The Agnostic Search for Life

As a species, humans know essentially nothing. Go to Wikipedia and look up lists of planets that orbit other stars. There’s an enormous table of known exoplanets, and if you look to the far right there’s a column entitled ‘Remarks,’ which is, for the most part, empty. Every once in a while, there’ll be a repeated three-word phrase. Potentially habitable exoplanet. Potentially habitable exoplanet. Habitable, potentially. If humanity actually wants to scour the observable universe for life, it needs to start over. All knowledge of biology is drawn from a sample size of one — one planet, one colorful speck, one oasis hurtling through the galaxy and orbiting a sun that sits light-years away from any other star. The search for life, carried out via cold and lonely satellites with barely clever acronyms for names, can only truly begin once the insurmountable barrier of humans’ own certainty in invented knowledge is destroyed. Divorce yourselves from your preconceptions. Squint at the pixels that represent an exoplanet, if you’re lucky enough to get a picture. Does it look like home? Can it cradle the unfathomable?

I think the trouble began when I realized I wasn’t going to space — that I was never going to be an astronaut. I wanted to be one until awkwardly late in my life. It was a real dream until I was about fourteen. As a child, I would recite the names of the planets given any opportunity. I was a short, skinny, mousey-haired kid drawing crayon pictures of the solar system, accurate in regard to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and somewhat accurate in regard to Pluto’s tilted, swooping orbit.

Figure 1: The author’s artistic interpretation of the solar system; medium: crayon and paper. Photo courtesy of the author (2005).


Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and (I was seven years old, and devastated, when it was demoted) Pluto. But today, I’m nearsighted, afraid of military service, and have no desire to go into engineering or biology or physics or math. I also have an uncertain phobia of heights with which I have never actually come to terms. There’s very little instinctual drive in me now that says becoming an astronaut is my true calling.

I remember doing a joyous cartwheel in the hallway of my college dorm when I got the email. On behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), we are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in the opportunity described below, it read. You have 5 business days to respond to this offer. I would write articles on planetary science for I would have access to rocket scientists. I would learn about their unpublished research, their theories, their barest hypotheses about the cosmos, other worlds, other suns, other Earths.

An uncannily large majority of the students selected to work for NASA exude an awkward aura of pretension and genuine insecurity. Locating kindred spirits was difficult among such emotional homogeneity. I met one (21; aerospace engineer) during an orientation assembly, and a second (22; astrophysicist) was subletting a room in the same university sorority house as me. The majority of girls who had decided to sublet the house worked for NASA. We commuted together. The bathroom interactions with most of them were stilted. My third roommate was still a stranger even by the time we simultaneously packed our lives back into suitcases at the end of the summer. We left the room without making eye contact, leaving behind a living space that was just as depressing as it was when we arrived: plastic XL twin mattresses, wooden bed frames, bare walls and boxy dressers. Three closets. One window looking into the dark green leafiness of a tree branch pressed up against it. The weather is oppressively humid, but the air conditioning in the sorority was utterly frigid and sitting in the dorm-like rooms was more suffocating than even the outside environment.

I met Greta in the kitchen. She had opened the refrigerator and was staring at it vacantly, as if she had done the same thing five minutes before and expected the contents to have somehow changed positions. Her hair was long, gently tangled, and dirty blonde. I stared at her hair in probably the same way she stared at the fridge. After maybe twenty seconds, she let out a gentle, private sigh, closed the door, turned around, and gasped. My tread was quiet. She hadn’t noticed my entrance, and I blinked quickly, ashamed at being caught gawking at her hair. She made some unreadable facial expression, shrugged, and extended a hand for me to shake.

I met Alan during orientation. He had sat next to me. Someone with an authoritative voice and a thin southern accent was instructing the auditorium full of undergraduate students not to connect to any Wi-Fi networks with our government-issued laptops other than the official NASA one. I was getting fidgety, and my left foot in its practical flat business-casual shoe had begun to vibrate. “It’s so they can track our history,” Alan had whispered to me from the chair to my left. I giggled softly although I wasn’t sure if he was joking.

Greta met Alan for the first time (and me for the second) at a house party the following week. The synergy worked. We fell into a routine of individual post-work naps followed by hours-long discussions about ourselves. About three hangouts in, I decided to monologue. I quickly declared that I would never be an astronaut, but that science writing could be an adequate second-place career choice.

“They just give me a topic and I have to find all these scientists and engineers to bother.”

I tilted back on the back two legs of my wooden patio chair.

“If I’m lucky, my stuff gets on the front page of for, like, fifteen minutes or something.”

Alan blinked at me. He’d spent the spring semester of his junior year of college not at college but at a NASA campus in Virginia. Now he’d been moved here, to building 11. He worked with optical navigation. Alan called it “op-nav.” He told me it was how spacecraft take pictures of their environment against the stable background of stars in order to direct the satellite to its target. He did op-nav specifically for CubeSats, which are, as the name implies, miniature cubical satellites, just inches across on each side. Op-nav involves heavy physics. I’d never taken physics, not even in high school. I didn’t mention that.

“I mean, that’s cool,” Alan said. “Sucks about the astronaut thing. I wish I’d majored in electrical engineering instead of aerospace, but here I am. Nobody knows what they’re doing.” He sucked in air through his teeth. “You probably don’t, either.”

“I’ve got you, girl,” Greta said, then coughed. “Do what you want. Get that front-page clout.” I wasn’t reassured. The heat became incrementally heavier, and the conversation switched from my monologue about career aspirations to a heated debate about charge-coupled devices. I knew CCDs were image sensors placed in cameras in space, but that was the extent of my knowledge. In lieu of contributing to the conversation, I bowed out, citing the humidity, and left Alan and Greta to their science. It was heavily air-conditioned inside the house. I could still hear my friends’ voices through the door. I exhaled. I walked upstairs.

In the beginning, the heavens were perfect. The entire universe was made of earth, fire, air, water, and a fifth element, aether: the primary element, from which celestial bodies are derived. The heavenly spheres were spheres. Aristotle, who wrote extensively about these originally Platonic ideas, died three hundred years before the birth of Christ. Claudius Ptolemy, who died approximately a century and a half after the year zero, wrote that the planets hurtle in epicycles around a stable Earth. Epicycles, diagrammed, look almost nonsensical, but it was the only way to explain planets’ retrograde motion while keeping Earth at the center of the universe.

Since Earth is not the center of the universe, we know now that when a planet appears to move backwards in its normal path along the sky, it’s the result of an optical illusion, and not the planet’s irregular movement. If a car approaches another car from an adjacent lane on a highway, the second car appears to be moving forward until the it pulls up alongside the first. Should this faster-moving car pass the first, it will appear, from the perspective of the first car’s driver, to move backwards, although it continues with its consistent forward motion.

Thus the planets’ perceived backwards motion is simply that — perceived — and, once consensus about the obsolete nature of geocentrism had been reached, the theories of Ptolemy and Aristotle were abandoned. It will take, however, about a millennium and a half for Johannes Kepler to replace the epicycle theory with his elliptical model of the planets’ orbits. While heliocentrism is a far older idea, it only reached the early modern West with Nicolaus Copernicus in the 15th century.

Thousands of years is an eternity compared to a human life. To the legacy of near-legendary men such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, it is perhaps not so long.

In the defense of traditionalists, these ideas are beautiful, actually, even if you aren’t necessarily a God-fearing type. These philosophers most certainly were religious. If we’re being technical, they were not monotheists and did not fear the capital-G God. But some Aristotelean writings imply that he believed in the divinity of aether over those gods he was obligated to revere. Perhaps what could have been interpreted as religious reverence was simply an expression for the wonder that only a true lover of knowledge could experience at the vastness of nature.

Figure 2: Representation of the apparent motion of the Sun, Mercury, and Venus from Earth in epicycles. Photo Credit: from the “Astronomy” article in the first edition of Encyclopedia Britannica (1771).

My password for my work laptop is too long for the information I’m protecting. It generally takes me a few tries before I’ve accurately punched it in. I have to get the song lyric, intermittent punctuation marks, and the last four numbers correct; in my defense, this is rather difficult but also completely a result of my own unfounded paranoia. In a few seconds, though, I’m looking at a NASA employee’s page, which is mostly taken up by an image of a young man climbing on a glacier. He’s my next interviewee: Dr. M, planetary scientist.

In the description of his research, he’s divided his work into two categories: “simulating terrestrial planet formation with increasing chemical and dynamical complexity.” The second is to “improve observations of exoplanets and protoplanetary disks to constrain their properties.”

Essentially, Dr. M takes software and programs it to imitate the accretion of gas and tiny rocks into a giant compressed sphere, since once a celestial body has enough of its own gravity it can draw itself into the shape of a ball (it just needs to be a few hundred kilometers across first). He then changes the presets in the program he uses to create his simulations of the elements that were floating around when the imaginary planet formed. He interprets what the computer then produces in terms of whether a planet formed under those conditions could potentially be interesting (have active geology or water or oxygen or life) or not (have none of those things). The other half of Dr. M’s research involves exoplanets and protoplanetary disks. These disks are the gas and dust surrounding a new star that eventually becomes the star’s planets, and they are what Dr. M’s computer simulations imitate. Since there is the obvious handicap in regard to humans’ complete inability to actually visit any protoplanetary disk in the near future, we rely on our own technology to aspire to an understanding.

The next morning, I find myself sitting in a chair too low for my height across from Dr. M. He stands from his chair across from me behind a wooden desk. I tried to move my phone, open to a recording app, to follow his movement as discreetly as possible to pick up what he was saying without seeming obsessive. He watched me without saying anything.

He popped the cap off an ancient dry erase marker and listed letters in faint red ink.

O    B    A    F    G    K    M

“This is how we classify stars. We’re around a G-type one,” he said.

He circled the letter G with the marker, which let out a stilted couple of squeaks.

“G stars are pretty hot and bright,” he continued, “so when you have Earth where it is, you get enough energy from our star to have liquid water on our surface.” He explained all of this rather fast, and I saw him decide to pause for breath.

“It’s in the habitable zone. You’ve heard of that, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, and then coughed. “Sorry,” I choked out.

He waited for me to continue, for me to prove that this nineteen-year-old intern with a notepad and a phone mic could actually comprehend what a NASA scientist does for a living.

“The habitable zone is that Goldilocks region, the just-right place in orbit around a star where you can have liquid water on the surface,” I choked out.

“Yes!” Dr. M said. I cleared my throat. I was validated. He continued.

“So, the habitable zone for a G-star is out here.”

He capped the marker and tapped it on a spot on the whiteboard a few inches away from the circle he made around the letter G.

“Earth is here.” Tap.

“Venus is somewhere here.” Closer tap.

“Mercury is here.” Closest tap.

Now he’s circled the letter M.

“The habitable zone for an M-star is here, because M-stars are much cooler and dimmer than G-stars, so the habitable zone…” he paused, as if he said something nearly incorrect, and I felt a qualification coming.

“Well, the orbital period, I should say,” he said. That wasn’t a massive error, really, he just misspoke. Was he nervous? I realized I’d been tapping my pen on the surface of my notebook. That could have distracted him. I stopped.

“The orbital period for a planet in the habitable zone, is only twenty Earth days, versus a whole year for Earth. We can actually see these transits of habitable planets around M-stars every twenty days as it — whoosh! — whips around its star!”

He was excited — this was always the good part. Once my scientists distract themselves with how passionate they are about their research, that’s when they get to the truly unfiltered scientific jargon. My entire job was to detangle this jargon and make it accessible, but Dr. M was getting distracted. I was interviewing him for an article on astrobiology, an umbrella term that encompasses the entire field of the search for extraterrestrial life. Dr. M’s specialty is planetary habitability, and he knows what makes a planet livable. I needed to make a sharp left turn in the conversation, so I threw out what perhaps was not the most well-thought out transition question. It worked anyway.

“So, can you study the atmospheres of these planets?”

This, I realized a moment after it left my lips, is a trick question because the answer is definitely yes. You can’t see most exoplanets in the normal sense of the word. They’re too small, and too far away, and any images are just pixels.

Figure 3: 2M1207b, the red dot in the lower left, is the first exoplanet directly imaged and the first discovered orbiting a brown dwarf star (center). Photo Credit: NASA (2004).


We can often detect their existence because they either block out a very small amount of light from its star as it orbits in front of it, or it could exert a miniscule gravitational tug on the star. There are other ways to find exoplanets, but these have been the most effective.

I needed to steer Dr. M in the direction of biology, so I kept talking.

“Can you tell me about biosignatures?”

The topical vocabulary seemed to make Dr. M begin to think I was legitimate. Biosignatures are exactly what the word sounds like — elemental evidence that indicates there is or was life in a certain place.

“Alright,” he said, and walked back behind his desk. He still held the dry-erase marker but seemed not to realize.

“The most obvious biosignature is oxygen — plants make it. You know that.”

That’s basic, obvious, even. Maybe he hasn’t quite bought that I have any specific scientific expertise at all.

Dr. M noticed the marker was still clutched in his right hand and tossed it toward the tray at the bottom of the whiteboard. It landed squarely with a sharp clack before it bounced onto the floor. Dr. M looked at it for a second, then turned back to see me shift the direction of my phone again. He stared at me vacantly for a second, remembered he gave me permission to record, ahem’d politely, and kept talking.

“You can have an atmosphere with lots of oxygen even though nothing’s alive on the planet,” he said, taking a sip from the thermos on his desk. “You could still want to think oh, oxygen, a biosignature, there must be life! We did it! We found aliens!”

His sentence crescendoed, then abruptly, he turned around and looked at the new splotches of water landing with gentle thuds against his window.

“It’s raining,” he said.

“What were you saying?” I asked, looking past his left shoulder at the darkening sky.

“Oh,” he remarks. “Oh, well. Anyway — we need to understand all the sources of what’s making your atmosphere before you can conclude one way or another. Even if you think there’s life, there’s probably nothing at all.”

Is nothing sacred? Nothing?

In the beginning, everything was perfect. In the end, nothing is perfect. Everything that we see and feel and hear is completely tainted by the sheer messiness of humanity and Earth and the dirt and the wind and water and heat. But then you look up to the sky, and these small lights are flickering softly at you, some holding their intensity with a gaze that looks like an unblinking, tiny eye. Orange, yellow. They shift regularly and ever so, so slowly.

Why wouldn’t they be perfect? Doesn’t it bring hope? Even if gravity pulls humanity towards its most base instincts, and humans hurt and kill and get sick and die, there’s the aether somewhere above where everything swings through the cosmos in perfect epicyclic curlicues. It’s so hopeful, almost naïve. Who was Nicolaus Copernicus, who was Johannes Kepler, to look up at the clearly speckled moon and not agree with thousands of years of widely-held agreement on its perfection? They saw the same kind of chaos that reigns on Earth. They didn’t see the divine, they saw complications. They saw humanity’s own insignificance in a corner of the universe.

Heliocentrism is no longer revolutionary. Neither is the expiry of Ptolemy’s epicycles. What is revolutionary today are asteroid sample return missions, images of black holes, spacecraft shooting out beyond Pluto, out into the Kuiper belt, discoveries of planets in the far reaches of the solar system that were gravitationally hurled out beyond to the icy unknown.

Spaceship Earth is a theory that says Earth is just a huge spacecraft, with limited but abundant resources. Humans have to take care of it. Bill Anders, one of the Apollo astronauts, said that he thought he’d come so far from home to study the Moon, but the most important thing he had discovered was Earth.

Is nothing holy? Does the advancement of science mean disillusionment? Is it always as ugly as the pockmarked surface of an imperfect Moon? Does the truth need to be so raw, so obvious? Nothing is holy because nothing needs to be. Loneliness is arrogance and ignorance. Loneliness only occurs if you haven’t begun to understand the size and the potential of the universe. Humanity turns its massive, myopic eye towards the sky, when it should really be looking inwards. Stephen Hawking said that if the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, it would have collapsed and there would have been no humanity, no civilization, no introspection. But what an irrelevant concept! These what-ifs should never, have never mattered.

Once upon a time, physicists postulate, all of the forces in the universe (gravity and electromagnetism and the strong and weak forces) were a single, unified force. Understanding this phenomenon would give humans a Theory of Everything. Everything just was, everything is. What a kind of solace — it’s almost better than believing in perfection. Nobody should fear the unknown. Humans know so little it would be silly to even try and validate their own small understanding by fearing what lies outside. I believed the strangest things. I loved the alien. I live without certainty without undeniable proof, but that doesn’t mean I won’t dream about the chance that there’s bacteria below the Martian topsoil, that there’s the un-understandable over the observable horizon.


Dr. G, who was the head scientist of the entire space flight center, is a little bit of a fanatic, which makes my job entirely easier. I had already prompted him with this phrase that other astrobiologist interviewees had thrown around — the agnostic search for life. So vaguely religious.

“The agnostic search for life,” Dr. G said. “That’s life detection in an agnostic fashion.”

I knew that. He kept talking.

“It describes how we can’t use characteristics particular to Earth life to qualify life on other planets.” He reached for a small model of a lander on his desk, then decided against involving it in the conversation. I watched his arm swing confidently towards the white plastic thing, stop, hover for a second, then fall.

“One of NASA’s challenges as an organization is to understand our place in space.”

I could tell that he was going to launch into a monologue he probably loved giving and had entirely forgotten about the lander.

“We’re a little tiny planet in this accountably infinite space. What distinguishes us is that we define ourselves as living. We’re the manifestation of biology as we’ve come to understand it here on Earth.”

“Okay,” I said, in the silence he created after he finished his sentence.

“But we have one data point,” he continued. “We’ve never seen it anywhere else. It’s a perfect record of one. We have to go back to first-order chemistry, first-order physics. We’ve gotten to know these worlds where we ask the question about what it would mean to be habitable beyond this solar system, around other suns…”

He trailed off, but by now I knew he didn’t need prompting.

“How would we even know?” he asked. “We haven’t even perfected detecting life here.”

Dr. G thinks there’s life in our solar system. Not intelligent, no, definitely not, he demurred, but there has to be microbes somewhere. He tells me that NASA was looking on Europa — a moon of Jupiter where humans think there is an ocean underneath a smooth scab of ice — and we’re looking on Mars, below the surface dirt. The government is even looking at a ring of rocks, the Trojan asteroids in Jupiter’s orbit, for organic material.

What is this fascination with our own loneliness? My phone is recording the conversation but I’m scribbling down notes as fast as my wrist will move.

“We don’t want to get it wrong,” Dr. G said. “Say we found a swirly rock — a swirly rock! Just like a mollusk! Hooray, we’re not alone! What if this’s a sign, what if they’re talking to us?”

He could tell he was reaching somewhat beyond my scope of belief and returned to a normal tone of voice.

“We’ve trained our eyes to see the records of past life, but we didn’t even know twenty years ago that life could exist at nano scales, or that some of these organisms could survive in other environments.” He sighed.

“We didn’t even know. But it might be that what we thought was a mollusk was just some mud was injected into a hole in a rock. Geology. We’ve been fooled. That’s it. Nothing there.”

Figure 4: When observed under an electron microscope, ALH84001 meteorite fragment seems to contain lifelike chain structures. Photo Credit: NASA (2005).


I’m slightly ashamed of my first impression of Dr. H. I was immediately struck by how pretty she was. She was sharply beautiful, with a small, straight, pointed nose and a wide slit of a mouth. Her eyebrows were thin, parabolic, and perfectly symmetrical. Her hair was short and light brown tufts swooped up by her forehead.

I’m ashamed because she is brilliant, because I’m supposed to judge her intellect and not her appearance, but she looks like Scarlett Johansson and I choke when I try to talk to her. She smiled at me when she saw me struggling for words, her teeth even as tombstones and a sterile, scary white.

Dr. H took me from her office, which she shared with a colleague, to an empty conference room. It looked very mundane. There was a whiteboard at one end, a long table, and chairs. Dr. H sat delicately at the head of the table, and I dropped inelegantly into a chair diagonally from her at the closest chair to the head.

Dr. H drummed her elaborately-painted nails on the gray plastic of the table. We’d been talking for a minute, about her Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures, but she re-directed the conversation somewhere that I was unsure how to navigate.

“I feel like it’s such an extension of our human nature to be looking for what else is out there,” she said, and sighed. “Every culture on every continent had built boats and set off from their own shores to find out what else there was.”

She paused to look up at the ceiling, I think, for dramatic effect.

“Space exploration is just the next step in that. Telling us not to look might just go completely against our nature. But I digress,” she qualifies.

Dr. H’s work involved researching the most uninhabitable places on Earth to test life-detecting equipment. If her instruments worked, and if she found life on Earth where nothing was supposed to be able to survive, her lab could then test its equipment on Mars or other curious-seeming moons of Jupiter.

“It might really get people thinking about the fact that it’s not just this little bubble of a planet that we have,” she said. “We’re part of a greater expression of nature.”

Two weeks before I was scheduled to evacuate my room at the intern-occupied sorority house, two weeks before I’d clean off the white board next to my desk and hand back my government computer, the world around me stretches, compresses, increases in saturation, and speeds up. On a Wednesday, I woke up at 3 am to get to work by 4. It was live-shot day. The scientists’ expertise would be broadcast nationwide. I spent hours on a telephone with radio stations across the country and barked orders at producers in Phoenix and Charleston and Houston and New York who are interviewing our scientist talent in real time. The radio technology fascinated me. How are humans capable of such instantaneous communication, yet use it for a triviality such as a three-and-a-half-minute interview of searchable information? The talent repeated the same sound bites over and over. If the distance between Earth and the Sun was the length of a football field, NASA’s probe would reach the Sun’s four-yard line. I stared at the phone I was holding for a minute until someone yelled at me to put it down. Houston was already off the air. My boss asked me how long I’d slept. I didn’t say. He sent me home. I took the bus and then the train and felt like a person again. I felt that indescribable sensation where your psyche falls into place with a slick clack. Every movement, every heartbeat, felt deliberate and real. I felt like God, though I had no idea what I meant by that when I explained it expressively to the roommate with whom I was on speaking terms. During the remaining two weeks I ate solely beef jerky and pop tarts from the vending machine at work; I sucked down gallons of the fiercely black coffee that the web development hire made when he came in at 7 am. I discovered, after nearly two months, that my desk could change height — with a mechanical whirr, it moved up, and it moved down. Amazing! I decided to stand all day. The moving desk needed physics to work. I could probably understand if I tried. I downloaded a high school advanced placement course on physics from the Internet. I studied momentum and inertia. during my lunch breaks. Nothing stuck. I reread the same paragraph seven times before I gave up. I went to get more coffee. I tapped my foot so much that the new communications employee next to me told me to stop four separate times in one morning. I listened to the Blade Runner soundtrack on constant repeat. The concept of science fiction made my brain spin. Science is real, all of it is real, what about it declares the need for nightmare worlds? We have plenty of mystery. There is plenty of mystery. Potentially habitable exoplanet. Potentially habitable exoplanet. Habitable, potentially. A greater expression of nature. They’re beyond my reach. I can understand that.

NASA made this announcement on June 7, 2018:

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet.

Preceding the Facebook Live event that would first announce the discovery was a burst of other social media posts:

Join us today at 2pm ET for a lively discussion about two new Mars science results from the @MarsCuriosity rover on the Red Planet. Ask your questions using #askNASA

Scrolling through the #askNASA feed provides a diverse glimpse at the general public’s attitude towards space.

@aquariu02613049 Can I have a NASA hoodie #askNASA

The Mars results are significant. Discovery of ancient organic molecules on the desolate Martian surface, still intact enough for humanity to detect them, means that the actual material to make life was there. Though organic material is often associated with life, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been created through biology: not necessarily life.

@Spartan_604 Would these organics be considered biosignatures on Mars or other planets/moons? #AskNASA

“Not necessarily” is echoed by every scientist I’ve talked to. They don’t want to scare people, or give them false hopes, false ideas about what exactly is out there. Mars isn’t an exoplanet. It’s orbiting at approximately one and a half times the distance between Earth and the Sun. It’s not beyond but rather within reach. Perhaps not for me; I will never be an astronaut. But someone will go. Someone will stand on Martian soil. Someone will hold a handful of extraterrestrial dust and someone will find out if the dust carries living creatures. Soon, everyone will know.

@bobodarejr What do they do now?? #AskNASA

What do they do now?

@Hermes95837852 #asknasa When in full darkness like they are now, can the astronauts ever stop working and take a moment to look at the cosmos that surrounds them?

@WanSouYT #AskNASA Why are you there? What is the objective of this mission? What are you trying to accomplish?

Why are you here?

What are you trying to accomplish?