If You Call This Living

In thinking about the prospects for life beyond our planet, most of us probably contemplate two distinct subjects: intelligent life, capable of creating civilizations, and, well, just plain life.

How plain can life get and still be called life?

You know how shrink-wrapped boxed software has "minimum requirements" printed on their sides? How many megs of RAM you need, how much hard drive space, and so on. Well, life seems to have some minimum requirements as well. Most biologists would agree that the requirements for something to be classified as a living organism would include:

V The ability to grow and reproduce, obtaining nourishment from the environment

V The ability to react to the environment

V The ability to evolve or change as the environment changes

Biologist Steven J. Gould has called the current age on Earth the Age of Bacteria, and he makes the case that, in terms of diversity and adaptability, bacteria rule. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once suggested that the purpose of people is to bring viruses to other planets. Bacteria and viruses may be plentiful, but what about more macroscopic beings? Are these found—or even common—on other planets?

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Telescopes Mastery

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