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NASA scientists have come up with a 7-step scale to find evidence of extraterrestrial life in the universe

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Humanity has not yet found evidence of extraterrestrial life, but NASA scientists are calling for a new seven-step framework for confirming claims of life beyond Earth.

Created in part by NASA’s chief scientist Jim Green, the seven-step scale can be used by anyone as a starting point in the search for life, including scientists and communicators.

By using seven steps, the search for life would be more like assessing “how ready a spacecraft or technology is to fly,” and less of a summary of two options: live or no life.

“Until now, we’ve made the public think there are only two options: it’s life or it’s not life,” study co-author Mary Voytek, head of NASA’s Astrobiology Program, said in a statement. pronunciation.

“We need a better way to share the excitement of our discoveries and show how each discovery builds on the next so we can take the public and other scientists on a journey.”

NASA scientists call for a new seven-step framework for confirming claims of life beyond Earth

The scale can be used by anyone as a starting point in the search for life.  Using seven points would make the search for life more akin to assessing 'how ready a spacecraft or technology is to fly'

The scale can be used by anyone as a starting point in the search for life. Using seven points would make the search for life more akin to assessing ‘how ready a spacecraft or technology is to fly’

The framework, described as the trust of life detection (CoLD) scale, lists the seven steps as follows:

  • Detection of a signal known to result from a biological activity
  • Contamination excluded
  • Demonstration or prediction of biological signal production in the detection environment
  • All known non-biological signal sources have proved implausible in that environment
  • Additional, independent signal from biology detected
  • Future observations excluding alternative hypotheses proposed after the original announcement
  • Independent, follow-up observations of predicted biological behavior in the environment

The scale was created using “decades of experience” in astrobiology, a field best suited to search not only for the origin of life on Earth, but also for life elsewhere in the universe.

“Having such a scale will help us understand where we are in terms of looking for life in particular locations, and in terms of the capabilities of missions and technologies that help us in that search,” Green said in a statement.

Using Mars as an example to achieve a level 7 result, “surveys elsewhere on Mars may be needed where the above results would predict specific signs of life,” the authors wrote in the study.

The scale will likely play a big part in NASA's missions to Mars, especially in light of controversial announcements that life has been found on Mars.

The scale will likely play a big part in NASA’s missions to Mars, especially in light of controversial announcements that life has been found on Mars.

The scale will likely play a big part in NASA’s missions to Mars, especially in light of controversial announcements that life has been found on Mars.

In 1996, researchers examining the Mars meteorite ALH84001 suggested that they had found life in the 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite.

The 25-year findings are still controversial, but researchers on the new study said the older study could have benefited from the proposed seven-point scale.

“The report of evidence for life in the 4.5 billion-year-old Mars meteorite ALH8400111 illustrates the challenges inherent in communicating results in a binary yes-or-no manner and the benefits of a progressive scale,” they wrote. them in the investigation.

They noted that the meteorite has “possible remnants of biomolecules” such as carbonate spheres and magnetite particles that may have properties consistent with microbially-induced formation.

The meteorite may have formed in liquid water between 0 and 80 degrees Celsius when the surface of Mars was “probably” habitable, but the researchers of the 1996 study also said the findings were evidence of life on early Mars.

The researchers continued: ‘The publication and public announcement of these results sparked efforts by the wider community to develop a more comprehensive case for the abiotic origin of the traits as a collective set.

“As a result, the current consensus is that the features identified … in ALH84001 are unlikely to be indicative of life.”

However, the researchers believe that the time is right for humanity to find evidence of life beyond Earth, necessitating the seven-step scale.

“As life-detection goals become increasingly prominent in space sciences, it is essential to open a community dialogue about how to convey information in a topic that is diverse, complicated and has great potential to become sensational,” the study wrote. in the study. abstract.

Establishing best practices for life detection communications can serve to create reasonable expectations in the early stages of a hugely challenging venture, value incremental steps along the path, and build public trust by clearly identifying make false starts and dead ends an expected and potentially productive part of the scientific process.’

Jupiter's icy moon Europa (pictured) would have an ocean that could support life

Saturn's icy moon Titan (pictured) is thought to have an ocean that can support life

The scale applies to discoveries in the solar system, possibly from Jupiter’s icy moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Titan, both of which are considered candidates to host life, as well as exoplanets.

The scale applies to discoveries in the solar system, possibly from Jupiter’s icy moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Titan, both of which are considered candidates for harboring life, as well as for exoplanets.

NASA’s mission to Titan, known as Dragonfly, will fly more than 100 miles around the celestial satellite. It was originally scheduled to launch in 2026, but the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the launch date to 2027.

NASA’s Europa Clipper will launch in 2024 and will arrive at the moon in 2030.

The detection of oxygen on an exoplanet (there are estimated to be more than 300 billion in the known universe) would be an “important step in the process of searching for life,” NASA said in the release.

The authors note that the shell is part of the groundwork that NASA missions have conducted, even though they have not yet detected biological signals on other celestial bodies.

“With each measurement, we learn more about both biological and non-biological planetary processes,” Voytek said.

‘The search for life beyond Earth requires broad participation of the scientific community and many kinds of observations and experiments. Together we can be stronger in our search for hints that we are not alone.”

The paper was recently published in the scientific journal Nature.

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