On Earth life is organic. It is composed of organic molecules, which are simply the compounds of carbon, excluding carbonates and carbon dioxide.
However, physicists believe it is quite possible there could be inorganic lifeforms in the Universe too!
In 1959, renowned Cambridge astronomer and cosmologist Fred Hoyle published his fascinating sci-fi book
The Black Cloud.
It is a must read for everyone who enjoys 'hard' science-fiction. In his book, Hoyle describes what happens when a group of scientists begin
tracking the arrival of an enormous cloud of gas that enters the solar system and threatens to destroy most of the life on Earth by blocking the Sun's radiation.
A closer examination of the Black Cloud reveals it is in fact a superorganism, many times more intelligent than humans, which in return is surprised to
find intelligent life-forms on a solid planet.
When the astronomers ask the cloud how its lifeform originated, it replies that they have always existed.
This brings us to the possibility that such complex life-forms could actually exist not only in science fiction but in reality as well.
In his essay, "Is Life Analog or Digital?" Freeman Dyson of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies suggests that "an analog form of life, such as Hoyle's
black cloud, adapts better to low temperatures, because a cloud with a fixed number of grains can expand its memory without limit by increasing its linear scale."
"It derives its energy from gravitation or starlight, and acquires chemical nutrients from the naturally occurring interstellar dust.
It is held together by electric and magnetic interactions between neighboring grains. Instead of having a nervous system or a wiring system, it has a network of
long-range electromagnetic signals that transmit information and coordinate its activities.
Like silicon-based life and unlike water-based life, the Black Cloud can adapt to arbitrarily low temperatures.
Its demand for energy will diminish as the temperature goes down," Dyson writes.
Bok globules are small interstellar clouds of very cold gas and dust that are so thick they are nearly totally opaque to visible light, although they can be
studied with infrared and radio techniques. They were originally discovered as black splotches in front of dense fields of stars, and were even dubbed "holes in
the heaven" because they appeared like holes in the stellar background.
On this image you see how two rambunctious young stars are destroying their natal dust cloud with powerful jets of radiation. The stars are located approximately
600 light-years away in a cosmic cloud called BHR 71. Image credit: Hubble Space Telescope
V.N. Tsytovich of the General Physics Institute, Russian Academy of Science, in Moscow and Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany
and the University of Sydney, Australia studied the behaviour of complex mixtures of inorganic materials in a plasma. Plasma is essentially the fourth state of
matter beyond solid, liquid and gas, in which electrons are torn from atoms leaving behind a miasma of charged particles.
Until now, physicists assumed that there could be little organisation in such a cloud of particles. However, Tsytovich and his colleagues demonstrated, using a
computer model of molecular dynamics, that particles in a plasma can undergo self-organization as electronic charges become separated and the plasma becomes
polarized. This effect results in microscopic strands of solid particles that twist into corkscrew shapes, or helical structures. These helical strands are
themselves electronically charged and are attracted to each other.
Could extraterrestrial life be found in particles of interstellar dust (like that which obscures the giant molecular cloud DR21, shown here in an
infrared image taken recently by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope)? (Credit: A. Marston (ESTEC/ESA) et al., JPL, Caltech, NASA)
Quite bizarrely, not only do these helical strands interact in a counterintuitive way in which like can attract like, but they also undergo changes that are
normally associated with biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins, say the researchers. They can, for instance, divide, or bifurcate, to form two copies of
the original structure. These new structures can also interact to induce changes in their neighbours and they can even evolve into yet more structures as less
stable ones break down, leaving behind only the fittest structures in the plasma.
So, could helical clusters formed from interstellar dust be somehow alive? "These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties
to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter," says Tsytovich, "they are autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve."
The possibility of complex plasma life-form is studied by scientists today.
He adds that the plasma conditions needed to form these helical structures are common in outer space. However, plasmas can also form under more down to earth
conditions such as the point of a lightning strike. The researchers hint that perhaps an inorganic form of life emerged on the primordial earth, which then acted
as the template for the more familiar organic molecules we know today.
In essence, "complex self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter that may
exist in space provided certain conditions allow them to evolve naturally" and we cannot dismiss the possibility that plasma aliens could really exists in particles
of interstellar dust that often obscures giant molecular clouds.
Extraterrestrial life can be stranger than we even dare to imagine.
Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations -
Their Technology And Capabilities
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, "Arthur C. Clarke once wrote a long time ago.
In this Xenology article we take a look at who could be out there and what kind of advanced technology they could posses.
"Soon, humanity may face an existential shock as the current list of a dozen Jupiter-sized extra-solar planets swells to hundreds of earth-sized planets,
almost identical twins of our celestial homeland.
Unusual Organisms Living On Pandora -
A Fictional Alien World That Could Be Real
What kind of unusual organisms could exists on a world like Pandora? What could we expect to find there?
As we are about to find out the line between science fiction and science fact is thin indeed.
Pandora is the idyllic blue world featured in the movie Avatar. Its location is a real place,
Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our Sun and the most likely destination for our first journey beyond the solar system.
Alien Species Living In The Inner Milky Way Could Be In Danger
Few people doubt there is intelligent alien life in the Milky Way galaxy, but where can we expect to find it?
Astronomers think that while the inner sector of the MIlky Way Galaxy may be the most likely to support habitable worlds.
Unfortunately some of these places are also most dangerous to all life-forms.