Sciency Words: The Gaia Principle

Sciency Words BIO copy

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:


The Gaia principle (named after the Greek word for Earth) has taken on a lot of new agey, pseudo-religious connotations. We hear about life forces, Mother Earth, and the spiritual connection we humans have (or ought to have) with our planet. That’s all very interesting, but let’s set that aside for now.

As a scientific concept, the Gaia principle or Gaia hypothesis is primarily credited to James Lovelock. In the 1960’s and 70’s, while working for NASA, Lovelock wanted to understand why Earth is so tailor-made for life while other planets, especially Mars, are not.

According to Lovelock’s hypothesis, once life takes root on a planet, it fundamentally changes the environment around it. As life evolves, so too does the planet, with the planet’s environment becoming increasingly favorable to life and life becoming increasingly well adapted to the planet’s environment.

Today, all life forms on Earth exist in a symbiotic relationship with each other and with the planet, actively (though unwittingly) maintaining the planet’s life-friendly conditions. It’s almost as though Earth has become a single organisms with countless individual “cells” working to maintain homeostasis.

A strict interpretation of the Gaia principle would tell us that if life fails to alter its environment, if it fails to spread out and establish a vast and complicated planetary biosphere, then it will wither and die.

Jn03 Mars Doesn't Have a Green Thumb

Scientists are currently searching for evidence of life on Mars. Specifically, they’re looking for microbial life eking out an existence, perhaps only in one limited region of the planet.

Whether or not we accept the Gaia principle and how strictly we choose to interpret it has major implications for what we can expect scientists to find on Mars. Because if it’s all or nothing when it comes to life on other planets, as the Gaia principle suggests, then Mars looks pretty darn close to nothing.

So what do you think of the Gaia principle, and how likely do you think it is that we’ll find life on Mars?

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Today’s post is part of Mars month for the 2015 Mission to the Solar System. Click here for more about this series.

Muse Chat: Mars Mission (The Insecure Writer’s Support Group)


Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh where insecure writers like myself can give each other advice and encouragement. Click here for more information about I.W.S.G. and to see a full list of participating blogs.

Once again, I’m going to turn the floor over to my muse. She has something to say, and maybe it’s something your own muse would like to hear.

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Hello, I’m James’s muse, and welcome to another edition of the Insecure Muse’s Support Group. Because behind every insecure writer is an even more insecure muse.

My writer and I are currently doing research about the planet Mars, and I think Mars exploration serves as a pertinent metaphor for the adventure of publishing. They both sound fun and exciting until you start digging into the details.

  • Essentially, my writer and I are traveling to an unknown world.
  • There’s a lot of conflicting, contradictory information about what that world will be like.
  • We do not know if life is possible in this new world. We might not be able to survive there.
Jn02 Published on Mars
Also, why do I have to wear a spacesuit and you don’t?

I think my writer would rather risk going to Mars than facing the unknowns involved in publishing. And unfortunately, I don’t really know how to help.

Publishing involves money and marketing and something called social media. Basically, it involves a bunch of stuff that’s none of a muse’s business. I know how to inspire, not how to network.

The only thing I can tell my writer right now is that it’s okay to be scared. Leaping into the unknown is scary. But giving up on publishing just because it’s scary would be as disappointing as humanity never going to Mars just because it’s difficult.


Life on Mars: Fact or Wishful Thinking?

As the 2015 Mission to the Solar System continues, we now begin our month-long visit to the planet Mars.

Jn01 Mars Visit #1Well, we’re not literally visiting Mars. I’m just blogging about it.

Jn01 Mars Visit #2Everyone seems to have an opinion about Mars. Does Mars support life? Did Mars support life at some point in its past? Could humans live on Mars at some point in the future?

There’s probably more information available about Mars than any other planet, but most of that information is colored by certain preconceived notions. It’s hard to remain objective about a planet that holds such a prominent place in our collective imaginations.

Many scientists seem to feel strongly that Mars could be friendly to life. Other scientists have the opposite opinion. The debate continues, fueled by tantalizing but often inconclusive clues sent back by our Mars rovers and Mars orbiters.

I for one believe that life once flourished on Mars, and I suspect microbial life of some kind still exists there. I also believe that human colonization of Mars is possible, either using current technology or technology that will be available in the very near future.

But those are only my beliefs. They are my biases as a science enthusiast and science fiction author, and everything I have to say about Mars over the next month will no doubt be colored by my biases. I think it’s important to acknowledge that, both to myself and to you, before we delve into any serious discussion about the Red Planet.

So where do you stand in the ongoing Mars debate? What do you think about the prospects for life on Mars, past, present, and future?