The concept of extraterrestrial life, and particularly extraterrestrial intelligence, has enjoyed a major cultural impact, chiefly including works of science fiction. Over the years, science fiction both communicated scientific ideas and influenced public interest and perspectives of extraterrestrial life. One shared space is the debate over the wisdom of attempting communication with possible extraterrestrial intelligence: Some encourage aggressive methods to try for contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life, whereas others argue that it might be dangerous to actively call attention to Earth.
Life on Earth requires water as its solvent in which biochemical reactions take place. Sufficient quantities of carbon and other elements, along with water, might enable the formation of living organisms on terrestrial planets with a chemical make-up and temperature range similar to that of Earth. More generally, life based on ammonia (rather than water) has been suggested, though this solvent appears less suitable than water. It is also conceivable that there are forms of life whose solvent is a liquid hydrocarbon, such as methane, ethane or propane.
About 29 chemical elements play an active positive role in living organisms on Earth.About 95% of this living matter is built upon only six elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. These six elements form the basic building blocks of virtually all life on Earth, whereas most of the remaining elements are found only in trace amounts. The unique characteristics of carbon make it unlikely that it could be replaced, even on another planet, to generate the biochemistry necessary for life. The carbon atom has the unique ability to make four strong chemical bonds with other atoms, including other carbon atoms. These covalent bonds have a direction in space, so that carbon atoms can form the skeletons of complex 3-dimensional structures with definite architectures such as nucleic acids and proteins. Carbon forms more compounds than all other elements combined. The great versatility of the carbon atom makes it the element most likely to provide the baseseven exotic onesfor the chemical composition of life on other planets.
The scientific search for extraterrestrial life is being carried out both directly and indirectly. As of March 2017, more than 3,500 confirmed exoplanets have been identified, and other planets and moons in our own solar system hold the potential for hosting primitive life such as microorganisms.
The science of astrobiology considers life on Earth as well, and in the broader astronomical context. In 2015, "remains of biotic life" were found in 4.1 billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia, when the young Earth was about 400 million years old. According to one of the researchers, "If life arose relatively quickly on Earth, then it could be common in the universe.