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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/ Space Dust

Air Date: Week of September 28, 2007

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Amy Fish reports that space dust may hold the key to life in outer space.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: will petroleum companies put a damper on birds’ party central in Alaska’s North Slope? First this Note on Emerging Science from Amy Fish.

[THEME]

FISH: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. That’s what the Book of Common Prayer says about life on earth. Now scientists say, this same message may be a hint to life in outer space.

[THEME]

FISH: Scientists from Russia, Germany, and Australia have discovered the surprisingly life-like qualities of an inorganic substance called plasma dust. As the name suggests, the dust is found in plasma—a fourth state of matter so super-hot, its atoms have broken apart. Plasmas are found in stars and outer space. The researchers say that the solid, electrically charged particles of plasma dust seem to act a lot like DNA—a building block of life here on earth.

Inside a plasma, the dust can form corkscrew structures similar to a DNA double helix. And just like DNA, the dust structures can replicate: they divide to make two copies of the original. They can even evolve. It’s sort of an inorganic version of survival of the fittest. The strongest shapes take in surrounding dust particles and reproduce, while the weaker ones die off.

Until now, researchers have looked for extraterrestrial life based only on organic carbon compounds. But this life-like dust contains no carbon.

So, there may be life out there after all—just not as we know it. That’s this week’s note on Emerging Science. I’m Amy Fish.

GELLERMAN: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

 

 

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