Could alien life exist in the form of DNA-shaped dust?

Could alien life exist in the form of dancing specks of dust? According to a new simulation, electrically charged dust can organise itself into DNA-like double helixes that behave in many ways like living organisms, reproducing and passing on information to one another.

“This came as a bit of a surprise to us”, says Gregor Morfill of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany. He and colleagues have built a computer simulation to model what happens to dust immersed in an ionised gas, or plasma.

The dust grains pick up a negative charge by absorbing electrons from the plasma and then this charged ‘nucleus’ attracts positive ions, which form a shell around it.

It was already known that this system can produce regular arrays of dust called plasma crystals, and some experiments have also shown hints of spiral structures. Now, Morfill’s simulation suggests that the dust should sometimes form double helixes.

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