It would seem to me that the search for life on other planets or moons would be an important part of space exploration, even if it isn't directly related to colonization. However, I have seen mixed reactions in the community to various life-related questions. While some of these questions have been nominated for closure, others are left open and otherwise well-received.

For example, these two questions seem to be very similar in content, but one of them has two close votes and 0 upvotes, while the other has no close votes, 8 upvotes and 2 answers. Why is this?

So, should we allow these kinds of questions? Are there any important distinctions we should recognize when asking these questions?

  • $\begingroup$ I really do not understand the different receptions. The poorly received one shows limited effort in research or asking, but is actually concerned about ET life. The other is less clearly linked to space exploration (asked for farm suitability or for survivability of the kind of life found on Earth?) and seemed likely to get a better answer at Biology SE. It seems that answering either correctly would require not-yet-available information (the one's mentioning amino acids et al. makes this clearer, possibly increasing the negativity). $\endgroup$ – Paul A. Clayton Jul 25 '13 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ dup? meta.space.stackexchange.com/questions/132/… $\endgroup$ – John Riselvato Jul 26 '13 at 18:42

The questions are radically different.

The first one How possible are simple life forms on Europa? with the close votes, asks for speculation and opinions on the existence of life on planetary body other then earth. There simply is insufficient information to even guess.

The second question Could any life from Earth survive in Enceladus' oceans? asks if earth life (which we already know exists), could survive on a specific planetary body were there is sufficient information to reach a reasonable conclusion.

The Second question, has potential impact for space exploration, if earth life can survive in the natural environment of the planetary body, then it is a potentially a primary colonization area.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree, the questions have a different approach to the topic. But ultimately, both are asking for the same thing. Is there life, could there be life, could life survive ... it is just variations of the very same fascination, which people experience when thinking about places like Europa or Enceladus. $\endgroup$ – s-m-e Jul 25 '13 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that the first question was not well worded and potentially too broad, but the close votes it had claimed it was "off-topic". $\endgroup$ – Gwen Jul 26 '13 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ The "weak" question is less directly concerned with "the existence of life" more with whether the building blocks are present as on Earth before life (i.e., an environment where life is plausible/possible). The second question does not make clear whether Earth life is used as "life as we know it" to judge the plausibility of ET life surviving or (as you assume) the plausibility of some kind farming in support of colonization (without terriforming) or perhaps biological transformation of the environment. The "strong" question must also speculate about ocean chemistry/energy sources. $\endgroup$ – Paul A. Clayton Jul 26 '13 at 3:31

I just voted the Europa question one up ... Besides, I am with Paul (his comment below the question here). I do not understand the different receptions, too. Imagination and the thought of alien life forms is what drives this business, if it is about exploration beyond LEO. If I propose a mission and say, "hey, I'll investigate a few rocks", the proposal has a high risk of being turned down. However, if I propose a mission and say "hey, we are looking at the rocks for signs of life", people look differently at it and the chances for funding are much much higher. This is real-life space exploration. Like it or not, but the search for alien life is part of the show and part of being human.

We have to allow those questions. Otherwise, we should remind our politicians plus all the reviewers of proposals and tell them to be more careful with what the approve funding for. But ironically, how do you justify a mission flying to a dead celestial body in the general public? You just do not. (The Moon may be the only rather strange exception to this rule.) It will always be about life, officially, in one way or another, no matter what happens behind the curtain.

EDIT: I was once talking to a journalist. He told me that most of his colleagues thus most newspapers will never ever pick up a story about a space exploration mission towards other planets, moons or asteroids unless any statement on alien life (bacteria is just fine nowadays) is involved. In a similar way, medical studies are reduced to 'what does it mean for our love life', geoscientific studies are reduced to 'when will the world end' ... the list goes on. Well, some stuff is reduced to money - space exploration is expensive, which always generates negative yet high impact news. Personally, I hate this attitude in the media. But it accounts for a lot of the mentioned questions, in one way or another. It emphasizes, why we need to handle them - by giving answers instead of closing them.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with you, but I just wanted to add the distinction that I'm sure you're implying. Just to be clear: questions regarding extraterrestrial life (and even extraterrestrial intelligence) should be allowed as long as they are more than mere speculation. For example, whether or not there really are extraterrestrials visiting the Earth in UFOs, it has been shown time and again that there is simply insufficient evidence to discuss this on a non-speculative level. However, a question about how we might find alien artifacts in space has some basis in the experimental and... $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 2 '13 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ pt. 2 ..papers have dealt with these issues (e.g. Dyson Spheres) $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 2 '13 at 13:50


If they are related to space exploration in a substantial way, we need them.

However, this is a touchy subject: we shouldn't allow questions like

What if an alien is chasing my spacecraft?!?

Therefore, we just need to use common sense.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .