What’s Wrong with NASA: Evidences of Life on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus?

By J.P. Skipper

This is my first report for what I suspect will be a landmark year 2012 in this field. Remember that by the end of this year (December) the old is suppose to come to an end and something new begins for Earth, at least as far as the ancient Mayan calendar and various prophets with decent track records are concerned. I can’t say for sure on that but during the meantime, just in case I’m going to get a little more speculative in some of my reporting where I think it is appropriate and it starts with this report.

The above 1st black and white image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft of the southern region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus that periodically sprays out jets or plumes of heated water that quickly freezes to ice in space as you see it doing here. Enceladus is a moon in Saturn’s rings. The current science thinking is that Saturn’s rings are made up of water ice and rock debris of all different sizes as well as a number of moons and dwarf planets held in orbit by huge Saturn’s tremendous gravity well.

The official thinking is that a comet of water ice plowed into Saturn’s orbit some time in the ancient past and, before busting up completely, it may have impacted one or more of Saturn’s moons and/or asteroids in that ancient time generating the rings full of rock debris and water ice held in orbit by Saturn’s tremendous gravity. Enceladus is only the sixth largest of Saturn’s moons with a diameter of 500 km or 310 miles and only 10% the size of the largest moon Titan.

Despite its smaller size, Enceladus is one of the brightest objects in our sky. The thinking on the reason for that is that Enceladus’ surface appears to be made up of a lot of water ice that is of course white in color and highly reflective in sunlight. It should be noted that this moon is located in the densest part of Saturn’s relatively diffuse “E” ring. There is speculation that Enceladus’ water ice outpouring is responsible for much of the density of the “E” ring. Do remember that piece of information because it will become increasingly more important in this reporting.

Note in the above 1st image that the main water jets or plumes appear to stretch in ragged lines of subtle brightness from the lighted edge areas of Enceladus back into the darker areas of the moon’s surface. This suggests that the strongest sprays do indeed come from fissures or cracks in the surface there in this southern region.

The official text in the NASA Photojournal notes that the above image is a mosaic created from two Cassini raw images. The current science thinking is that these are heated water/ice jets originating from deeper down below Enceladus’ surface spraying through fissures in the surface and then quickly freezing to ice in open space. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it.

Most of these fissures are located in the so called “Tiger Stripes” area at Enceladus’ south polar region. These tiger stripes are nothing more than visible fissures (cracks) and, as you can see, the above jet evidence in the darker area tends to support this theory. Now let’s take a closer look at these water venting fissure or tiger stripe sites in the next two images below.

Tiger stripe fissures in Southern pole( http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA06247)

The above 2nd image is a NASA Photojournal PIA06247 shot taken on 7/14/2005 of a large portion of Enceladus’ south polar region and the tiger stripe features area. The official text says that this image is 1,024 pixels wide and that the image scale is 122 meters or 400 feet per pixel. You do the math if you would like to arrive at the scale.

Meanwhile, please note that despite the wide area view, there are no impact craters in the above scene, only ridges, topography buckling, and fissures. Remember that Enceladus is in Saturn’s rings that might generate a bunch of rock missiles, so this tells us that this terrain is relatively young and fairly recently formed even if it isn’t currently jetting water. That suggests that this terrain is mostly water ice that forms into a self leveling liquid or semi-liquid frozen soil mixed mud and then refreezes back eventually into the newer terrain patterns you see here.

 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia11127.html

The above 3rd image is a much closer Cassini PIA11127 shot taken on 10/31/2008 over 3 years later. It provides a closer view of the same type of topography in the south polar or tiger stripe region.

As you can see, this is some seriously rough topography but again no impact craters in it. In theory the largest fissures or canyons you see there are the source of water/ice jets. Remember now that the current prevailing science theory is that deeper underground water periodically heats up due to Saturn’s tremendous gravitational influence and expands upward and spewing out into space via the jets or plumes through these largest fissures where it quickly freezes into ice particles and becomes part of Saturn’s diffuse E-ring.

That science speculation tends to suggest that what we are looking at here in the 3rd image may be at least in part soil and rock geology over a subterranean water base and the largest fissures are the escape valves area for the heated rising water as it takes the path of least resistance upward through the largest deep fissures. Again the above 3rd image tends to support this theory. However, now take a look at next two images below and their newer 2010 evidence?

Waves radiating from many central points suggesting liquid surface( http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/rawimagedetails/index.cfm?imageID=228082)

The above 4th and 5th images are the best of their kind and based on the Cassini raw W00065512 image taken more recently on 9/22/2010 of Saturn’s moon Enceladus’ surface. The 4th image is of the general scene at 100% of the original and the 5th image is of the darker lower left quadrant of the general image blown up 200% of the original. The distance is suppose to be 248,565 km or 154,450 miles from the Cassini spacecraft to Enceladus here but it appears to me to be a whole lot closer than that. Further, there appears to have been some manipulation of this W00065512 image.

For example, the original official raw image strip the above 4th and 5th images are drawn from is physically taller and deeper down than the 4th and 5th images I am showing here. I’ve cropped out that bottom dark area because there is nothing in it to see other than dark blankness. One might think that it’s space but it isn’t, it’s just blank substitution.

Because of that, one might think that the W00065512 image view catches the outer edge of Enceladus but that isn’t the case either. I suspect something may have been there in the closer shot in the bottom area of the strip between Enceladus and the Cassini camera that has been removed by basically removing everything in that bottom area of the strip. In my imaging here I’ve left just a little of this at the bottom of both of the above 4th and 5th images for you to see.

Likewise, note the tiny bright specks in the bottom area of the above blown up 200% 5th image. Those bright specks are important. If you saw these bright specks against a dark space background (and you will see that in other images below) rather than against a small world, you would naturally assume that they are stars but most of them aren’t. The tip off is that all of these kind of “stars” are the same size and light intensity. In the case of the Cassini probe, such specks are for the most part residual empty pixels where something has been removed from the image. The proof is that when the image is blown up and enough contrast is added, a collection of image artifacts clustering around these specks revealing this truth can be seen. Tricky isn’t it.

I’m going to suggest that what we are looking at in the above 4th and 5th images is that rough Enceladus terrain in the 2nd and 3rd images being melted into a self leveling fluid soil nd water slurry mixture and each of those different size spots with apparent wave rings radiating out from the center of each one are bubbles of various sizes formed by heated water below rising to the surface in preparation of the next coming water jet event.

It’s similar to water just beginning to boil in a pot of soil and water mixture otherwise known as mud. Note that the fluid is not pouring out from fissures here but heating up from below and melting the entire surface area. This suggests that there may be no hard land surface here at all, just a water/soil mud like consistency on the surface just beginning in more advanced stages to do its water jet/plume thing shortly as would mud if over heated in a pot.

So we’ve learned something about Enceladus’ geology in that regard thanks to the Cassini imaging. However, let’s get back to those tiny bright specks that are in my opinion where some objects have been digitally extracted from the scene.

Note that they are between us and the Enceladus surface, so they can’t be claimed to be stars in space, although they could be claimed to be reflective rocks or ice masses within Saturn’s rings. If so, then why would someone go to all the trouble and expense to remove evidence that isn’t really anomalous? I suspect and speculate that this actually closer view of the Enceladus surface was included in the official record to record this very important and informative geological jetting event starting to unfold for the scientists. However, in doing so, the closer view also revealed objects on a closer larger scale between Enceladus and the Cassini camera with enough resolution to reveal what they may really be and that it is LIFE.

Objects that someone doesn’t want us or the scientists in general and especially those involved in the Cassini mission to know about. No I’m not talking about space ship objects here, it is actually more incredible than that. What I am talking about is biological life itself. Biological life that can live in space but which often remains within range of these Enceladus jetting events and/or within at least the “E” ring of Saturn and its diffuse E-ring water ice resource.

Life that can gather and retain water ice within itself in the rings both as a resource in supporting organic life and to provide self generated power for that life. Further, it also shares some similarities to the bioluminescence organism life in the deepest darkest part of our Earth oceans where bioluminescence in the intense darkness comes in very handy. An adaptation that it shares for the same reasons in the blackness of space. In other words, where there is a need, life often finds a way.

I suspect it is herding or more appropriately schooling space life that is beginning to congregate above and getting ready to take advantage of the upcoming Enceladus water jet resource event shown just beginning to form in the 4th and 5th images here. Life such as that in the following images.

I suspect the only reason that this W00065512 image made it into the official record is because it is geologically important as to the water jets and because cropping off the bottom of the image did away with views too close of denser and more recognizable concentrations of this life against the Enceladus background and the few objects still left in the image shown could be removed individually without drawing much attention to this obfuscation tactic.

The above 6th and 7th images are two separate Cassini N00164016 and N00164015 raw images, both taken on 10/4/2010, that demonstrates these objects against against a space background. Although they are from two separate images, note that one is closer than the other. Also note that they are both of the same scene but with subtle differences. For example, note that the orientation of the objects is the reverse of each other and there has also been some subtle changes changes in the background.

Please also note that this change in orientation is not the result of a flipping of the image, only a change limited to the object’s and their orientation. All of these factors combine as evidence strongly suggesting that these objects are real and not imaging artifacts of any kind. Now note in this 7th image the closer view all those “stars” in the background. Note how many there are and their general uniformity in size and light intensity quite contrary to natural stars that would be of different sizes and intensity.

Not quite all but most of this evidence is not stars at all but the empty pixels where something has been extracted from the image during processing. Now if that is true, think now many there are of what ever has been removed from this scene. Despite their more distant appearance due to their smaller size, I suspect that these empty pixels represent closer to the camera views of these same objects that might have provided a stronger recognition factor raising the suspicion even among conformity influenced scientists that they may be looking at life here and opening that door in their thinking.

However, there are yet other factors to consider. For example, note the uniformity of size and length of the objects that we can still see here even after the obfuscation work. This level of uniformity is typical of life all deriving from the same genetic code building blocks. At the same time, this is not typical of rock and soil or ice mass geology in Saturn’s rings. For example, it is well known that the rings are made up of particles from the size of mere specks to the size of large homes and larger. That kind of variance is not represented here in these anomalous bright objects.

Water is without a doubt the enabling factor here both in the form of liquid and ice. Consider this, water is a combination of H20. Both hydrogen and oxygen individually or together can be used as sources of power not to mention constituting the body fluids of living tissue. It is within the realm of reason that some life forms originating in a water environment originally could over time evolve and develop into self propelling their way via expenditure of that power in nearby space and through out Saturn’s rings harvesting water ice in the thinner material as they go and those within range returning to these great Enceladus liquid water jetting events cruising through the water plumes to take on larger more satisfying loads.

It is also within reason that such creatures starting out life in water depths without sunlight and in complete darkness under an mud top surface frozen cover would likely develop bioluminescence in order to communicate with others of its kind, find mates, compensate for freezing space conditions, and deal with predators just as we see in the deepest darkest parts of our Earth oceans. As they evolve to live out of the water, they just exchange one form of swimming for another.

The above 8th image is drawn from yet another Cassini N00163969 raw image. I’ve included it here just so that you can see more evidence of the objects against a space only background and to demonstrate that this kind of evidence is typical in the Cassini imaging near Enceladus and within Saturn’s rings. Note once again the objects and their different light producing effect from object to object. Note also the great many “stars” in the background that, if they are life extracted from the scene, may be evidence of immense schools of these creatures and just how numerous they really are in “empty” space.

The above 9th image is just a section of the 8th image blown up 400% to demonstrate the “stars” in the background. Although you can also see the dimmer always present noise artifacts in this background, note how the brighter “artifacts” cluster around the “stars” that are actually empty pixels left behind when something was extracted from the image at these many points. Now look back at the 7th, 8th and 9th (below) images and think about how numerous these are. This is what happens when a location in a digital image is disturbed by subsequent spot specific manipulation.

The above 10th image evidence is drawn from yet another Cassini N00163126 raw image. I believe that it demonstrates the objects straightened out and underway all in the same direction like a school of fish. Again, note that some are generating an inner light source and some are not. I believe that objects with a slight curve to them represents objects generally at rest even though they may or may not be completely stopped.

I suspect that objects straightened out as you see above indicates exerting power and underway. This factor implies that these objects are likely organic in their composition so typical of life. It also implies that they can change their shape to some extent.

The above final 11th image is a scene taken of Enceladus during a water jet event backlit by the Sun. It demonstrates a couple of things. First, it demonstrates the full extent of expansion into space of the water geyser event from the south polar region not adequately shown by the raw black and white imaging and just how extensive a deal it really is. Second, it shows the objects pointed out with the yellow arrows. Note that all of these are straightened out and likely underway going through this water plume event tending to back up my own speculations.

I know that all of this is a lot for some of you to take in including even some of you with more open minds. After all, how can something alive exist in the emptiness even vacuum of space?

The fact is that I first brought this possibility to you attention in my 2009 Report #170 because of the visual evidence. If this is truly life, then its behavior suggests an aquatic schooling origin like schooling fish and Enceladus may even be its ancestral home. Some of the visual evidence suggests even more complexity in that this life may be a cooperative schooling form that can also join with others of its kind cooperatively and change its over all visual appearance in the process.

Life in space, despite the human preconception against it, is not a new way out idea. For example, there is NASA’s own STS-75 The Tether incident where an electro dynamic tether to generate power in space experiment was deployed in space where nothing by conventional thinking should be able to live. Yet the tether broke off via an unexpected power surge and still producing power began to be surrounded by swarming “some things” that clearly appeared to be disc shaped living objects.

You could tell that the astronauts were stunned and initially at a loss for words just watching the swarming. When mission ground control broke in and asked what these things were, the reporting astronaut tried to pass it off as debris coming off of the spacecraft even though these large objects were at least 77 miles away and in movement behind the tether from the spacecraft camera. In other words, the objects were likely bigger than the spacecraft itself and could not possibly be “debris.”

In my opinion, the only thing that is hard to believe about this incident is the completely foolish human explanation with more obvious holes in it than a big hunk of swiss cheese. If the tether principle was really abandoned by NASA, it is more likely because its radiating power attracted too many life forms feeding on that power with unknown consequences.

Some and especially the most innocent scientists will no doubt scoff at this as the most ridiculous kind of speculation pointing out that the great majority of the science communities would love to make scientific history by discovering life on other worlds including even in space and that there is no chance that they would deny it to public consumption. Further, I would even agree with most of that in general.

However, what they are failing in their naivety to take into consideration is that space, UFOs, and alien research and exploration is also big business here on Earth building vast fortunes empowering those that have ascended to oligarchy world control status. They police their own and to fall from such exalted heights is too much of a horror for them to contemplate. Most in government and science are but mere employees of oligarchy choosing. Worse, they own all the most important communication pathways like the major media and they in a round about way control most of the military including military and civilian intelligence communities.

For example, if someone under their influence (and who isn’t) gets hold of an alien craft as crap happens for aliens just as it does for us. The technological gains that are its potential equates directly to world wide military advantage, money, and power. The same if someone under their influence gets hold of an alien or aliens or just negotiates in secret with them. For them, it’s all about wealth, power, and control and everything to that end is expedient.

As they see it, the double edge of the sword is that on one edge aliens and their advanced technology exists with its power potential drawing them with their focus on self like mindless flies to honey. Yet, on the other edge, is the potential for interference from populations that tend to be more idealistic and want to argue about right and wrong for all concerned. What the science community doesn’t seem to understand is that idealism and altruism are regarded by oligarchy as completely unrealistic and foolish and a waste of their time.

What the oligarchy knows is that admitting to any kind of life beyond the confines of Earth or for that matter intelligent alien life here on Earth, leads to an opening of the mind and what it will consider next. It’s like you can’t be just a little bit pregnant, you either are or you aren’t. Right now denial among populations and the science communities is the norm and the oligarchy has worked long and hard at considerable expense to create this prevalent social condition. They don’t want to abandon it because it will ultimately mean interference with what they do within the protection of secrecy as too many others not under their control start to become involved.

Yet, the very technology advantage that has been such a primary mover in making them, is also undermining them. As greater and greater communication among populations advances, the secrecy that shields the oligarchy is also undermined and is looking at collapse. Their own AI super computer modeling, assuming they are feeding it objective material, without a doubt predicts this. We out here in the populations are right on the cusp of this happening in our time.

So Mr. scientist they are running scared and they will try to prevent as long as possible that knowledge door from opening within you and you beginning to wake up. Meanwhile they are trying to figure out a way to survive what is coming and preserve their exalted positions of power. So they keep you and your work confined and compartmentalized so that you can’t see the true big picture. For the few that this doesn’t work on, they create a false big picture for you to focus on while the real picture remains solely out of your sight and within their control.

The bottom line is that their proven success formula historically requires secrecy as well as your and our ignorance. Unless they can develop a different successful formula that they can be willing to try in their self isolation, they can’t afford for you or I to wake up and open the door to idealistic interference problems for them. The trouble from their point of view is that the admission of water in what we would consider normal conditions on the surface of a world leads to the consideration of biological life on that surface and that in turn of course leads to the consideration of intelligent and even advanced life and of course we aren’t ignorant and in their control any more.

I know that many of you on all sides don’t want to face this but we’re now long past the point of no return and it’s too late to clamp down or turn back the tide now. The collapse of most of this particular brand of secrecy on our world is immanent and the general science and population ignorance so long entrenched is going to fall away with it. The level of technological advancement guarantees it. The key is to adapt now or suffer the consequences.

Joseph P. Skipper

Advertisements

Fate of Our Civilization and Tactics

Oxygen content of the atmosphere over the last...

Image via Wikipedia

By J. R. Mooneyham

Extinction. Or collapse into a permanent medieval (or worse) state of anarchy and deprivation. These appear to be the normal ends of technological civilizations in our galaxy, based on everything we know circa early 2003. The above statement is not made lightly. Rather, it is a conclusion based on more than a decade of dedicated research into the matter.

The Fermi Paradox which contrasts the 100% probability of life and intelligence developing on Earth against the thunderous silence from the heavens so far (no alien signals) may be resolved by four things: One, gamma ray bursters which may have effectively prohibited the development of sentient races until only the last 200 million years; Two, the lengthy gestation period required for the emergence of intelligence (which almost requires the entire useful lifespan of a given planet, based on our own biography); Three, the need for an unusually high measure of stability in terms of climate over hundreds of millions of years (the ‘Goldilocks’ scenario, enabled by a huge natural satellite like our Moon moderating the tilt of a planet’s axis, as well as gas giants parked in proper orbits to mop up excess comets and asteroids to reduce impact frequencies for a living world); and Four, an extremely dangerous 600 year or so ‘gauntlet’ of challenges and risks most any technological society must survive to become a viable long term resident of the galaxy (i.e. getting a critical mass of population and technology off their home world, among other things). That 600 year period may be equivalent to our own span between 1900 AD and 2500 AD, wherein we’ll have to somehow dodge the bullets of cosmic impacts, nuclear, biological, and nanotechnological war, terrorism, mistakes, and accidents, as well as food or energy starvation, economic collapse, and many other threats, both natural and unnatural. So far it appears (according to SETI results and other scientific discoveries) extremely few races likely survive all these.

There’s six major guiding principles by which to defend civilization against all the worst possible threats to its future:

  • One, remove or minimize the sources of all reasonable motivations to harm others from the entirety of humanity– as well as the means to carry out such harm
  • Two, put into place and maintain robust structural impediments to, and socio-economic discouragements of, the domination of the many by a wealthy, powerful, or charismatic few
  • Three, insure the utmost education and technological empowerment possible of the average individual world citizen, wherever this does not unreasonably conflict with the other principles listed here.
  • Four, work to preserve existing diversity in life on Earth and its natural environments, as well as in human behavior, culture, media, languages, and technologies, and even nourish expansion in such diversity within human works, wherever this may be accomplished with minimal conflict regarding the other principles listed here.
  • Five, excesses in intellectual property protections, censorship, and secrecy all basically amount to the same thing, so far as posing threats to the robustness, prosperity, security (and even survival) of civilization is concerned. Therefore all three must be deliberately and perpetually constrained to the absolute minimum applications possible to protect humanity. In these matters it would typically be far better to err on the side of accessibility, openness, and disclosure, than the other.
  • Six, seek out and implement ever better ways to document human knowledge and experience in the widest, deepest, and most accurate fashions possible for both the present and future of humanity, and offer up this recorded information freely to the global public for examination. This means the more raw the data, and the more directly sourced, the better. The more raw the data and less colored by opinions of the day, the better present and future citizens will be able to apply ever improving tools of scientific analysis to derive accurate results, and drive important decisions.

Work faithfully and relentlessly to implement and continue the enforcement of these six principles into perpetuity (always seeking the optimal balance between them all), and you should reduce overall risk levels for civilization to that stemming from true mental illness or pure accidents.

Robust and enlightened public health programs (among other things) can reduce the total risk of mental illness to society to negligible levels. That would leave the risk of accidents to deal with. Reducing the risks presented from various accidental events is another subject in itself, that I’ll leave to others to address.

Especially in a world where shortages of money, talent, knowledge, and time still define more of our economics and society, than anything else. Anyone working to achieve one or more of these aims immediately encounters active opposition from various quarters too. That may sound hard to believe, but look at a few examples: Cuts in military spending even in the most advanced and highly developed nations like the USA face stiff opposition from many politicians because defense cuts are apparently less popular with voters than defense budget increases– almost no matter how peaceful the world happens to be at the time. Any cuts that do somehow get passed can often only be implemented by shutting down unneeded bases or various extravagant weapons programs. But either of those considerations bring up cries of “lost jobs”, even in good times when those jobs might easily be replaced with other, less lethal ones. Weapons proliferation around the world likewise is often defended as generating jobs at home, despite the fact those weapons often end up being used by naughty allies to kill innocents in conflicts where we ourselves have little or no involvement– except for our brand name and label being prominently emblazoned on the blasted shards in various scenes of mass death and destruction. Later on we often wonder why people on the receiving end of these weapons (in the hands of others) hate us so. And sometimes the weapons we sell end up being used against our own soldiers. But still we sell and sometimes even give them away.

Maybe aiding in the spread of democracy and free speech through the world would seem an easier goal than stopping the proliferation of weapons and weapon technologies? Sorry, but no. Indeed, here in America our track record for a long time now is behavior that says democracy and free speech is too good for lots of folks other than ourselves. You see, the ill will built up from all that weapons proliferation, plus other actions on our part, has resulted in lots of countries where we’d be tossed out on our ear if real democracies suddenly sprang up in them.

Like what actions am I talking about? Things like manipulating elections and interfering with other attempts at legitimate changeovers in power in foreign countries. CIA involvement to prop up dictatorships with whom we have deals for things like oil or other items. Stuff like that. There’s no telling how many democratic movements we’ve helped crush or cause to be stillborn around the world in the past century. Of course, you could say we were just emulating our parent countries such as those of western europe, which did many of the same things for several centuries before we ourselves successfully rebeled againstthem.

It’s almost like we don’t want any other rebellions to succeed, in order to retain our own ‘special place’ in history. But is that fair? No.

Of course, sometimes a nation manages to overthrow its oppressors despite our opposition and dirty tricks. But when that happens, our previous sins in the conflict result in whatever new government emerges being dead-set against us. Like in Iran, with the fall of the Shah. Our interference with their internal affairs so antagonized and polarized the Iranians that one result was eventual domination of the country by an Islamic extremist movement, which managed to overthrow the US-supported Shah. And naturally, when things didn’t go our way there we froze Iran’s assets and put in place trade sanctions against them. And in response, they may be seeking to obtain their own weapons of mass destruction and supporting various terrorist actions around the world.

Could it be we are gradually arranging our own (maybe even civilization itself’s) spectacular end with all this chicanery? For the longer we continue this type of behavior, the more difficult and scary it becomes to consider stopping it. And the worse the eventual consequences might be. After all, we’re making a lot of enemies out there. A pretty hefty chunk of the human race, in fact. If and when they all finally overthrow their US-supported dictators or oppressive ruling regimes, they might not exactly want to send us flowers.

I vote we try to find a way out of this mess now rather than prolonging and worsening it with politics-and-economics-as-usual. Before it’s too late. Before our world too becomes one of the silent ones in the galaxy.

 

Self Replication in Alien Life Forms: Alien Sex?

Fungi reproduction

Image via Wikipedia

By R. A. Freitas

Of all the important things life forms do, self-reproduction seems quite unique. Deprive an animal of its food or drink, draw off its blood, or cut away its skeleton, and it dies. But prevent an animal from reproducing and, usually, nothing happens. The species may eventually become extinct, but the individual organism lives out its lifespan. Reproduction of self is an important asset but is not absolutely essential for life – even on Earth.

This is true despite protests that self-replication is somehow the entire point of biological activity. The vast majority of social insects never engage in personal self-reproduction, yet these species are extremely successful. The anatomy of domesticated turkeys has been altered by breeding for plumpness so that these animals can no longer mate in the natural way and must be artificially inseminated with human help. A number of higher Earth species such as the mule are quite sterile, yet do not become extinct.

Indeed, an intelligent extraterrestrial race might lack the capability of individual direct self-replication. We might imagine two closely allied nonsentient alien species among whom, when a successful interspecies mating occurs (or in a special way or in a special environment), sterile but intelligent “mule” offspring are the result of the union. Clearly there is no bar to the rise of intelligence in such a situation – the hybrid’s brain mass. neural complexity, or level of organization may be qualitatively greater than those of its non-sentient parents. Our intelligent but sterile race would maintain their numbers by corraling and manipulating the “dumb” mixed parental population much as stockmen raise choice cattle and stablemen breed champion thoroughbreds.

It is entirely possible that some very complex extraterrestrial living creatures may have no need to reproduce themselves at all, either personally or at the species level. One class of such beings might be self-creating but non-replicating organisms, analogous to very advanced robots capable of making continual repairs and of upgrading their own mechanisms periodically. Other nonreproductive lifeforms might increase their numbers simply by physically expanding and then dividing into pieces of various sizes – biomass increases as easily by growing to larger volumes as by replicating a large number of small originals.

There could even exist a race which evolves by means of acquired characteristics. Such lifeforms would neither die nor reproduce, but would instead modify their parts to survive in a changing environment. Selection would act internally on their constitutions, rather than on a succession of descendent organisms. The closest analogies, according to Dr. P.H.A. Sneath, are terrestrial soils, which don’t reproduce in the usual sense but are complexly organized systems nevertheless. Soils respond to environmental changes, arise where there is rock and wind to erode it, and are virtually immortal. If ever they tried to “compete” with their neighbors, such soil-like organisms would blend together with a total loss of individuality.

Finally, reproduction is not a prerequisite for sex. Two dissimilar growth systems could trade genetic information about their expansion patterns, then each continue growing in a slightly different way. This would be an example of “sexual growth” without replication. Of course, self-reproduction does have many advantages. Whole-body duplication allows rapid dispersion into new niches and produces abundant biological alternatives upon which natural selection may operate. It is a telling observation that most complex terrestrial creatures are capable of self-replication. Assuming Earth is a typically exotic planet, we should expect that many, though certainly not all. extraterrestrials will be reproducers.

Is Sex Necessary?

If reproduction is a useful convenience for a species, sex seems almost pure luxury. Certainly there is no fundamental reason why evolution and diversity cannot thrive in its absence. There is no universal law prohibiting asexuality.

In fact, asexuals can be vastly more prolific in the short run. Microorganisms chum out literally billions of copies in the space of a few hours, relying almost exclusively on such simple techniques as binary fission and budding. No “opposite sex” is customarily required. While it is true that many sexual species are also quite fecund, as a general rule fewer offspring are produced than among the asexuals.

Furthermore, asexual reproduction is good economics from the personal point of view. An organism which copies itself without sex passes undiluted its entire genetic heritage to its young. Offspring are exact duplicates of the originals. A bisexual parent, on the other hand, normally contributes only half of its own genes towards the construction of an offspring. The other half must be donated by the second parent. From the standpoint of the selfish gene, sex entails a rather poor profit margin in comparison to no-sex.

Except …

A completely asexual species produces a population of virtual duplicates, save an occasional mutation. Since variation is the raw material of evolution, and the lack of sex decreases the breadth of this variation, such creatures are a distinct disadvantage when competing with their sexual brethren. New genetic combinations in asexual species can accumulate only by a sequence of fortuitous mutations in the same family lineage. Asexuals must “stand in line” to wait for a series of rare mutations.” Change spreads only slowly through the gene pool.

Sex allows the accumulation of variation in parallel, rather than in series. In a sexual species many new genes can spread rapidly throughout the population because gene-jumbling produces a novel combination (possibly of several new genes at once) with each act of reproduction. Rare mutations become more widely distributed. So great are the advantages of sex that even many normally asexual organisms have occasional sexual encounters to beef up the waning gene pool. This is especially true in particularly harsh or rapidly changing environments.

For example, both the freshwater hydra and the aphid reproduce asexually for most of the year. As winter approaches. with hard times ahead, these animals switch over to sexual reproduction. This ensures genetic diversity when the colonies disband and disperse with the arrival of cold weather.

In the billion years or so since its invention, sex has proven remarkably successful – if we are to judge from the fossil record of life on this planet. Sexual species dominate the animal world, and the most widespread and important groups are all but exclusively sexual in their mode of reproduction. What of the creatures of other worlds? We don’t know whether all alien species must have chromosomes, genes, or some other information-carrying molecules – perhaps some extraterrestrials reproduce by a process akin to xerography. But two things are clear: Variability is the key to biological complexity and survival, and sex reshuffles the biological data deck nonpareil.

 

How Many Sexes?

Not all Earth creatures are bisexual. Terrestrial biology offers several examples of multisexual reproduction. One interesting case is the lowly paramecium, which has between five and ten sexes depending on how you count. These are distinct mating forms which arise at different times under definite conditions, and which can only mate in certain specific combinations. Another example is certain quadrisexual fungi, notably Basidiomycetes, in which there are four distinct sexual groupings. Among the higher animals, greylag geese display an evolved sociobiological “behavioral trisexuality.” One goose “marries” and mates with two male ganders. Multisexuality is clearly a viable alternative.

Why, then, are the vast majority of terrestrial sexual lifeforms bisexual?

The answer seems to be that one sexual partner is just enough to properly shuffle the genetic deck. Each healthy individual has a reasonable chance of mating with a member of the opposite sex. Apparently, two are both necessary and sufficient. ^More than this may seriously impair the chances for species continuity. The more sexes required for successful reproduction, the more difficult it is to bring them all together properly at just the right time. The greater the number of links in the mating chain, the greater is the chance that the species may become vulnerable to certain predators or other environmental severities, thus jeopardizing the future of the entire race. And it is not clear how, say, three sexes could generate variability very much more effectively than two.

So while extraterrestrial multi-sexuality cannot be ruled out, requiring more than two sexes for reproductive activity seems an unnecessarily complicated solution to a problem elegantly resolved using only two. It’s a safe bet that bisexuality is the overwhelmingly dominant mode of sexual reproduction among the alien lifeforms in our Galaxy.

 

The Bisexual Universe

Assuming that most sexually-reproducing ETs will have just two sexes, bisexuality does not necessarily demand the existence of distinct male and female forms. A case in point is the black mold Rhizopus nigricans, which displays an unusual form of reproduction known as “heterethallism.” This species of fungus is bisexual, inasmuch as two organisms are required for fertilization and replication to take place. However, the two sexes are physically indistinguishable. There are no constant differences between members of opposite mating groups other than their reciprocal behavior when crossed. Thus, it is impossible to designate one form of the black mold as male and the other as female. Customarily the complementary groups are labeled merely “+” and “-” for convenience during experiments.

One can imagine a race of intelligent extraterrestrials apparently unisexual to our undisceming eyes but which actually practice heterothallic sex. Such beings would most certainly lack secondary sexual characteristics, those hormone-induced physical landmarks such as beards and breasts to which we humans are so pleasantly accustomed. They might even lack distinctive primary sexual characteristics such as internal or external gonads. Norms of marriage, inheritance, language, religion and social behavior would be profoundly affected by this state of affairs. The usual social tensions caused by sexual competition in human cultures would be more diffuse in a society in which every member was a potential mate and in which all could become pregnant. though sexual undercurrents might arise in all interpersonal relationships. The disparate male/female roles in human social roles and courtship rituals would defy their understanding, and to heterothallic ETs, human males – who participate in reproductive acts for pleasure but cannot become pregnant as a consequence – might be judged especially pitiful, handicapped, even perverted creatures.

Assuming maleness and femaleness exist among most bisexual alien species, there are again major variations in Earthly biology. It is quite possible to have an organism which is neither strictly female nor strictly male, but rather exhibits some alternating or intermediate condition. For example, simultaneous hermaphrodites possess at once both female and male sex organs. Ovaries and testes are present together in the same individual. Matings occur in pairs, with each partner serving both sexual roles at the same time. Planarians, earthworms, sponges and snails fall into this category, and a few simultaneous hermaphrodites among the more highly evolved vertebrates are known, such as the banded flamefish Serranus subltgarius.

Such intersexual animals can be sex-mosaics in time as well. Many creatures start life as one sex and finish it as another. These sequential hermaphrodites come in many varieties. For instance, in protoandry an animal is first male and later female; proterogyny is the converse, with young females metamorphosing into functional males as they age. Or the process can be cyclical. Oysters are bom as males, then spend the rest of their lives switching back and forth between male and female in irregular cycles a few months long.

What would a society of sequential hermaphroditic aliens be like? We can take a few clues from the life history of the freshwater shrimp Gammarus pulex. Each of these individual crustaceans is both male and female, but not at the same time. Newborn animals spend early life in a neuter stage, after which they pass through puberty and enter the first sexually active phase as functioning males. After a while, the maleness is exhausted. Latent ovaries ripen into maturity, and the organism spends the remainder of its life as a full-fledged female. Eggs are shed by middle-aged mothers and are fertilized by energetic youthful males still in the middle of their first cycle.

It is a magnificent bisexual system, one which works quite well on Earth. No individual is excluded from any phase of the reproductive process. Still more significant, each member of the colony plays both male and female roles during his/her life. Drawing an analogy to the human life cycle, zoologist Norman J. Berrill of McGill University in Montreal imagines that all halfgrown individuals, about ten years old and weighing about 34 kilograms, would be males – the only males – ready to act as such both sexually and “probably in other wayward ways.” Like their truly human counterparts, as troublemakers they would be kept in line by a closed society of matriarchs, roughly equal in number to the males but each twice the size and much older and wiser. This wisdom would be not merely of a general character, as among human parents, but also in the special sense of each having been a male herself, as understanding as a mother with a child and as little likely to put up with any nonsense, perhaps wistfully looking back to her youthful manhood. Womanhood would bud as usual when masculinity had faded, with growth continuing and full female maturity yet to come.

The institution of monogamous marriage as we know it would be quite impossible in such a society. Husbands would be forever changing into wives and males would be too immature psychologically to be treated as other than “child-lovers.” Such pedophilia is viewed as a sexual perversion in many human societies, but for our intelligent shrimps it would seem quite normal. Incest prohibitions might be inordinately complex, since all fertile middle-aged females in the family in theory could mate with any or all male children. To offset the negative effects of inbreeding, exchanges of matriarchs could occur between families, doubtless accompanied by the same pomp and ceremony as upon “giving the bride away” in our society. Love in the traditional human sense probably would not exist – females could have strong affective and familial non-sexual ties with other females, whereas relations between females and males would be characterized more as controlling playfulness than by affectionate cooperation. Our usual concepts of male/female love might seem quite alien to them.

 

Xenogamy

Given these tremendous potential cultural and biological differences, one wonders if meaningful interspecies social-sexual relations would be possible at all between humans and extraterrestrials. Many science fiction authors have tried to deal sensibly with this touchy question, such as Philip Jose Farmer in The Lovers, in Flesh, and in Strange Relations, Walter Tevis in his The Man Who Fell to Earth, and a host of others. There have been “reports” of sexual molestations of humans by the occupants of UFOs. And Star Trek’s own Mr. Spock is a prime example of xenogamy, the product of a marriage between a human female alid a male alien from the fictional planet Vulcan.

It is not at all implausible that interspecies copulation can occur. Given the prevalence of the complementary male and female organs throughout the animal kingdom on this planet, such activity may indeed be possible even between creatures of “gross morphologic disparity.”[4] Alfred Kinsey’s researchers turned up accounts of attempted couplings between a female eland and an ostrich, a male dog and a chicken, a female chimpanzee and a tomcat, and a stallion and a human female. Obviously, relations between humans and other beings even roughly humanoid in shape can happen.

If such activity is possible, is it likely? Could humankind and an alien race derive sexual pleasure from mutual physical encounters? These are very difficult questions, mainly because the ET is such an unknown quantity. Extraterrestrials may have organs, appearances, sensitivities, and responses wholly incompatible with any conceivable human style of lovemaking.

And yet – in 1948 Kinsey reported that some 17 of all rural farmboys had experienced sexual congress with various barnyard animals, and had achieved orgasmic satisfaction in this way. (Less than a tenth of a percent of all females interviewed admitted such coition, although 1.5 of the sample reported some form of sexual contact with animals.) If bestiality occurs so regularly among human populations, can we state with any assurance that “xeniality” will not also occur when humans mingle socially with alien races? The evidence, scanty though it may be,suggests that interspecies sexual contacts are not only possible but probable.

One last question remains. When humans and aliens sexually join. will anything result from the union? Again, this is a difficult question because an unknown alien physiology is involved. Different species on Earth have been mated successfully from time to time – for instance, the hybrid offspring of a mallard and a pintail duck is fertile.

In 1975 a chance mating of two very different species of ape in the Grant Park Zoo produced the first reported ape hybrid. The offspring, dubbed a “siabon,” was the result of a mating between a male gibbon and a female siamang confined in a single cage. “Obviously,” remarked one researcher, “they had been sexually involved for some time.” Gibbon cells have 44 chromosomes, whereas siamang cells have 50, and thus are farther apart genetically than human beings and the great apes. The “siabon” offspring, believed sterile, has a mixed bag of 47 chromosomes – 22 from the father and 25 from the mother. Still, in the first analysis, xenobiologists recognize that interspecies fertilization, and especially hybrid fertility, is a rather rare phenomenon.

In the context of extraterrestrial matings, natural interspecies fertility should be even rarer. (Of course, with advanced technology almost anything may be possible – the first interkingdom clones combining plants and animals were achieved during the late 1970s.) We know that slight changes in the environment can cause enormous variations in planetary biochemistry. Nucleic acids, genes and codons may not be needed by ETs, or these may be essential but in different forms than are found on Earth. Many complicated and highly unlikely coincidences must occur for an alien/human mating to produce viable results. The two species must have identical amino acid sequences for proteins (assuming they even have proteins), the same optical rotation in their biomolecules, closely matched chromosomes with similar size and shape, the same kinds of genes located on the same chromosomes at the same locations, and so forth – all of which is highly improbable. It has not even been shown that humans can produce interspecies offspring with their own closest biological relatives – apes and other primates who share most of man’s biological heritage.

So interspecies matings involving humans aren’t likely to result in pregnancy. If pregnancy somehow does occur, the hybrid offspring probably won’t be viable. (It has been estimated that up to 50% of all normal human pregnancies may end in spontaneous abortion.) Finally, if somehow viable and carried to term, the interspecies hybrid will most likely be sterile or maladapted for natural survival, much like the mule or the liger. Hybrid vigor is unlikely in the offspring of parents of such widely varying genetic constitution.

  • Recommended Links

Searching For Extraterrestrial Life Forms on Other Planets

Evidence of Life on Mars and Analysis of Evidence of Life On Mars

 

Search For Extraterrestrial Genome: A Project Overview

SETG will test the hypothesis that life on Mars, if it exists, shares a common ancestor with life on Earth. There is increasing evidence that viable microbes could have been transferred between the two planets, based in part on calculations of meteorite trajectories and magnetization studies supporting only mild heating of meteorite cores. Based on the shared-ancestry hypothesis, this instrument will look for DNA and RNA through in-situ analysis of Martian soil, ice, or brine samples. By applying recent advances in microfluidics, embedded systems, and biological automation, our team is developing an instrument that can isolate, amplify, detect, and classify any extant DNA or RNA-based organism.

On Earth, very simple but powerful methods to detect life by the DNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are now standardly used. Due to massive meteoritic exchange between Earth and Mars (as well as other planets), a reasonable case can be made for life on Mars or other planets to be related to life on Earth. The sensitive technologies used to study the extremes of life on Earth can be applied to the search for life on other planets. Team  is working to develop a PCR detector for in situ analysis on other planets, most immediately, Mars.

The SETG Instruments

Strategies for detecting life on other planets have sought to avoid the assumption it would share any particular features with life on Earth. The most general strategies — seeking informational polymers, structures of biogenic origin, or chemical or isotopic signatures of enzymatic processes — look for features that all life is expected to exhibit. This generality comes at a cost: the strategies are not particularly sensitive, and more importantly, there are abiological routes to these life signatures. However, if life on Earth is actually related to life on other planets, we can use a far more powerful and information-rich technique developed to detect the most extreme forms of life on Earth.

MARTIAN METEORITES NAKHLA AND SHERGOTTY

On March 19, 1999, David McKay announced at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, that an additional pair of Martian meteorites contained “true micro-fossils from Mars.” The fossils actually resembled Earth bacteria in the process of reproducing. These “micro-fossils were found in a 1.3 billion year old Martian meteorite which fell to Earth near Nakhla, Egypt, and nanofossils were found in a 165 million-year old Martian meteorite that fell near Shergotty, India.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On October 31, 1996, British scientists and planetary geochemists, Colin Pillinger, Ian Wright, and Monica Grady, announced that they too had discovered evidence that life once existed and thrived on the red planet –Martian life that flourished as recently as 600,000 years ago.

The British team analyzed two different Martian meteorites, including the fist sized rock scrutinized by NASA scientists. Specifically, they discovered a variety of organic compounds including complex organic molecules produced by and associated with carbon-based life forms in a chunk of Mars (EETA 79001) that had been blasted out some 600,000 years ago. By analyzing the various atomic weights of these chemical substances, the British team also reported that the ratios discovered match those of the oldest fossils and bacteria found on Earth; e.g. archaebacteria. Moreover, these scientists discovered “microbially produced methane” similar to the methane produced by bacteria known to live in cow guts as well as other locals on Earth. That is, they discovered chemical residue reminiscent and suggestive of cow flatulence! Farting cows on Mars?

Thus there is evidence that Living creatures have populated Mars for much of its history, from 4 billion years until 600,000 years ago. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that life may still be present on Mars. In a presentation in London at the Royal Society, the British team reported that “geologically speaking, there appears to be a good chance that life might still exist in protected areas on our nearest planetary neighbor.”

IS THERE STILL LIFE ON MARS

Because of the low temperatures, and lack of sufficient atmospheric shielding, water on the surface of Mars will either freeze, or boil off and turn to vapor. And yet, incredible amounts of water is frozen in the permafrost.

On 2008 NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander touched down north of the Martian arctic circle. and beamed back evidence of freeze-thaw cycles in what proved to be frozen water within a couple inches of the top of the soil. Soon snow was sensed falling from the Martian clouds, and its camera captured images of hoarfrost. It also detected perchlorate, an energy source used by some Earthly microbes.

Evaporating ice on Mars over a 4 day period On earth innumerable species live within the permafrost, and even miles beneath frozen ice. Some are active. Yet others are dormant and awaken from their icy slumber when the ice begins to thaw.

Similar conditions favorable to biology are also present on Mars.

Because of seasonal changes in the tilt of the planet’s axis and its elliptical orbit, which brings it periodically closer to the sun, Mars’s poles warm dramatically releasing water which flows across the surface. Likewise, when exposed to sunlight, Martian rocks and soil are sometimes heated above freezing and water leaks onto the surface.

VIKING SPACE CRAFT DISCOVERS LIFE ON MARS

Unfortunately, the rovers and the Phoenix were not designed to test for the presence of life. Nevertheless, evidence for life on Mars was discovered in 1976, though for reasons that are not at all clear, NASA issued conflicting reports about the findings. Part of the problem was due to the fact that the two Viking space craft were sent NOT to where life may exist, but to those regions of Mars the least likely to contain life. The exploration sites were chosen for safety and not science. In addition, the equipment and experiments conducted by the Viking landers were not designed or calibrated properly, and were not sufficiently sensitive to detect the presence of microbes which might be living in permafrost or frozen tundra.

Yet, even with these limitations, biological activity associated with microbial activity including reproduction, was in fact detected. Specifically, the “Labeled Release” (LR) experiment took a sample of Martian soil and added a nutrient that contained radioactive carbon. The purpose was to detect the presence of radioactivity in the gasses released that would indicate biological activity. A control experiment treated a second sample that had been sterilized. In every experiment conducted, positive results were obtained from the unsterilized sample, and negative results were obtained for the sterilized sample. Thus,the LR experiment proved there was life on Mars.

However, a second series of experiments, employing a gas chromotagraph and mass spectometer was conducted to test for organic material associated with living organisms. Yet this experiment was so poorly designed and so insensitive that it would have been unable to find evidence of life on Earth under similar conditions. The GC/MS experiment required that a gram of soil had to contain over 100 million organisms before signs of life could be detected. When the GC/MS experiment was tested against Antarctic soil which was brimming with bacteria, it failed to find evidence of life.

Thus, whereas the LR experiment demonstrated the presence of life on Mars, not surprisingly, the GC/MS provided negative results. NASA administrators, however, overruled the scientists who designed the experiments, ignored the positive findings and issued a statement falsely claiming that no evidence of life was found he in fact evidence of life was present.

The business end of the current SETG instrument contains 2 cm x 2 cm microfluidic chip module containing tiny nanoliter wells where the real-time polymerase chain reactions occur. Tiny tubes feed in chemicals and blue light illuminates fluorescent dyes that help identify and analyze DNA molecules.

Increasing evidence, such as the low temperature transfer of  ALH84001, and theoretical calculations suggest that objects capable of carrying life have been transferred between solar system bodies with significant frequency. In addition, extremophiles have been discovered in Earth environments with high radiation and frozen conditions which, while not as extreme as those on Mars and other planets, demonstrate the incredible adaptability of microbes and suggest that habitable zones are much broader than previously thought. Together these facts raise the possibility that life could have been transferred between Earth and Mars perhaps early in the history of the solar system, and could survive on Mars to the present day. The SETG team is developing a very low power and lightweight instrument to test for life on other bodies, most immediately Mars, using the most sensitive known detector for Earthly life.

BioInformatics

The PCR strategy for life detection emerged from the exploration of the diversity of life, which revealed about 500 “universal genes” that are carried in the DNA of every known living thing on Earth. The gene that has changed the least over the past 3-4 billion years is the 16S (or the related eukaryotic 18S) ribosomal RNA gene. Ribosomal RNAs are the main structural and catalytic components of the ribosome, a molecular machine that translates RNA into proteins. It is the slow rate of change of the 16S gene that makes it the best detector of life. Within the ~1500 nucleotides of the 16S gene, there are multiple 15 to 20 nucleotide segments that are exactly the same in all known organisms. These regions of the 16S gene are essential for its catalytic activity and have remained unchanged over billions of years.

Schematic representation of COLD-PCR

Image via Wikipedia

The DNA sequence between the universal 16S gene primers contains so much information that organisms detected only by their 16S gene sequences are routinely classified based only on that information. This DNA sequence carries information about the organism from which the ribosomal RNA gene is derived, and can allow a new organism to be fit into the tree of life.Thus the detected product is a unique biosignature. Currently, hundreds of research groups use 16S ribosomal RNA PCR primers to prospect for new archaeal and bacterial species from a wide range of environments. Most of the life that is detected by PCR cannot be grown in the lab, suggesting either very slow growth rates or very particular growth conditions not met in the lab. Thus the previous culture-based exploration of microbial diversity missed 99% of the living world. Such surveys of extreme environments have expanded habitable zones from below 0 °C to over 110 °C, from acidic hot springs to highly radioactive reactor pools, to deep in the crust of the Earth, and has allowed particular 16S gene sequences to be assigned to particular metabolic strategies.

The distinct environments of the Earth and Mars at present might not allow an organism adapted to one planet to grow on the other. But meteoritic exchange in the solar system was 100 to 1000x more intense during the heavy bombardment stage 4 billion years ago. There are signs of numerous fluid flows a possible ancient ocean, and sedimentary formations on Mars that suggest a warmer and wetter Mars 3 to 4 billion years ago, an environment more similar to Archean Earth.

Fossil evidence suggests that by the Archean period, microbial evolution on Earth had already proceeded to the point of modern microbial morphologies, and biosignatures suggest that enzymatic carbon metabolism with isotopic fractionation had evolved by then. Because all known organisms have one or more copies of the 16S ribosomal gene, all organisms are thought have inherited their ribosomal RNA gene from a common ancestor. This common ancestor has been hypothesized to be an archaeal-like hyperthermophile 3 to 4 billion years ago whose metabolism exploited oxidation/reduction gradients. Thus at the time of maximal meteoritic exchange 3.5-4 billion years ago, microbial life on Earth may have already possessed a shared core of 500 genes, including the 16S ribosomal RNA gene. The last common ancestor with life on Mars may have also shared this core of genes. Thus at the point of high meteoritic exchange, there may have been microbial life on Earth detectable by 16S gene PCR and an environment on Mars more similar to Earth than today.

Real Time PCR and Detection

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) that is a detection strategy used to amplify the number of copies of a specific region of DNA in order to produce enough DNA to be further analyzed. A DNA sequence is the precise order of appearance of four different deoxyribonucleotides: adenine, thymidine, cytosine and guanine, abbreviated A, T, C and G, respectively. The technology of PCR involves adding stable 15-20 nucleotide long DNA primers, a stable enzyme nucleotide triphosphate monomers, and a simple heat pump that thermally cycles 20-30 times in 2 hours. Upon heating to 95°C and then cooling to 55°C, these DNA primers pair with their complement on each DNA strand, even if there are only a few DNA molecules in a sample. After heating to 75°C, the DNA polymerase will polymerize the nucleotide monomer components also in the tube to duplicate the DNA strands. There will now be four strands, where originally there were only two. If one repeats the thermal cycle with all the same components in the same tube, now there will be eight strands; repeat again – now 16, etc. Thirty cycles will produce one billion copies of the original sequences.

The principle behind the real-time PCR method is that as the amplification process progresses, there is an increase in the fluorescence from the dye binding to double-stranded DNA molecules. As the dye binds to DNA, it undergoes a conformational change and emits fluorescnece at a greater intensity, which we can then monitor.

PCR will even amplify complex mixtures of 16S ribosomal RNA genes from communities of organisms in environmental samples. Thus, PCR with DNA primers corresponding to the conserved elements can be used to amplify DNA from any species more than a billion fold, without need to isolate, culture, or grow the organism in any way. The PCR approach has added advantages of extreme sensitivity and robustness. PCR can detect a single DNA double helix in a crude sample. The biochemical processing of the sample can be as crude as a cheek swab from humans to agitation of dirt for soil microbes.

PCR technology is very mature, with thousands of thermal cycling machines installed in small labs all over the world, and field PCR thermal cyclers used, for example, in the military to detect biological warfare agents. They are as standard in the modern molecular biology laboratory as toasters are in kitchens. A typical small thermal cycler not optimized for space flight weighs 3 kg and uses 100W. Only tiny amounts of energy are actually needed to cyclically heat and cool the 10-100 microliters of fluid in a typical PCR reaction, and to detect the product of that amplification. Real-time PCR uses a fluorescent dye that intercalates with double-stranded DNA in order to allow for simultaneous detection and quantitation during the PCR reaction. The SETG team is engineering an instrument for real-time PCR that incorporates all the fluid handling components on a single microfluidic module.

Soils on Earth are considered to be a complex environment and a major reservoir of microbial genetic diversity. In the past two decades, progress in the development of methods to isolate nucleic acids from environmental sources and amplify them using Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) have shed light on a previously unknown diversity of organisms. However, since PCR is a highly-sensitive detection strategy, contaminants of metagenomic DNA can often interfere with PCR by inhibiting DNA and polymerase interactions.

A variety of different strategies have been investigated for the purification of metagenomic DNA from terrestrial environmental samples, such as sample pre-processing, agarose gel purification, electroelution, gel filtration, combinations thereof, as well as commercially available DNA extraction kits. Nucleic acid sample preparation on the lab bench is highly labor intensive and time consuming with multiple steps required to collect DNA or RNA from raw samples. More recently, microfluidic systems have been used to solve the sample preparation challenge by reducing analysis time, reagents consumed, and reducing cross contamination. The SETG team is developing a microfluidic sample preparation module for extracting and purifying a raw environmental sample that will serve as the front-end of the SETG instrument.

The definitive analysis of any PCR product is a DNA sequence determination. The current laboratory DNA sequencing technique, high-resolution electrophoresis, is not practical on Mars. Currently, there are a number of sequencing techniques available at the macroscale, which can be miniaturized to integrate into our SETG instrument. Additionally, some promising microfluidics-based sequencing technologies are now coming into the market, which we hope to collaborate with and/or draw insight from in order to develop a DNA sequencer that will meet our needs. For the flight instrument, all of the chemical and biochemical reagents will be need to be stored in a desiccated form. Though these reagents are known to be stable on Earth to cold and low level of radiation, their stability in vacuum and high solar radiation flux will need to be addressed during our development phase. In order to study how space radiation levels will affect the chemicals needed for a PCR reaction, the SETG team tested exposure of the reagents to proton, neutron, and heavy ion bombardment at levels on par to a typical mission to Mars. We are testing the survival of reagents on this mock interplanetary cruise, as well as Mars surface temperatures and radiation environments.

The primary purpose of Project RedGENES was to collect bacterial and archaeal genetic sequence data from the extremely acidic watershed of the Copahue Volcano and the Upper Rio Agrio in Argentina. Chemical similarities to Mars make the site astrobiologically interesting and an ideal setting to carry out a field test of the SETG instrument. The field campaign began with a reconnaissance of the Upper and Lower Rio Agrio, followed by the selection of six sites for in-depth study. The team collected water and soil samples from a range of locations within the highly acidic, low cell density study sites. The instrument prototype performed well in the field, with excellent hardware and software execution and power requirements were met with the use of a portable external battery. Geochemical analysis and bioinformatical analysis are being performed to characterize the bacterial and archaeal communities in these samples, and SETG hopes to return to the field site in the near future to collect new samples and perform additional instrument tests.

After all, it’s interesting to see such a project going on…Limitation?

[In next article, I’ll review the case for SETG and I’ll propose some strategies.]

[Credit: SETG Homepage]

On The Habitability of Gliese 581g: Review

The Gliese 581 system has been making headlines recently for the most newly announced planet that may lie in the habitable zone. Hopes were somewhat dashed when we were reminded that the certainty level of its discovery was only 3 sigma (95%, whereas most astronomical discoveries are at or above the 99% confidence level before major announcements), but the Gliese 581 system may yet have more surprises.

When the second planet, Gliese 581d, was first discovered, it was placed outside of the expected habitable zone. But in 2009, reanalysis of the data refined the orbital parameters and moved the planet in, just to the edge of the habitable zone. Several authors have suggested that, with sufficient greenhouse gases, this may push Gliese 581d into the habitable zone. A new paper to be published in an upcoming issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics simulates a wide range of conditions to explore just what characteristics would be required.

Artist impression of Gliese 581 g, which is thought to have three times the mass of Earth. Credit: Lynette Cook

The team, led by Robin Wordsworth at the University of Paris, varied properties of the planet including surface gravity, albedo, and the composition of potential atmospheres. Additionally, the simulations were also run for a planet in a similar orbit around the sun (Gliese581 is an M dwarf) to understand how the different distribution of energy could effect the atmosphere.

The team discovered that, for atmospheres comprised primarily of CO2, the redder stars would warm the planet more than a solar type star due to the CO2 not being able to scatter the redder light as well, thus allowing more to reach the ground.

One of the potential roadblocks to warming the team considered was the formation of clouds. The team first considered CO2 clouds which would be likely towards the outer edges of the habitable zone and form on Mars. Since clouds tend to be reflective, they would counteract warming effects from incoming starlight and cool the planet. Again, due to the nature of the star, the redder light would mitigate this somewhat allowing more to penetrate a potential cloud deck.

Should some H2O be present its effects are mixed. While clouds and ice are both very reflective, which would decrease the amount of energy captured by a planet, water also absorbs well in the infrared region. As such, clouds of water vapor can trap heat radiating from the surface back into space, trapping it and resulting in an overall increase. The problem is getting clouds to form in the first place.

Astronomers have discovered many planets orbiting the star Gliese 581. This artist’s representation shows Gliese 581 e (foreground), which is only about twice the mass of our Earth. Other confirmed planets in the system are 16 (planet b, nearest to the star), 5 (planet c, center), and 7 Earth-masses (planet d, with the bluish color). Credit:ESO

The inclusion of nitrogen gas (common in the atmospheres of planets in the solar system) had little effect on the simulations. The primary reason was the lack of absorption of redder light. In general, the inclusion only slightly changed the specific heat of the atmosphere and a broadening of the absorption lines of other gasses, allowing for a very minor ability to trap more heat. Given the team was looking for conservative estimates, they ultimately discounted nitrogen from their final considerations.

With the combination of all these considerations, the team found that even given the most unfavorable conditions of most variables, should the atmospheric pressure be sufficiently high, this would allow for the presence of liquid water on the surface of the planet, a key requirement for what scientists maintain is critical for abiogenesis. The favorable merging of characteristics other than pressure were also able to produce liquid water with pressures as low as 5 bars. The team also notes that other greenhouse gasses, such as methane, were excluded due to their rarity, but should the exist, the ability for liquid water would be improved further.

Ultimately, the simulation was only done as a one dimensional model which essentially considered a thin column of the atmosphere on the day side of the planet. The team suggests that, for a better understanding, three dimensional models would need to be created.

In the future, they plan to use just such modeling which would allow for a better understanding of what was happening elsewhere on the planet. For example, should temperatures fall too quickly on the night side, this could lead to the condensation of the gasses necessary and put the atmosphere in an unstable state.

Additionally, as we discover more transiting exoplanets and determine their atmospheric properties from transmission spectra, astronomers will better be able to constrain what typical atmospheres really look like.

Atmospheric Circulation Simulation and Habitability

Ever since the planet has been discovered, a lot of rumors came to existence like detection of so called and long awaited ‘alien signal’. I tend to agree with preamble that there could indeed be life but human life, not exactly good claim without any compelling evidence. The next frontier in extrasolar planet-hunting is the discovery and characterization of Earth-sized exoplanets — “exo-Earths”. A particularly promising route is to search for such planets around nearby M stars. M dwarf stars have several unique attributes that are driving exoplanet studies and astrobiology, as well as next-generation interferometry and direct imaging missions; they constitute at least 72% of nearby stars. As the least massive stars, they have the greatest reflex motion due to an orbiting exoplanet. Furthermore, the classical habitable (liquid water) zone around M dwarfs is typically located in the range  0.1–0.2 AU, corresponding to orbital periods of  20 to 50 days — well matched to the capabilities of ground based precision-Doppler surveys. With such short periods, hundreds of cycles of a few-Earth-mass planet can be obtained within a decade, realizing factors of at least 10 in increased sensitivity for strictly periodic Keplerian signals and enabling Doppler reflex barycentric signals as small as 1 m s−1to be recovered even in the presence of similar-amplitude stellar jitter and Poisson noise. Although these attributes have only recently become widely recognized by the astronomical community, many of the nearest M stars have been prime targets for scrutiny by leading precision-radial-velocity surveys for over a decade now.

Two bodies with a major difference in mass – a star and a planet -- orbit around a common center of mass, or ‘barycenter’ (defined in this animation by the red cross). Astronomers look at the Doppler shift of light as the star moves back and forth, but additional orbiting planets can create a very complicated signal. Credit: Zhatt

One of the most enticing and proximate exoplanet systemsbeing scrutinized is Gliese 581, with at least four exoplanets orbiting a nearby (6.3 pc) M3V star. Two of the exoplanets announced are apparently“super-Earths” that straddle its habitable zone. Recently, Vogt announced two more exoplanet candidates orbiting this star — one with a minimum mass of 3.1 M(Gliese 581g) and an orbital distance of about 0.15 AU, placing it squarely within the habitable zone of its parent star. It is generally accepted that, for stellar masses below 0.6 M, an Earth-mass exoplanet orbiting anywhere in the habitable zone becomes tidally locked or spin-synchronized within the first Gyr of its origin, such that it keeps one face permanently illuminated with the other in perpetual darkness. Such tidal locking will greatly influence the climate across the exoplanet and figures prominently in any discussion of its potential habitability.

Simulation and Results

Figure below shows the Mollweide projection(Pseudo-cylindrical projection of a globe which conserves area but not angle or shape. Also called the “homalographic projection”) of a snapshot from the simulation where Gliese 581g is assumed to be tidally-locked. Since the rotational period of about 37 days is much longer thanthe radiative cooling time (about 4 days), the structure of the flow is sculpted by radiation rather than advection. The relatively fast cooling time implies that the global temperature map relaxes approximately to the input thermal forcing function.

While such visualizations are aesthetically pleasing, more insight is provided by looking at the temporally-averaged temperature and wind maps as functions of  longitude and latitude — the long-term, quasi-stable climate. This is shown in Figure 2, in which they contrast both the tidally-locked and non-tidally-locked cases. For the tidally-locked case, the permanent day side of the exoplanetis just within the classical T = 0◦–100◦C habitable temperature range. In the case where the rotational period is assumed to beequal to one Earth day, the flow is dominated by advection rather than radiation, with temperatures at the equator hovering around afew degrees Celsius. The pair of global temperature maps in Figure(2) makes the point that conclusions on the exact locations for habitabilityon the surface of an exo-Earth depend upon whether the assumption of tidal locking is made. Even on the cold night side, the temperatures are comparable to those experienced in Antarctica where colonies of algae have been discovered and analyzed. All of these statements are made keeping in mind that temperature is a necessary but insufficient condition for habitability.

Figures 3 and 4 show the global zonal and meridional windmaps, respectively. In the case of a tidally-locked Gliese 581g, large-scale circulation cells transport fluid across hemispheric scales at speeds  1 m/s, comparable to typical wind speedson Earth. These cells have a slight asymmetry from west to east due to the rotation of the exoplanet. If the exoplanet instead has a rotational period of one Earth day, there is longitudinal homogenizationof the winds with a counter-rotating jet at the equator andsuper-rotating jets at mid-latitude. The meridional wind map is nowcharacterized by smaller structures. The slightly faster wind speeds recovered from the simulation with a rotational period of one Earthday are artifacts of assuming a higher value of  temperature difference between equator and poles of the planet — nevertheless, the global structure of the wind maps are robust predictions of the simulations.

To further explore the interplay between radiative cooling andadvection, we execute another simulation where the radiative cooling(originally 4 Earth days) and Rayleigh friction (originally  1Earth day) times are set to be 36.562 times their fiducial values— in essence, we are scaling by the ratio of the rotational periodsof (a tidally-locked) Gliese 581g to Earth. Due to the longer cooling time assumed, we now run the simulation for 3000 Earth days and discard the first 2000 days so as to attain quasi-equilibrium. The Mollweide snapshot of the temperature and velocity fields, as well as the long-term wind maps, are shown in Figures 5. Since advection occurs somewhat faster than radiative cooling,zonal winds on the exoplanetary surface develop a stronge reast-west asymmetry and there are hints of energy transport from the permanent day to the night side. The chevron-shaped feature residing around the substellar point is reminiscent of that seenat  0.1 bar in 3D atmospheric circulation simulations of  hot Jupiters. Trailing the featureare large-scale vortices spanning about a third of the hemisphere insize — their large sizes are a consequence of the Rossby deformationlength scale being relatively larger due to the slower rotationof the exoplanet when tidally locked.[ref]

Generally, these studies make the point that anexoplanet found outside of the classical habitable zone may not beuninhabitable — conversely, an exoplanet found within the zonemay not be inhabitable. It simply depends upon life as how it adapts the conditions. Quoting from my previous article “Gliese 581g: Earthlike Exoplanet may Harbor Potentially Rich Alien Life!!

The search for extraterrestrial life is encouraged by a comparison between organisms living in severe environmental conditions on Earth and the physical and chemical conditions that exist on some Solar System bodies. The extremophiles that could tolerate more that one factor of harsh conditions are called poly-extremophiles. There are unicellular and even multicellular organisms that are classified as hyperthermophiles (heat lovers), psychrophiles (cold lovers), halophiles (salt lovers), barophiles (living under high pressures), acidophiles (living in media of the lower scale of pH). At the other end of the pH scale they are called alkaliphiles (namely, microbes that live at the higher range of the pH scale). Thermo-acidophilic microbes thrive in elevated thermo-environments with acidic levels that exist ubiquitously in hot acidic springs.Cyanidium caldarium, is a classical example of an acido-thermophilic red alga that thrives in places such as hot-springs (<570 and in the range 0.2-4 pH). This algal group shows a higher growth rate (expressed as number of cells and higher oxygen production when cultured with a stream of pure CO2, rather than when bubbled with a stream of air (Seckbach, 2010). It has been reported that Cyanidium cells resisted being submerged in sulfuric acid (1N H2SO4). This is a practical method for purifying cultures in the laboratory and eliminating other microbial contamination (Allen, 1959). The psychrophiles thrive in cold environments, such as within the territories found in the Siberian permafrost, around the North Pole in Arctic soils, and they may also grow in Antarctica.

Microbes Thriving Below Antarctic Ice

 

 

Recently, the segmented microscopic animals tardigrades, (0.1 – 1.5 mm) have been under investigations (Goldstein and Blaxter, 2002; Horikawa, 2008). These “water bears” are polyextremophilic, and are able to tolerate a temperature range from about 00C up to + 1510C (much more that other known microbial prokaryotic extremophiles, Bertolani et al., 2004). But even low Earth orbit extreme temperatures are possible: tardigrades can survive being heated for a few minutes to 151°C, or being chilled for days at -200°C, or for a few minutes at -272°C, 1° warmer than absolute zero (Jönsson et al., 2008). These extraordinary temperatures were discovered by an ESA project of research into the fundamental physiology of the tardigrade, named TARDIS. Tardigrades are also known to resist high radiation, vacuum, and anhydrous condition for a decade in a dehydrated stage and can tolerate a pressure of up to 6,000 atmospheres. These aquatic creatures are ideal candidates for extraterrestrial life and for withstanding long periods in space. They have already been used in space and have survived such stress. That’s why I find it indulging to speculate 

Hope there is life!

[Source: Astrobiology Magazine]

[Ref: Gliese 581g as a scaled-up version of Earth: atmospheric circulation simulations by Kevin Heng and Steven S. Vogt]

Seti’s Hunt For Artificially Intelligent Alien Machines

 

The structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

Searching for extraterrestrial life is extremely abstemious no matter what kind of tactics we are employing to detect signs of extraterrestrial life. Wait, shouldn’t we define our premise of  being intelligent without any kind of  surmised indulgence. The search so far has focused on Earth-like life because that is all we know. Hence, most of the planning missions are focused on locations where liquid water is possible, emphasizing searches for structures that resemble cells of terran organisms, small molecules that might be the products of carbonyl metabolism and amino acids and nucleotides similar to those found in terrestrial proteins and DNA. I’ve written a article, not quite a while back though, ‘Searching For Other Life Forms in Extraterrestrial Environments’ in which I’ve illustrated that life could be a sort of  ‘organized complexity’ that consumes energy, utilized it for some necessary biological/non-biological operations endowed with capability to reproduce ‘itself’  from ‘self’. S o if we really want to alien life forms which are conscious and intelligent, we have to change the view that is mainly inclined to see life only like that is diversed over Earth.

However, life that may have been originated elsewhere, even within our own solar system, could be unrecognizable compared with life here and thus could not be detectable by telescopes and spacecraft landers designed to detect terrestrial biomolecules or their products. We must recognize that our knowledge of the essential requirements for life and therefore our concept on it, is based on our understanding of the biosphere during the later stages of Earth history. Since we only know one example of biomolecular structures for life and considering the difficulty of human mind to create different ideas from what it already knows, it is difficult for us to imagine how life might look in environments very different from what we find on Earth. In the last decades, however, experiments in the laboratory and theoretical works are suggesting that life might be based on molecular structures substantially different from those we know.

It is a relatively simple matter to distinguish between living and inorganic matter on Earth by biochemical experiments even though no formal definition of  life in biochemical terms exists. Experience suggests, for example, that a system capable of converting water, atmospheric nitrogen and carbon dioxide into protein, using light as a source of energy, is unlikely to be inorganic. This approach for recognition of life by phenomenology is the basis of the experiments in detection of life so far proposed. Its weakness lies not in the lack of a formal definition but in the assumption that all life has a common biochemical ancestry.

It is also possible to distinguish living from inorganic matter by physical experiments. For example, an examination of the motion of a salmon swimming upstream suggests a degree of purpose inconsistent with a random inorganic process. The physical approach to recognition of life is no more rigorous, at this stage, than is the biochemical one; it is, however, universal in application and not subject to the local constraints which may have set the biochemical pattern of life on Earth.

Past discussions of the physical basis of life  reach an agreed classification as follows:

“Life is one member of the class of phenomena which are open or continuous reaction systems able to decrease their entropy at the expense of substances or energy taken in from the environment and subsequently rejected in a degraded form”.

This classification is broad and includes also phenomena such as flames, vortex motion and many others. Life differs from the other phenomena so classified in its singularity, persistence, and in the size of the entropy decrease associated with it. Vortices appear spontaneously but soon vanish; the entropy decrease associated with the formation of a vortex is small compared with energy flux. Life does not easily form, but ‘persists indefinitely and vastly modifies its environment. The spontaneous generation of life, according to recent calculations from quantum mechanics [4, 5], is extremely improbable. This is relevant to the present discussion through the implication that wherever life exists its biochemical form will be strongly determined by the initiating event. This in turn could vary with the planetary environment at the time of initiation.

On the basis of the physical phenomenology already mentioned, a planet bearing life is distinguishable from a sterile one as follows:

  • The omnipresence of intense orderliness and of structures and of events utterly improbable on a basis of thermodynamic equilibrium.
  • Extreme departures from an inorganic steady-state equilibrium of chemical potential.

This orderliness and chemical disequilibrium would to a diminished but still recognizable extent be expected to penetrate into the planetary surface and its past history as fossils and as rocks of biological origin. According to a research paper ‘Physical Basis For Detection of  Life'[Nature Vol. 207, No. 4997, pp. 568-570, August 7, 1965.] Chemical detection of life is indeed possible based on equilibrium and orderness. So, how should we search for life(here I’m not considering that this is necessarily a intelligent life).

The distinguishing features of a life-bearing planet  suggest the following simple experiments in detection of life:

A. Search for order.

  1. Order in chemical structures and sequences of structure. A simple gas chromatograph or a combined gas chromatograph – mass spectrometer instrument would seek ordered molecular sequences as well as chemical identities.
  2. Order in molecular weight distributions. Polymers of biological origin have sharply defined molecular weights, polymers of inorganic origin do not. A simple apparatus to seek ordered molecular weight distributions in soil has not yet been proposed but seems worthy of consideration.
  3. Looking and listening for order. A simple microphone is already proposed for other (meteorological) purposes on future planetary probes; this could also listen for ordered sequences of sound the presence of which would be strongly indicative of life. At the present stage of technical development a visual search is probably too complex ; it is nevertheless the most rapid and effective method of life recognition in terms of orderliness outside the bounds of random assembly.

B. Search for non-equilibrium.

  1. Chemical disequilibrium sought by a differential thermal analysis (DTA) apparatus. Two equal samples of the planetary surface would be heated in a DTA apparatus: one sample in the atmosphere of the planet, the other in an inert gas, such as argon. An exotherm on the differential signal between the two samples would indicate a reaction between the surface and its atmosphere, a condition most unlikely to be encountered{ where there is chemical equilibrium as in the absence of life. It should be noted that this method would recognize reoxidizing life on a planet with a reducing atmosphere. This experiment could with advantage and economy be combined with, for example, the gas chromatography mass spectrometry experiment (Al) where it is necessary to heat the sample for vaporization and pyrolysis.
  2. Atmospheric analysis. Search for the presence of compounds in the planet’s atmosphere which are incompatible on a long-term basis. For example, oxygen and hydrocarbons co-exist in the Earth’s atmosphere.
  3. Physical non-equilibrium. A simplified visual search apparatus programmed to recognize objects in non-random motion. A more complex assembly could recognize objects in metastable equilibrium with the gravitational field of the planet. Much of the plant life on Earth falls into this category.

 

The abundance of n-alkanes from an inorganic source (A), Fischer-Tropsch hydrocarbons, and from a biological source (B), wool wax. The observed abundances (•-•) are compared with normalized Poisson distributions (-) around the preponderant alkanea detection experiments and to the planning of subsequent experiments. Even on Earth whore life is abundant there are many regions, such as those covered by fresh snow, where a surface sample might be unrewarding in the search for life. The atmospheric composition is largely independent of the site of sampling and provides an averaged value representative of the steady state of chemical potential for the whole planetary surface.

 

Experiments A1, B1 and B2 are the most promising for the development of practical instruments. Indeed, the gas chromatography – mass spectrometry combination experiment and the DTA experiment already proposed for planetary probes are, with minor modifications, capable of recognizing the ordered sequences and chemical disequilibrium discussed earlier. Experiment B2, atmospheric analysis, is simple and practical as well as important in the general problem of detection of life. A detailed and accurate knowledge of the composition of the planetary atmosphere can directly indicate the presence of life in terms of chemical disequilibrium; such knowledge also is complementary to the understanding of other life.

Galactic Clubs

Paul Davies suggests the approach of observational SETI – which tries to detect narrow-band signals directed at Earth by an extraterrestrial civilization — is probably futile, because the existence of a communicating civilization on Earth will not be known to any alien community beyond 100 light years. Instead, he argues “we should search for any indicators of extraterrestrial intelligence, using the full panoply of scientific instrumentation, including physical traces of very ancient extraterrestrial projects in or near the solar system. Radio SETI needs to be re-oriented to the search for non-directed beacons, by staring toward the galactic center continuously over months or even years, and seeking distinctive transient events (‘pings’). This ‘new SETI’ should complement, not replace, traditional radio and optical SETI.  But on second thought, maybe these ideas are not all that fresh. I’ve read these suggestions before in the SETI literature. Indeed, I found most of them cited in his footnotes. Nevertheless we should thank Davies for assembling them in his stimulating and lucid new book.
What are the possible reasons for the “Great Silence”? The following list is of course not original:

1) We are indeed alone, or nearly so. There is no ETI, nor a “Galactic Club” — radio astronomer Ronald Bracewell’s name for the communicating network of advanced civilizations in our galaxy (GC for short).

2) The GC, or at least ETI exists, but is ignorant of our existence (as Davies has once again suggested).

3) We are unfit for membership in the GC, so the silence is deliberate, with a very strict protocol evident, “No Messages to Primitive Civilizations!” Only inadvertent, sporadic and non-repeated signals – for example, the “Wow” signal can be detected by a primitive civilization, with opaque signal content not distinguishable from natural signals or noise.

The first explanation is contrary to the subtext of astrobiology, the belief in quasi-deterministic astrophysical, planetary and biologic evolution. This view of life’s inevitability in the cosmos is a view (or, shall I admit, a prejudice) I heartedly endorse. Most scientists active in the astrobiological research program would support an optimistic estimate of all the probabilities leading up to multicellular life on an Earth-like planet around a Sun-like star.

I happen to be an optimist on this issue too. I have argued that encephalization – larger brain mass in comparison to body mass — and the potential for technical civilizations are not very rare results of self-organizing biospheres on Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars. Biotically-mediated climatic cooling creates the opportunity for big-brained multicellular organisms, such as the warm-blooded animals we observe on our planet. Note that several such animals have now been shown to pass the “mirror test” for self-consciousness: the great apes, elephants, dolphins and magpies, and the list is growing. But if the pessimists concede just one of the millions if not billions of Earth-like planets is the platform for just one technical civilization that matures to a planetary stage, advancing beyond our present primitive self-destructive stage, just one advanced civilization with the curiosity to spread through the galaxy, at sub-light speeds with Bracewell probes to explore and document an Encyclopedia Galactica, then what should we expect?
First, the galaxy should be thoroughly populated with surveillance outposts on a time scale much smaller than the time it took on Earth to produce this cosmically pathetic civilization we call the nearly 200 member nation states of the United Nations, with humanity now hanging under two self-constructed Swords of Damocles: the twin threats of catastrophic global warming and nuclear war.

Second, THEY, or at least their outposts, surely know we exist, since to believe THEY are ignorant of our existence is to assume they somehow bypassed us in their expansion into the galaxy, a scenario I simply find unworthy if not unbelievable for an advanced civilization, especially one in existence for millions if not billions of years. It is important to note that this conclusion is informed by present day physics and chemistry, not a post-Einstein theory that transcends the speed of light.

So we are left with option 3: the aliens are deliberately avoiding communicating with our primitive world. I submit this is by far the most plausible given our current knowledge of science and the likely sheer ordinariness of our chemistry and planetary organization.

Why would we be considered primitive? This should be a no-brainer, even for an Earthling. The world spends $1.4 trillion in military expenditures while millions of our species still die of preventable causes every year. Carbon emissions to the atmosphere continue to climb, even though presently available renewable technologies such as wind turbines exist and are sufficient to completely replace our unsustainable energy infrastructure. As J.D. Bernal once put it, “There is a possibility that the oldest and most advanced civilizations on distant stars have in fact reached the level of permanent intercommunication and have formed…a club of communicating intellects of which we have only just qualified for membership and are probably now having our credentials examined. In view of the present chaotic political and economic situation of the world, it is not by any means certain that we would be accepted.

The technical requirements for a galaxy-wide search are dictated by the size of the radio telescope, with the detection range proportional to the effective diameter of the telescope. A large enough radio telescope situated in space could potentially set meaningful upper limits on the rate of emergence of primitive Earth-like civilizations, without ever actually detecting the leakage radiation of even one ET civilization.  But just how big a telescope is required for this project, and at what cost? Our 1988 paper provided such estimates: a dish diameter on the order of 500 kilometers, at a cost of roughly $10 trillion. Perhaps the cost has come down somewhat (but note the estimate was in 1988 dollars). This is surely a project with a vanishingly small chance of implementation in today’s world. I could only conceive of a demilitarized newly mature planetary civilization, call it Earth-United (Finally!), with any intention of implementing such an ambitious project that has no apparent immediate practical benefits. Then and only then would we successively detect a message from the GC, presumably faint enough to be only detectable with a huge radio telescope in space.

On the other hand, the GC may be monitoring biotically-inhabited planets by remote Bracewell probes that have programmed instructions. Such a probe would plausibly be now hiding in the asteroid belt (as Michael Papagiannis once suggested). If the GC exists, there was ample time to set up this surveillance system long ago. Surveillance probes so situated in planetary systems would send welcoming signals to newly mature civilizations, with the potential for a real conversation with artificial intelligence constructed by the GC, if not reconstructed biological entities. If this proposed surveillance system is absent, we should expect the GC to use highly advanced telescopes to monitor planetary systems that have prospects for the emergence of intelligent life and technical civilizations. These alien telescopes could use gravitational lenses around stars. Planetary system candidates to the GC could expect to receive continuous beacons, but the signals would be very weak or disguised so that they would only be decipherable by newly mature civilizations that just pass the entrance requirements. The problem with this scenario is there would be a fairly long communication delay with the GC, because they would be so far away. Nevertheless, reception of a rich message from the GC is possible. The material and/or energy resources needed for these signals to be recognized must correspond with great probability to a newly ripe mature civilization. Hence, cleverness in itself cannot be the criteria for successful detection and decipherment, otherwise a brilliant scientist on a primitive civilization might jump the GC protocol.

I submit that if we want to enter the Galactic Club, the challenge lies in reconstructing our global political economy. A few minor side benefits should result, like no more war, no more poverty, a future for all of humanity’s children with a substantial proportion of biodiversity intact. We should not expect the Galactic Club to save us from ourselves.

Machine Intelligence

It took until the 17th century for us to reject Aristotle’s vision of a universe where our Sun and the stars revolved around the Earth. Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak points out that up until a century ago, the scientific community believed a vast engineering society was responsible for building an irrigation system on the surface of Mars. Discovering the Martians could, in principle, be done by simply turning an Earth-based telescope in the direction of the Red Planet. Now it seems that our best chance for finding Martian life is to dig deep into the surface in search of subterranean microbes.

Our idea of extraterrestrial life has changed drastically in 100 years, but our search strategies have not kept up. In his  paper “What ET will look like and why should we care?” for the November-December issue of Acta Astronautica, Shostak argues that SETI might be more successful if it shifts the search away from biology and focuses squarely on artificial intelligence. Shostak sees a clear distinction between life and intelligence: he says we should be searching for extraterrestrial machines.

ET machines would be infinitely more intelligent and durable than the biological intelligence that invented them. Intelligent machines would in a sense be immortal, or at least indefinitely repairable, and would not need to exist in the biologically hospitable “Goldilocks Zone” most SETI searches focus on. An AI could self-direct its own evolution. Every new instance of an AI would be created with the sum total of its predecessor’s knowledge preloaded. The machines would require two primary resources: energy to operate with and materials to maintain or advance their structure. Because of these requirements, Shostak thinks SETI ought to consider expanding its search to the energy- and matter-rich neighborhoods of hot stars, black holes and neutron stars.

Shostak further argues that Bok globules are another search target for sentient machines. These dense regions of dust and gas are notorious for producing multiple-star systems. At around negative 441 degrees Fahrenheit, they are about 160 degrees F colder than most of interstellar space. This climate could be a major draw because thermodynamics implies that machinery will be more efficient in cool regions that can function as a large “heat sink”. A Bok globule’s super-cooled environment might represent the Goldilocks Zone for the machines. But because black holes and Bok globules are not hospitable to life as we know it, they are not on SETI’s radar. Machines have different needs. They have no obvious limits to the length of their existence, and consequently could easily dominate the intelligence of the cosmos. In particular, since they can evolve on timescales far, far shorter than biological evolution, it could very well be that the first machines on the scene thoroughly dominate the intelligence in the galaxy. It’s a “winner take all” scenario.

I find Shostak’s claim that alien should be resting in super cold zones that can function a large heat sink, is equally as falsifiable. A machine indeed need a heat sink but only in its premordial age. Since aliens have created such kind of super intelligent machine that can comprehend and interact efficiently with our mysterious universe, it becomes necessary imitate the premise that such machines would more likely be self replicative. A replicative would more likely be resting somewhere near a asteroid belt from where it could get material to survive3 and self reproduce it on to.  A number of fundamental but far-reaching ethical issues are raised by the possible existence of replicating machines in the Galaxy. For instance, is it morally right, or equitable, for a self-reproducing machine to enter a foreign solar system and convert part of that system’s mass and energy to its own purposes? Does an intelligent race legally “own” its home sun, planets, asteroidal materials, moons, solar wind, and comets? Does it make a difference if the planets are inhabited by intelligent beings, and if so, is there some lower threshold of intellect below which a system may ethically be “invaded” or expropriated? If the sentient inhabitants lack advanced technology, or if they have it, should this make any difference in our ethical judgment of the situation?

The number of intelligent races that have existed in the pant may be significantly greater than those presently in existence. Specifically, at this time there may exist perhaps only 10% of the alien civilizations that have ever lived in the Galaxy – the remaining 90% having become extinct. If this is true, then 9 of every 10 replicating machines we might find in the Solar System could be emissaries from long-dead cultures . If we do in fact find such machines and are able to interrogate them successfully, we may become privy to the doings of incredibly old alien societies long since perished. These societies may lead to many others, so we may be treated, not just to a marvelous description of the entire biology and history of a single intelligent race, but also to an encyclopedic travelogue describing thousands or millions of other extraterrestrial civilizations known to the creators of the probe we are examining. Probes will likely contain at least an edited version of the sending race’s proverbial “Encyclopedia Galactica,” because this information is essential if the probe is to make the most informed and intelligent autonomous decisions during its explorations.

SRS probes can be sent to other star systems to reproduce their own kind and spread. Each machine thus created may be immortal (limitlessly self-repairing) or mortal. If mortal, then the machines may be further used as follows. As a replicating system degrades below the point where it is capable of reproducing itself, it can sink to a more simple processing mode. In this mode (useful perhaps as a prelude to human colonization) the system merely processes materials, maybe also parts and sub-assemblies of machines, as best it can and stockpiles them for the day when human beings or new machines will arrive to take charge and make use of the processed matter which will then be available. As the original machine system falls below even this level of automation competence, its function might then be redirected to serve merely as a link in an expanding interstellar repeater network useful for navigation or communications. Thus, at every point in its lifespan, the SRS probe can serve its creators in some profitable capacity. A machine which degrades to below the ability to self-reproduce need not simply “die.”

In my earlier article “More Speculations About Intelligent Self  Replicating Exploration Probes“, I pointed out that such probes would more likely be ‘Postmodified Biological’. It is not to dismay that such probes could go through evolutionary changes and be more intelligent. A consensus is that replicating probes should be manufactured using nanomaterials e.g. catoms while it seems significantly plausible that such probes could , in fact, be biological based on rather different mechanisms-brain can be programmed and a powerful microprocessor and other cyberweaponry could be installed, a kind of cyberbiotic probes, designed in a essence to be able of surviving interstellar radiation. Vivid changes as per accordance to requirements, could be installed to work perfectly and replicate themselves even when there is no cargo halt to get metallic material.

[Ref: Astrobiology Magazine, quotations from Astrobiology Mgazine, Nature Vol. 207, No. 4997, pp. 568-570, August 7, 1965]

Video: Unexplained STS-75 Tether Incident Explained?

NASA’s STS-75 Tether mystery explained! Don’t know what the mystery was? Well, in december 1996 Nasa conducted a experiment that was to determine if tethers could be a reliable source of electrical energy, instead of batteries or generators, for the space station, satellites and other orbital missions. The results appear to show that more energy than anticipated was generated. NASA is now seeking a stronger material to carry this higher electrical load. The cable, made from copper, teflon and carbon fibers had snapped and separated fromthe space vehicle and was slowly drifting away. Examination of the cable shows that it actually melted from over 35,000 watts of electrical energy that was generated by its travel through the Earth’s magnetosphere. But it was what happened after the accident that was significant. As the tether separated and drifted behind the shuttle craft, it elongated. Mission control instructed astronaut Franklin to take a picture of it with the onboard infrared camera. As he focused and zoomed in on the broken tether the image was projected on huge screens in Houston. Engineers couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

If the plate-like objects pass behind the 12 mile long tether, which is itself more than 80 nautical miles from the space vehicle, the estimated size must then be about 2-3 miles in diameter! In the video there is a white line, theextended tether, surrounded by an ever increasing number of fuzzy, circular shapes. Some are small but others were huge. The large ones afforded a better assessment of the shape and revealed a hole in the center and a “notch,” sometimes two, on the peripheral egde. This notch seems to appear in different locations on different shapes, eliminating the possibility of a video lens or camera iris artifact. From Viewzone Magazine:

The shapes seem to pulsate as they move. Some have described the movement as a contraction or winding motion which alternatively unwinds and releases. The hole in the center often can be seen expanding andcontracting slightly. In short, these do not seem to be vehicles or artifacts, but rather living things!

 

The images above were cpatured in the United Kingdom using an infrared camera. Note the similarity to the NASA images with the central hole and the peripheral “notch.” Critics of the “alien” assessment point out that all of the objects seem to be positioned too perfectly for the camera. If the hole suggests that the objects are flat or plate-like, why do we neversee them edge on? They claim that this must prove that the shapes are, in fact, ice crystals or some other minute debris that is closer to the camera and so out of focus. Certainly this phenomenon is well known and has happened to almost everyoneat some time when taking pictures, especially in the snow orin a dusty room. But the video clearly shows these objects moving at variable speeds, sometimes stopping and changing direction. Critics have yet to explain how space debris could do this. Arguments are enough! From viewzone:

In the past decade we have seen life existing at the depths of our oceans, thriving in unimained pressure and temperatures. We have seen it thriving under miles of the Earth’s crust and under freezing glaciers in Antarctica. It is not impossible to imagine forms of life that can exist in a vacuum, possibly thriving on radiation and other sources of energy that we know little about.

I happen to agree with this statement. Indeed, it could be a sort of life form and you can’t ignore the compelling case of such life forms. Question, question please!? How could they thrive in vacuum and what’s the energy source for exotic biological processes? Well, answer is here! It could be a life form possibly thriving in radiation and it gets energy from intuitive solar wind and cosmic radiation. Its vast size may cull up more and more radiation. Not harsh enough to be discerned!

%d bloggers like this: