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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

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sydney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.