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The Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Now is a great time to be alive for those who have always gazed up at the stars glimmering in the night sky and asking the eternal question,


"Are we alone?"

Star Cluster

We've come a long way from 1961, when, Frank Drake, devised his "iconic" equation meant to estimate the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy. His attempt was to approximate an answer to a question that, at the time, seemed unanswerable.


But things are changing. Planets, especially Earth-sized ones, were thought of as quite rare just decades ago. Now we know that they outnumber the amount of stars themselves! We also know that planets in the so-called ‘habitable’ zones of stars (where conditions would be just right for life to form) are common.

Radio Telescope Searching for Extraterrestrial Life

Planet hunters search for these extra-solar planets, called "exoplanets" (for short), and they are often finding new and more fascinating worlds out there. Scientists can find these planets using a variety of techniques.


Measuring luminosity output from stars, and watching where it dips at regular intervals, measuring a star's "wobble" away from the center of its gravity and, in rare cases, even directly observing the planets themselves.

Most astronomical news sites now have whole sections dedicated to exoplanets and the search for alien life. In 2014, NASA scientists announced that they expect signs of life to be found within the next 20 years. They even went as far as to say that this estimate is conservative, and that they predict to find up to 100 million worlds inhabited by extraterrestrial life.


So, how exactly do scientists expect to achieve such a goal?


For years SETI, (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), has been collecting and sifting through mounds of data. You can even participate in the program by letting your computer analyze some of the data on its own when you're not using it.


However, search efforts have also been ramping up as of late. In July 2015, famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced a new $100 million initiative called Breakthrough Listen.

Billed as the most powerful, intense, and comprehensive search for life undertaken in all of human history, this extraordinary listening device will scour the skies like never before, in search of the tiniest signal - that will perhaps prove that we're not alone!

Interestingly, the first signs of life out there may not be very far away at all! Having found signs that there was (or may still be) water on Mars, scientists are now searching for similar clues to see if life - even the most fundamental microbial forms - once walked the surface of the red planet.

Jupiter's moon Europa, and Saturn's moon Enceladus, are both known to contain liquid seas under their icy surfaces. These moons are also prime candidates for the search for life right here in our very own back yard.

Regardless, progress in just the past decade has been remarkable. Astronomers have successfully detected water and auroras on exoplanets; have characterized the chemical composition of their atmospheres, and even gone as far as to determine some of the weather patterns on these faraway worlds.


It's only a matter of time before they find signs of life, and when they do, there's a good chance we'll be here to witness it.

But, let me leave you with this thought.


In a multiverse that goes on forever. A space that has no end. An area so big it houses trillions upon trillions of "Galaxies", what are the chances that we are the only ones out here? Hmmm!

Author: Dean Lloyd

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Searching for Extraterrestrial Life by Dean Lloyd
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