Movies are the myths of late-20th century western culture. Because of the power of films like ET to capture our imagination, we are more likely than past generations to accept the possibility that life exists elsewhere in our galaxy. Such a myth can be used to sketch the main themes of this chapter, which concern the origin of life on the Earth.
Imagine that 4 billion years ago, intelligent beings evolved on an Earth-like planet in the solar system of a neighboring star. After ten million years of evolution, they have solved the problems of interstellar travel and aging. Virtually immortal family groups set out to explore the galaxy and almost immediately discover a solar system associated with a nearby star only 80 light years away from their home planet. They find that the third planet is rich in the primary elements of life - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen - which are present in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), molecular nitrogen (N2) and water vapor (H2O). They decide to spend a few centuries studying this planet, which they consider to be a possible model of their own primordial world as it was four billion years in their past.