Are We Alone in the Universe?

A team of Swiss, French, and Portuguese astronomers have revealed the discovery of a planet more similar to Earth than any other yet found outside our Solar System. “Because of its temperature and relative proximity, this planet will most probably be a very important target of the future space missions dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial life,” says team member Xavier Delfosse. “On the treasure map of the Universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X.”



In the September 2006 issue of The Walrus, Monte Paulsen’s National Magazine Award-nominated “Far From Home” looked at some current planet-hunting efforts. We’ve always wondered whether we’re alone in the universe, but this most recent discovery will no doubt yield a fresh wave of speculation. What do you think? Is there life on other planets? How important is it for us to search it out? Should we be seeking another hospitable planet in case environmental degradation forces the human race to abandon this one? And who was cooler, Kirk or Picard?

The floor is yours.

7 comment(s)

renahajiApril 26, 2007 13:07 EST

Since you asked, there undoubtedly is or was or will be life elsewhere otherwise, as they say, what a waste of space. The importance of seeking it out has more to do with finding outlets for human ingenuity and excellence that don't involve killing and destroying than any edification in finding what we seek. Will we find any kind of life that we can relate to other than as mutual potential sources of meat? Hardly likely. Consider the window of opportunity for some other civilization finding receptive intelligence on earth. Pretty narrow relative to earth's life supporting epoch. Are we even 200 years into a time when shoot first, ask question later might not hold sway - are we even there yet? Add to that the fact that we now see our future tenure on earth as limited and the chances of two civilizations hitting their "golden age" in sync tends toward the infinitessimal.

Kirk: simply for boldly going where no man had gone before.

quebekopMay 06, 2007 09:10 EST

The crucial element in the question, “Are we alone in the Universe?” is the word ‘we’. If ‘we’ is defined as ‘human beings’, then the answer is clearly no, since we share this tiny speck known as Earth with millions upon millions of other species.

If the definition of ‘we’ is ‘Earth-bound life-forms’ and the question can be seriously asked, the question itself (as with all good questions) becomes more significant than the answer, because it indicates an awareness that human beings are elements in a web of life which forms a complex whole.

In fact, the search being performed by ESO and others could be more relevantly reframed as, “Are there other living planets in the Universe?” to reflect the dawning realization (possibly too late) that it is planets which are alive or dead, not just the individuals crawling on their surface.

John B. Dutton, Montreal

rpwMay 17, 2007 17:09 EST

And there is the possibility that we as humans may well be a "berserker" species intent on destroying everything around us, and thus....ourselves. If Stephen J. Gould's "punctuated equilibrium" theory has any substance, it is entirely possible we could be a "punctuation" that is an evolutionary dead end. We as humans and proto-humans have been around for perhaps 2-4 million years. Dinosaurs have, in one form or another, been around for 250 million years. We could be a "blip", as so many species in the past were.

As to whether there are others "out there", does it really matter? If there are, we need to achieve some form of stability here, if this is to be our "launchsite" to the cosmos. If there aren't, we still need this stability. Gene Roddenberry, where are you......?

freedom24May 18, 2007 07:32 EST

Drake’s equation states that the probability of finding extraterrestrial life elsewhere in the universe is subject to a number of very simple variables, and when these variables are taken together (using very conservative estimations), there is decent probability of other intelligent life actually existing in the universe. Better still, insists the math, this extra-terrestrial intelligence is far more prevalent that we might have initially thought (i.e. the infamous Fermi Paradox).

To better explain, consider the following formula (apologies in advance for the use of algebra):

N = R* x Fp x Ne x Fl x Fi x Fc x L

where:

N is the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might expect to be able to communicate and

R* is the rate of star formation in our galaxy
Fp is the fraction of those stars which have planets
Ne is average number of planets which can potentially support life per star that has planets
Fl is the fraction of the above which actually go on to develop life
Fi is the fraction of the above which actually go on to develop intelligent life
Fc is the fraction of the above which are willing and able to communicate
L is the expected lifetime of such a civilization

Disagreement still exists on the values of most of these unknown parameters, but the values used by Drake and his colleagues back in 1961 were as follows:

* R* = 10/year,
* Fp = 0.5,
* Ne = 2,
* Fl = 1,
* Fi = Fc = 0.01,
* and L = 10,000 years.

As the equation carries on, its easy to see where the skeptics first begin to surface. Under even the most conservative scenario, the value of ‘N’ is still often greater than 1 (i.e. there is at least one other planet in our galaxy that hosts a civilization with which we can communicate). Many challenges have surfaced that question the lack of observable evidence to support Fermi and his math. They often sport sci-fi titles like the “Rare Earth hypothesis” (that despite all those probabilities, our Earth is still statistically “unique”), the “percolation theory” (that advanced civilizations percolate outwards disproportionately), and the “zoo hypothesis” (that the Earth is being observed from afar like a giant wilderness preserve), but all are as ethereal as Fermi’s original paradox.

That said, of all the commentary on either side of the great interstellar debate, one voice stands out among the crowd. World-renowned astronomer Carl Sagan once speculated that the lifetime of a civilization (“L”), and not the enormity of the universe, was the most significant variable. In other words, the key determinant of whether a communicable civilization exists elsewhere in the galaxy is not whether the conditions existed for life to form, grow and develop, but for life in any technological civilization to avoid its own self-destruction.

(excerpted from "The Great Divide" at www.rationalpost.com)

EMangJune 12, 2007 07:15 EST

If I may opt for the abstract, our conception of life (pun intended) falls within fairly limited parameters. What we understand as sustaining, cultivating, encouraging life may not hold true elsewhere in the universe.

Yes, there are some basic chemical principles and laws we should adhere to, but could there be a species that thrives in a sulphur-based environment, or something that has an affinity for mercury?

On our blue marble, we are finding life in the most counter-intuitive ecosystems. Thermophiles exist in high temperatures. Hyperthermophiles are cozy and snug in temperatures in excess of 80C.

An alien life-form need not have opposable thumbs and understand hyperspace and light-speed travel. A microbe, a slug, a puddle of sentient goo, if not all from Earth are extraterrestrials.

I find the search for life is not a Narcissistic endeavour, but indicative of humanity’s indomitable curiosity.

Picard: A Renaissance man.

MThomasAugust 20, 2007 08:07 EST

“Even if my propulsion hits 10 % of light speed that is ~ 67,061,662 miles/hr. there is plenty of room to learn and grow towards 99.9 % the speed of light (c=670,616,629.384 mile per hour). This would mean travel to Mars in weeks not years and travel to Alpha Centauri in 5 to 10 years."


" Linear Accelerator Propulsion (LINAC) using invariant mass electron / microwave beam as propellant. An inexhaustable supply of electrons in space makes the technology capable of continuous 24 x 7 non-stop propulsion operation constantly accelerating at 1 g where NLS would then be possible."

example,

Dr. Steve Schaefer, Ph.D. Princeton University (Physics), "Calculates if X = 4.3 light-years, then T = 3.6 years. Dozens of stars could be reached in five to six years. In fact, a traveler could even go the Andromeda galaxy (2,000,000 light years) in under 29 years (Ship Time in Years) if a constant acceleration could be maintained." Also see Dr. Carlos I. Calle, PhD, NASA senior research scientist, below on page.



Dr. Schaefer calculates, "If the total distance is X, then the total travel time T is given by expression

X / 2 = (c2 / g) [cosh (0.5 g T / c) – 1] T = (2 c / g) cosh–1 (1 + 0.5 g X / c2) "

AnonymousOctober 29, 2007 18:24 EST

i believe thiers ilfe out there has to be probally on the othter side of the sun i would thnink..

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