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Question Your World: Is there any other life out there?

Over time, we’ve used science to answer some pretty big questions. Today we continue to learn more and more about life with cutting edge technology and new discoveries, but some of those big questions still remain. Perhaps one of the biggest questions humanity has ever asked: Is there any other life out there? In order to begin to answer this question, scientists have peered into the vastness of space, but occasionally they have looked here on Earth as well. 

In our quest to learn more about the universe, we’ve sent probes to planets, moons and asteroids in our solar system. We learn a great deal this way and all that knowledge compounds to help us answer if there could be life out there. Do the conditions for life exist? We’ve looked at spectroscopy data to see the telltale signs of elements needed to form life all over the cosmos. Another big question: can we communicate with others? This question has paved the way for building some of our most powerful telescopes and antennae. We’ve even sent spacecraft out past our solar system in the hopes that, maybe one day, they’ll be found by distant life forms.

Clearly, we have an interest in knowing more about the possibilities. Conditions for life and a potential means of communication are important, but what types of life could exist is also important. Just because we have a head, two arms and two legs does not guarantee that whatever life may exist out there would have similar physical features. This brings us to a recent article that caught our eye. 

Scientists recently made a discovery that has not only Earth-studying biologists excited but gives hope to those looking for life out in space too. There are three domains to classify all life on Earth: BacteriaArchaea, and the domain that we, and most life that we see, belong to, the Eukarya. We Eukaryotes have the ability to be either single or multicellular creatures whereas bacteria and archaea live in the realm of single cell life. After doing some ultra-deep and ultra-cool research underground, scientists have announced a huge collection of archaea found all over the Earth. In fact, they are saying that there is so much Archaea life on Earth that it’s nearly twice the volume of all of Earth’s oceans, which is about 245 to 385 times greater than all of Earth’s human mass combined!

Archaea can live in places that never get sunlight, in extremely hot or cold settings, in sulfur heavy settings, and other extreme environments, making the possibility of Archaea-life somewhere in the vastness of the cosmos quite possible. These extremophiles are a great example of the types of life that could exist somewhere else. They are ancient in their design and still abundant despite the many changes the planet has experienced over time. Could these types of life forms live in the oceans of Europa? How about Titan? Could they exist dormant on an asteroid somewhere? If so, we could at least begin to better understand the scope that life could take on in the vastness of space. These archaea are incredibly small, but this discovery about their abundance is a huge discovery for us and will allow us to better understand life on our own planet and to further ponder what else could exist beyond the Earth.  

It’s a big universe and there has to be some life somewhere, right? On a related note, it’s rare but we occasionally even see signs of intelligent life here on Earth, so who knows…maybe more of that exists out there as well! 

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