Archive for November, 2007

Like many chil­dren inspired dur­ing the height of the NASA shut­tle pro­gram, I once wanted to be an astro­naut. Also hav­ing grown up with the likes of E.T., the Trans­form­ers, Robot­ech, and a mul­ti­tude of other scifi sto­ries and ques­tion­able news­casts about UFO sight­ings, I was fas­ci­nated with the idea of extrater­res­trial life. Now given the vast­ness of this uni­verse, I don’t have the hubris to believe that we’re the only life con­tained within it. After read­ing The Undis­cov­ered Planet, it turns out we can’t even call our­selves the dom­i­nant form of life on this planet, even if we judge our­selves as the most intelligent—which is cer­tainly debat­able. The honor of the most dom­i­nant life form on this planet goes to micro­bial life. The arti­cle even pos­tu­lates that should life exist else­where it will most likely be micro­bial. So it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to hypoth­e­size that the most dom­i­nant life form in the uni­verse is micro­bial. Now this shouldn’t put a damper on SETI’s efforts which looks for extrater­res­trial intel­li­gent life. Even if the major­ity life in the uni­verse is micro­bial, Drake’s equa­tion by con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mates puts the num­ber of intel­li­gent civ­i­liza­tions in a galaxy as non-zero. Plus sen­si­tiv­ity of com­mu­ni­ca­tion sen­sors con­tin­u­ally improve. Yet it will prob­a­bly be a long time before we get sen­sors so sen­si­tive that can detect life on a micro­scopic scale over stel­lar dis­tances if such a feat is phys­i­cally pos­si­ble. Which prob­a­bly means that we’ll most likely encounter this micro­bial life first-hand as either human explor­ers or more likely by proxy via robotic probes. It’s funny; space viruses may not be sci­ence fic­tion after all.