Opinion: Unearthing more and more clues that life is possible beyond Earth

We have reached new heights of certainty to suggest signatures of life beyond Mother Earth. Since the earliest days of space exploration, we have accumulated an astronomical body of evidence about the existence, motions and evolution of celestial bodies. Yet, conjecture of whether there is life beyond us has remained eclipsed, launched perplexion and been a subject of heated debate by both scientist and sensationalist audiences.

In the 1970s, the Viking probes collected soil samples “spiked” with organic nutrients like amino acids. These samples showed measurements that gravitated towards what we would expect were there to be life present on the surface of Mars. Over time though, the scientific majority argued that these findings were merely the result of chemically reactive components present in the soil that reacted with contaminants on Earth to produce organic by-products.

However, discoveries from the rover suggested otherwise. Using evolved gas analysis and chromatography-spectrometry techniques, the Coupled with first conclusive proof of the presence of native organic matter on Mars was recorded. evidence the unit found for ancient lakes and water underneath the Martian regolith , the case for Martian life may be even stronger piecing this jigsaw together, begging the question could the Red Planet have once been blue?

One rich source of speculation and proof comes from meteorites like the infamous . Over the epochs, Mars is considered to have undergone extensive evolution so these meteorites represent undifferentiated pearls of the primitive solar system. Allan Hills meteorites — Martian meteorites discovered in Antarctica in 1977 and 1984, respectively Extensive analysis of these meteorites revealed organic molecules and bacteria, which some brush away as contaminants and others herald as signs of life.

Another fragment of evidence unearthing the possibility of life comes from the reported presence of methane, a compound that shares many chemical properties with water, on Mars. Interestingly, whenever methane is detected, it is often transient and removed immediately after detection by some mysterious process. Again, scientists are divided on the origins of this gas.Some postulate it is a result of chemical reactions involving water and carbon dioxide, while others think micro-organisms are responsible for this peculiar phenomenon . Regardless, the presence of water and microbial life are common threads that suggest some residue of life.

Beyond Mars, we are gazing at some The lower cloud layer of Venus (~50 kilometres) represents a prospective habitat for microbial life, with chemical conditions and optimal temperatures and pressures. Earth-based photographs of Venus’s cloud layer more recent evidence to suggest that microbial life may exist on the cloud decks of Venus . revealed ultraviolet spectral contrast suggestive of the compound phosphine right around the optimal condition cloud altitude. To our current knowledge, phosphine is exclusively produced by industrial processes and microbes on Earth and as such, an important biosignature.

In our outer solar system, the Saturnian moon Titan has also been a body of great interest due to the presence of methane in its atmosphere . Frosty volcanoes and lush oceans of carbon compounds make it an ideal hotspot for microbial communities to come together. Venturing out of the galaxy, there may be similar biosignatures for several exoplanets beyond the confines of our readily observable universe.

What does this mean for us? In our age of pandemics, should alien life make its way to Earth or humanity land a new home base in the cosmos, an inevitable symbiosis will emerge — whether it be for good, bad or somewhere in between. At its final frontier, the clues point to a common narrative of life in history written in the stars.

John Christy Johnson is a research program officer at the Antarctic Institute of Canada and an MD/MSc biomedical engineering candidate at the University of Alberta; Peter Anto Johnson is a research program officer at the Antarctic Institute of Canada and medical student at the University of Alberta; Austin A. Mardon is an adjunct professor in the faculty of medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta and a director of the Antarctic Institute of Canada.

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