I recently read a news report on a subject that I've long found slightly irksome - extrasolar planets. They, for non-astronomers, are planets in orbit around stars that are not our Sun. They are difficult to spot - considering their distance it's hardly surprising - and it's only been with the help of recent innovations in the field that astronomers have been reliably able to detect them amidst the glare of their parent star. As the news article in question mentions, this is done by looking out for the tiny and very brief drop in luminescence in the star as the planet passes between it and us.
It was the otherwise outstanding BBC astronomy series called 'The Planets' that first brought this trend to my attention. There's one episode where they consider and then rule out the possibility of life on the various planets and moons in our own solar system. Their reasons for this are familiar ones - "Life couldn't exist on Venus, it's too hot" ... "Life couldn't exist on Jupiter, it's a gas giant" ... "Life couldn't exist on Titan, it's too cold" ... "Life couldn't exist on Mars, there's no oxygen or water" ... etc, etc, etc. Am I the only one who finds this kind of thing annoying? What they're basically saying is: life from Earth couldn't exist in these places. Is it not beyond the realms of possibility to think that possible life elsewhere in the galaxy might take other forms? Is it not incredibly arrogant to assume that, if life does exist beyond Earth, it must still be formed from the same basic ingredients as ours?
I suppose one possible downside of looking for life in seemingly unlikely places is that we simply won't know what we're looking for. There could be complex being living in the clouds of Jupiter for all we know - how could we tell? I suppose I've answered my own question really but I still find it very frustrating that we only seem to have any interest in planets or moons which share some qualities with our own planet. Are the boffins being narrow-minded or have I just been watching too much Star Trek?