Scientists think we WILL find it! - Here at unknowncountry.com, we are in touch with people (especially during our Wednesday subscriber chats!) who say they have been visited by beings who seem to be from another planet (or maybe from the future or another parallel universe), but astronomers are still looking for proof, and they think they may have found a way to get it. A top NASA scientist is confident that we'll detect alien life within the next ten years.
If a scientific team working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is right, we may be able to find extraterrestrial life even before it leaves its home planet?by looking for left- (or right-) handed light. Life on our planet is LEFT-handed (which is why the sweetener Splenda works: it?s the right-handed version of sugar, so the body doesn't recognize it).
The technique the team has developed for detecting life elsewhere in the universe will not spot aliens directly. Rather, it could allow spaceborne instruments to see a telltale sign that life may have influenced a landscape: a preponderance of molecules that have a certain handedness. A right-handed molecule has the same composition as its left-handed cousin, but their chemical behavior differs. Because many substances critical to life favor a particular handedness, Thom Germer and his colleagues think this might reveal life?s presence at great distances, and have built a device to detect it.
Germer says, "You don't want to limit yourself to looking for specific materials like oxygen that Earth creatures use, because that makes assumptions about what life is. But amino acids, sugars, DNA?each of these substances is either right- or left-handed in every living thing."
Meanwhile, Peter Smith, who led NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission, says, "We're ardently searching for evidence of life on our closest planet. I think [the evidence] is coming, I really do. At some point, we'll turn over a rock, and by gosh there it is." He predicts that ultimately, whether it happens this century or a thousand years from now, we're going to be sending humans to the Red Planet, so there will DEFINITELY be life there then!
The problem is that, according to Smith, "Martian soil is really sticky and clumpy." If the Mars probe could get a scoop of soil to pour into its ovens for chemistry experiments, it would take four days of shaking to get the soil through the screens.As the weather on Mars started to get cloudy and snowy, the solar power for the Phoenix spacecraft dwindled, and on Nov. 2, 2008, the Mars lander entered the "Sleeping Beauty" mode.
But it had done a good job: by the end of its mission, the Phoenix Mars Mission confirmed the presence of frozen water just below the planet's surface, found minerals that form in liquid water, identified nutrients in the soil that could sustain microbes, and observed snow in the atmosphere. The lander also took more than 25,000 photos, ranging from grand landscapes to the tiniest of images using the first atomic force microscope ever used outside Earth.
Smith says the next mission to Mars will include a large rover the size of a MINI-Cooper, with big tires, that would last at least five years and land near an area of high interest, such as the edge of a canyon.
In the interim, other scientists are looking at the light!
Art credit: Dana Augustine
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