But they may be billions of years older. Scientists are making predictions about the biological make-up of advanced, complex aliens, offering a degree of insight as to what they might look like.
In the opening for Ridley Scott’s movie Prometheus, the Engineer, the blue muscle-bound alien, mirrors a modern human, standing by the waterfall drinking black goo to break down his genetic structure and spread life on Earth through his DNA. What we see is the beginning of Earth. The giant ship has landed on early Earth to drop off the Engineer to terraform the planet and make it sustainable for life. But is Ridley Scott’s science fiction an accurate prediction of what the human species may one day discover beyond our solar system?
It October 2017, The Daily Galaxy posted “The Extraterrestrial Mirror”, where Oxford University zoologist, Sam Levin stated that “By predicting that aliens have undergone major transitions – which is how complexity has arisen in species on earth– we can say that there is a level of predictability to evolution that would cause them to look like us.”
In this study published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, scientists from the University of Oxford show for the first time how evolutionary theory can be used to support alien predictions and better understand their behavior, showing that aliens are potentially shaped by the same processes and mechanisms that shaped humans, such as natural selection.
But making predictions about aliens is hard. We only have one example of life – life on Earth — to extrapolate from. Past approaches in the field of astrobiology have been largely mechanistic, taking what we see on Earth, and what we know about chemistry, geology, and physics to make predictions about aliens.
Alien Intelligences will Evolve Like our Own
“The volume of space-time within range of our telescopes—what astronomers have traditionally called ‘the universe’—is only a tiny fraction of the aftermath of the big bang,” says astrophysicist Martin Rees. “We’d expect far more galaxies located beyond the horizon, unobservable, each of which –along with any intelligences it hosts– will evolve rather like our own.”
Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the UK Center for Astrobiology and author of The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution, suggests that life on Earth might be a template for life in the universe, adhering to a standard model of constants or equations of life. Cockell, views the topic of life’s construction through the lens of an observer who is trying to understand how life on Earth can serve as a test case for possible life elsewhere in the universe.
No matter how different the conditions on distant worlds, all presumably have the same laws of physics — from quantum mechanics to thermodynamics and the laws of gravity reports the New York Times. And life, as Cockell puts it, is simply living matter, “material capable of reproducing and evolving.” If there is biology elsewhere in the universe, we would find it strikingly familiar not only in appearance but down to the carbon-based machinery in its cells.
Rerun the Krebs Cycle and Life will Probably Rise Again
Rerun the tape of evolution, and DNA, RNA, ATP, the Krebs cycle — the rigmarole of Biology 101 — would probably arise again, here or in distant worlds, writes George Johnson in the New York Times: Single cells would then join together, seeking the advantages of metazoan life, until before you know it something like the earthly menagerie would come to be.
A plausible theory is that the physical laws of nature –gravity, for instance, is omnipresent, not exclusive to our solar system. Restrictions are everyplace –organic molecules, on Earth or elsewhere, still disintegrate at high temperatures and freeze at low ones. Certain ingredients, most everyplace, are indispensable for life –carbon is the optimal element to assemble burgeoning life; water is the ideal solvent to shuttle it.
Many consider “life as we know it” as being the breathing of oxygen and the ability to walk under blue skies. While there are likely many worlds out there much like our own, conditions elsewhere in the universe can easily be very different. Yet so long as the equations work out right, life may well have an infinite number of variations – each different – yet each similar due to the equations that underlie the physical universe.
Laws of Physics Governs Evolution
“The laws of physics channel living creatures into restricted shapes,” says Cockell. “They narrow the scope of evolution. Alien life may have many similarities to life here.”
“Go into the ocean,” Cockell continues. There, “creatures with slim, streamlined bodies” predominate, and for obvious reasons—“to move fast through the water.” That has been true for hundreds of millions of years, of course; dolphins, sharks, the ichthyosaurus—mammal, fish, and extinct dinosaur—all have a reasonably comparable appearance. “Things end up looking the same, even though they are completely different lineages,” says Cockell.
On land, most animals have appendages, limbs for moving about; in the sky, whether pterodactyls or pigeons, “laws that govern aerodynamics are observed.” Even butterflies, albeit exquisitely detailed —“endless colors, hues, and patterns”—follow the equation. “Too small a wing, and a butterfly can’t lift off,” Cockell says. Details, he concedes, can be “endless”—but “physics restricts the form.”
Atoms combine to form ever more complex structures that comprise living systems that are designed to capture energy from the environment and create copies of itself to continue to do so over the course of life’s history on our planet – adapting to changes in the environment all the while.
The Daily Galaxy with Jackie Faherty, astrophysicist, Senior Scientist with AMNH via NASA Astrobiology, Forbes, New York Times, and Rees, Martin. On the Future (p. 186). Jackie was formerly a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
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