, such as water and carbon.
For something to live, however, does not necessarily constitute that it must contain carbon. Some life forms may even substitute silicon for carbon, as they can both form four covalent bonds through their valence electrons. This possibility faces some issues such as silicon’s relative weakness in its bonding compared to carbon, but that may just mean that silicon life would require a solvent without the polar characteristics of water molecules, which would pull away at the weaker silicon bonds (Mix 83). Due to such possibilities, contact with intelligent life would permit biologists to engage in the study of new formulas for life and significantly broaden the perspective and definition of living organisms. More specifically, astrobiologists will also receive a sorely needed, new sample to draw the ultimate conditions for life in space. The Fermi Paradox implies that there are relatively good chances of finding intelligent life compared to the lack of results and evidence to support this assumption (Ulmschneider 255).
This paradox evinces that calculation of such odds for finding life may not hold much depth. In fact, any attempt to do so is based off a single sample, Earth. For example, astrologists use the distance of Earth from the Sun, slightly less than one astronomical unit, to estimate the habitable zones of planetary systems with stars which may have masses lesser or greater than the Sun (Mix 120). Furthermore, in examining these factors, it becomes quite clear that the odds of life may not be as conclusive and dependable as one would think, and surely does not hold enough scientific validity to estimate the probability of life light years away. Imagine if scientists conducted research based on a single test subject.
Unfortunately, this scenario lives as reality, and Earth stands as the only sample. In order to abolish myopic views on life in space that create intellectual loose ends in the form of paradoxes, the discovery of possible alien life must become a priority for astrobiologists. In order to fully comprehend the expansion of the human intellectual spectrum that would result from relations with intelligent life, one should embrace intellectual issues of all variety, including the basic questions about human life and purpose. Science reinforces philosophy and vice versa, making it paramount to connect the two disciplines. Making contact with extraterrestrials would most likely cause a toxic rift between fundamentalist philosophers and epiphany-stricken theologians that would also seep into religion. Existentialists and branches of Sartre’s philosophy would gain a victory against religious or more self-centered views of human nature that profess essence prior to existence.
The dissent may lead to the emergence of new modes of thinking. Others may simply do away with religion and humanism altogether, too traumatized to fully accept the existence of other worlds. In abolishing scientific paradoxes and attaining a degree of enlightenment, a philosophical paradox emerges that questions man’s place in the Universe, along with an ominous Pandora’s Box of questions. With the establishment of relations with alien life, more philosophical inquiries may surface rather than answer themselves. SETI programs have estimated that the birth between intellectual worlds can have a deviation as great as ±2,500 years (Ulmschneider 243). Given this estimation, contact with civilization millennia ahead would do wonders for technological advancement and cooperation, even ideological exchanges.
Such awe in the face of advanced civilization would humble religious and humanistic philosophers alike. Cooperation with other civilizations may also aid in answering the other Big Questions and even provide people with a new frontier to research and investigate the Universe. Another scenario takes into account what may percolate in the case of the discovery of a civilization 2,500 years less advanced than that of Earth’s. Looking into history, more advanced nations or nation-states have consistently attempted to justify both benevolent and malevolent approaches to new civilizations on the basis of their superiority. If the search is successful, the urge for colonization will undoubtedly plague man. It is easy to immerse oneself in the countless number of possible outcomes, but there remains one more general challenge to finding life – its dexterity and agility.
In 2011, scientists Tullist Onstott and Lisa Pratt found H. mephisto, a subterranean nematode, living one mile beneath the Beatrix gold mine (Kaufman, 2011). The possibility of microbes, single-celled, and multi-cellular life forms living in such dramatic conditions expands the endeavor of astrobiologists to a more strenuous level. This discovery implies that to observe only the surface qualities of candidate for harboring life but to not examine the subsurface would be turning a cold shoulder to a world of possibilities. In fact, such new realms for life may even redefine what astrobiologists consider signatures of life. For example, one of the bacteria species discovered by Onstott and Pratt underground survived through the radioactive decay as its energy source, completely alien from the conventional methods of photosynthesis or the consumption of sugar molecules.
Carl Pilcher, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute appeared enthusiastic about the findings, stating that “It is entirely plausible, in fact extremely likely, that subsurface environments like those described in these papers exist on other worlds in this solar system and in other planetary systems” (Kaufman, 2011). The search for intelligent life has dimensions and obstacles on a gargantuan, sometimes even discouraging level. The urgency of contacting extraterrestrial intelligence, if they indeed exist, matches the sheer challenge of setting out to do so. With the behavior of the cosmos and the evasiveness of life, scientists face a seemingly insurmountable challenge in the quest to find a world like Earth. If the human race has the strength, resilience, and brute endurance to last through this plight, man will achieve scientific, philosophical, and existential enlightenment on an unprecedented scale.
The gauntlet has been laid down and the challenge accepted, but the endeavor has just begun. Finding a planet that harbors life in any form will unleash consequences good, bad, and unfathomable. Until these visions foment, man will work restlessly to find a planet like his own, a pearl in a cosmic sea.