From Bob Holmes at New Scientist:
How can we search for life on other planets when we don’t know what it might look like? One chemist thinks he has found an easy answer: just look for sophisticated molecular structures, no matter what they’re made of. The strategy could provide a simple way for upcoming space missions to broaden the hunt.
Until now, the search for traces of life, or biosignatures, on other planets has tended to focus mostly on molecules like those used by earthly life. Thus, Mars missions look for organic molecules, and future missions to Europa may look for amino acids, unequal proportions of mirror-image molecules, and unusual ratios of carbon isotopes, all of which are signatures of life here on Earth.
Obviously, an aircraft or a mobile phone could not assemble spontaneously, so their existence points to a living – and even intelligent – being that built them. But simpler things like proteins, DNA molecules or steroid hormones are also highly unlikely to occur without being assembled by a living organism, Cronin says. More.
Guy’s onto something. It’s called specified complexity. A good idea in principle, but he better be careful about proposing it. Naturalists don’t want to think much about specified complexity even if it’s essential for understanding things. Sounds too much like ID.
See also: If an entity is complex and specified like life, but just too different, what would we call it?
Why we might never hear from alien civilizations
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