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Is There Extraterrestrial Life?

Updated on July 18, 2016

The character Noel Shempsky on the television show Frasier once fantasized about an “all-powerful space vixen … Rozalinda, four-breasted queen of the planet Rozniak.” I see little use for four breasts, unless the males on Rozniak have four hands. Men … they only think of themselves.

Nevertheless, people have long speculated about intelligent life on other planets. Sometimes you have to wonder if there is any intelligent life here on Earth, but we'll address that in another story.

The Search for Life

The nonprofit SETI Institute was founded in 1984 with a mission to “explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.” SETI, of course, is an acronym for “search for extraterrestrial intelligence”.

People have searched for radio signals from space since a radio astronomer named Frank Drake aimed an antenna at a couple of Sun-like stars in 1960. The Soviet Union conducted a broad search in the 1960s. Activity grew in the United States after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) analyzed the scientific and technological issues related to the search. NASA funded a High Resolution Microwave Survey Targeted Search in 1992. Said by Congress to be a waste of money, it was canceled in 1993. The SETI Institute took over the operation in 1994, renaming it the Phoenix Project and funding it with donations. The effort was suspended in April 2011 due to a shortage of funds. The Phoenix Project observed over 800 stars as far as 240 light years from Earth, finding no signs of life.

A light year is the distance that light travels in a year, and is a bit less than 6 trillion miles. Doing some quick math, 240 light years is around 1.4 quadrillion miles. It's sort of like the national debt, expressed in miles instead of dollars.

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How Many Civilizations?

Led by astronomer Frank Drake (b. 1930), a team of scientists formulated the Drake equation in 1961 to estimate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. The equation is complex and depends on a number of assumptions that can greatly affect the result. The answer ranges from less than a thousand to almost a billion. Drake suggested that the paucity of evidence of other civilizations might indicate that technological civilizations disappeared fairly rapidly. This, in turn, gave rise to speculation about the lifespan of civilization on Earth.

Astrobiologists assume the other lifeforms will be carbon-based, as we are, and will require water and a sun. Scientists have sent numerous probes to Mars, which is the closest place where life might exist. Dr. Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, suggests that life could exist on Saturn's moons, or in the upper atmosphere of Venus. These lifeforms would likely resemble bacteria.

The Search Goes On (And On, And On)

Scientists have not been passive in the search for life. The United States launched the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft in 1973. These carried a plaque, designed by Drake and astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996), with information about humans, the Earth and the space missions. Pioneer 10 exited the solar system in 1983. According to Popular Science, it will be two million years before either craft encounters another star.

NASA also sent golden records with the Voyager probes. These explain how to play them, and they contain a map locating the Sun, along with videos, greetings in numerous languages and music from around the world. It will be tens of thousands of years before this information reaches its destination.

Meteorites bounce around the universe, and they sometimes carry bits of amino acids. About 20 different amino acids form the basis of life, and scientists have found eight of them on meteorites. They also study organisms on Earth called extremophiles. These creatures can survive, and possibly even thrive on extreme conditions such as near absolute zero temperatures and radioactive environments.

Astronomers had thought these types of lifeforms might live on Mars. The Telegraph reported in early February 2012 that after three years analyzing Martian soil collected during the 2008 NASA Phoenix mission, researchers stated that Mars has suffered a super-drought, perhaps for hundreds of millions of years, and that any life on the red planet would have to be deep underground.

Scientists discovered the first extrasolar planet orbiting a normal star in 1995. Called 51 Pegasi b, the planet is in the constellation Pegasus, about 50 light years from Earth. Its discovery confirmed ideas that our solar system might not be unique. By mid-2008, about 300 exoplanets had been found. NASA launched the Kepler space observatory in March 2009, and the spacecraft has already identified more than 60 planets and a few thousand planet candidates. In January 2012, the craft discovered 11 new planetary systems hosting at least 26 planets, according to Space.com. At that time, the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia listed 729 exoplanets in 594 planetary systems and 88 multiple-planet systems. With the increasing number of planets being discovered, it's hard to believe that no other planet has intelligent life.

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Aliens Among Us

Aliens have visited our planet many times in the movies, but scientists tend to believe it won't happen because of the energy required to travel through the vastness of space. Of course, they could discover a revolutionary energy source someday that could radically change that view.

Led by physicist Stephen Hawking, scientists are starting to acknowledge that alien life might well exist, according to big think. Conjuring up images from old Outer Limits TV shows, Hawking advised in a Discovery Channel documentary that we should avoid engaging aliens, which he called “nomads looking to conquer and colonize.”

Bulgarian scientist Lachezar Fiipov told the media, “Aliens are currently all around us, and are watching us all the time,” according to The Telegraph. The same publication reported the statement of Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University that billions of years ago comets deposited microbes that multiplied and seeded to form human life. If that's true, then the aliens have already been here—and we are their descendants.

What's Your Opinion?

Will humans eventually encounter extraterrestrial intelligence?

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New Candidate Planets Found

In February 2012, Scientific American reported the discovery of a planet named GJ 667Cc, which could support life. The planet is at least 4.5 times as massive as Earth. It orbits its parent star, 22 light years from Earth in the constellation Scorpius, in about 28 days. GJ 667Cc lies in the habitable zone of its host star, whose temperatures are appropriate for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface.

The planet is part of a star system whose makeup is quite different than ours, lacking particularly in metals, which are usually key in the formation of planets. Steven Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and one of the authors of the study announcing the planet's discovery, said, “Statistics tell us we shouldn't have found something this quickly this soon unless there's a lot of them out there. This tells us there must be an awful lot of these planets out there.”

The study was led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution for Science. It will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

In April 2013, scientists announced the discovery by NASA's Kepler satellite of three new candidate planets. Rotating around the Kepler-62 star, two of the planets, Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, lie in the habitable zone. A third planet, Kepler-69c, is somewhat less likely to accommodate life. The planets are about 1,200 light years from Earth. The Kepler-69 star is 2,700 light years away.

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Billions of Habitable Planets May Exist in Our Galaxy

In late March of 2012, the Irish Independent reported on a study indicating that billions of habitable planets may exist in our galaxy, some within 30 light years of Earth.

A group of astronomers, led by Dr. Xavier Bonfils of Grenoble University in France, surveyed red dwarf stars and determined that about 40 percent had a rocky planet not much bigger than Earth orbiting the habitable zone where liquid water can exist, making life possible. There are about 160 billion such stars in the Milky Way, accounting for approximately 80 percent of all stars in the galaxy, leading to the astonishing conclusion that there are tens of billions of such planets just in our galaxy.

Scientists surveyed a specific group of 102 red dwarfs using a telescope at La Silla, Chile, and found nine super-Earths, planets with masses between one and 10 times that of Earth. From this, they estimated that there could be about 100 habitable-zone planets within 30 light years of Earth.

Related Hubs

Forward Contamination of Space: The Aliens May Be Us: We may find life in outer space someday and discover it originated on Earth. Forward contamination of space is very real, and can be as dangerous as bringing space microbes back to Earth.

The National Debt and Other Really Big Numbers: The national debt is really big. Your share is more than the price of a Chevy Volt. The universe is even bigger. That's right. There is something bigger than the national debt.

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    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Glad you liked it, and yes, the "Life On" posters are great! I was lucky to find those. Cheers.

    • GD Nunes profile image

      GD Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, USA

      Great hub, informative and funny! I love the "Life on..." posters.

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Thanks for your thoughts, Deb. My opinion is that we haven't found anything yet. I read another hub recently that mentioned how difficult it is to find anything in such a vast universe, but that doesn't mean there's no life out there. Cheers.

    • profile image

      Deb Welch 5 years ago

      Gio - God created all the Planets in the Universe and every living thing - if HE created human beings and animals plus every creeping thing upon the planet Earth, as well as plant life - why couldn't HE have created other beings? Humans may be too egotistical. I believe this government covers up what the general public can't handle. Fear and shock factors that goes for other things not only outer space happenings. Voted Up - Useful information and interesting.

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      I think yours is wise counsel. Certainly it's not a good idea to assume they will be our pals! Cheers.

    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      Science fiction author Jerry Pournelle once suggested: "Ours is a world dominated by the use of force. What makes us think the universe will be any different?" If space aliens do exist, they are more likely to be unfriendly than they are to be Mr Spocks.

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Thanks for your comments. I don't think anything could be like we see in the movies, not even life here on Earth. Cheers.

    • nityanandagaurang profile image

      nityanandagaurang 5 years ago

      There are extra terristial planet but they are not like we usually see in movies.Very interesting hub giocatore.

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Thanks. If they said it in a movie, it must be true! Cheers.

    • cebutouristspot profile image

      cebutouristspot 5 years ago from Cebu

      I believe so. I remember one quote in a movie I cant remember. "If their is no other life out their then the universe is such a lonely place" or something close to that :) Thanks for sharing

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Thanks. I find it hard to believe that humans are the only intelligent lifeforms in the universe, but as you say, we're not likely to see anything in our lifetimes. But who knows?

    • JamesPoppell profile image

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Great hub. I believe there is life out there. Will we see complete evidence in our life time? Probably not but it is fun and fascinating to think about. Vote up. Thanks for sharing.

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Thanks, and glad to produce a chuckle. I've always wondered what extraterrestrial lifeforms might look like. Probably like nothing we ever imagined. Cheers.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      A fun read and loved the line:

      "Doing some quick math, 240 light years is about 1.4 quadrillion miles. It's sort of like the national debt, expressed in miles instead of dollars."

      I laughed so much at this. As for other life, there must be, but whether we will ever see them is a different story.

      Voted up, interesting, funny and SOCIALLY SHARING.

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      The only Bigfoot I care about is made by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Cheers!

    • chelseacharleston profile image

      chelseacharleston 5 years ago

      Great question! I once had a guy tell me that the reason we'd never find Bigfoot's body was because he was an evolved species from another planet LOL. I'll never forget it. Thought provoking, though. Good hub!

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Well, we don't know that for sure. If a life form has an advanced method of travel, they could zoom over to Earth as quickly as you can drive to the CVS. Of course, if that's the case, I expect we're not going to be able to do much about it, so it really doesn't matter.

      I do have some questions. For example, what kind of sitcoms do alien life forms watch? Do they have football teams? Do they suffer from ingrown toenails?

      I dealt with the asteroid situation in another hub. Cheers.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California

      Your hub points out my opinion that it really doesn't matter if life exists in outer space. You won't see it in your life time, that of thousands generations, even if they do exist now.

      A couple of days ago there was a reported near miss of the earth by a bus sized asteroid. There would have been nothing that we here on earth could have done to stop or divert it. But it should have been more interesting than a planet 50 light years away.

    • giocatore profile image
      Author

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Thanks, I always try to have some fun! Cheers.

    • poetvix profile image

      poetvix 5 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

      Thank you for the history lesson, and the interesting theories. I really like your writing style. The wit you insert keeps the material from being dry.