So, NASA, these arsenic things… aren’t aliens?

NASA: We’re having a press conference! If you’re interested in the search for aliens, you’re going to love this!

World: NASA has found aliens!

NASA: Hey, calm down. It’s not that, it’s here on Earth but it’s WAY cool.

World: NASA has found a totally different kind of life, totally independent of our kind!

NASA: Whoa there, Lesley! It’s not that, but seriously guys, this is SWEET.

World: NASA has found life based on arsenic!

NASA: No, no, no! It’s using arsenic instead of phosphorus and not dying. How neat is THAT?

World: So… no aliens then?

Yes, I was in a sarky mood when the British press broke the embargo:



But the thing is, this is cool, and NASA know it. And we should, too, except the media seem to enjoy playing stupid when it comes to science (‘Boffins baffled!‘). I kind of feel sorry for NASA sometimes, imagining their crestfallen faces when we ungratefully remain unimpressed by not-aliens. We’re like kids who wanted an Electron and got a VIC 20.

Cute little arsenic guys (pic from NASA)

Cute little arsenic guys (pic from NASA)

These little guys are cool, but I’m not telling you why, because there are actual real biologists who are dead happy to share. Check out P.Z.’s take. And there are astronomers, too. Like Phil Plait who, I am confident, will soon be announcing that Halomonadaceae are his close personal friends.

When the Cancer Council call a press conference, we don’t all cheer ‘They’ve cured cancer!’. So let’s be nice to NASA next time. If they say it’s cool, it always is. Even though it’s never aliens.

Update: Jack has written an outstanding post on this. Tell him I sent you and get a free cookie

Supplementary update: Looks like this may be wrong after all. That’s a result too. Science is still cool even when it isn’t aliens.


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