Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"The Search for Life: The Drake Equation" from BBC


Dallas Campbell narrates, almost in mocmumentary fashion, his journey, largely in California and New Mexico, for “The Search for Life: The Drake Equation” (2010), a one hour BBC television documentary directed by Tim Usborne.
       
The film opens with the disturbing question, what if we really are alone in the Universe, or at least the Galaxy.
     
The film then starts with the work of Dr. Frank Drake in 1961, coming up with his Drake Equation.
 
The film then looks at some modern evidence supporting various speculations about the factors.
     
Campbell visits a professor in San Diego who has created an RNA molecule that can replicate itself.

 He then visits a very large array in northern California (I have visited the one in New Mexico, and have been around Tulelake and Susanville), before visiting another professor who has examined arsenic-resistant life in Mono Lake, somewhat south of Lake Tahoe in California (I visited it in 2012).  The main point is that arenic-feeding proto-bacteria might have jump started as a separate formation of self-replicating molecules.  If this happened more than once on Earth, there’s a good chance it has happened on Mars, maybe Europa, maybe Titan, and maybe on many earth-like planets. 
Dallas examines convergent evolution, showing that the eye of the octopus is like ours, and that non-mammals such as crows and jays (corvids) had amazing problem-solving ability and the ability for abstraction (crows steal, so they protect their own food from other birds;  they will also bond with people in their environment, as happened with me right before Hurricane Sandy as a crow kept flying down to the garage to “warn me” of the storm).
    
He also shows us an example of photosynthesis in Death Valley.  He argues that photosynthesis by single-celled organisms produces oxygen, which facilitates conventional metabolism and encourages multi-cellular organisms to evolve.
   
Another important factor is how long an intelligent civilization lasts, before destroying itself with nukes or getting destroyed by space disasters.
   
The film examines the lack of detection of alien radio signals so far, from SETI.
  
The recent flap about a possible Dyson Sphere 1400 light years away around Tabby’s Star could show an alien artefact, and it may well be that something went wrong with the civilization and it perished, so we see no signals.
    
Or it maybe that we just haven’t looked enough, given the wide range of possible radio frequencies, and the unlikelihood that a civilization would broadcast just toward us.
  
BBC’s link is here.  I do wonder if it will air on PBS or NatGeo. 

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