Life on Earth is carbon-based. But that doesn’t mean other planets have to use the same building block.

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An artists' rendering of organosilicon-based life. Organosilicon compounds contain carbon-silicon bonds. Image: Lei Chen/Yan Liang/Caltech

All life on Earth, and thus, all life we’ve ever observed in the universe, shares a few basic characteristics. Its molecular structures are built using carbon, it relies on water to act as a solvent and facilitate chemical reactions, and it uses DNA or RNA as its blueprints.

But just because these properties of life are true on Earth doesn’t mean they are true everywhere. In fact, we can readily imagine different environments where alternative forms of life can exist. Here are some of the major ways we think that life can vary from the standard we see on Earth.

Under certain conditions, silicon-based chemistry might be more favorable for life than carbon-based. Silicon chemistry would also be much more amenable to life in oceans of cold elements that we don’t usually associate with life, such as liquid nitrogen, methane, ethane, neon, and argon. Places like these exist in the universe, notably in our own solar system.

Related article:  How probable is it that we’re alone in the universe?

A lot of what we know about chemistry suggests that carbon- and water-based life will be the most common among the universe, but we’ve only ever had a sample of one to study: our own planet.

Read full, original post: What would alternate, alien forms of life look like?

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