New class to discuss life on other planets

Marcinda Coil
May 9, 2007
Filed under Campus

A new class is to land on the BC campus this fall: Life in the Universe.
According to Nick Strobel, future teacher of the new astronomy class, “The course is about the scientific search for life beyond the Earth.”
The prerequisites are reading levels five or six, and the textbook to be used is Jeffery Bennett and Seth Shostak’s “Life in the Universe.”
Shostak, according to Strobel, is currently at the SITI Institute along with Jill Tarter, whose character was portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie “Contact.”
The new class is expected to cover theories, facts, and analysis of life on Earth and outer space.
“We would be looking at how life could possibly start here on Earth,” said Strobel, “It’s one place that we know there is life.”
According to Strobel, the Cambrian Explosion or dinosaur era is one that scientists study because of all the different types of species that existed, such as reptiles, birds, insects, mammals, and arachnids. The thing they all have in common is their DNA, which is a required root to all life forms on Earth; however, it may not be a necessity in outer space.
“There are probably other types of chemistry possible, which in this case you would have really, really different forms of life,” said Strobel. “A lot more different than what you see in science fiction films.”
Apparently aliens in films stem from the animals that exist on Earth and the costumes that fit humans. “Of course, they all speak English,” said Strobel.
Another question to be addressed in the class, said Strobel, is “how likely is life in our solar system and beyond, where should we look for intelligent life beyond the Earth, and how would we detect it.”
Scientists look for methane, molecular oxygen, water, carbon, and ammonia, said Strobel. “See what the ratios are of those different types of chemicals.”
According to Strobel, most planets have these elements, but they’re not divided into the right measurements to create life. Water is found everywhere, but it is usually either in a gas form or in a solid form like ice. Carbon is also found floating around space in special types of clouds.
However, the new planet that was found could contain the right proportions of these elements to allow for photosynthesis.
“Finally, they discovered a planet that could have the right temperatures you’ll need for liquid water,” said Strobel, “It’s only a matter of time ’till they find a lot more like that (planet).”
According to Strobel, the planet’s distance from its nearest star could possibly sustain life; however, scientists do not know enough about all the other chemicals that could be breeding on the planet.
“We have to take a closer look at it to see if there is any other types of chemicals you need for biochemistry to happen,” said Strobel.
Though life has yet to be discovered in outer space, Strobel believes that life is out there.
“The raw ingredients are there,” said Strobel, “and given the possibility of hundreds of millions of planets… I think there’s a chance.”

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