Finding aliens: Is there a ‘theory of everything’ for life?

The search for alien life is far too human-centric. Our flawed understanding of what life really is may be holding us back from important discoveries about the universe and ourselves.

  • What, should it exist, is the universal law that connects all living things? To even dream of answering that question, and to one day find alien life elsewhere in the cosmos, humans must first reconcile the fact that our definition of life is inadequate.
  • For astrobiologist Sara Walker, understanding the universe, its origin, and our place in it starts with a deep investigation into the chemistry of life. She argues that it is time to change our chemical perspective—detecting oxygen in an exoplanet's atmosphere is no longer sufficient enough evidence to suggest the presence of living organisms.
  • "Because we don't know what life is, we don't know where to look for it," Walker says, adding that an unclear or too narrow focus could result in missed discoveries. Gaining new insights into what life on Earth is could shift our quest to find alien life in the universe.
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Scientists identify 24 planets potentially better suited for life than Earth

The study identified superhabitable planets outside of our solar system.

Credit: sdecoret on Adobe Stock
  • The odds are that if Earth had the right conditions for the development of life, other places probably do, too.
  • Scientists have identified two dozen planets that match some items on the list of desirable traits.
  • All of these planets are too far away to reach with current tech, but may be valuable research targets.
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Venus' clouds may harbor 'aerial' aliens, MIT scientists say

Scientists have detected within the Venusian atmosphere a chemical known to be a byproduct of life.

NASA
  • A team of researchers has detected significant amounts of phosphine within the cloud deck of Venus.
  • Computer simulations suggest that the amount of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere couldn't have been produced by known inorganic processes.
  • The findings aren't conclusive evidence of alien life, but they do suggest Venus shouldn't be overlooked in the search for alien life.
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NASA scientists propose sending a submarine to explore Titan's seas

The mission could launch as soon as the 2030s, the researchers said.

  • A team of scientists have been developing a proposal that would send a semi-autonomous submarine to explore the seas of Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
  • Titan is the only body in our solar system that has large bodies of liquid on its surface.
  • It's also a top candidate in the search for alien life.
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The biology of aliens: How much do we know?

Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.

  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.
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