The space and alien news from this past week has been of a weird, fascinating theme. We have mice making bone-saving space missions, dinosaurs potentially ruling far-away planets, and terrestrial organisms populating the universe with alien life. There have also been articles about the happy possibility of eventual alien contact becoming established as a certainly, and the less happy certainty of Mars missions becoming less of a possibility. While it hasn’t necessarily been a ground-breaking week, the science world – except for NASA – is doing a lot to keep space travel and extraterrestrials in the world’s peripheral vision.
Aliens might not be aliens… or maybe they are: Panspermia is one of the possible answers to the Fermi Paradox. It’s the one where human life developed from extraterrestrial building blocks that fortunately survived space travel and landed on a planet that they could adapt to. This article flips the idea. Rather than having Earth-based life come from somewhere else (though that’s still in the cards), elsewhere-based life came from Earth. Organic microbes can escape into the universe through solar storms – though these unprotected microbes aren’t likely to make it – or meteorite impacts that shoot rocks into space. So life on Europa, Mars, or anywhere we might independently find life might have its origins in terrestrial life. Which, kind of like an earlier postabout humans that colonize planets in the future and eventually evolve separately, raises the question: what makes an alien alien? The origin, or the adaptation?
Maybe Dr. Grant was right about raptors: This article is slightly less immediately awesome than the title might suggest. It talks about the two basic orientations of DNA and RNA that mirror each other and are part of the concept called ‘chirality.’ Life on earth today has mostly ‘L’ amino acids and ‘D’ sugars, and dinosaurs apparently had ‘D’ amino acids with ‘L’ sugars. While potentially interesting, this doesn’t evoke any visceral reaction until the article’s main scientist, Ronald Breslow, reminds everyone that only a lucky (for us) asteroid let mammals take over; if all life in the universe kind of developed the same way, some planet out in the universe might just have super-intelligent dinosaurs. This is slightly unlikely, but when an infinitesimal possibility meets an infinite universe, you never know.
An optimistic take on human’s response to aliens: Filled with gratuitous Star Trek references and general sci fi ideas, this article is less scientific and more a placeholder to keep the general public aware of the possibilities of alien contact; in the general wake of actual scientific discoveries of extraterrestrials, I approve of this. It covers the basics of how likely some sort of alien life is, why we haven’t made certain contact, and Washington Post’s Marc Kaufman’s hopes for a good reaction to alien overtures. While we might respond with a mix of joy, curiosity, and abject, violent terror, he hopes the first (and a tempered bit of the second) is more prevalent than that last one.
The lack of gravity might not kill us after all: Space travel is dangerous. We know this. Not only are there immediate, horrific threats of an endless, sucking vacuum that astronauts can’t really defend against beyond hoping nothing goes wrong, but living conditions are so different from those on Earth that our terrestrial bodies can’t handle the long-term damage. However, a bunch of space mice might help find the answer for stopping bone breakdown in microgravity environments. Scientists were able to dramatically downsize spinal breakdown (from 41.5% to 3%) through genetic modification. Which, if I can cite that post about the human-alien spectrum one more time, is the beginning of the potential conflict. …It’s still pretty cool, though.
Optimistic article hopes we won’t notice lack of international awesome: This article gets points for acknowledging NASA’s budget cuts and the fact that the
won’t be participating in the European-led 2016 and 2018 Mars missions. However,
reality loses points for these facts actually being the case, and NASA loses
points for thinking the Mars Program Planning Group, which will assess future
potential missions and long-term action, is an okay response. This response is
even less okay once NASA’s director of the Mars Exploration Program Doug McCuistion
says that the group doesn’t really have much of a say in future potential
missions and long-term action. This makes it look like NASA is wasting what
little money it does have. Luckily, it launched Curiosity rover before too many
budget costs, so we can look forward to it landing this August.
(If you couldn’t tell, this article makes me a bit angry, especially since a potential – and completely not-yet-begun – 2018 mission switches from being a ‘2018 mission’ early in the article to a ‘2018/2020 mission’ in later paragraphs. We all know what that means.)
Have you heard any interesting alien or space news this past that wasn’t mentioned? If so, be sure to leave a comment so we can include next week!
Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.