Astrobotany Answers: “What is a great mystery of astrobotany?”

Welcome to Astrobotany Answers, a segment where Kai Rasmussen (AKA Young Mark Watney) tries to answer email questions to the best of his abilities. Let’s open the mail bag and see what’s up today.

Hey Kai,

My name is Stephen.  I am a big fan!  (Though I just found out who you were a couple days ago, after looking for a podcast about astrobotany and finding yours.)

So the reason I’m writing is because I have a question that I can’t really find a good answer to online.  I’ve watched your youtubes (great content, well played) and gone through a decent chunk of the articles/links and stuff but I can’t find anybody that speaks about what the mysteries of astrobotany are.

Like, what are the things that astrobotanists think of and say “that’d be crazy but there’s no way that would actually happen.”  Questions like “how does a plant know which way is up” are super fascinating, but, I guess what I’m wondering is, can you conceive of something, some discovery or frontier that maybe is two or three generations of astrobotanists away from being discovered? 

– Stephen

Hi Stephen,

Thank you so much for the kind words- I always love hearing from people who have found their way to our content.

 As far as your question goes- personally, the big mystery I wonder about is whether or not there are “plants” on other planets.  Or maybe this could also be phrased as “what exactly is a plant?”

What we classify as a plant here on Earth may not exist anywhere else in the universe, but what if they do- and they are absolutely incredible?
Given the perceived rarity of Earth, it seems unlikely that another planet will host life that resembles terrestrial plants – ….but …. ice on Mars is still ice.  So wouldn’t a plant found on Mars still be a plant?

What is the role of the organisms we call plants in the greater universe?  Is there an equivalent relationship that two aliens species have somewhere?  I may never live to see it, but I sure am curious.  And I know others are curious as well.  One of the most delightful things to me is seeing artists come up with their own fictional plants.  From manga to movies, humans love making up odd, weird, fantastic plants.  Could these exist somewhere?
This is a big “out there” question.  I mostly keep myself grounded by remembering where we are still at right now: we have yet to successfully create the first bioregenerative life support system that will take us off this planet.  But it sure is fun to think about. 


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