Searching for Life Beyond Earth: Lessons from Earth's Extreme Environments
The search for life beyond Earth is one of the greatest scientific journeys of our time, and it takes many forms. From deep sea hydrothermal vents to potential civilizations across the universe, this wide-ranging discussion will address the scientific, logistical, and philosophical aspects of our continuing quest to determine, are we alone?
The discussion tackled one of the greatest scientific questions of our time - are we alone in the universe? - through the lens of four astrobiologists' research. Dr. Luke McKay shared recent findings from the bottom of Yellowstone Lake, where superheated water fuels enormous biofilms of extreme, heat-loving microbes. Dr. Jeffrey Marlow pinpointed the importance of distinct chemical zones in the deep sea that allow life's energy-harvesting processes to take place far from the sunlit surface world. Dr. Kennda Lynch noted the elephant in the room: the scientific community doesn't have a perfect definition of life, making our search for its signatures especially challenging. Julia DeMarines questioned the wisdom of broadcasting terrestrial signals out into the universe: not only are we uncertain of the intentions of putative receiving civilizations, but we also have not addressed thorny ethical questions about who speaks for Earth. The panel was joined by Dr. Jim Green, NASA's Chief Scientist, who shared updates from the space agency's efforts to track down clues to life's origin and distribution, on Earth and beyond.