China's Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) announced Thursday that the National Radio Astronomy Observatory has been monitoring signals from a previously unknown "dark" satellite in orbit around Saturn for the past 90 days. According to government officials, the signals appear to be the first verified transmission from an alien civilization.
China's leading astrobiologist, Dr. Xi Chang, a graduate of MIT, told Xinhua that "the sigal repeats itself continuosly in 2 minute long sequences and appears to be the four bases of the genetic code A,G, U and C that ribosomes must convert mRNA sequences into proteins and the twenty different amino acids that proteins are comprised of."
Dr. Rosie Redfield, the newly appointed director of the Astrobiology Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, confirmed China's dicovery this morning. In a press release Redfield said that "China's discovery has monumental consequences, and has been shared with the world's premier sciemtific instituions for vetting and peer review. If confirmed this will be the first proof of extraterrestrial life in the universe and confirmation that our DNA basis for life may be universal throughout the known universe."
"The genetic code," Redfield (left), explained, "allows an organism to translate the genetic information found in its chromosomes into usable proteins . Stretches of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) are built from four different nucleotide bases, while proteins are made from twenty unique subunits called amino acids . This numerical disparity presents an interesting problem: How does the cell translate the genetic information in the four-letter alphabet of DNA into the twenty-letter alphabet of protein? The conversion code is called the genetic code.
"The information transfer from DNA to protein, called gene expression , occurs in two steps. In the first step, called transcription , a DNA sequence is copied to make a template for protein synthesis called messenger ribonucleic acid -messenger RNA, or mRNA. During protein synthesis, ribosomes and transfer RNA (tRNA) use the genetic code to convert genetic information contained in mRNA into functional protein. Formally speaking, the genetic code refers to the RNA-amino acid conversion code and not to DNA, though usage has expanded to refer more broadly to DNA.
"Mathematics reveals the minimum requirements for a genetic code. The ribosome must convert mRNA sequences that are written in four bases—A, G, U, and C—into proteins, which are made up of twenty different amino acids. A one base to one amino acid correspondence would code for only four amino acids (4 1 ). Similarly, all combinations of a two-base code -for example, AA, AU, AG, AC, etc.- will provide for only sixteen amino acids (4 2 ). However, blocks of three RNA bases allow sixty-four (4 3 ) combinations of the four nucleotides, which is more than enough combinations to correspond to the twenty distinct amino acids. So, the genetic code must use blocks of at least three RNA bases to specify each amino acid. This reasoning assumes that each amino acid is encoded by the same size block of RNA."
Redfield added that NASA expects a more detailed press conference to be held at the White House later today or tomorrow, pending announcement from the Obama administration.
Dr. Dimitri Kardashev of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told The Daily Galaxy that "This discovery comes as no surprise to me. It was always just a matter of time. The Earth is only some four billion years old. Our universe is some 14 billion years old. There may be millions of advanced technological civilizations that are billions of years older than ours. Keep in my that the radio was only invented 120 years ago. Quantum computers and singularity are at most two or three gereration distant. The technologies of ET civilizations a million years old and older are beyond our comprehension."
Sir Martin Rees, a leading Cambridge University cosmologist and astrophysicist who is the president of Britain’s Royal Society and astronomer to the Queen of England, said: “I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive. Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”
If verified, China's startling annoucement means you don't need a miracle to arrive at the chemical cocktail for early life, just a decently large asteroid with the right components. That's all. The entire universe could be stuffed with life, from the earliest prebiotic protein-a-likes to fully DNAed descendants. The path from one to the other is long, but we've had thirteen and a half billion years so far and it's happened at least once.
The other ten amino acids aren't as easy to form, but they'll still turn up - and the process of "stepwise evolution" means that once the simpler systems work, they can grab the rarer "epic drops" of more sophisticated chemicals as they occur - kind of a World of Lifecraft except you literally get a life when you play. And once even the most sophisticated structure is part of a replicating organism, there's plenty to go round.
It's no accident that we see stars in the sky, says famed Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins: they are a vital part of any universe capable of generating us. But, as Dawkins emphasizes, that does not mean that stars exists in order to make us."It is just that without stars there would be no atoms heavier than lithium in the periodic table," Dawkins writes in The Ancestors Tale -A Pilgramage to the Dawn of Evolution, "and a chemistry of only three elements is too impoverished to support life. Seeing is the kind of activity that can go on only in the kind of universe where what you see is stars."
China's discovery puts an end to the questions of whether DNA is inevitable as the foundation for the coding of life, or has life started with DNA in only one place in the solar system and then spread among the livable habitats through panspermia. Microbial life can land on and seed another planet, thereby not requiring that you have to create life from scratch multiple times and in multiple places.
It is the relentless shifting and mutating of DNA, says Dennis Overbye of The New York Times, that generates the raw material for evolution to act on and ensures the success of life on Earth and beyond. Dr.Paul Davies co-director of the Arizona State University Cosmology Initiative "that some sections of junk DNA seem to be markedly resistant to change, and have remained identical in humans, rats, mice, chickens and dogs for at least 300 million years."
China's epic announcement may shows that DNA the cosmic code for life in the universe, or is it possible that there's are alien, unknown foundations? At the Galaxy, we place our chips on DNA.
The Daily Galaxy staff assumes that China is using supercomputers similar to those at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) in the USA where Sukanya Chakrabarti has developed a mathematical method uncover “dark” satellites. When she applied this method on a more vast scale to our Milky Way galaxy, Chakrabarti discovered a faint satellite might be lurking on the opposite side of the galaxy from Earth, approximately 300,000 light-years from the galactic center.
The technique involves an analysis of the cold atomic hydrogen gas that comprise the outskirts of a large spiral galaxy’s disk. This cold gas is gravitationally confined to the galactic disk and extends much further out than the visible stars—sometimes up to five times the diameter of the visible spiral. This gas can be mapped by radio telescopes.
With the help of NERSC systems, she successfully validated her method by analyzing the radio observations of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which has a visible satellite one-third of its size, and NGC 1512, which has a satellite one-hundredth its size. Her calculations correctly predicted the mass and location of both of the known satellite galaxies.
The headquarters of China's NAOC are situated in the northern suburbs of Beijing on the site of the former Beijing Astronomical Observatory.
The National Astronomy Observatory of China (NAOC, the acronym was officially claimed as standing for National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences) was founded on April 25, 2001 through the merging of four CAS observatories, three CAS observing stations and one CAS research centre.
Casey Kazan and The Daily Galaxy via NASA and Xinhua News Agency