Listen to this article New Initiative Launched By Scientists to Search for Life Beyond Earth
Scientists at four leading universities have teamed up to investigate the origins of life on Earth and explore similar biological processes taking place elsewhere in the universe. The scientists announced the Origins Federation on Saturday during the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting held in Washington, D.C.The universities involved are Cambridge in the UK, Harvard and Chicago in the US, and ETH Zürich in Switzerland.
A Universe Embedded with Life
Didier Queloz, who is a leader of the initiative and co-discovered the first known exoplanet in the 1990s, believes that the laws of physics of the universe are embedded with life. Queloz has dual appointments at both Cambridge and ETH and he expressed his conviction that the search for extraterrestrial life, which has been ongoing for a long time, will receive a significant boost from new interplanetary missions to Mars and Jupiter’s moons, as well as from observatories such as the James Webb telescope.
The Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life
The founding scientists of the Origins Federation believe that the discovery of many different planets is a game-changer in the hunt for extraterrestrial life. They have identified more than 5,000 exoplanets and believe that billions exist in the Milky Way galaxy alone. According to Emily Mitchell, an evolutionary biologist at Cambridge, simple life will be widespread across our galaxy, judging from the speed with which microbes emerged on the young Earth around 4 billion years ago.
The Emergence of Life on Earth
Complementary research will focus on the still mysterious emergence of life on Earth itself. Mitchell’s lab is investigating clues about extraterrestrial life from the early biochemical evolution of the first microbes on Earth. She believes that as we begin to investigate other planets, biosignatures could reveal whether or not the origin of life itself and its evolution on Earth are just a happy accident or part of the fundamental nature of the universe, with all its biological and ecological complexities.
Life Detection and Bio Signature Detection
According to Heather Graham, an astrobiologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the discovery of extraterrestrial life would probably not be a single clear-cut event. A life detection announcement is unlikely to be from a single piece of data. If a cool result is obtained from a Mars rover or a telescope, researchers will need to look in other ways to confirm it. Life detection and biosignature detection are now being considered as suites of data rather than singular pieces of data.
Investigating the Origins of Life
Kate Adamala, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, is investigating the origins of life by making simple synthetic cells in her lab. She believes that while chemistry is capable of making life, making intelligent life is much more difficult. She suggests that extraterrestrial civilizations might tend to destroy themselves with their advanced technologies, making them extremely rare. Queloz agrees that although simple life probably pervades the universe, high-tech civilizations might be exceptionally rare. “As you get more knowledge, it becomes easier to destroy yourself. Maybe there is a kind of doomsday waiting for us,” he said.
In summary, the Origins Federation is a collaboration between four leading universities investigating the origins of life on Earth and similar biological processes taking place elsewhere in the universe. New interplanetary missions and observatories will supercharge the search for extraterrestrial life, while scientists will also focus on complementary research regarding the emergence of life on Earth itself.The discovery of extraterrestrial life will not be a single clear-cut event, and researchers will need to look at multiple pieces of data to confirm it. Finally, scientists investigating the origins of life.