There’ s life, Jim, but not as we know it

Sci­en­tists con­cede life likely ex­ists in other parts of the uni­verse

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Steve Creedy

We Are the Aliens 8.30pm, SBS

ANY­ONE who has rid­den a latenight train in Syd­ney will know that we are in­deed all aliens and mostly not the kind any­one would want to take to their lead­ers. Yet many sci­en­tists have yet to stum­ble on the dark worlds of Syd­ney com­mu­ter­dom and re­main highly scep­ti­cal that life here may have orig­i­nated in space.

Hori­zon dis­patched a The BBC ’ s crack team to ex­am­ine this claim armed with a comic book artist, clips

Earth vs from clas­sic movies such as the Fly­ing Saucers and a small arse­nal of science fiction mu­sic tracks. Deftly wield­ing th­ese in­ci­sive in­stru­ments, the team be­gins its in­ves­ti­ga­tion in south­ern In­dia, where a me­teor shower was fol­lowed by a mys­te­ri­ous red rain that fell for two months in 2001.

Lo­cal sci­en­tist God­frey Louis col­lected and an­a­lysed the rain and dis­cov­ered to his sur­prise that it ap­par­ently had no DNA, a bi­o­log­i­cal build­ing block com­mon to all life on earth, and it could repli­cate at 300C. Louis im­me­di­ately the­o­rised that the rain was ex­trater­res­trial.

Louis is, of course, not the first per­son to sug­gest that life on earth may have orig­i­nated in outer space.

Em­i­nent Bri­tish as­tronomer Fred Hoyle and Nalin Chan­dra Wick­ra­mas­inghe, now the di­rec­tor of the Cardiff Cen­tre of As­tro­bi­ol­ogy, were high­pro­file pro­po­nents of the the­ory. It even has a name, al­beit one that sounds like it may have orig­i­nated in

Flesh Gorthe 1970s soft- porn flick don : pansper­mia.

Sup­port­ers of pansper­mia point to a class of bugs called ex­tremophiles, so named be­cause they can live in ex­treme con­di­tions such as high heat or tox­i­c­ity. Per­haps the most fright­en­ing of th­ese out­lined in the pro­gram is a bug that not only thrives in the ra­dioac­tive en­vi­ron­ment of a nu­clear re­ac­tor but en­joys snack­ing on the steel con­tain­ment ves­sel.

Hori­zon finds no short­age of sci­en­tists will­ing to con­cede life likely ex­ists in other parts of the uni­verse, in­clud­ing a team build­ing a sub­ma­rine to ex­plore one of Jupiter ’s moons, thought to be the like­li­est to har­bour life, and a sci­en­tist who shoots mi­crobes at tar­gets to prove they can sur­vive the stresses of slam­ming into the ground on a me­teor.

But some are scep­ti­cal about the pansper­mia the­ory and many have doubts about the red rain, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal man in black, the NASA sci­en­tist charged with pro­tect­ing us from alien life forms.

The re­sult is that this highly en­ter­tain­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of a con­tentious is­sue does not reach a def­i­nite con­clu­sion. The ar­gu­ment is thrown into fur­ther doubt when tests or­dered by Wick­ra­mas­inghe show that the red rain may have DNA af­ter all. But it leaves you won­der­ing about things be­yond the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of life on earth. And th­ese days that ’s n o small thing.

Ex­trater­res­trial rain:

Sci­en­tist God­frey Louis

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