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Our expert voices conversation on "How to look for alien life."

Earth is our best guide as we look for new forms of life. Our own planet hosts life in amazing complexity, from single-celled organisms to humans.

Asteroids and comets delivered the amino acids that form proteins to Earth over 4 billion years ago. Based on what we know from the evolution of life thereafter, we are looking for a liquid, probably water. We start out searching for places where liquid water is stable, either in the past, as on the surface of Mars, or currently beneath the icy crust on Europa and Enceladus. We then look for life's building block molecules such as amino acids. It took several billion years for complex life to emerge on Earth, so in our solar system we search for microbes, or fossils of simple organisms like algae or bacteria, the earliest forms of life.

Outside of our solar system, the first step is confirming habitability by analyzing extrasolar planet atmospheres, looking for gases like carbon dioxide and methane that are associated with life here. To confirm life, we need to build large enough space-based telescopes to image extrasolar planets, hopefully only a few decades from now.

Given how quickly life evolved here on this planet after conditions had stabilized, I am optimistic that where we have similar conditions, we will find evidence of life — or past life. The hard part may be finding life and not realizing it, if the life forms are very different from those here on Earth.

The other voices in the conversation:

Go deeper

House Judiciary Committee advances reparations bill in historic vote

Sheila Jackson Lee. Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee voted 25 to 17 Wednesday to advance a bill that would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

Why it matters: "No such bill has ever come this far during Congressional history of the United States," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who sponsored the bill, per the Washington Post.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Officer Kim Potter arrested, charged with manslaughter in Daunte Wright's death

Kim Potter's booking photos. Photo: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Kim Potter, the former police officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, was released on a $100,000 bond on Wednesday, Hennepin County jail records show.

Why it matters: Sunday's shooting of the 20-year-old Black man in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, just 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year, has reinvigorated Black Lives Matter protests and led to three consecutive nights of unrest.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden names Erika Moritsugu as senior AAPI liaison

Erika Moritsugu. Photo courtesy: National Partnership for Women & Families

President Biden has named Erika Moritsugu as deputy assistant to the president and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison, the White House announced Wednesday.

Driving the news: The decision follows weeks of pressure from AAPI leaders to include more Asian American representation at the Cabinet level and in senior administration roles.