By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
U.S. intelligence agencies have less than 180 days to declassify UFO information, CNN reported. The demand from Congress was packed into the COVID-19 relief and spending bill in late December. Could aliens be silicon-based lifeforms?
According to CNN, the recent COVID-19 relief and spending bill had a surprising element in its pages. “When President Donald Trump signed the $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law in December, so began the 180-day countdown for U.S. intelligence agencies to tell Congress what they know about UFOs,” the article said.
“The director of National Intelligence and the secretary of defense have a little less than six months now to provide the congressional intelligence and armed services committees with an unclassified report about ‘unidentified aerial phenomena.’ It’s a stipulation that was tucked into the ‘committee comment’ section of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which was contained in the massive spending bill.”
So-called “unidentified flying objects” aren’t necessarily extraterrestrial. They are simply unidentifiable to the person who reports them. They could be homemade rockets, military aircraft prototypes, or other manmade or natural phenomena.
However, this story raises an interesting question: What misconceptions about life on other planets do we harbor? Specifically, on which chemical element of the periodic table of elements would their lifeforms be based?
Where Science Ends and Fiction Begins
One popular belief is that silicon-based life forms exist elsewhere in the universe. This is because, like many elements, silicon has the ability to make chemical bonds with other atoms, meaning that they share electrons with the other atoms. Silicon and carbon can each make four atomic bonds.
“Life as we know it is based in carbon,” said Dr. Don Lincoln, Senior Scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. “Carbon is an amazing and versatile element; it’s because of its ability to make four atomic bonds with other elements that is why life is based on it.”
Silicon, Dr. Lincoln said, is a far more common element than carbon. In fact, silicon is 1,000 times as common in the Earth’s crust as carbon is. However, it’s still less likely to be a base element for life, for several reasons.
“To begin with, when carbon makes four atomic bonds with all of its neighbors, the bonds tend to be the same strength,” he said. “In silicon, the first bond is much stronger than the others, which means the first bond is far more stable than the others, because the first bond is formed when the electrons from each atom reach directly to the other atom in a metaphorical handshake.
“The other bonds are formed from electrons that are further away and they effectively don’t get as good a grip.”
Additionally, when carbon bonds with other chemicals that are common in organic molecules, the bonds are all similar strengths. Silicon bonds to oxygen much more strongly than to other atoms.
However, although Dr. Lincoln doesn’t believe we’ll frequently encounter silicon-based lifeforms as we explore the galaxy, he did predict that the first time we encounter direct evidence for life beyond Earth, it will be silicon-based evidence. It just may be in the form of a probe, such as the silicon-based probes and robots we send into space to explore other planets.
Dr. Don Lincoln contributed to this article. Dr. Lincoln is a Senior Scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). He is also a Guest Professor of High Energy Physics at the University of Notre Dame. He received his PhD in Experimental Particle Physics from Rice University.