• A friend, having attended a lecture on exoplanets (planets circling stars not our own) at the American Association for the Advancement of ­Science in Washington, reported that the lecturers were quite concerned with, nay excited by, the possibility that some of these planets might contain life. It’s an interesting question why the search for alien life so animates so many people in the sciences, and so many of the people we might call sciencey.

The American Museum of Natural History here in New York had an exhibit last year called “Beyond Planet Earth” and almost every part of it was directed, in slightly breathless prose, to the possible discovery of a microbe here or there. Whoever wrote the exhibit seemed to think the main purpose of exploring space was to find life, even if all we find is a germ deep beneath the ice of one of Jupiter’s moons.

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