NASA wants scale to help explain discoveries about alien life to public: NPR

The moon shines above the radio antennas of the operations support facility of one of the world’s largest astronomy projects, the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA), in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile in this 2012 photo.

Jorge Saenz / AP


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Jorge Saenz / AP


The moon shines above the radio antennas of the operations support facility of one of the world’s largest astronomy projects, the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA), in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile in this 2012 photo.

Jorge Saenz / AP

Is there life on the other planets? It’s a simple question with no simple answer.

“The expectation, especially from the public, is a yes or no response. Have you found it or haven’t you found it? Jim Green, NASA’s chief scientist, told NPR.

But Green says the reality is much more complex. A scientific discovery about alien life may give us a little new insight into the universe, but it may be overstated by researchers or misunderstood by the public.

The discovery of the meteorite ALH 84001 – which sparked excitement about the possibility of life on Mars – is an example of history.

Green walks us through another example. Suppose a scientist is looking at a distant exoplanet about the size of Earth, about the same distance from a star, with oxygen and clouds in its atmosphere. This means that vegetation on the surface of the planet can generate oxygen in the atmosphere, and it is possible that we have just found life outside of our solar system!

“Well I have news for you, we know this planet, and this planet is Venus,” Green said. “We see oxygen in the atmosphere of Venus, and I can guarantee that there is no vegetation on the surface of Venus. So this sighting, while it sounded good, does not give us confidence. necessary to lean forward and say that we have found life or could have found life. “

Just because a planet could support life doesn’t mean it ever did or will.

“This extrapolation may have absolutely no basis in the science they made,” he said, referring to the researchers, “and could potentially mislead the community into saying that we have found the life or that we are closer to finding life without a very good how far away it really is.

That’s why Green and NASA are proposing a scale to better contextualize new findings from alien life research and help explain these findings to the public.

In an article by Nature, Green and other NASA scientists offer a seven-step column for understanding the new findings. It starts with sensing something remotely that might hint at life and progressing to eliminating non-biological factors, making real-life observations, and finally making follow-up observations to ensure that life. exist.

Scientists say their scale is just a proposition, and they are looking for the scientific community to contribute and improve it.

According to the article, an objective standard is now needed because the current generation of scientists could be the ones to discover life beyond Earth.

“Without the ladder it’s hard to say we’re moving forward, we’re going in the right direction,” Green said.


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