Searching for Signs of Alien Life

Searching for Signs of Alien Life - OSIRIS-REx
OSIRIS-REx being prepared for launch

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is searching for signs of alien life in the universe. NASA’s astrobiology program is renewing efforts to answer the question, “Does life exist elsewhere in the universe?” We find life all over this planet. Life is everywhere on Earth, from frigid climates to arid deserts and ocean depths to mountaintops. But does it exist anywhere else?

Currently, NASA is searching for microbial life on Mars with two robotic rovers, Curiosity and Perseverance. Those rovers are exploring rocks in fossilized waterways on the planet, seeking any indication that microbes once lived there. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working to develop a Mars sample return mission to bring rocks back to Earth for closer examination.

In December of 2018, NASA spacecraft “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer” (OSIRIS-REx) arrived at the asteroid Bennu after traveling for two years. It orbited Bennu to map the surface and find a good landing spot to obtain samples. In October 2020, OSIRIS-REx touched down on the asteroid, procured a sample, and prepared it for delivery to Earth. In May 2021, the spacecraft departed from Bennu and is expected to arrive back home in September 2023. Scientists will then study this very expensive rock sample, searching for signs of alien life.

Astrobiologists are hopeful that Enceladus and Europa, moons of Saturn and Jupiter respectively, might support some form of life now or in the past. The new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is also involved in the search for alien life. It can detect “biosignatures” around exoplanets, planets outside of our solar system. In all these ways, NASA is searching for signs of alien life in the universe.

Heather Graham, a NASA astrobiologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, says, “We don’t actually know yet how life on this planet began….” Of course, NASA is looking for some natural explanation of how life began. Graham further said that we must “roll back that clock to see how life began.” Why not roll back the clock all the way to the beginning? Science can’t explain how the universe began. Not very long ago, scientists thought the universe was eternal, and they made fun of the idea that the universe had a beginning. However, they reluctantly had to admit that the evidence shows there was a beginning, as Genesis has said for thousands of years.

Perhaps some are motivated to search for signs of alien life to show that God is unnecessary. Will science someday find that there is life, even microbial life, elsewhere in the universe? Perhaps, but if there is, God created it since He created the universe.

— Roland Earnst © 2023

Reference: “Is There Life Beyond Earth?” on YouTube

The Design of Lobster Eyes

The Design of Lobster Eyes
Have you ever looked a lobster in the face?

How do you design an optical system that enables an animal to see 2300 feet (700 m) below the ocean’s surface? That question is similar to the problem that astronomers face as they look into low light levels in areas of space around black holes. The answer came from a detailed study of the design of lobster eyes, and scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center have successfully copied it.

The human eye works by refraction, bending light by using rounded lenses. The lobster’s eyes work by reflection. Each eye of the lobster is packed with 10,000 square-shaped tubes lined with a flat, reflective surface that acts like a mirror. These mirrors direct incoming light to the retina, where tiny cells trap the light and focus it onto a layer of photoreceptors. This allows the lobster to have a full 180-degree view compared to the 120-degree view of human eyes. It also enables them to detect motion in low-light conditions.

In 1992, researchers from Columbia University built a device that mimics the design of lobster eyes, but the technology required 15 years to build a device for use in space missions. Studies using the lobster eye device have shown how the solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. In addition, newer models are opening the door to detecting faint X-rays from distant galaxies.

The design of lobster eyes is another of many design features in animal life that scientists have copied, leading to new discoveries. A visual system this complex is not the product of blind accidents. We see the handiwork of God everywhere we look in the natural world. The same God who designed the lobster’s eyes has given us the design for how we should live, and it’s written in His Word, the Bible. We would be wise to follow it.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Lobster Eyes Help Us See Into Space” in Discover magazine November/December 2022, page 18.