Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 30 of 55

Thread: Impact of discovering Life via Spectroscopy

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Posts
    1,015

    Impact of discovering Life via Spectroscopy

    A.Dim posted this video about Garik Isrealian's talk in which he predicts that we will find definitive life signatures on exoplanets using spectroscopy in the next 15-20 years.

    This is based on the anticipated results of the Kepler mission, which will begin returning data on earth-like planets (if they exist) which can then be targeted for spectral analysis by the new spectrometer Garin talks about in his TED Talk. SO, in my opinion, this is a pretty solid prediction based on real data. Of course, we wont know til then, but its fun to think about.

    This thread is about the impact that that discovery would have on our civilization.

    For the purposes of this discussion, I am assuming that this discovery is validated for one or more targets, and for each there is direct, undisputed evidence of earth-like bio-signs in the spectra, such as vegetation, as well as other essential elements such as Ozone, Oxygen, and Nitrogen Dioxide, etc.

    This situation of finding life is different than say, finding a fossil on mars or having a UFO land on the White House Lawn. We can't go there right now. We can't send a probe, or even learn much more about that particular planetary system.

    What it would do, however, is to answer the question of whether we are alone, and how ubiquitous life is in the universe, and that at least some of it is based on familiar processes. It would also give us some great SETI targets.

    My hope is that it would drive us more towards exploring space and developing technologies that would eventually allow us to colonize the solar system, be more aggressive in finding out if life exists or existed on Mars, Europa, Titan, or other localities in our system.

    What do you think?
    Last edited by iquestor; 2009-Oct-07 at 11:58 PM. Reason: spelling

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Posts
    14,547
    Quote Originally Posted by iquestor View Post
    This thread is about the impact that that discovery would have on our civilization.
    Impact: it will be front page news for a day; news for a week. Space geeks will discuss it excitedly for a few months. It will fade into background knowledge.

    A small fraction of humanity will think it's interesting or important.
    0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 ...

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Posts
    1,015
    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    Impact: it will be front page news for a day; news for a week. Space geeks will discuss it excitedly for a few months. It will fade into background knowledge.

    A small fraction of humanity will think it's interesting or important.
    where do you fall in your interest level?

    I hope you are wrong, but I am afraid you are right. which would suck.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Posts
    355
    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    Impact: it will be front page news for a day; news for a week. Space geeks will discuss it excitedly for a few months. It will fade into background knowledge.

    A small fraction of humanity will think it's interesting or important.
    I think you underestimate the number of people who would think it was important and interesting. And I think us space geeks would be talking about it a lot longer than a few months, we'd probably be talking about it for the rest of out lives.

    I'd say at least half of the initial reaction would be scepticism, not just from religious Wackos, but from scientific people too. I can imagine there being never ending debates about whether the spectrographic evidence is enough to conclude it's life.

    Hmm, let's see, what else would happen as a result of find life through a telescope? Well it would surely be the topic of thousands of Science fiction books for decades to come and I'm sure there’d be plenty of documentaries speculating about what the alien look like, ala "Alien Planet", etc. And I certainly think that space telescopes etc, would get increased funding, if only to examine this alien world in more detail.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    919
    This thread pretty much mirrors the discussion in this thread: What would happen on earth.....??

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Posts
    1,015
    Quote Originally Posted by DrWho View Post
    This thread pretty much mirrors the discussion in this thread: What would happen on earth.....??

    No, this is specifically different. Finding life via spectroscopy is very different than finding life in this Solar System because:

    1. life found via spectroscopy would be much more earth like, aka LAWKA (based on the assumptions in the OP) whereas no other body in the solar system has a planet with an atmosphere containing O2, O3, N2, photosynthetic processes, etc.

    2. We can study any life found here now or in the near future because its close. We can send probes, and eventually men. However, Life found via spectroscopy would be very tantalizing, especially because its nurtured on a more earthlike environment, but closed in the foreseeable future to us for direct investigation.

    because of these differences, the impact could be a lot different than in the thread you indicated.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    919
    Quote Originally Posted by iquestor
    because of these differences, the impact could be a lot different than in the thread you indicated.
    I don't really agree. The way I see it, alien life is alien life, regardless of where and how it is found. The reaction would be pretty much identical IMO, which is, it'll make the front page of every newspaper, news bulletin/magazine and website in the world, and in time, it will settle down into the background (save for fanatics and those with scientific curiosity).

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Posts
    4,873
    I think people underestimate the ramifications of discovering extraterrestrial life, in whatever form and by whatever means.
    First and foremost, the religious implications alone are immense considering the majority of humans are "believers" of some stripe. This underlies more aspects of our world cultures than people know or acknowledge; the abrahamic religions especially, and they are worldwide.
    Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the greater view?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Posts
    1,015
    Quote Originally Posted by DrWho View Post
    I don't really agree. The way I see it, alien life is alien life, regardless of where and how it is found. The reaction would be pretty much identical IMO, which is, it'll make the front page of every newspaper, news bulletin/magazine and website in the world, and in time, it will settle down into the background (save for fanatics and those with scientific curiosity).

    OK, here is are two examples of life discovery:

    1. via a robotic probe, we find that there is something living in the sea under Europa's Ice.

    2. We find spectroscopic evidence of phtosynthesis and clear markers of abundant, non-natural molecules in the atmosphere of a planet 300 light years away.

    In the first case, we can go there and see it in the reasonable future. I think there would be a mass upwelling of popular support to go there and study it. Its close. Its life we can get to. We can find out if it had DNA, if its somehow related to us through panspermia. If its intelligent. What the biosphere is like. Centuries of possible research and field work would await us.

    In the second case, we will never in the foreseeable future learn much more about this life, but it has answered the one most important question, but leaves, many, many more unanswered. Because the atmosphere is earth-like, and the biosigns are similar to ours, then this life is very likely to be much more like earth-life than the organisms in example 1, which makes this discovery very tantalizing. Moreso, in some ways. Unfortunately, in this case, we are still looking through a telescope and can't send hardware, cant get pictures, cant do fieldwork. So what do we do now? How do our approaches to further discovery change based on this?

    In the first case, its clear how to proceed. In the second, not so clear.

    So you are saying that, in both the cases, the public impact of these discoveries would be the same?

    I disagree.
    Last edited by iquestor; 2009-Oct-08 at 01:33 PM. Reason: awful spelling. ;(

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    919
    Quote Originally Posted by iquestor
    So you are saying that, in both the cases, the public impact of these discoveries would be the same?
    Pretty much. Any long distance 'signatures' and their importance would be open to speculation, but the big question is whether there is other life out there. If it's confirmed without doubt, then that would be the big aha moment. But of course, these days we're almost conditioned to believe that there is other life out there (primitive or more complex), that a confirmation for many would not be as big a deal as it once might have been.

    Personally, I think it would be exciting and cool, but then again it would just confirm my expectation that life, at least primitive life, is abundant in the universe.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Posts
    7,985
    The next step would hopefully be to send a lightweight probe on a flyby mission past the system concerned. One of Robert Forward's Starwisp probes might do, if we can get them to work. A close-up look should determine if we really are looking at a life-bearing world, or a false positive.

    Note that several of the interstellar probe designs that have been proposed include propulsion by very, very powerful and tightly focused lasers, masers or particle beams. Any of these launch systems would also make good weapons, so they bring a certain amount of existential danger into the mix as well.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Posts
    1,015
    Quote Originally Posted by DrWho View Post
    Pretty much. Any long distance 'signatures' and their importance would be open to speculation, but the big question is whether there is other life out there. If it's confirmed without doubt, then that would be the big aha moment. But of course, these days we're almost conditioned to believe that there is other life out there (primitive or more complex), that a confirmation for many would not be as big a deal as it once might have been.

    Personally, I think it would be exciting and cool, but then again it would just confirm my expectation that life, at least primitive life, is abundant in the universe.
    I'd agree that the reaction to the finding that we arent alone would be the same; I guess the difference I am focusing on is the differences in those cases, where in case # 1 we can get there and directly study it where in case # 2, we cant, although it would be more arguable earth like.

    I am also of the same opinion as you; I think primitive life is probably abundant, but intelligent, space-faring civilizations similar to ours are rare.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Posts
    4,096
    Quote Originally Posted by A.DIM View Post
    I think people underestimate the ramifications of discovering extraterrestrial life, in whatever form and by whatever means.
    First and foremost, the religious implications alone are immense considering the majority of humans are "believers" of some stripe. This underlies more aspects of our world cultures than people know or acknowledge; the abrahamic religions especially, and they are worldwide.
    Why? Most (although not all) religions have no problem with existence of alien life and even alien intelligence.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Posts
    398
    Quote Originally Posted by iquestor View Post
    ...direct, undisputed evidence of earth-like bio-signs in the spectra...
    This is an impossible assumption. There will ALWAYS be alternate explanations that need to be checked out. And discoveries will require years of follow up observations and debate within the scientific community. The general public will be quite bored.

    Also, we don't have to imagine the reaction to the discovery of extraterrestrial life. On August 6, 1996 there was a NASA press conference where pysical evidence of life on Mars was presented. I was excited. I was convinced. But I found it difficult to find anyone else who knew about it or cared despite it being widely covered in the press.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Posts
    4,873
    Quote Originally Posted by Ilya View Post
    Why? Most (although not all) religions have no problem with existence of alien life and even alien intelligence.
    Interesting; Can you point to any texts from these religions, which supports their acceptance of life beyond Earth, particularly intelligent life?

    I'm piqued.

    I suppose though, I meant more the abrahamic religions of the "western" world.
    Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the greater view?

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    Posts
    13,222
    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    Impact: it will be front page news for a day; news for a week. Space geeks will discuss it excitedly for a few months. It will fade into background knowledge.

    A small fraction of humanity will think it's interesting or important.
    This pretty much reflects my opinion also...

    As it stands right now, many, many people believe in the existance of extraterrestrial intelligence, yet the impact of that belief on the general population is negligible.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Posts
    7,985
    Quote Originally Posted by A.DIM View Post
    Interesting; Can you point to any texts from these religions, which supports their acceptance of life beyond Earth, particularly intelligent life?

    I'm piqued.

    I suppose though, I meant more the abrahamic religions of the "western" world.
    Here's the Pope's chief astronomer on the subject:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7399661.stm
    Just as there are multiple forms of life on earth, so there could exist intelligent beings in outer space created by God. And some aliens could even be free from original sin, he speculates. .
    Hmm... the 'free from original sin' bit sounds as if it were influenced by C.S. Lewis's thoughts on the subject, which I'd love to discuss, but I think they might be outside the remit of this forum.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Posts
    4,873
    Quote Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
    Here's the Pope's chief astronomer on the subject:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7399661.stm

    Hmm... the 'free from original sin' bit sounds as if it were influenced by C.S. Lewis's thoughts on the subject, which I'd love to discuss, but I think they might be outside the remit of this forum.
    Ha ha, yet another instance of the catholic church altering its views to keep up with the times.
    Although, I must admit when this first came out I thought, "it's about damned time!"

    Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the greater view?

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Posts
    398
    Check out this short clip for a Muslim perspective.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1AcI...eature=related

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Posts
    4,873
    A Muslim's perspective, I think, is more accurate, but neat!
    Do you know if this man's viewpoint is widespread among Muslims?
    Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the greater view?

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Posts
    1,015
    Quote Originally Posted by centsworth_II View Post
    This is an impossible assumption. There will ALWAYS be alternate explanations that need to be checked out. And discoveries will require years of follow up observations and debate within the scientific community. The general public will be quite bored.
    No, its not. Light spectra of a planet's atmosphere orbiting in the habitable zone of a sunlike star, that shows Ozone, Oxygen, Nitrogen Dioxide, methane, as well as photosynthetic processes (which can be shown) and un-natural molecules all taken together have no other explanation that we know of or can speculate on, other than life processes. They do not arise naturally, according to the laws of physics.

    Yes, since we can't show up and see them directly, there are a few who will question it, but as far as I understand the science involved, this would be considered direct evidence of life.

    Also, we don't have to imagine the reaction to the discovery of extraterrestrial life. On August 6, 1996 there was a NASA press conference where pysical evidence of life on Mars was presented. I was excited. I was convinced. But I found it difficult to find anyone else who knew about it or cared despite it being widely covered in the press.
    Very good point. I Also beleived, I cared, and I am still leaning towards the life interpretation, however -- depsite what i consider overwhelming evidence in ALH84001 for life, there are alternative explanations for all 6 or 8 facts about that rock that can be shown to have other explanations than life.

    Another reason ALH84001 is different that what I am talking about is that it was possibly evidence of microscopic life in the very remote past, rather than advanced life forms that exists today.

    In the case above, my understanding is that these conditions have no other explanation than life.

    Now, you can always argue that there could be another natural process that causes the same spectral lines as photosynthetic processes, one that exists elsewhere in the Universe, but outside of man's experience.
    However you can make that argument about anything.

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Posts
    398
    Quote Originally Posted by A.DIM View Post
    Do you know if this man's viewpoint is widespread among Muslims?
    It turns out he is from a sect not widely recognized by mainstream Muslims. But in this Wikipedia article, a survey of some major religions shows that there is enough room in their belief systems to include the possibility of extraterrestrial life. It looks like none of the major religions would be surprised by the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Some excerpts:


    • "Authors of Jewish sources also considered extraterrestrial life.... the 18th century exposition "Sefer HaB'rit" posits that extraterrestrial creatures exist, and that some may well possess intelligence."


    • "Hindu beliefs of endlessly repeated cycles of life have led to descriptions of multiple worlds in existence and their mutual contacts. According to Hindu scriptures, there are innumerable universes created by God to facilitate the fulfillment of the separated desires of innumerable living entities."


    • "Within Islam, the statement of the Qur'an "All praise belongs to God, Lord of all the worlds" indicates multiple universal bodies, and maybe even multiple universes, which may indicate extraterrestrial and even extradimensional life."


    • "In Shia Islam the 6th Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq has been quoted as saying that there are living beings on other planets. He has also stated that they may be more intelligent or advanced than humans."

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Posts
    398
    Quote Originally Posted by iquestor View Post
    No, its not. Light spectra of a planet's atmosphere orbiting in the habitable zone of a sunlike star, that shows Ozone, Oxygen, Nitrogen Dioxide, methane, as well as photosynthetic processes (which can be shown) and un-natural molecules all taken together have no other explanation that we know of or can speculate on, other than life processes...
    No matter what is found, the most that could be said in the short term is 'indicative of life'. Scientists will require a thorough vetting of the data and collection of new, reproducible, data. This will take an interminable time for the general public which will quickly lose interest.

    Also, even if proven, the extraterrestrial life will be so far away as to guarantee no contact with us. This will make it irrelevant to people's lives and they will quickly lose interest.

    Also, as has been shown, the major religions will take such a discovery in stride so it will have no relevance to people's religious beliefs, other than to confirm them. And the people will quickly lose interest.

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
    1,405
    Quote Originally Posted by iquestor View Post
    No, its not. Light spectra of a planet's atmosphere orbiting in the habitable zone of a sunlike star, that shows Ozone, Oxygen, Nitrogen Dioxide, methane, as well as photosynthetic processes (which can be shown) and un-natural molecules all taken together have no other explanation that we know of or can speculate on, other than life processes. They do not arise naturally, according to the laws of physics.
    But will the first signature of possible life contain all of those indications? Perhaps one or two will be missing, leading to more room for doubt. And will we be able to surmise intelligent life from them? Will we be able to see definite signs of technology from them?

    I expect a spirited debate when it happens.

    Mike
    "There are powers in this universe beyond anything you know. There is much you have to learn. Go to your homes. Go and give thought to the mysteries of the universe. I will leave you now, in peace." --Galaxy Being

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Posts
    4,096
    Quote Originally Posted by A.DIM View Post
    Interesting; Can you point to any texts from these religions, which supports their acceptance of life beyond Earth, particularly intelligent life?
    PM sent, to avoid Rules violation.

  26. #26
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Metrowest, Boston
    Posts
    4,220

    Wink

    Quote Originally Posted by centsworth_II View Post
    No matter what is found, the most that could be said in the short term is 'indicative of life'. Scientists will require a thorough vetting of the data and collection of new, reproducible, data. This will take an interminable time for the general public which will quickly lose interest.

    Also, even if proven, the extraterrestrial life will be so far away as to guarantee no contact with us. This will make it irrelevant to people's lives and they will quickly lose interest.

    Also, as has been shown, the major religions will take such a discovery in stride so it will have no relevance to people's religious beliefs, other to confirm them. And the people will quickly lose interest.
    centsworth_II I think I'll disagree with your middle paragraph...so far away as to guarantee no contact with us. That tacitly implies that no civilization that might arise out of putative lifeforms on any distant world could possibly have arisen temporally before the solar system, and therefore could not be more technologically advanced than our own. Just this week baut posts the prospects of a Martian tour in less than 100 days, a huge jump from the sixties lunar landings.The issue of interstellar travel, though presently plagued by radiation hazards within the heliosphere,elucidated by Freeman Dyson, is yielding to other innovative minds.
    One must remember that the Enzmann starship failed to launch with forty year old technology because of funding, not engineering. I'd like to see the disk on the White House lawn, or Red Square, or Tiananmen Square, and then the doubters would relent. That may be a while.....or not. pete

  27. #27
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    1,080
    Quote Originally Posted by A.DIM View Post
    I think people underestimate the ramifications of discovering extraterrestrial life, in whatever form and by whatever means.
    First and foremost, the religious implications alone are immense considering the majority of humans are "believers" of some stripe. This underlies more aspects of our world cultures than people know or acknowledge; the abrahamic religions especially, and they are worldwide.
    OTOH, those same religions did survive some 'minor contradictions' pointed out by the likes of Galileo, Einstein, Hubble (to name just a few) quite well.

  28. #28
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    1,080
    Back to the OP: while I would be thrilled by any evidence of alien life,
    I still think that supposed spectroscopic biomarkers in an exoplanet's atmosphere are by no means proof of alien life.

    Just remember that not so very long ago there were many serious scientists who speculated about a jungle biosphere on Venus.

    In that sense, any life 'we can lay our hands on' in our own solar system is much more of a game changer.

  29. #29
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Posts
    398
    Quote Originally Posted by trinitree88 View Post
    centsworth_II I think I'll disagree with your middle paragraph...so far away as to guarantee no contact with us....
    All those who already believe that UFO's are extraterrestrial visitors will think as you do. All those who already think the physics forbidding faster than light travel will prohibit such visits will think as I do.

    Many, or most, people already believe that there is probably extraterrestrial life out there, myself included. I don't see how proof of an already existing suspicion will change minds one way or the other.

  30. #30
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    1,080
    Quote Originally Posted by centsworth_II View Post
    Many, or most, people already believe that there is probably extraterrestrial life out there, myself included. I don't see how proof of an already existing suspicion will change minds one way or the other.
    History suggests otherwise.

    Copernicus did cast serious doubts on the geocentric model.
    However, that didn't stir things up too much until Galileo proved it wrong - many decades later.

    Also, many people believed the world was round, not flat.
    Didn't seem to bother anybody until Columbus actually tried to prove it (and strictly speaking, he didn't even really succeed).

Similar Threads

  1. How Spectroscopy Could Reveal Alien Life
    By A.DIM in forum Life in Space
    Replies: 24
    Last Post: 2009-Dec-11, 04:35 AM
  2. Replies: 2
    Last Post: 2008-Oct-05, 03:19 PM
  3. Replies: 8
    Last Post: 2008-Mar-07, 06:58 PM
  4. Living a low-impact life - any suggestions?
    By Maha Vailo in forum Off-Topic Babbling
    Replies: 69
    Last Post: 2007-Nov-09, 05:04 PM
  5. Replies: 2
    Last Post: 2006-Oct-12, 12:06 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
here
The forum is sponsored in-part by: