Probing space for the ingredients of life – or even an ‘Earth twin’

In the search for life elsewhere in the universe, we tend to look for our own image. That may be limiting us in terms of seeing what's really there.

Mention aliens and most people picture beings that somewhat resemble humans or other Earthly inhabitants. But scientists will quickly tell you that this science fiction depiction of an alien is far too limited a view of the possibilities that might exist out there in the cosmos. Even right here on Earth, life takes myriad forms from microscopic single-celled organisms to massive animals and plants. And that's just the life we know. The possibility that life may take an entirely unknown form makes it tricky for scientists to know what to look for or what might be a conclusive sign of life. So when it comes to searching distant planets, "we're kind of going for quality over quantity," says MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager. "Although for each individual planet it will be hard to be fully 100 percent confident there's life there, if we see signs of life on so many planets, that will actually be a great step forward for the search for life."

This piece first appeared in the Nov. 8, 2017 issue of The Christian Science Monitor Daily.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.