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Alien life forms more likely to be found outside solar system, says Colorado prof.

The chance of detecting life outside our own solar system probably is greater than discovering it on neighboring planets and moons like Mars or Europa, a moon of Jupiter, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder professor.

Molecular, cellular and developmental biology Professor Norman Pace, a world-renowned biochemist and expert on life in extreme environments, said the chances of finding primitive life in thermal vents on Mars are not that promising. Perhaps the next likeliest place in the solar system to find life -- in the ice on Europa -- is significantly more of a long shot, he said.

"The basic theme here is that if you look at what is required for life, it really is a narrow window," said Pace. "Our solar system outside Earth doesnt seem too promising to sustain life, but we dont know what kind of extreme conditions conducive to life may be found elsewhere in the universe."

Pace gave a talk, "Molecular Perspectives of Extreme Life," at the 2002 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston held Feb. 14 to Feb. 19.

Signs of life elsewhere in the galaxy or universe may be "co-occurring, non-equilibrium gases like oxygen and methane, an indication the gases are being replenished," said Pace. This most readily could be explained by the influence of life.

And should intelligent life out there be looking back, Earth could possibly be seen as a home for life by other life forms in distant galaxies working with very advanced telescopes and spectrometers like scientists on Earth are developing to locate such gaseous conditions, he said. Pace also is a member of CU-Boulders Center for Astrobiology.

In contrast, the search for life on Mars and Europa requires a rigorous chemical analysis, a process Pace has observed first-hand both in deep geothermal vents in the sea and in geothermal vents in Yellowstone National Park. That process involves the oxidation and reduction of geotherma
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Contact: Norman Pace
norman.pace@colorado.edu
303-735 1808
University of Colorado at Boulder
18-Feb-2002


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