Searching for Alien Life Having Unearthly Biochemistry
The search for alien life in the solar system should include exploring unearthlike environments for life having an unearthly biochemistry. We expect alien life to conform to the same basic chemical and ecological constraints as terrestrial life, since inorganic chemistry and the laws of ecosystems appear to be universal. Astrobiologists usually assume alien life will use familiar terrestrial biochemistry and therefore hope to find alien life by searching near water or by supplying hydrocarbons. The assumption that alien life is likely to be based on carbon and water is traditional and plausible. It justifies high priority for missions to search for alien life on Mars and Europa, but it unduly restricts the search for alien life. Terrestrial carbon-water biochemistry is not possible on most of the bodies of our solar system, but all alien life is not necessarily based on terrestrial biochemistry.