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Fanciful extraterrestrial life “science” scenarios: Is there any harm in them?

Brown dwarf, centre, courtesy NASA

“Searching for alien life? Check out failed stars”, we learn via Clara Moskowitz (MSNBC, 4/1/2011): “Potential exists on free-floating planets and sub-brown dwarfs, researcher says”:

Researcher Viorel Badescu of the Polytechnic University of Bucharest in Romania recently investigated the possibilities for life on free-floating planets (FFPs) and sub-brown dwarfs (SBDs) that might contain lakes of the chemical ethane. He found that such life is not impossible, though it would be significantly different from life on Earth. His findings were detailed in the August 2010 issue of the journal Planetary and Space Science.

Solvents? Well, “Synthesis of observational data makes it possible to conceive chemical reactions that might support life involving non-carbon compounds, occurring in solvents other than water,” Badescu wrote in his paper.In particular, Badescu found that ethane – a compound of carbon and hydrogen – could function well as a solvent for alien life.

[ … ]

It seems odd to consider the possibility of life on an object more massive than Jupiter or Saturn, especially since most scientists think such gas giant planets — with their high radiation, hostile atmospheres and potential lack of a planetary surface — would not harbor life as we know it.

But Badescu said that some sub-brown dwarfs might have lakes or oceans of liquid ethane that could prove quite homey to alien microbes.

This stuff is fascinating, and as a writing teacher, I certainly recommend it for aspiring science fiction writers, to give them ideas.

The part I am antsy about is the notion that it is serious science. That is, people may get bored with actual science, which is the study of demonstrable facts, because we get lost in may-haves, could-haves, might-haves, and not-impossibles.

Here’s a question: What, exactly, makes all this science? Thoughts?


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