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On 7 August 1996, a team of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) scientists announced that they had found possible traces of simple bacteria on a Martian meteorite-a rock believed to have traveled to Earth from Mars. The announcement immediately made headline news. Religion editors across the nation telephoned their local biology professors and theologians to see if another battle between science and religion might be brewing.
The Martian meteorite announcement was just one of a number of recent developments that bear on the question of life forms elsewhere in the universe (a field known in the literature as "exobiology"). We have also read about the possible presence of water on Jupiter's moon Europa, the discovery of planets around other stars in our galaxy, and the discovery of life in extreme environments—ones that are more readily reproduced elsewhere in the universe—right here on Earth. Other findings include the discovery of "chaos" in the Solar System, new mappings of the evolution of hominids on Earth, the null result (thus far) from the ongoing search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and a new appreciation for the "miraculous" nature of human intelligence. These findings are less sensational than the Martian meteorite, but no less significant.
All of these developments raise important questions. Could there be life elsewhere in the universe? If so, are we to expect anything more than simple bacteria? Could there be intelligent life out there? If so, why have its representatives not communicated with us?
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