LISA KALTENEGGER: My name's Lisa Kaltenegger. I'm the director of the Carl Sagan Institute here at Cornell where we creating the forensic toolkit to find life in the universe.
When we're looking for life out in the universe on planets that orbit not our own sun, but other suns, those stars you see at night, a lot of times we are imagining them to be exactly like our own planet with plants and trees. But if you look at the diverse forms of life on our own Earth, one form that we had not thought about at all before is actually life that shines in beautiful colors. It biofluoresces. What it really does-- that it breaks down this harsh UV radiation and emits it, sends it back out in harmless, visible radiation. There's a coral that does that to shelter an algae it lives in symbiosis with.
But now, these other worlds where we're trying to find life, some of them get bombarded with harsh UV radiation, raising the concern and the question whether or not there could even be life on such worlds. But if we use our Earth as a key, then if biofluorescence can also develop somewhere else-- it developed in a lot of places here on our own planet-- then it would leave a telltale sign of such a biosphere for us to look at, to spot, in the depths of the dark, dark universe.
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Lisa Kaltenegger, director of Cornell University’s Carl Sagan Institute, explains why studying bioluminescence on Earth can guide the way humans search for life on other planets.