Could Life Exist in Space?

Discussion in 'Astronomy, Exobiology, & Cosmology' started by Double Overdrive, Jun 1, 1999.

  1. As we've seen of Earth, animals eventually evolved how to fly. Is it possible that a species could eventually evolve to propel itself into space and travel in space? If any of you have seen the movie "Lost in Space" they have spider type organisms that are space-faring... How would such an organism obtain food? What would they have to look like in order to survive in the vacuum of space?

    -Double Overdrive
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  3. Aloysius Guest

    I think yes, it could.
    Moreover, I think it's most likely that, if life were to exist in space, that it would have originated there too, instead of having evolved somewhere else and then found its ecological niche there. But that's speculation based on a bunch of half-baked assumptions, probably.

    Starting from basics: rocks exist in space. They are not what we'd call alive. Stars too; ditto. Immediately we're confronted by what we mean by "alive". Uh-oh!

    (Takes a deep breath, reads Fred Hoyle's "The Black Cloud", and forges onward...)

    Life involves some kind of process. Rocks do this. Chemical reactions in asteroids proceed almost with certainty, but with glacial slowness. They, however, are not alive.

    Stars are much more dynamic. Why are they not alive? Well, perhaps some stars are.

    Notice that I'm hedging wildly. It is not necessary, you see, to posit intelligence - merely some kind of sentience, down to the single-cell kind of sentience, to pronounce something alive.

    Perhaps it's the ability to reproduce, rather than to process energy and to think.

    Damn, I was going to answer this with a short paragraph about "these proposed beings would take energy from available sources, and this would be electromagnetic in nature of course - gamma rays, cosmic rays, light rays, whatever. Hell, some may thrive near black holes using gravitational potential differences to get their energy."

    But now I'm hung up on what life is.
    So I think I'll cede the floor to the next contender

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  5. I doubt life could originate from space. It is more likely that over a long period of evolutionary time, species develop the ability to travel through space. One way a species could start to develope space travel is by learning how to blast spores to nearby planets. While in transition during this phase, they might develop the ability to have themselves stay & travel in space (not just their pores...)

    This type of populating a planet by sending pores their reminds me of the movie "Starship Troopers". This movie could show how a space-faring species may come to be.

    When I say space-faring species, I mean when their bodies are adapted to live in space. I don't mean the space-faring species like we are going to be. Although evolution's way of going into space might not be building a space-faring body, it may be just building the intelligence so they could build spaceships by themselves and get the whole thing done alot faster... (As we've seen, we are the only semi-spacefaring species... let alone the only life we know of to ever survive in space with use of our INTELLIGENCE)

    I'm not sure if evolution would prefer building intelligence or building bodies?

    "Life is the universe's way of figuring out itself." I really believe this is the meaning of life, which if you think about it, it means obtaining knowledge is the purpose of our existence. Life isn't just a fluke, The universe made life possible to figure out its mysteries. In saying this, a space-faring species adapted to live in space might not exist, in stead I believe that evolution would much rather choose intelligence to solve its mysteries...

    -Double Overdrive
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  7. Steve Guest's a very interesting question. The way I see it, in order for life to exist in space it wouldhave to be completely alien from what we know and can relate too that I can't even begin to speculate on it.

    However, if we're talking about carbon based or similar, then I don't think it's possible for several reasons:

    1) If it started of on a planet, there's no reason to become spacefaring. If there was a reason, it would happen too quickly for evolution to occur. Now who knows if it's not a stage in evolution that we haven't seen yet, but for now I'll argue against it. I'll be happy to be proved wrong.

    2) I don't think life can start in space. For one thing, there is no shielding from radiation. That does help creating the basic molecules that eventually lead to life, but I think it would fry anything before it became too complex. And if it wasn't the radiation, it would be space debris. Even small particles of dust can cause impressive amounts of damage because of the speed it travels at. Not to mention the temperature and pressure problems.

    My problem is all we know about life is what we have on earth to study, and even though it's been seen to exist in some amazing places, it still is somewhat homogenous in terms of the conditions it needs to get started. I think we need to see other beings in order to compare and see what exactly is possible.
  8. Accually life might be able to form in an asteroid or comet which would give them the radiation protection they would need. This might even work because all life would need was water and food, wich could be plentiful on an asteroid or comet... because some life forms have been known to digest iron which is found on asteroids, and comets have been shown to have organic molecules. Both asteriods and comets may have some H20 mixed in with them but i'm not sure. Until we learn how life accually started here on Earth, then we can start to debate wether or not life could for in space. But as for life forming in the vacuum of space, that would definitly be impossible (except for in sci-fi), but possible on a asteroid or comet...?

    -Double Overdrive
  9. Rodvik Guest

    it seems perfectly possible in my view. Freeman Dyson designed "astro chicken" a few years ago which was a life form which could make its living in space. Whether life could evolve out there is more tricky, although as has been mentioned before we still dont know whether life actually originated on earth or was "seeded" by some organic cloud.

    Clearly life CAN survive in space as the bacteria which survived on the moon for several years showed (it was accidentally left there by astronuats and recovered later. it seems more than likely that more complex life forms could do the same.

    Also life tends to fill any niche that it can, so in terms of evolution a life form that could successfully life and breed in space would have a HUGE advantage over planet bound species (lots more room to grow into) so it seems fairly likely to me.

    Of course the proof is in the pudding so we will just have to wait and see....
  10. Plato Guest

    Double Overdrive,
    I just finished (and I mean five minutes ago) "Heart of the Comet" from David Brin and Gregory Benford. They are exploring the very ideas you are mentioning. The eccentric orbits of comets bring them from time to time in the close vicinity of the sun. Bringing a brief summer to the otherwise eternal winter in the comet. That is how life could get it's nescecary energy and then hybernate till the next perihelium.

    we are midgets standing on the backs of giants,
  11. Plato:

    That just goes to show how much evidence there is concerning the issue of life in space. I agree with the idea that life on Earth was seeded from interstellar debris (such as asteroids and comets). It just doesn't seem likely to me that life just all of a sudden sprang up from a "primordial soup". I'm not saying this isn't a good theory for our present knowledge, but it does remind me of the "spontaneous generation" theory which was easily proven wrong. The "Primordial Soup Theory" is much harder to disprove than theories like "Spontaneous Generation" which has been replaced with Biogenesis for about 200 years.

    If life really can spring up from non-living matter as we see with "primordial soup," I don't believe it will change our stance on the possibility of life orginating in space. To me both spacelife and earthlife both seem to go hand in hand because spacelife may come into existence when it is blasted off a planet and sent into space. Spacelife would also benefit earthlife by helping the "primordial soup" in giving it the necesary materials for life to form.

    If both spacelife and earthlife exist mutualistically, wouldn't that prove to be more understandable than a "Primordial Soup" theory?

    I'm really confused about the origin of life. Everyone probably is....

    -Double Overdrive

    [This message has been edited by Double Overdrive (edited June 01, 1999).]
  12. Steve Guest

    Bacteria can live on the moon, but it
    was dormant until it was brought back onto the earth. This is the same as the "spore" model that Double Overdrive mentioned before.

    It can survive, but I don;t think it cna live or evolve into the state that we're all talking about. We've mentioned simple organisms, but they've evolved on a planet and have not evolved since. Did the bacteria change or mutate into a higher species? That would convince me. If it's the same as what is found on earth, then it still doesn't answer the question of whether it's possible for life to develope in space.

    As for the primordial soup theory, the reason that is more believeable than spontaneous generation, is that scientiest have run experiments where they have reproduced what we believe earth was like in the beginning and have created the basic building blocks needed for life. Nothing fancy or complex, but that does say to scientist until the see something else that you don't need to invent space bombardment when life could have been formed on earth.

    Caveat: With the Mars rock, this is somewhat in doubt now.

    I think it gets too complicated when we start to try to come up with ways for life to form. All the methods mentioned point toward planet-based life, and exclude space based.
  13. Aloysius Guest

    That bacterium on the moon was thinking
    "Gee, this is boring. You call this LIFE?"
  14. Steve:

    We can't say spacelife doesn't exist if we don't even know the exact way life formed. The reason I am saying this is because I saw a TV show on the discovery channel that said they found a bacterium that can survive INTENSE heat and cold & be able to slow its matabolism down really slow (digesting iron)

    So this bacterium was accually found on Earth and lives in hot springs ecetera. They say this could be the earliest form of life and have come from another planet via ASTEROID or COMET.

    So the possibilities are good for both spacelife and earthlife. I'm sorry steve but your not looking at all the facts.

    -Double Overdrive

    [This message has been edited by Double Overdrive (edited June 02, 1999).]
  15. April Guest

    I've never thought about that. I don't think that life could live in space. The only things that could live in space are organisms that live off of rocks and nothing else.
  16. April:

    What you say is true, but life is life. Any life we find in space can be a good indication of greater things. Maybe large organisms can grow and live soley of rock or iron...

    For me, I believe that life tries to fill every enviroment possible and that includes space. But if you are looking for life as you see on earth, well that means you are looking for earthlife not spacelife. Don't get these two types of life mixed up because they probably aren't alike at ALL. (I wonder if a simple organism that feeds off iron can become multicellular?)

    We live, we die, WHO CARES!
    -Double Overdrive
  17. Boris Guest

    Here's my 2 cents.

    The kind of life we have on Earth -- organic, carbon based -- seems like the most plausible type imaginable. That's because of the great variety of configurations and characteristics that the organic molecules can assume. Also, organic molecules are made of relatively light nuclei -- C, O, H, N -- which should be much more abundant in the universe than heavier nuclei. So in my opinion, if there's life (non-artificial, mind you) anywhere else in the universe, it will be organic.

    Now, given that assumption the likelihood of space-based lifeforms is slim indeed. That's because at the temperatures of space, all compounds tend to crystallize. And organic ice is no good -- to evolve life we need motion and internal energy. Arguably, you could have something like that on comets, which get warmed up every now and then -- but they are too short-lived, and tend to expel their organic material first thing. So the chances of life forming on a comet, in my opinion, are zip.

    Then there is that argument about necessity of immersion in some kind of liquid. This would be needed in order for life to emerge spontaneously, since the various molecules would need to be able to mix with each other. And being frozen into a crystal is not very conducive to mixing.

    So, I wager with a very high degree of confidence that no life has ever evolved in space. It would have had to evolve on something that contains high concentrations of organic compounds, including at least one in liquid form (at least liquid hydrogen -- simplest possible scenario). Planetoids are the only places where you could ever find such conditions.

    So, my claim is that there is no such thing as an inherently space-based lifeform. Now, is there a possibility of life originating on a planet, and then emerging into space as its newly-adopted native medium? I guess there is. But if this lifeform is truly space-based, than it is more than just a dormant frozen bacterium thawed every now and then by some celestial event. This would constitute merely a planet-based life stranded in space.

    What we'd need is an ability to generate internal heat, and to insulate from the temperatures of space. In addition to that, we'd need a shield against cosmic rays and other energetic particles/radiation. That's because those things tend to destroy anything that's complicated and orderly -- such as a lifeform would be. Because of these requirements, I find it highly unlikely that any natural lifeform could ever inhabit space.

    Now, artificial life is a different issue. You can have lifeforms which are based entirely on crystalline structures to begin with -- making them tolerant of space temperatures and radiation, and also quite energy-efficient. They'd need to have redundant subsystems, be able to repair themselves, and possess an ability to replicate their kind. At the most sophisticated level, they'd be comprised of nanomachines -- giving them the ultimate flexibility, redundancy, upgradeability, and reproductive ease (although not the best energy efficiency).

    I am; therefore I think.
  18. Aloysius Guest

    Yes, and what's to prevent a fully functional nanomachine, capable of evolving as it sucks electromagnetic energy to fuel itself, from having had ancestors? In other words, I can see a path from a simple nanomachine (created by some quirk of assemblage of molecules) into something more complex.

    Which is just what happened to us.
  19. Boris:

    Thanks for your great remarks, your knowledge really helps in the debate of these issues. I probably don't have very much background knowledge in the subject of the origin of life, but I agree that life can't evolve in space. For an object to conquer the space medium, it would most likely do what we did (Build INTELLIGENCE, not BODIES)

    I believe that evolution prefers to build up the intelligence of a species so they can conquer space, or whatever medium the choose (including digital). I don't know who agrees with me, but it seems very logical that intelligence would be made instead of a body capable of going into space (which would take billions of years of evolution to master, including the ability to get off the face of the Earth)

    I'm not saying it is impossible for a species to accually evolve to that state... all I'm saying is that intelligence is what got us into space, and I don't see any SPACE BIRDS...

    Anyone agree with me?

    We live, we die, WHO CARES!
    -Double Overdrive
  20. Boris Guest


    There's quite a few things that are different from what happened to us and what would happen to a life-form evolving in space.

    One problem is the density of matter: on Earth it's all here; out in space, even in the densest molecular cloud, you have just a few molecules in a whole cubic meter. So, reproduction would be difficult indeed, as you'd first have to gather the material necessary to produce the offspring.

    Then, there are much greater propulsion energy requirements. Not only do you have to cross vast distances, you need to spend as much energy stopping as you need to get going. On earth, water does all the transporting for you (at least for the very first primitive life).

    Then there's the issue of crystallization. Whereas organic life can evolve when organic compounds are not crystallized, I doubt it could ever form in the vacuum. But if your supposed life is not organic, then it faces a whole lot of issues that it doesn't have a whole lot of tools to solve (at least initially). E.g. how do you represent information (like reproductive information)? How do you grow more crystals when there's no liquid around? How do you obtain motion with crystals? Artificial nanomachines are very intricate as they have carefully-crafted joints or etched-out structures to allow the moving parts to actually move. Left alone, this intricate design would degrade quickly under the corrosive conditions of space.

    In general, to survive, not to mention reproduce or evolve, in space, a nascent lifeform must already be extremely sophisticated. This makes spontaneous formation of such lifeforms a near impossibility. The reason I even buy into spontaneous formation of life on Earth, is because the conditions were by far (many orders of magnitude, if you will) more conducive.

    I am; therefore I think.
  21. MaTTo Registered Senior Member

    The only good example of life that we can observe is ourselves. We developed on this planet. But we are using our minds and bodies to make the tools to take us there.

    I doubt that anything has originated from the vastness of space, but more likely it has on planets.

    Just maybe it is possible for organisms to adapt in space, but I place my bet on the idea that they would have to have originated on a planet first.
  22. SeeKer Registered Member

    There is a possibe existence of some sort of life in Space based upon the existance of Organic compounds.

    In some gas clouds in space astronomers have found organic compounds , alcohol being the one of these compounds.This may give way to the possibility of life forming in space.(Not from the alcohol especially..) Life forms whenever and whereever it can, providing there is ample heat which may be provided by a nearby star.

    Anyone read that book where a massive black cloud supports intelligent life in space and it encounters Earth?

    [This message has been edited by SeeKer (edited June 26, 1999).]

    [This message has been edited by SeeKer (edited June 26, 1999).]
  23. god Registered Senior Member


    In his book col. Corso discribes what he thinks are genetical engineered beings created specificaly to withstand the stresses of space flight. Most likely fiction , but something to think about

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