The big announcement: NASA finds alien life? In California?
If NASA's big 2:00 p.m. announcement is what people are saying it is (Update, 1:08 p.m: And it is!) then scientist Felisa Wolfe Simon has discovered a form of bacteria whose DNA uses arsenic instead of phosphorus -- unlike any other life form on earth. I picture this bacteria as sort of a hipster. "Oh, you're still using phosphorus?" it asks. "Yeah, I liked phosphorus during its blue period, but I've moved on to arsenic." "Isn't that lethal?" a regular earth bacteria asks, nervously. "It's an acquired taste," the arsenic bacteria responds.
Apparently, the place to find this sort of bacteria is Mono Lake, California. Admittedly, the announcement that someone has found a totally alien life-form in California is not exactly breaking news. Usually the California response to finding completely alien life is to give it a reality TV show.
Still, this is big news.
At first the headline "NASA finds new life" made me think that NASA was giving up astronomy, getting a haircut, and finally applying to law school. But no! NASA has found a life, not for itself, but for the rest of us, similar to the plot of the final Matrix movie. This life form doesn't follow the rules that all other life-forms must follow in terms of its DNA composition (arsenic instead of phosphorus), hobbies (living in poisonous lakes), and musical preferences (this.)
This means that we've been looking for the wrong conditions for life this whole time! I blame all those movies that depicted aliens as vaguely humanoid, or at least capable of speaking fairly solid English. Now we have to rethink all our assumptions! It's like when you arrive at your aunt's home and assume there will be WiFi, because without WiFi it is impossible for semi-intelligent life to survive. But instead there's just a lot of Perry Como records and those figurines with moving magnetic ice skaters.
I wonder what they think about us. "If Zorg had intended us to reproduce sexually, he would have created Adam and Eve, not Asexual Zimac Progenitor Of All," they murmur to themselves.
Still, I have to ask: can't we ever find a new life form that's even moderately attractive? I know kittens are a once-in-a-planetary-lifetime discovery, but I'd even be okay with a new life form that looked like Jennifer Aniston! Or, heck, Matthew Gray Gubler! He's a fine-looking individual!
But instead, we get arsenic-based bacteria -- which are wondrous and beautiful, of course, in the sense that you have to say your neighbors' children are wondrous and beautiful no matter how much they look like whoever designed their faces got bored halfway through and quit. Then again, I say this now, but these arsenic-based guys will probably be the last ones standing after whatever it is that's going to happen in 2012 occurs.
But what is it doing in California? Well, if it can live on arsenic, it might have a fighting chance in the entertainment industry.
| December 2, 2010; 12:14 PM ET
Categories: Big Deals, Petri | Tags: NASA, aliens, space
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