Neil Armstrong Convinced
Life Thrives Elsewhere
By Todd Halvorson And Robyn Suriano Florida Today
Source: The Detroit News
From Stig Agermose <>

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The first human to set foot on a place beyond Earth found an airless, waterless, lifeless world.
Nevertheless, Neil Armstrong is convinced life thrives elsewhere in the cosmos.
"We have no proof," said Armstrong, who stepped onto the moon 30 years ago. "But if we extrapolate, based on the best information we have available to us, we have to come to the conclusion that ... other life probably exists out there and perhaps in many places."
Two million years after intelligent life emerged on Earth, humans finally have arrived at the moment when science and technology are making possible a systematic search for other life in the universe.
During the next 100 years, researchers armed with powerful telescopes, computers and robots could find proof of past or present microbial life in our solar system.
And during the next 1,000 years, scientists say, it's no longer pure fantasy to think that the human race could discover and perhaps contact intelligent civilizations on distant worlds.
"This is really an incredible time to be living because we've gone from the idea that we're alone on this nice little planet to the idea that anything is possible," said Lou Allamandola, a chemist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
After all, there are 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy and an estimated half-trillion galaxies in the universe.
"We know there are planets going around other stars, and we know it's likely that some of those planets have the right conditions for life," said Dan Werthimer, a research physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. "So it would be really bizarre if we were the only ones. It's much more likely that the universe is teeming with life."
If that's the case, the discovery would revolutionize our perception of who we are, where we came from and what our place is in the cosmos. On the other hand, the implications will be just as great if scientists conclude the rest of the cosmos is populated by nothing other than gases and carbon compounds.
"We'll either find extraterrestrial life and have a great insight into it, or we'll not find it, and basically conclude that we're it. Either answer is important," said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, a space-exploration advocacy group based in Pasadena, Calif.
Only in recent years have scientists discovered other planets and solar systems in our Milky Way galaxy, a star-studded pinwheel 600 quadrillion miles across.
Those findings raise serious scientific challenges to the idea that our own solar system is a cosmic quirk of nature, and that Earth is the only locale capable of producing and sustaining life.
"I think the most moving question is whether or not our own Earth with its lukewarm temperatures, allowing for water in liquid form is a unique type of planet, or whether there are thousands, perhaps millions, of Earthlike planets in our Milky Way," said Geoffrey Marcy, an astronomer at San Francisco State University.
An immense number of Earthlike planets would heighten the possibility that ET: The Extraterrestrial, in fact has a home to phone. And radio astronomers at the SETI Institute in California are hoping to eavesdrop on the call.
Working with the world's most powerful radio telescopes, the researchers study sunlike stars to see whether alien civilizations are broadcasting signals.
Inside mountaintop observatories and cloistered university labs, work is being done by astronomers, biologists, geneticists, geologists, ecologists, paleontologists, physicists, chemists and zoologists.
Even though researchers still are unsure exactly how living creatures took root on Earth, they know solving that mystery is crucial to the search for life beyond it.
"It's an essential question," said Harley Thronson, an astronomer at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. "If we could figure it out for Earth, we could use that for a template as how it might occur on any one of the other worlds that are orbiting other stars."
The abundance of life in Earth's deep seas and other hostile environments leads scientists to think it might flourish in equally extreme locales in our solar system.
The planet Mars is a top contender.
In recent years, scientists have uncovered impressive evidence that Mars once was warmer, wetter and more hospitable to life. The latest theory is that water once raged across its surface, creating planetary nooks and crannies in which life may have emerged.
The evidence? A 4.5-billion-year-old Mars meteorite found on a wind-blown glacier in western Antarctica. NASA scientists contend the potato-shaped rock contains evidence of the fossilized remains of primitive, bacterialike organisms that are signs of past life on Mars.
Beyond Mars lies another seductive site for life: Europa, one of the four moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo in 1610. Close-up photos from NASA's Galileo spacecraft show possible evidence of a subsurface ocean, volcanic activity and comet strikes.
"You've got liquid water. You've got a strong energy source that's long lasting, and organic chemistry. You put those ingredients together with enough time, and on Earth, those same ingredients in less than a billion years gave rise to life," Richard Terrile, a planetary scientist at JPL, said.
All the theories about Europa and Mars are sound, but the missions may turn out to be scientific busts.
"Maybe we'll strike out at all these places," said SETI Institute scientist Seth Shostak. "But all we have to do is find life on one other world in our solar system whether it's fossils on Mars or tuna on Europa and that tells you right away that life can spring up in all sorts of places in the galaxy."
Added Firouz Naderi, who is heading a NASA project aimed at finding life beyond Earth: "If, in fact, we are able to find life or to answer the question 'Are we alone?' then that certainly is grand enough and noble enough to be the enduring legacy of our civilization."
Copyright 1999, The Detroit News