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The Search and Struggle to Define Alien Life Form From Gaia Earth to Saturn's Moon Enceladus

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Starbrite A. Sparkles's picture

In 2001, a thousand scientists at the European Geophysical Union meeting signed the Declaration of Amsterdam, starting with the statement, "The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system with physical, chemical, biological and human components."

In the beginning, Chaos, was a confused, shapeless mass from which the universe was developed into a cosmos or harmonious order in Greek myths. The Gaia earth theory is named after the ancient Greek goddess of the earth, Gaia. Born of Chaos, she was the mother of many heavenly gods, the Titans and the Giants.In many ways, she created the universe alone, as she was the first deity from whom all others sprang. Gaia was self-contained. She was able to reproduce with or without a male.

Gaia’s son, Uranus became her companion, but he proved to be lusty and cruel. To subdue Uranus, her son Crotus, born of Gaia and Uranus, took a flint and castrated his father. Gaia went on to have other spouses, Tartanus and Portus. To recognize her completeness, some scientists refer to Earth as Gaia, the complete living planet.

Enceladus, one of the moons of Saturn, only three hundred miles in diameter is named for one of the children of the Earth goddess Gaia.

James Lovelock developed the Gaia Earth hypothesis, in the early 1960’s. He was invited by NASA to participate in the scientific research for evidence of life on Mars.

His job was to design instruments that could detect the presence of life to be used on a spaceship to Mars. To test for the presence of life, he theorized that the most general characteristic of life was that it takes in energy and matter and discards waste products. Also, those organisms would use the planet’s atmosphere as a medium for the cycle exchange. The life fom would leave a detectable chemical signature on the atmosphere. The chemical makeup of Mars was analyzed and compared to that of Earth. The stark contrast showed that Mars was the chemical makeup was static while the Earth’s makeup was dynamic.

The Gaia hypothesis views the Earth as a single organism, and everything on the planet as part of that organism. This is regulated through various feedback mechanisms that operate as a place where life can continue. These feedback processes seem to complement each other. When one system is pushed out of balance by some external force other processes are stimulated to counteract the instability. For example, if a massive injection of atmospheric carbon after a volcanic event is released, then more phytoplankton appear in the oceans to absorb the carbon dioxide in the water. Some examples of the Gaia variables looked at include atmospheric temperatures adapted to overcome increasing incoming radiation from the sun the salinity of the oceans and the hydrological cycle which affects rainfall.

The moon of Saturn, Euceladus, has got ice liquid water, organic materials, and a source of heat. The Cassini probe made these discoveries in 2005. Euceladus possesses an atmosphere consisting of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen. The atmosphere, however is a thin one. Another finding was plumes of water similar to Old Faithful Geysers. This is the only other body in the solar system, apart from Earth possessing liquid water. A question is does the child of Gaia, Euceladus, inherit her mother’s feedback loop mechanisms?

To substantiate the Gaia hypothesis, a computer simulation was developed to demonstrate that feedback mechanisms could evolve from the actions or activities of self-interested organisms, rather than through classic group selection mechanism. Daisyworld simulates a world with two types of daises, black and white. When the temperature falls below the optimum level for both types of daisy to grow, the black daises are able to absorb more heat and so grow more quickly coming to predominate.

However, the black daises absorb so much heat that the atmosphere eventually warms up. As it becomes warmer the white daises, with their ability to reflect heat and to keep cool, find that they are better suited to the prevailing conditions. They then begin to predominate, reflecting so much heat that the atmosphere cools and the black daises again to thrive. When extensions of the simulation included rabbits, foxes and other species it proved that the larger the number of species, the greater the improving effect on the entire planet.

The controversy of the Daisyworld simulation and the Gaia hypothesis is that they address the definition of what constitutes life. Survival of the fittest is not necessary under this definition, it does not interfere with the evolution of species, nor does it point to a creator. For life, all that is needed is that positive and negative feedback is given to the feedback system, for example in the Daisyworld model daises gives feedback to temperature, they make the planet suit them.

There are a range of views on the Gaia theory, demarked by Weak Gaia and Strong Gaia. Some go a step farther and hypothesize that all life forms are part of one single living planetary being called Gaia. In this view, the atmosphere, the seas and terrestrial crust would be results of interventions carried out by Gaia through the coevolving diversity of living organisms. While it is arguable that the Earth as a unit does not match the generally accepted biological criteria for life itself, life must be able to procreate, Gaia may be interpreted to reproduce. For instance one example of how Gaia could reproduce is it might spread to other planets through human space colonization and terraforming, and/or panspermia. With this example, many scientists would be more comfortable characterizing the earth as a single "system".

Considering Strong Gaia, the extremes are speculative versions of the Gaia hypothesis, including versions that hold that the Earth is conscious or part of some universe-wide evolution. A form of the Gaia hypothesis holds that the entire Earth is a single unified organism that consciously manipulates the climate to make conditions conducive to life. As a metaphysical or mystical view for which no evidence exists, it cannot be tested scientifically.

Locklove argues that no one mechanism is responsible, that the connections between the various known mechanisms may never be known, that this is accepted in other fields of biology and ecology as a matter of course, and that specific hostility is reserved for his own theory for other reasons.

The concept of the Gaia theory has not been entirely accepted. We currently are looking for forms of alien life on Mars with the rover, Curiosity that landed on the Red Planet early Monday morning on August 6, 2012. With our speculative definition of Gaia or Earth as a living organism, it is troublesome how we might define alien life forms, both past and present on other planets. Life may be on those planets, but not under "our definition." Considering that other civilizations may have been or are more advanced than our own may prove that a narrow mechanist view our life is insufficient.

A mechanist viewpoint centers on compartmentalized conditioning and the operation of blind adherence to the laws of physics and chemistry, and that underpinning on the behavior and evolution of all plants and animals. The viewpoint is intellectual, but dry. The Gaia approach in contrast is one of inter-dependence and interconnectiveness of all things, both physical and non-psychical within the natural world. It is a dynamic, creative and integrative nature on the definition of life and life forms.

Some of the possible locations for the study of alien life forms in our solar system include of course Mars, Enceladus and also the moons of Jupiter. On Earth, alien life forms require, sunlight, some form of energy and organic molecules. On Mars, Curiosity is looking for the building blocks of alien life forms. Clearly they will not be doppelgangers of Earth life forms as Mars is further away from the light of the sun. The climate is very cold and very arid. The atmosphere is thin, but rich in carbon dioxide and had a thin atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide, but contains limited nitrogen. To gain the most from this mission, a Gaia approach will allow us to utilize our precious economic space resources more cost-effectively.

It is also thought that on Encleadus, the smallest moon of Saturn, alien life forms could be discovered. Even on the direct surface of the planet, some scientists think that alien life forms will be there for the sampling. For life to evolve you need liquid water. Water on Encleadus is being vented into space and contains organic materials. On Mars, liquid water once flowed there, but the continuation of that is uncertain. The conditions on Encleadus are presently favorable for alien life forms, but the existence of that condition is uncertain. Also the timing to get make a flight for Encleadus at the present, an estimated thirty years in all, to construct and launch a probe at the present moment creates a constraint on the sampling of those alien life forms. However, again taking the Gaia approach to the definition of alien life form and the constraints to study those alien life forms provides the dynamic and creative problem solving to make that study a reality.

The professionals who will be analyzing these issues are primarily scientists and engineers. Not to brand, but many of those individuals have a mechanist perspective. To utilize those people, a Gaia perspective should be introduced. That could be introduced into the curriculum of study in colleges, having interactive project teams with some of the team members being versus in the Gaia perspective, or we can start the dialogue, in the writings beginning with the acceptance of the Gaia hypothesize in the mass communications. These are just some of the options available.

The beginning to give us the best perspective and most all-encompassing definition of alien life form begins here on planet Earth. Acceptance of the Gaia earth theory is that point. For input, climb to the top of the nearest mountain, walk on the shores of the breaking ocean, or just go outside and view the life forms. Observe the interconnectiveness, your Mother, Gaia Earth, has spoken.

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