Saturday, January 1, 2011

Alien Contact: National Geographic Documentary

"Alien Contact"
Known Universe television/video series, National Geographic (2010)

"Are we alone? It's an age-old question that was relatively "taboo" in mainstream science until the mid-1990s, when astronomers found planets outside our solar system. Now, Known Universe joins the hunt for alien life as scientists search for planets with similar characteristics to Earth's. We'll take you on a journey to find planets that may support life and show you new space-based technologies that aid in the search for advanced alien civilizations."

This series is related to another National Geographic Channel program that speculated on what life on other worlds might be like. The Lemming discussed National Geographic's fictional-but-plausible worlds of Aurelia and Blue Moon in another blog:
National Geographic's newer episode was entertaining, with pretty good 3D animated graphics and a decent amount of serious science. In the Lemming's opinion.

(National Geographic Channel, used w/o permission)

Life on Other Worlds? Maybe not so 'Taboo'

On the other hand, the Lemming isn't entirely convinced that exobiology was a 'taboo' topic among scientists until the 90s. Consider: the Viking missions carried 'life experiments' to see if there were critters in the Martian soil. Those missions started in the mid-70s. More:
The equipment worked just fine: scooping up Martian soil, dumping it in a container, and dousing it with water. Microorganisms in soil from Earth would have flourished in similar conditions.

Mars isn't Earth

Soil from Mars didn't act quite as expected. There was a flurry of chemical activity: and then nothing. The Lemming recalls a scientist at the time saying it was 'peculiar chemistry.' But not life.

Now, a few decades later, someone else suggested that maybe microorganisms suited to a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere and only traces of water might not have precisely the same metabolism as microorganisms suited to a thick nitrogen-oxygen mix that's occasionally saturated with water.

The Lemming's discussed that before:

Segmented Worms, Animals, Definitions, and All That

Then there's the assertion that "all animals are worms." That's accurate, in a way, but needed a whole lot more explanation to make sense. Like what's at the F-M Community College's website:
  • "Segmented Worms / Annelids"
    Michael McDarby, An Online Introduction to the Biology of Animals and Plants, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, The State University of New York (2001-2010)
The Lemming supposes that whoever put that National Geographic documentary decided that, with an hour of air time to work with - minus commercials - they had to balance precision and explanation with a need to show the 'big picture' and keep folks interested.

Still, the Lemming feels that National Geographic could have devoted more time to bilateral symmetry and the development gnathostomata.

As for the possibilities of life elsewhere in the universe: that's another topic.

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