Friday, October 19, 2018

Oumuamua

Recent transit of cigar shaped Oumuamua that raised hopes of galactic panspermia (1) is a double edged sword. Hitching rides on stable objects over millennia appears plausible for robust life but the implications of such transference could be catastrophic for the blue planet. It is not the green men and women we have to worry about but deadly single cell organisms from another galaxy. If the space agency ever stops taking shots at everything near in an effort to prove life exists elsewhere, they may have enough resources to explore the extra-solar bodies that seem to frequent this quiet corner of the Milky way. There they may indeed find life but possibly of a different kind. The half a dozen plausible building blocks including Carbon and Silicon narrow the shape of life and that should allow profitable exploration.

Science may need to borrow from philosophy as it attempts to prove extra-terrestrial life. The fundamental question remains to be what qualifies as life. Even in the narrow context of Earth, we find entities that show dual properties of life and non-life, as we define it. It appears to indicate that life is a spectrum with entities spanning the full scope. The closer to non-life, the more robust they appear, possibly pointing to efficient panspermia of materials that are close to life but have not yet crossed the threshold. So, near life materials could be freeze-dried and transported over time and space and they could show biological activity with conditions that allow such transformation. The heuristics used by the agency to find life, such as the presence of water, are archaic and it is time to step out of the rooms without windows, surrounded by steel and electronics, and think clearly. It is likely that the most dominant life form in the universe is something that can easily transcend the life/non-life threshold at will and that provides infinite possibilities for spreading themselves. The ability of an organism to freeze-dry itself should be considered dominant for transference and the environment in the blue planet is not conducive to enhancing robustness.

A sitting duck in the meteor shooting gallery, the Earth should be counting down to the unavoidable catastrophic event. If that happens, it does not look like there is anything that could hitch a long ride to the next spot.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/10/cometlike-objects-could-be-spreading-life-star-star-throughout-milky-way