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Astrobiology: Life outside our Solar System

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  1. Astrobiology:Life outside our Solar System Some slides from

  2. Life in the Universe Astrobiology asks the questions: Are there other places in the solar system where life has developed? Are there other solar systems outside ours where life has developed? How would we go about detecting life on an extra-solar planet? How do we know when we've detected life on an extra-solar planet? i.e. how do we define "life"?

  3. One Argument: There must be many planets with life. ( The Drake Equation) There are billions of stars in our Milky Way, and billions of galaxies in the observable Universe. Even if only a tiny fraction of all stars have planets in habital zones (have conditions of temperature, etc which could support life), there are SO many stars that there MUST be other planets with life. So, even if only one in a billion G stars has the right set of conditions to make a planet like Earth, since there are many billions of G stars in the observable Universe, there MUST be other planets like Earth with biospheres.

  4. However, Enrico Fermi famously asked: If there are billions of planets capable of supporting life in our Galaxy, and millions of planets with civilizations, WHERE IS EVERYBODY? This is called “Fermi’s Paradox”

  5. Interstellar distances are vast, but it should be possible for an advanced civilization to construct self-reproducing, autonomous robots to colonize the Galaxy. The idea of self-reproducing automaton was proposed by mathematician John von Neumann in the 1950's. The idea is that a device could perform tasks in the real world and make copies of itself (like bacteria). These autonomous robots would soon overrun the Galaxy. So where are they????

  6. Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev proposed a useful scheme to classify advanced civilizations, he argues that ET would posses one of three levels of technology. A Type I civilization is like our own, one that uses the energy resources of a planet. A Type II civilization would use the energy resources of a star, such as a Dyson sphere.

  7. A Type III civilization would employ the energy resources of an entire galaxy. A Type III civilization would be easy to detect, even at vast distances. So where are they???

  8. Stephen Hawking: There’s no reason to believe that aliens would come in peace – We should fear them, and NOT try to contact them!

  9. Solutions to the Fermi Paradox: They are here, or we are descendents of them, or we are being kept by them as in a zoo. Not a testable hypothesis!

  10. Solutions to the Fermi Paradox (continued): 2. They exist, but have not communicated with us. Maybe civilizations do not last long, and destroy themselves. Overpopulation Nuclear war Global warming

  11. The Physical Basis of Life All life forms on Earth, from viruses to complex mammals (including humans) are based on carbon chemistry. Carbon-based DNA and RNA molecule strands are the basic carriers of genetic information in all life forms on Earth. This complex mammal contains about 30 AU of DNA. The Tobacco Mosaic Virus contains a single strand of RNA, about 0.1 mm long

  12. Information Storage and Duplication All information guiding all processes of life are stored in long spiral molecules of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) Basic building blocks are four Amino acids: Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine Information is encoded in the order in which those amino acids are integrated in the DNA molecule.

  13. Processes of Life in the Cell Information stored in the DNA in the nucleus is copied over to RNA (ribonucleic acid) strands, which acts as a messenger to govern the chemical processes in the cell.

  14. Duplication and Division In the course of cell division, the DNA strands in the nucleus (chromosomes) are duplicated by splitting the double-helix strand up and replacing the open bonds with the corresponding amino acids Process must be sufficiently accurate, but also capable of occasional minor mistakes to allow for evolution.

  15. The Origin of Life on Earth • Life develops into more complex forms through gradual evolution, spanning many thousands of generations. • Life began in the sea as single-celled creatures. • Those as well as early multi-celled creatures had no hard parts to leave fossils. Earliest, microscopic fossils date back ~ 4 billion years.

  16. The Origin of Life on Earth (2) ~ 1/2 billion years ago, in the Cambrian Period, the diversity and complexity of life on Earth dramatically increased “Cambrian Explosion” Best-known fossils from the Cambrian period: Trilobites. All known fossils from the Cambrian period are from sea creatures. No traces of life on land until ~ 400 million years ago.

  17. The Miller Experiment Miller Experiment in 1952: Simulating conditions on Earth when life began ~ 4 billion years ago: Experiment produced some of the fundamental building blocks of life: amino acids, fatty acids, and urea. Water (oceans), primitive atmosphere gases (hydrogen, ammonia, methane), and energy from electric discharges (lightning).

  18. The Origins of Life on Earth (3) • Miller experiment shows that basic building blocks of life form naturally. • Amino acids and other organic compounds naturally tend to link up to form more complex structures. • Early oceans on Earth were probably filled with a rich mixture of organic compounds: the “Primordial Soup” • Chemical evolution leads to the formation and survival of the most stable of the more complex compounds.

  19. Extraterrestrial Origin of Life on Earth • Alternative theory: Most primitive living entities transported to Earth in meteorites or comets. • Some meteorites do show traces of amino acids. • Theory of extraterrestrial origin of life is currently untestable.

  20. Formation of Cells First cell membranes may have formed before the beginning of life: Single amino acids can be assembled into long protein-like molecules, which form microspheres when they cool in water. • Cell membranes

  21. The Earliest Fossils Oldest fossils known: stromatolites Built up layer by layer from single-celled creatures, similar to bacteria, ~ 3.5 billion years ago.

  22. Geologic Time In geologic terms, higher life forms, in particular mammals and humans, have evolved only very recently. Humans have existed for only ~ 3 million years.

  23. Three Questions About the Evolution of Life 1) Could life originate on another world if conditions were suitable? Miller experiment etc. indicate: probably yes. 2) Will life always evolve toward intelligence? If intelligence favors one species over another: probably yes. 3) How common are suitable conditions for the beginning of life? Investigate conditions on other planets and statistics of stars in our Milky way

  24. Some Requirements of Life • Liquid water (for chemical reactions and as transport medium). • Atmosphere (to avoid rapid vaporization of water; gasses needed for organic compounds) • Moderate temperatures (keep water liquid; avoid disintegration of organic compounds; activate complex chemical reactions) • Time for life to evolve from simple organic compounds into higher life forms: several billion years.

  25. Life in Our Solar System Other planets or their moons are unlikely to have ever provided suitable conditions for life. Most promising candidate: Mars. Claimed traces of microscopic fossils may well be regular mineral formations in the rock. Meteorite ALH84001,0 probably originated on Mars. Possibly some evidence of past life on Mars, but questionable.

  26. Requirements for Life in Other Planetary Systems • Planetary systems are probably common. • Stable orbit around the star consider only single stars. • Time for evolution consider only F5 or less massive stars. • Moderate temperatures Life zone around the star

  27. Communication with Distant Civilizations • Direct space travel to other stars not feasible due to large distances (long travel times). • Viable alternative: Radio communication. • Even for radio communication: Long answer times due to light-travel time. • Messages can be arranged in blocks of certain length that is a product of two prime numbers Only two ways to arrange them in a rectangle.

  28. The Arecibo Message At dedication of Arecibo Radio Observatory, blocks of 1679 pulses were emitted, which can be arranged in only two ways: 23 rows of 73or 73 rows of 23. Resulting 23 x 73 grid contained basic information about our human society.

  29. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) In addition to sending messages to possible extraterrestrial civilizations, there are also programs to listen for intelligent messages from space: SETI. Signals would be overwhelmed by background noise Only certain wavelength ranges are suitable for this search. SETI program is highly controversial because of the uncertain prospects of positive results.

  30. The Drake Equation Factors to consider when calculating the number of technologically advanced civilizations per galaxy: Nc = N*· fp · nLZ · fL · fl · FS Most of the factors are highly uncertain. Possible results range from 1 communicative civilization within a few dozen light years to us being the only communicative civilization in the Milky Way.

  31. Discussion Questions 1. What would you change in the Arecibo message if humanity lived on Mars instead of Earth? 2. What do you think it would mean if decades of careful searches for radio signals for extraterrestrial intelligence turned up nothing?

  32. Chapter 24Life in the Universe

  33. 24.1 Life on Earth Our goals for learning: • When did life arise on Earth? • How did life arise on Earth? • What are the necessities of life?

  34. When did life arise on Earth?

  35. Earliest Life Forms • Life probably arose on Earth more than 3.85 billion years ago, shortly after the end of heavy bombardment. • Evidence comes from fossils, carbon isotopes.

  36. Fossils in Sedimentary Rock • Relative ages: deeper layers formed earlier • Absolute ages: radiometric dating

  37. Fossils in Sedimentary Rock • Rock layers of the Grand Canyon record 2 billion years of Earth’s history.

  38. Earliest Fossils • The oldest fossils show that bacteria-like organisms were present over 3.5 billion years ago. • Carbon isotope evidence dates the origin of life to more than 3.85 billion years ago.

  39. The Geological Time Scale

  40. How did life arise on Earth?

  41. Origin of Life on Earth • Life evolves through time. • All life on Earth shares a common ancestry. • We may never know exactly how the first organism arose, but laboratory experiments suggest plausible scenarios.

  42. The Theory of Evolution • The fossil record shows that evolution has occurred through time. • Darwin’s theory tells us HOW evolution occurs: through natural selection. • Theory supported by discovery of DNA: evolution proceeds through mutations.

  43. Tree of Life • Mapping genetic relationships has led biologists to discover this new “tree of life.” • Plants and animals are a small part of the tree. • Suggests likely characteristics of common ancestor

  44. These genetic studies suggest that the earliest life on Earth may have resembled the bacteria today found near deep ocean volcanic vents (black smokers) and geothermal hot springs.

  45. Laboratory Experiments • The Miller-Urey experiment (and more recent experiments) show that the building blocks of life form easily and spontaneously under the conditions of early Earth.

  46. Microscopic, enclosed membranes or “pre-cells” have been created in the lab.

  47. Chemicals to Life?

  48. Could life have migrated to Earth? • Venus, Earth, Mars have exchanged tons of rock (blasted into orbit by impacts). • Some microbes can survive years in space.