A review of “Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own” by David Toomey, New York, W.W.Norton, 2013. by Cary Neeper
Author David Toomey treats us to a detailed exploration of what kind of life is weird and why, both chemically and physically. He reminds us that eyes come in all varieties and how remarkable it is that our eyes are so similar to those of octopuses. Convergent evolution can operate at the cellular level since it is good at finding and repeating what works well–a hopeful hint that life may occur just about anywhere with a reasonable climate.
Toomey considers Mars and what any life would need to do to survive there now. The flooding of four billion years ago and Mar’s atmosphere now are both reviewed with possible life-needs considered. The acidity and salinity of the ancient Martian lake Yellowknife Bay was apparently very low 3.5 billion years ago. Also, the mild acidity and elevated salinity of the Robert Sharp crater suggest that both may have been “hospitable to life.” (See eos.org/research-spotlights)
Also noted by author Sarah Stanley (Source: Journal of Geohysical Research:Planets) These craters on Mars also contained akaganeite, which (on Earth) forms in “acidic, saline wet environments,” hence the hope that they were wet at some stage. The pH of Yellowknife Bay was probably between 1.6 and 8. Basaltic minerals or exposure to iron sulfides was
feasible in the Robert Sharp crater.
In his book “Weird Life,” Toomey asks if viruses are alive. Any definition of life, he says, is “likely to be provisional.” He decides that liquid is probably necessary for “what life needs.” Proteins seem to be critical, or at least handy. Even weird life would use molecules similar to the familiar ones in common Earth biology since they work so well, especially if made of carbon.
Silicon has problems doing life–high reactivity with water and oxygen, inability to form double or triple bonds like carbon, and macromolecules too repetitive to be creative. On Earth silicon is “locked into rocks” since it is too reactive with oxygen to invent life forms.
The author explores cosmological options and the multiverse idea, as well as the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence, before noting that life elsewhere is most likely not to be weird, but to resemble Earth’s. He notes that the interests of theoretical physicists, astronomers and biologists are likely to differ in emphasis. In any case, though bio-signatures in alien life may differ, they “could be detected…readily.”
Author of The Archives of Varok
The View Beyond Earth (Book 1.)
The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)
Nautilus Silver Award 2013 YA
ForeWord IBPA finalist 2012 adult SF
The Alien Effect (Book 3.)
An Alien’s Quest (Book 4. Released Nov.21, 2016)
Excerpts, Synopses, Reviews, On Writing, Characters and More-
Reviews of significant books- www.goodreads.com/Cary_Neeper
How the Hen House Turns- www.ladailypost.com
Complexity, Bio, Bibliography and Links- caryneeper.com
Astrobiology- astronaut.com search:Who’s Out There