Author Topic: Could Self-Replicating Crystals in Space Be an Early Form of Inorganic Life?  (Read 214 times)

Offline skinwalker

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An international research team claimed a breakthrough in self-replicating plasma crystals which could be an early form of inorganic life. New studies of dust that form lifelike structures suggest that extraterrestrial life may not be carbon-based at all. Researchers at the Russian Academy of Science, the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, and the University of Sydney observed particles of inorganic dust form helical structures and go through other "lifelike" changes.

If you think that's the plot of a movie with a special effects budget and an extremely expendable cast of extras, congratulations, you just thought of something far more likely than what they claim.

The experiments took place under simulated plasma conditions, representative of space and also the primordial Earth. These inorganic structures  the team suggests may have even led to the organic molecules of life that we're familiar with, and made from. From the Institute of Physics press release:

So, the big question: could helical clusters formed from interstellar dust be somehow alive? "These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter," says (V.N.) Tsytovich, "they are autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve".

While there's no convincing argument restricting life to "gooey squidgy stuff", we're afraid this result has much more to do with promotion than actual science.  The core of their argument appears to be that certain helical structures which form in a plasma resemble the helices of DNA - anyone familiar with magnetic fields, or indeed the very idea of "one thing looking like another thing", will realize that a helical shape does not a lifeform make.  It's an excellent attempt to garner attention for a moderately interesting (if extremely specific) set of calculations, but that's all.

The other half of the inorganic life argument is that the helices "self-replicate" - specifically, they'll "replicate" if another suitable site for the formation of a helix is right next to an existing helix.  You might notice that that isn't self-replication.  It's just making another helix, so the whole things like claiming clouds are water-based lifeforms because once one appears you often get a bunch more.

The worst weakness is that most of their pretty pictures (and make no mistake, this is a "Pretty Picture Paper") are only computer simulations.  Simulation is an essential tool in modern research, but you can't move ahead based only on what the model tells you.  If you're claiming that certain plasma columns can move around and replicate, you'd best actually see some of them before claiming that one of the ten million results you can get out of an adjustable model is particularly good-looking and therefore science.