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back to article 'ALIEN' LIFE FOUND in California

Once the internets noticed NASA had scheduled a press conference on astrobiology later today, they wasted no time in speculating what the announcement could be. NASA said the press conference would discuss a "finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life". Enough grist for any conspiraloons fed up …

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FAIL

so no alien life has been found then?

some unusual life has been found on earth.

no aliens. nothing. nowt.

i'm afraid it's nasa trying to justify their ridiculous budget again.

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Joke

Aliens

I thought that practically all of the residents of California were aliens? Haven't most of the indigenous people died?

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Alien

Budgets

NASA justify the money they get a hell of a lot more than the banks that got bailed out.

In my opinion they deserve a hell of a lot more than they actually get, maybe then we could actually get out into the stars and think beyond this godforsaken rock

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Bronze badge

Eh?

"i'm afraid it's nasa trying to justify their ridiculous budget again"

Can you not read. NASA did not say they had found alien life, some twonks on the net decided in advance that the NASA press conference was going to be about the discovery of alient life. You can't blame NASA for what a bunch of bedroom squatters post on the interwebs.

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can you not read?

didn't i say that no alien life was found?

they've got a massive budget and they find some pond scum in california....wow...nasa are happy enough when the hype is on their side....

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FAIL

@whats the point of kenny lynch?

There's nothing more frustrating than trying to argue with an ignorant cynic, so I'll just say this.

Just because you aren't intelligent and/or educated enough to understand the implications of a life form whose biochemistry seems to go against all accepted wisdom doesn't mean NASA are a waste of money.

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Coat

Or possibly

or look for signs of intelligent life among the neo-conservatives.

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Alien

California? Nah...

Nah, I believe New York is the Mecca of Alien migration. Ask WIll Smith or Tommy Lee Jones.

*clickety* Hell, it's even in The Guide. I quote "Tips for aliens in New York: Land anywhere. Central Park, anywhere. No one will care or indeed even notice. Surviving: get a job as a cabdriver immediately.... etc"

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Welcome

I for one welcome..

our new arse-nicker friends..erm no?

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Coffee/keyboard

Damn you!

So when can I expect my new keyboard? The old one suffered a terminal malfunction as a result of Diet Coke applied liberally blown thorugh my nose!

(Well done!)

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Welcome

Arse-nicker friends...

Good one. Best use of "I for one welcome..." leitmotif in a long time. I vote we retire the category.

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Boffin

Given that phosphorus is more abundant than arsenic

I do not see how this expands the range of places. What would really be interesting is if the bacteria have different chemistry in terms of DNA. Do they use a different code, do they replace phosphorus with arsenic in their DNA? More likely, they replace phosphorus with arsenic in their energy management (ATP->ADP conversion, etc).

Very interesting, but again, given that phosphorus is more abundant than arsenic (due to the processes of stellar evolution, everything beyond iron in atom number is very rare, comparatively speaking) biochemistry using phosphorus would be favoured over the alternative using arsenic.

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Boffin

Expanding the range of places

Visualize a basic Venn diagram in your head with two circles: one for places with phosphorous and one for places with arsenic. At some point they would overlap, indicating places with both phosphorus and arsenic. By your information the circle for phosphorous would be larger.

Even so, there would be some elements of the arsenic set which do not include phosphorous. Before this discovery, the assumption was that those places could not support life. This discovery calls that assumption* into question. So the number of potential life-supporting locations is increased at least by those areas where arsenic is available.

But it goes beyond that, because if the arsenic/phosphorous substitution is possible within the limited range of environment we can directly study, that increases the possibility of other substitutions in the much broader range of environments we have yet to even investigate. So assumptions limiting life to places with abundant phosphorous, carbon, even water all become questionable.

* And that's the core of the problem -- we keep assuming that life in the varied cosmos must follow the pattern we see in the < 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 0000000000001% of the universe that we've actually observed. This discovery goes a very small way towards highlighting the absurdity of that assumption.

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Well it's quite simple maths really

You take the number of places where there are phosphorous, count them.

Then you take that same number of places and here's the critical part, you "add" the number of places where there is arsenic.

I'm no expert of course, but I reckon and I could be going out on a limb here, but the second number is bigger than the first number.

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Alien

So is it genuinely unrelated to us?

If it turns out to be, this would be a massive discovery.

The logic being: if life could have developed independently more than once on Earth, it would be evidence that life is commonplace rather than a cosmic fluke, and could make us much more optimistic about finding it on other planets.

(heard a lecture by Paul Davies on his book tour a year or two ago, and he was going on about looking for this kind of life, for exactly that reason).

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No it wouldn't

All that would prove is that Earth is even more fecund than we already knew; to argue from there that life must be commonplace in the universe necessitates the assumption that highly Earthlike planets are commonplace in the universe, something about which AFAIK we haven't nearly enough information to make even a reasonably reliable surmise in one direction or the other.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So is it genuinely unrelated to us?

Depends on how you quantify the definition of ‘commonplace’. One Earth per galaxy for example, means odds of many billions to one of an Earth like planet but still means there will be billions of Earth like planets out there. And that is assuming of course that Earth like planets equate to life and there was not some bizarre coincidence or set of conincidences that kick started life here.

What is clear however, is that if Earth life was the only example of life in the cosmos that would be far more astonishing - but also something we’d never be able to definitively prove.

Proving life is extremely common place is far more achievable however (assuming life is indeed that commonplace!), and that is what makes this NASA announcement special – it’s potentially a step towards this.

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Silver badge

I'd say this one goes to the AC.

Like DaVinci, he might not have the orbit entirely correct, but unlike you he at least put the sun in the correct place.

Part of the argument against life on other planets is that life as we know it depends on free oxygen in the atmosphere of the planet, and free oxygen is quite rare in the universe. Similar arguments are advanced for each of the other building blocks including phosphorous and even carbon. Each time a new strain of life is found (the blooms that live on undersea volcanic vents come to mind) on the planet that undercuts one of those assumptions, it increases the chances of life existing elsewhere in the universe precisely because the planet no longer needs to be Earthlike.

Of course if they find a species that provably developed independently from the DNA/RNA forms we know, that will be a serious problem for current evolutionary theory. But nobody wants to go digging there.

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Silver badge

Highly unlikely to be a completely different type of life

The discovery appears to be related to work at Mono Lake in California (which is very high on the scale of nought to awesome) where bacteria have evolved to handle high concentrations of arsenic in the water by substituting it for phosphorus.

On Earth any arsenophiles are likely to have once been regular bacteria that found themselves in a place where arsenic is unusually abundant. But what it means is that there might be a place in the Universe where life stumbled upon arsenic before phosphorus purely because it was locally more abundant.

This wouldn't be the first time a radically different biology has been found on Earth - the hydrogen sulfide based ecosystem of thermal vents is a good example - and there too, it was conventional life evolving into a new form because of a local surplus of sulfur.

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FAIL

How would that be a problem?

Evolutionary theory just states that the individuals most suited to the environment they find themselves in are the ones most likely to survive long enough to have babies.

It doesn't say anything about the chemistry they use to make such babies, and doesn't need to.

Heck, the 'individual' doesn't even need to be a life form as we consider the term - if a molecule is able to replicate itself in the environment it finds itself it, it will do so. If minor changes can occur without breaking that ability, evolution of that molecule will occur - making that molecule better at replicating itself.

(This will probably change the environment, so the pressures will change.)

That's the outline of current theory of how the bootstrap into life occurred, and may occur elsewhere.

Theories about what might be selected for/against, and how the minor changes might occur probably will be affected, which is very interesting.

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"Goes to the AC" what?

What kind of fool do you have to be to assume that our knowledge is so complete that only those forms of life we've encountered are granted the possibility of existing at all? Have we become not just an interplanetary species, but an interstellar one cosmopolitan enough to survey and catalog every star system in our galaxy, and I somehow slept through it?

Or, to put it slightly less rudely, I was working on the assumption that we humans don't actually yet know everything there is to know and even better are sensible enough not to try to reason from that ignorance, and assuming that others would do likewise. I fear I have been a bit too generous in that latter regard.

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Coat

No tit required

Is it a Predator by any chance?

I know Arnie's a bit rusty, but i'm sure he can still handle this on his own

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Paris Hilton

Breaking news!

I've just seen a UNIT taskforce take over the Ford factory in Dagenham, and are reportedly looking for all information concerning a Prefect that was seen leaving the premesis.

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Alien

Shouldn't they be looking

for a blue Police Box instead?

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Bronze badge

Eh?

What's a premesis and why would Ford Prefect have left one?

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Headmaster

Pedantry

Isn't it typical of a pedant to be so blinkered by a one-letter inconsequential typo that they completely miss the obvious and tangible mistake that Ford haven't actually made cars in Dagenham for the best part of a decade, decimating the surrounding community and denting the economy with its demise.

Oh no, I used the word 'decimate' in a technically incorrect manner! That's my sleep pattern trashed for the next fortnight.

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Coat

The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

"Oh no, I used the word 'decimate' in a technically incorrect manner! That's my sleep pattern trashed for the next fortnight."

...well, for only 1.4 nights anyway. ;)

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Headmaster

Pedantry pedanticised

"the obvious and tangible mistake that Ford haven't actually made cars in Dagenham for the best part of a decade, "

That would tie in perfectly with the police response, which we all know to be timely and accurate, surely.

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Joke

This is serious...

...and don't call me "surely"!

Thank you Mr Neilsen. :-)

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Joke

It's going to be a Joint press conference

NASA announcing they have found Intelligent Life outside this planet...

...The Aliens announcing: "We have still NOT found any intelligent life on this palnet..."

^_^

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Thumb Up

Galaxy song

"So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure

How amazingly unlikely is your birth

And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space

Because there's bugger all down here on Earth"

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Alien

Calvin & Hobbes

"Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -- Calvin

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Gee wizz

It can use arsenic (next one down in the periodic table from phosphorus) instead of phosphorus. I suppose the only surprise, is that there is life, on this planet, that has found somewhere to live where arsenic is more abundant than phosphorus.

Presumably these little critters would find phosphorus as toxic, to them, as we P-types find arsenic (and for the same sort of reasons)?

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Alien

Bang

Does this mean that you can kill them just by injecting them with head & shoulders? Do they go bang? Will David Duchovney save the day?

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FAIL

>Gee Whiz

The biochemistry of everything from bacteria to humans has many similarities, so the theory is that it all evolved from common ancestry and life only started on earth once. A form of life that has fundametally different biochemistry *might* well have evolved completely separately, so that would mean that live has started twice. If life has evolved only once on earth then it might be the only place it has evolved in the entire universe. If it can be demonstrated that life has started twice on earth then its much more likely that it could and has started in other places because its demonstrably less unlikely.

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FAIL

FAIL fail

Like the other guy, you're ignoring the fact that, even if two separate and completely unrelated forms of life have evolved on Earth, that still only proves that life can evolve twice *on Earth*.

In order for that to demonstrate that the evolution of life in the universe at large is less unlikely, it's necessary to show either a) that highly Earthlike planets are abundant in the universe, thus providing plenty of environments for life like this, or b) that this independently evolved form of life has an energy economy which isn't strongly dependent on an Earthlike environment (even if that's the bottom of a 97-degree thermal pool), and can survive in a wide range of conditions so long as there's an ample supply of whatever it likes to metabolize.

But hey, don't look so down in the dumps! You're wrong in the first place to assume that, just because we don't know for certain of any evolutionary process leading to life save that which led to us, this may be the only place in the universe where life has evolved or could evolve. To make such an incredibly broad assumption, on the basis of no evidence at all, betokens I think a certain infatuation with the idea that Earth, and Earthly life, and especially humanity, is somehow *special*, that this particular lump of tumbling rock is so uniquely blessed among all the uncountable agglomerations of matter in this incomprehensibly vast universe as to be the one and only place where any life exists at all, much less life complex enough to come up with ideas like religion -- and make no mistake, the idea that Earth might be the only life-bearing planet in the universe is absolutely a religious idea, a mental security blanket against the frightening possibility that the universe not only does not love us, but does not care about or even notice our presence at all.

(Well, I say 'frightening', it's never bothered me all that much and I don't really know why everyone makes such a fuss, but apparently some people think it's a big deal if we're not here because some divine drunkard pissed on a rock and we were born from the foam, or whatever your favorite creation myth says happened instead.)

Why not assume instead that, given enough space and time, what happened once will happen twice -- that the evolution of life ab initio on this planet means that it's at the very least possible life has evolved ab initio elsewhere in the universe as well, and that, given the aforementioned incomprehensible vastness of said universe both in space and in time, the simple existence of the possibility all but guarantees that life *has* evolved ab initio, in all sorts of places and all sorts of ways that, absent an entirely new branch of physics, we'll never know about because our species will never solve the energy and time problems involved in interstellar travel?

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@Aaron Em

Whilst the finding doesn't prove life exists on other planets, I would refute your statement that it doesn't make it more likely that life exists elsewhere. Because this bacteria lives in decidedly NON EARTHLIKE conditions - i.e. an arsenic lake, which is toxic to most other life forms on this planets, would make it more likely that life can evolved elsewhere, because the number of planets that could host life has now been increased by including arsensic based ecosystems.

Or something.

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Go

nice post BUT

..why not assume our species will someday know about these things, because someday it will solve the energy and time problems involved in interstellar travel?

The outcome is the same, we can think to ourselves, it's OK, this will come later, and get on with the problems of today.

But the difference is that one view can work toward that goal, while the other cannot. If you assume these questions will never be answered, you will probably bunk off, and that is bad. Certainly, these issues are large, and many generations may pass before much progress is made, but that is all the more reason to get busy now.

As for dogma, once again I choose the opposite, I think we have brothers and sisters all over the universe, and we will meet them as soon as we figure out how to get off this rock... I don't see how the idea of being completely alone, the sole originator of life, could be comforting (or believeable).

As for science, my money is on the theory of panspermia, and I am expecting concrete evidence imminently. NASA's announcement is along these lines - another kind of extremophile bacteria by the sound of it, which in panspermia are the seeds, the building blocks of life, the colonisers of rocks, and converters into ecosystems, so to find another variety does add to the body of evidence which suggests that bacteria are at least capable of doing this.

And Fermi's Paradox - that is presently located in the unresolved basket, pending further work.

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@Hughes: stop assuming we know everything

Or, it could just be that we humans haven't the faintest hint of the sort of experience and knowledge which could allow us accurately to evaluate the likelihood of our being alone in the universe, and all this nonsense that you armchair astrobiologist twats are engaging upon is completely meaningless for precisely that reason, and that I tried to bring a little actual common sense into the debate by pointing out that the bogus assumptions in play were even more bogus than the people making use of them might possibly recognize them to be. But we can't have that, can we?

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Unhappy

sorry, dropped off...

how incredibly boring.

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Coat

We have all known this for years...

Its well known that aliens appear in hollywood all the time.

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Pint

Indeed!

Sadly the word "intelligent" is nowhere to be seen near the words "alien life"!

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Joke

So...

It would appear that alien life is, indeed, a poison pen...!

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Alien

I beat the Sun to it!

Ha - If this is the true story, then I was the first to guess! See my comment at the forum below:

http://nasawatch.com/archives/2010/11/big-astrobiolgy.html#comments

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Stop

AGAIN

WITH THE CAPITALS?

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Thumb Up

HEAR HEAR!

The CAPITALS gag wasn't particularly FUNNY the FIRST TIME.

Now it's just getting TEDIOUS!

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: HEAR HEAR!

SORRY ABOUT THAT. WE'LL MAKE SURE WE DON'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

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Dead Vulture

NO PROBLEM

I'LL JUST WRITE ALL MY COMMENTS IN CAPITALS FROM NOW ON, OK!

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Welcome

That's good news.

Especially in view of the predicted shortage of phosphorus.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/30/peak_phosphorus_aiee/

I for one welcome our new arsenic based replacements.

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Much ado about nothing

(Look, Ma, I stole a title from the Bard! I'm obviously a lot more erudite than most of these inexcusable gobshites. *drool*)

But seriously, folks, NASA a few days ago: "We're going to tell you about this a week ahead of time, but only if you promise not to tell anyone about it until after we've already had a press conference to inform those news organizations we hold in higher regard than we do you, and once we've put paid to any hopes of an exclusive or of being first with the news, *then* you may set in type and print the tidbits of suddenly old news which we deign to give you."

I dunno, I guess you could get away with it if you're the State Department or something, because not a lot of news agencies are going to want to risk antagonizing, and thereby losing their preferential access to, a US government agency that's actually important or significant in some way. NASA, though? When was the last time anyone outside of academia had any respect for NASA? -- for that matter, when was the last time NASA had anything genuinely interesting to say to anyone outside of academia or the science-fiction fandom*? And what makes their PR flacks foolish enough to imagine they have tidbits tasty enough to put *any* news agencies at their beck and call?

I don't blame the Sun for shedding a bit of early light on the matter**, especially when there's so much buildup around something that's old news and frankly a bit dull besides; what surprises me is that it took as long as it did.

* Yes, (we think) we've spotted rocky non-gaseous planets around other stars, and that's lovely, or would be if we had any hope of getting any real first-hand information about any of them, even from an automated probe. But that isn't going to happen, at least not until long after the great-grandchildren of everyone reading this post have died. So, aside from a moment's faint hope that somewhere out there there's a planet playing host to a species which isn't screwing things up for itself as badly as we seem bound and determined to, what point to getting all hot and bothered about it?

** Did you see what I did just there?

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