Scientists take new approach to alien life

| 07/11/2011

(BBC): Hollywood is wrong about aliens. They don't have oddly shaped heads, bulging eyes or even an eery green hue. Dimitar Sasselov is pretty convinced of that. He's not even sure we'll know them when we see them. Prof Sasselov, an astrophysicist, thinks that if life exists elsewhere – and he believes it does – it will likely be based on different building blocks than ours, and so may not even be recognisable as life. A project he's heading at Harvard University, called the Origins of Life, is trying to imagine what life would be like if it were based on different chemicals, conditions and history than we have on Earth.

New tools and new data in a range of fields are allowing scientists to get closer to those answers than they ever have before. And major, interdisciplinary efforts like Harvard's Origins of Life project, and similar ones at Arizona State University, the University of Washington, and University College London (which is holding its first symposium on the subject on 11 November), are radically changing the way we search – and what we are likely to find.

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