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Monday, April 22, 2024

6 Reasons We’re Closer To Discovering Aliens Than You Think

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#6. NASA Just Proved That Life Can Begin In Deep-Space Conditions

Despite what the fungus growing on your bathroom wall seems to indicate, life can’t just pop up anywhere. Deep space, for example, is so inhospitable that not even the most basic components of life could survive there. So you can jerk off into the vacuum all you want, John Glenn: There’s no chance it could cross the cosmic divide to your extraterrestrial soulmate (who, for the purposes of our narrative, looks like Lady ALF).

Or at least that’s what we thought until recently, when NASA scientists reproduced the building blocks of life and precursors to genetic material in motherfucking space. And by space, we mean a simulated outer-space environment at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, which is the next best thing. The point is, the experiment showed that the cosmos could be teeming with all sorts of biological goodies that can rain down upon planets and seed life.

See, our dumb caveman forefathers (read: us, like five months ago) used to think that the first terrestrial organisms could have been crafted only within the roiling shit-stew that was early Earth, when a combination of hydrothermal vents and solar radiation gang-banged the constituents of life into existence. But NASA’s fiddling shows that you don’t even need a planet, much less a serendipitous turn of ecological events, to form genetic bases. They plugged organic compounds that can be found throughout the cosmos into their cosmic Easy Bake Oven and zapped it with UV radiation until out popped uracil, cytosine, and thymine — key components of RNA and DNA. It’s very appropriate, perhaps even poetic, that this procedure was carried out by a state-of-the-art vacuum chamber that looks like a laser-based penis pump.

Most importantly, this is a scenario that’s very likely to occur throughout the universe. All you need are some readily available compounds plus some solar radiation, and boom — you’ve got yourself potentially life-bearing molecules. Just remember to wash your hands afterward.

#5. Turns Out There Are Shitloads Of Habitable Planets

Of course, you can create all the molecules you want in space, but they won’t do shit if they don’t land on a planet where life can survive — and everyone knows Earth is the only one of those, right? Yeah, they do, and everyone is also dead fucking wrong.

Let’s begin with our own Milky Way — a 100,000-light-year-wide spiral that apparently houses a single, bloated species. Or not, because in 2013 astronomers from UC Berkeley and the University Of Hawaii determined that the amount of potentially habitable real estate in just this one galaxy is mind-boggling: It’s believed that 20 billion Earth-like planets orbit their stars. At least one of which has to host a race of three-boobed alien women like in Total Recall, because come on.

The astronomers extrapolated that number from data supplied by the Kepler Observatory (they couldn’t get funding for an intra-galactic door-to-door census like they wanted, because Obama). The orbiting, battle-damaged space telescope detects planets by fixing upon a given star and waiting to see a shadow as any potential planets cross its path. By doing this, the Kepler has, over the past five years, tracked 150,000 stars and discovered more than 4,000 extra-solar planet candidates, plus an undisclosed number of Death Stars and wandering Galactuses.

Sifting through data from Kepler, it became apparent that about 20 percent of the stars in our galactic neighborhood are suckling baby planets of their own. The nearest Earth doppelganger resides only about 12 light years away and is quite visible with the naked eye. They probably think we’re extremely rude for being over here this whole time and not even saying hi.

But what does this translate to on a universal scale? Well, there are at least several hundred billion galaxies, so that leaves us with a potential billion trillion Earth-like planets — and that’s only Sun-like stars. Furthermore, the figure doesn’t even account for exomoons, which, as we’ve seen in our own solar playpen, can be just as habitable as the planets. If the most advanced life form in all those places is the one that buys millions of Pitbull records every year, then we have to say we’re very unimpressed with this universe.

#4. Life On Earth Started A Billion Years Earlier Than We Thought

Of course, in order to host life, a planet doesn’t just need to be in the perfect place — it also has to be the perfect age. Remember, the Earth is 4 billion-and-change years old, but life only popped up halfway through that. Back then, the Earth was a steaming garbage heap with a toxic atmosphere whose only upside was not yet having any Pitbull in it. If even habitable planets go through billions of years of hostile barrenness, then the chances of finding life on them are pretty slim, right?

Not really, because (and you might be starting to notice a pattern in this article) everything we knew was wrong. This February, scientists announced that they found evidence suggesting that life bubbled from the primeval muck over a billion years earlier then previously thought, making the first organisms 3.2 billion years old. They determined this by analyzing some extremely old rocks in Australia and finding ancient evidence of nitrogen conversion, and nitrogen which was like catnip to the earliest organisms.

These embarrassingly simple creatures, the theory goes, migrated from their watery abodes and spread out over land, forming a living, cell-thick film that covered surfaces and mooched off the Earth’s tasty nitrogen — hence the traces found in the rocks, like an athlete’s foot infection that won’t go away. These living shower mats fed ravenously from the copious terrestrial nitrogen supply, getting fat off the Earth’s dime and crashing on its couch without even throwing down money for late-night munchies. But it wasn’t all bad, because they belched out oxygen and, through their poor table manners, transformed the atmosphere for the more dignified, multi-cellular organisms of the future.

The fact that complex, creature-produced enzymes existed on the shithole that was our planet 3.2 billion years ago means that such phenomena may occur more easily and more frequently than we thought. Like, you know, on other planets. Hopefully they’re more hospitable than Australia, though.

#3. We’ve Found Examples Of Life Existing In Extreme Conditions, Right Here On Earth

Evidence for extraterrestrial life can arguably be found here on Earth, where even the most extreme environments are home sweet home to a variety of species, ranging from the ugly to the HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THIS THING?

The further we delve, the freakier life gets. At depths of over six miles, researchers have found gigantic, horrible, albino (there’s no need for pigment in their pitch-black world) “shrimp” that look like a buffet entree served only in H.R. Giger’s nightmares. Incidentally, scientists think they can go about a year without eating, which is fortunate, because human faces are expensive these days.

Scientists have even found an active ecosystem at the bottom of the ocean. The Mariana Trench, or Earth’s ass-crack, penetrates almost seven miles into the crust, but landers scouring the bottom have found a veritable hotbed of bacteria and other tiny beings. So, yes, the sea floor is very much alive, because when things die, they sink to the bottom and create a rotting buffet not dissimilar to your local Golden Corral.

Equally hardy specimens have been found in other extremes: Scientists have recently extracted a 30,000-year-old virus from its ancient, Antarctic tomb. Even though it’s been frozen solid for a majority of Betty White’s acting career, it became instantly infectious the second it thawed. Oh, and it’s fucking gigantic: a throwback to the humongo-viruses of yore. Luckily, it only infects amoeba, but still, if “unfreezing giant, ancient viruses” is a thing we’re doing now, we might need to find that habitable planet sooner than we thought.

#2. Molds And Lichens Love Space

As we’ve gone over, life is hardier than we thought, and certain organisms treat space being inhospitable more like a suggestion than a rule. Unfortunately, that includes the really gross shit.

Mold spores sent into space — presumably to teach them who’s boss — have returned unscathed after 18 months on the outer surface of the International Space Station. Some of the less UV-resistant individuals died in the great cosmic plight, but a good portion of these surly bastards made it home to their wife and children. Similarly, an exobiological study conducted by the European Space Agency launched a craft full of lichens (tiny communities of algal and fungal cells) into low Earth orbit. The European man whose clothes hamper they collected that from stayed home. Anyway, the lichens were exposed to the lethal cosmic vacuum for 14.6 days but, disturbingly, returned to Earth displaying zero cell damage and a bitchin’ tan.

In fact, life has proven to be so durable in space that, interestingly, it has become a problem for NASA. Microbes on the interior of the space station multiply quickly and gunk up the station’s tile and grout work. Even an astronaut’s breath can carry living creatures that settle on surfaces and eat away at the materials separating squishy humans from a most painful death.

In light of all this, the space agency is trying very hard not to contaminate pristine environments with dirty terrestrial interlopers. Spreading Earth-germs through the universe would taint scientific discoveries as well as make us look terrible to potential neighbors, so a panel has convened and decided that in no way can we allow microscopic Earthlings to colonize alien worlds. Loud-mouthed, beer-swilling macroscopic Earthlings are still acceptable, however.

#1. There’s Water All Over The Solar System

For a while, the cosmos seemed drier than current-day California. However, according to NASA and other reputable space agencies, the universe is actually a giant water park, and even our solar system is far wetter than anyone dreamed. For a quick primer, NASA has unveiled an infographic detailing the status of several (potential) watering holes, each close enough to be meticulously and mercilessly probed by the cold fingers of technology — even tiny, distant Pluto has a potentially wet ecosystem with impressive geysers shooting from its scrotum-like folds:

Most recently, we’ve sniffed out a salt ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter’s overweight bastard child and the largest moon in the solar system. Or, more accurately, it’s in Ganymede — astronomers believe there’s a subsurface ocean that could be 60 miles thick, or 10 times deeper than our own. Apparently, there’s more water hiding in this moon than on all of Earth’s surface, making it look like a huge matryoshka doll.

Then there’s Enceladus, a moon of Saturn and a cosmic Kinder Egg that can’t stop astounding us with its hospitality. We’ve mentioned the moon’s subterranean ocean and ejaculating ice volcanoes, but the recent discovery of deep hydrothermal vents there has given astrobiologists a severe case of existential blue balls. The vents are eerily similar to those littering our own ocean floor, spewing the same type of organic sludge that eventually formed pizza-eating hominids here on Earth.

And we might not even need to peruse the solar hinterlands for aliens, because apparently Mars was a tropical paradise 4.5 billion years ago, when a young Mars hosted a massive, North Hemisphere-engulfing sea — it contained more water than the Arctic Ocean, was spread over an area larger than the Atlantic, and was probably teeming with Mars-sharks. The mile-deep ocean covered a fifth of the planet for hundreds of millions of years before it slowly evaporated and left us the dry wasteland we see today. According to the following simulation, Mars once looked like the Firefox logo:

At this point, if we can’t find proof of alien life soon it’s probably because they’re hiding from us, though we can’t imagine why.

(via Cracked)

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