by Rakshita Jaiswal
What do you think is the probability of you being the only one of your kind on Earth? 1? Now ruminate the thought and think about the possibility beyond Earth. According to the statistics from NASA, in the observable universe the number of existing superclusters is estimated to be around 10 million, which further makes the existing galaxies around 200 billion in number. Milky Way galaxy itself has more than 500 solar systems. "We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct." Niels Bohr stated this about the theory of elementary particles, but it could just as easily apply to today's most controversial modern physics ideas. One of those that's gotten a lot of attention lately is that of a Multiverse. In brief, it's the idea that our Universe and all that it contains, is just one small part of a larger existence that includes many similar, and possibly many different Universes like ours. Some scientists believe that together these universes comprise everything that exists- the entirety of space, time, energy, matter, information, and the physical laws and constants that describe them. Now the fact that we are 5 times 10 to the minus 24th as big as the observable universe can even make you dubious about the different theories of individuality. There have been discoveries of microbial life forms on Earth that can survive and even thrive at extremes of low and high pressure and temperature, salinity, alkalinity, acidity and concentrations of heavy metals that would have been contemplated as lethal just a few years ago. These discoveries include the wide and broad diversity of life near sea floor hydrothermal vent systems, where organisms live essentially on chemical energy in the absence of sunlight. Environments similar to these may be present elsewhere in the solar system. The evolutionary processes and trends that lead to life in the past can however lead us to the discovery of similar or dissimilar ‘life forms’ upheavals on other planets or even in other galaxies. After years of profound research, the field started expanding and here’s when Astrobiology came into play. Technically speaking, according to NASA Astrobiology deals with the study of life in the universe. It involves the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. This interdisciplinary field requires a comprehensive, integrated understanding of biological, planetary, and cosmic phenomena . Astrobiology encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and on planets around other stars; the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry or life on Solar System bodies. Recently space agencies like NASA have been working on several life science space missions like “Space Biology Program”, “Physical Sciences Program”, “Biological and Physical Sciences Division and Human Research Program”, etc. to explore a broader view of the developmental, reproductive and evolutionary Biology associated with organisms on Earth and in the outer space. Now, as the sun grows older the light and radiation emission also increases by approximately 1% every 110 million years. In response global temperatures on earth will rise leading to the end of life on Earth eventually in some billion years. Nevertheless, we now have factors like global warming and climate change accelerating the pace at which the Earth is approaching senescence. Humanity, unfortunately is now barrelling toward a "ghastly future" of mass extinctions, constant climate-induced disruptions and health crises to society. In a journal, a team of 17 researchers described three major crises that we’re facing on Earth: climate disruption, biodiversity decline and human overconsumption and overpopulation. Citing more than 150 studies, the scientists argue that these three crises which are poised only to escalate in the coming decades are bound to put Earth in a more precarious position than most people realize now, and could even jeopardize the human race.
Astrobiologists in NASA on the other hand, have been conducting researches to determine, elucidate and resolve these global crisis. NASA’s space science research has a lot of direct applications to the development of ‘greentech.’ Many organisms that we study today are essential producers of hydrogen, methane and lipids that can be used as carbon neutral fuels, and other products that can help resolve global environmental issues absorbingly. Astrobiologists have been analysing microbial life forms and their behaviour to understand how it metamorphosed a rocky Earth into the diverse, blooming, life-sustaining planet we inhabit today. Studies of photosynthetic ‘green’ algae are creating sparks and acting as impetus for new ‘green technologies’ on Earth and future human space exploration missions.
Scientists believe that once we broadly analyse and understand these microbial recycling pathways, we can actually apply these processes in imaginative, creative and innovative ways to solve problems on Earth and in various microgravity environments in space. After all, the probability of you being the only one of your kind is 1 only on Earth for now!