For some reason, I think that we are not far away from discovering that there is alien life in the universe. We have come a long way exploring the solar system, and chances are life—alien life—is right in front of our nose. The most prominent places in our cosmic neighborhood where alien life could exist include Venus, which made headlines in recent months, Mars, and the Moons of Gas Giants Saturn and Jupiter.
As you are reading this, the Mars Perseverance Rover is heading towards the red planet carrying aboard a plethora of scientific instruments that will help scientists hunt for traces of life on Mars. Furthermore, we are currently planning missions to distant moons such as Europa and Enceladus, where life—albeit microbial in nature—could exist beneath the surface.
Hopes of discovering alien life in the solar system have increased recently, as scientists have identified bacteria that can survive in outer space without insulation or protection.
The microbe, called Deinococcus radiodurans, has survived a full year in the harsh environment of outer space in a compartment docked to the International Space Station.
The name comes from the Greek deinos, which means terrible, kokkos, which means grain or berry, radius, which means radiation, and durare, which means to survive or resist.
In a NASA article from the 1990s, the bacteria was referred to as “Conan the Bacterium.” The bacterium was discovered in 1956 by scientists Arthur Anderson, during tests that aimed to determine whether canned food could be sterilized by gamma radiation. You can read the study here.
The experiment was carried out in a kind of porch that is open to outer space in the Japanese Kibo module of the Space Station.
The Kibo Module is equipped with robotic equipment to complete various experiments in outer space’s harsh conditions. One of these experiments was to expose D. radiodurans cells for a year and then test the cells to see if they would survive and reproduce effectively afterward.
D. radiodurans proved to be up to the challenge of space radiation and huge fluctuations in temperature, Universe Today explained.
The research, published in the journal Microbiome, details how these simple, single-celled life forms endured conditions that would kill a human in seconds. Nonetheless, Conan the Bacteria managed to withstand the conditions for an entire year.
The authors observed that in a high radiation environment, the number of nucleic acid fragmentations (breaks in the DNA strand) that D. radiodurans undergoes is no different from that of the well-known E. coli. In other words, D. radiodurans doesn’t have any radiation-proof protection. Instead, it is uniquely capable of repairing the damage it suffers, making it 50 times more resistant to ionizing radiation than E. coli.
It seems that bacteria have a complete and multifaceted bag of tricks at their disposal when it comes to dealing with the stress of exposure to outer space.
One of the most important reasons this bacteria should be studied further is understanding better extremophiles such as D. radiodurans and the panspermia theory.
This theory essentially proposes that life-forms, microscopical organisms, can withstand the harsh conditions of space inside rocks or other material ejected from distant planets.
Using asteroids or comets as “cosmic taxies,” these organisms travel space until their transportation mode crashes into another planet—or moon—and directly contributes to the emergence of life.
If such types of bacteria are widespread across space, the solar system, and the universe, then I would say that it is entirely possible and very likely that life has sprung into existence in different parts of our Galaxy. It makes me believe that it is therefore inevitable that there is life elsewhere in the universe.
I am compelled to mention that astronomers have recently suggested that there could be over 6 billion Earth-like worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone, which is believed to be home to roughly 400 billion stars.
Of those 400 billion stars, astronomers estimate that 7% are G-Type stars similar to our own sun.
I believe alien life is far more likely than scientists argue.
Source and reference: Microbiome / Universe Today
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