The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe has been pondered throughout human history. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Epicurus argued that there an infinite number of worlds in the universe that exist. An extensive line of philosophers, writers, and scientists have debated the topic over the centuries.
Back in 1994, astronomer and author Carl Sagan of Cornell University authored an article in Scientific American that called for the search for extraterrestrial life. He noted that the earth remains the only inhabited world known so far, but scientists in their research are finding that the universe abounds “with the chemistry of life.” The Search for Extraterrestrial Life – Scientific American
Almost three decades later from Carl’s Sagan’s insights on the abundance of the chemistry of life, we are at the doorway of new discovery in our new technological era to prove and find that extraterrestrial life may exist, and also that it may be plentiful.
Technologies Impacting The Search for ET
As our technology has become more sophisticated, so has the search for other potential life in the universe. Some new factors to consider are based on advanced radio telescopes and on Kepler data (Kepler is a space observatory launched by NASA to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars) are that habitable exoplanets similar to Earth are much more common than originally thought, and the universe is more expansive than we have believed.
In August of 2022, in an exciting development, astronomers captured the first direct image of an exoplanet with the recently deployed James Webb Space Telescope. The earlier model Hubble Space Telescope, which was also a marvel, could take images of exoplanets but the Webb has far more capabilities to allow for infrared exploration of exoplanets that can detect water and carbon dioxide signatures in a planet’s atmosphere.
There are other events bringing light to the possibilities of life elsewhere too. Recently scientists discovered an exoplanet ocean world called TOI-1452 b, just 100 light-years from Earth. A paper on the discovery says that the entire planet is covered by a thick layer of water and that it’s located far enough from its star to possibly support life. Scientists discovered a beautiful ocean world 100 light-years from Earth (lifeboat.com) This discovery, along with recent discoveries of other potential exoplanets that can harbor life has led many leading astronomers to conclude that we are not alone in the universe.
Earlier this year, scientists spotted the building blocks of RNA at the center of the Milky Way. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, a molecule similar to DNA and it is present in all living cells. The team of researchers discovered the building blocks of RNA in a molecular cloud in our galaxy.
Such building blocks have also been discovered on asteroids. Most notably, Japanese researchers discovered more than 20 amino acids on the space rock Ryugu, which is more than 200 million miles (320 million kilometers) from Earth. Scientists made the detection by studying samples retrieved from the near-Earth asteroid by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which landed on Ryugu in 2018.
According to Kensei Kobayashi, a professor emeritus of astrobiology at Yokohama National University, “Proving amino acids exist in the subsurface of asteroids increases the likelihood that the compounds arrived on Earth from space. This means that amino acids could likely be found on other planets and natural satellites – a clue that “life could have been born in more places in the Universe than previously thought,” Building Blocks of Life Were Found on an Asteroid in Space For The Very First Time : ScienceAlert
Victoria Meadows, Principal Investigator for NASA’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington has noted that life forms can produce detectable indicators, including the presence of substantial amounts of oxygen, smaller amounts of methane, and a variety of other chemicals. She believes that “upcoming telescopes in space and on the ground will have the capability to observe the atmospheres of Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby cool stars, so it’s important to understand how best to recognize signs of habitability and life on these planets,” Meadows said, “These computer models will help us determine whether an observed planet is more or less likely to support life.” New technologies, strategies expanding search for extraterrestrial life (phys.org)
A project aimed at listening for signals of other intelligent life is SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has been active for several years analyzing signals from outer space of intelligent sourcing. A spin-off of the SETI project is called METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is focused on designing and transmitting messages to possible life-bearing planets. METI Project Scientists recently transmitted a signal to a nearby star called Luyten’s Star (GJ 273). The signal sent to Luyten’s Star incorporates “a scientific and mathematical “tutorial,” as well as 33 short musical compositions by artists in the Sónar community, according to Space.com.
There are a variety of innovative projects using newer technologies search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) including scanning space with sensitive optical and acoustic technologies. One technology called Gravitational Microlensing is being used for detection of planets using techniques measuring the bending of light emitted by a star because of gravity from orbiting objects.
The Compact Color Biofinder, developed by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers, can accurately detect the bio-residue in fish fossils from the 34–56 million-year-old Green River rock formation. Such a scientific instrument may be a game changer in the search for signs of extraterrestrial life which may be existing or fossilized. HIGP-developed Biofinder advances detection of extraterrestrial life | SOEST (hawaii.edu)
As we are in the age of space discovery enabled by innovative technologies and tools enhanced by materials science and artificial intelligence, we are finding out more about the Universe we live in every day. In her analyses, Nathalie A. Cobrol, Alien Mindscapes—A Perspective on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence concludes that advances in planetary and space sciences, astrobiology, and life and cognitive sciences, combined with developments in communication theory, bioneural computing, machine learning, and big data analysis, create new opportunities to explore the probabilistic nature of alien life.
She believes that now is the time to develop a roadmap and long-term vision that includes the search for life with tools that are found in astronomy and astrophysics but also in the biological, geological, cognitive, mathematical, and computer sciences, among others. “All of them must be deployed when thinking about who, what, and where ET could be, and how it might communicate.”
How Many Earth-Like Planets Are Out There?
Scientists from UC Berkeley and the University of Hawaii issued a study that 22 percent of Sun-like stars may harbor planets roughly the size of Earth in their habitable zones that have been over-looked because these planets are harder to detect. One of the study’s co-authors, Andrew Howard started “With about 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, that’s about 20 billion such planets, … That’s a few Earth-sized planets for every human being on the planet Earth.” Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/there-are-probably-way-more-earth-like-exoplanets-than-we-imagined-180947564/#dwBzDLvF5prGWuKI.99
The estimates of potential earth-like planets vary among astronomers and exobiologists (those who study extraterrestrial life). NASA estimates conclude that there are more than 100 Billion Earth-like planets based on the assumption that our universe has 500 billion stars like our own. That figure contemplates nearly identical conditions for life to evolve on these planets. Evidence derived from new powerful telescopes, including Kepler’s exploration of the Milky Way, and various space probes in our own solar system have shown that the water is more common-place that thought, and the organic building blocks of life are abundant.
Beyond the Milky Way, the numbers of planets that could support life, as we know it, are really overwhelming. Astronomers at the University of Auckland claim that there are around 100 billion habitable, Earth-like planets in the Milky Way. Multiplied by the 500 billion plus galaxies in the universe, they estimate around 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (5×1022) habitable planets, or 50 sextillions in the universe. Of course, forms of life could potentially evolve without Earth eco-systems would exponentially change that estimate to even a greater number.
These estimates are based upon a formula of probability created by Astronomer Dr. Frank Drake in 1961. Dr. Drake was a pioneer and innovator in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). His “Drake Equation” sought to arrive at an estimate of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. It was based on:
N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.
R* = The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life appears.
fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.
L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.
Have ETs Visited – What Are UFOS?
The United States Air Force from 1952 to 1969 conducted a research project called Project Blue Book to explore Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) and related phenomena. It was led by. Dr. J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer and professor at Northwestern University.
Dr. Hynek was not originally a believer in UFOs. He accepted the Air Force’s offer to explore reports of UFOs with a scientist’s mindset of debunking them. As he pursued his work, he found out that there was indeed UFO phenomena that he simply could not explain or write off. He surmised that too many dependable witnesses and too many questions that could not be answered as swamp gas, balloons, or perhaps test craft.
Even though it had the interest of scientists and astronomers, until a few years back discussion of the possibilities of extraterrestrial visitors to Earth was considered to be fringe. It has now become more mainstream. In June of 2021, an intelligence report Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena was published by the Director of the Office of National Intelligence. Prelimary-Assessment-UAP-20210625.pdf (dni.gov)
The report garnered much attention including the holding of congressional hearings on the topic. Especially as some of the evidence included military aircrews encounter unidentified flying objects (UFOs) that operated with aerial capabilities far beyond our own.
A draft bill approved unanimously by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence rebrands UFOs as “unidentified aerospace-undersea phenomena. Members of the committee believe that objects of unknown origin are demonstrating remarkably advanced technology by moving seamlessly between space, air and water. The bill also removes man-made from the definition of UFOS in the bill. This implies that members of the Committee believe (on a unanimous, bipartisan basis) that some UFOs have non-human origins.
In addition, discussions and interviews, NASA administrator Bill Nelson suggested that UFOs encountered by military aircrews may have otherworldly origins. His perspective is echoed by many leaders who have examined the issue of UFOs, including former Directors of the CIA.
In 2018, a cigar-shaped object was spotted hurtling through the solar system. It was named ‘Oumuamua.” Close observations showed that ‘Oumuamua was accelerating, as if something were propelling it, and scientists still are not sure why. Dr. Avi Loeb, a Harvard University astrophysicist has proposed that the interstellar visitor could have been an alien probe pushed by a lightsail — a wide, millimeter-thin piece of material that accelerates as it’s pushed by solar radiation. Extraterrestrial evidence: 10 incredible findings about aliens from 2020 | Live Science
A speculative theory by Nobel Laureate Frances Crick and chemist Leslie Orgel called Directed Panspermia discusses whether life on Earth might have originally been sowed by an extraterrestrial civilization. They pointed out that the technology to seed other worlds is within humanity’s grasp. Thus, it may be possible for certain intelligent civilizations to dispatch spaceships with microorganisms to numerous planets to spread life. The History and Origins of Directed Panspermia – IOPscience
Are we a seeded or non-seeded planet being watched? There are many credible reports of UFO sightings by astronauts, pilots, and law enforcement, and many of them now caught on camera. In any event, the topic of whether or not we are alone in the Universe has become a very credible one.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, most Americans believe in the likelihood of life on other planets. A sizable share of the public (51%) event says that UFOs reported by people in the military are likely evidence of intelligent life outside Earth. Most Americans believe life on other planets exists | Pew Research Center
Whether extraterrestrials are arrived on Earth or not is a topic of speculation and full verifiable proof is still debatable. But the subject is now under a lens and being followed by people and governments. To be accepted it will likely take a major global announcement by governments with evidence to convince many on our planet that if we in fact do currently have ET visitors or have been visited in the past.
There are contrarian viewpoints too of whether or not ET actually exists. There are those who say with all the possibilities of life out there – where is it and why have we not yet discovered it? This is commonly called the “Fermi Paradox” noting the contradiction between the high probability that life that is predicted to be in our universe, and the lack of evidence that advanced life exists anywhere else but Earth. But, as such a young civilization that only discovered electricity in a recent era, there is not much of a paradox. We are just at the doorstep of exploration and should not expect to know what we do not know yet. Man’s real quest for the stars has just begun.
Some scientists are now estimating that we may have contact with extraterrestrial contact within the next few decades. If we discover life elsewhere it will surely impact our belief systems, religions, and culture. Contact could cause panic and confusion, or it could serve to unify humans as a species. That remains to be seen but is being openly discussed.
Harvard Astronomer Avi Loeb surmised “putting our hands on a piece of alien technology would change the way we perceive our place in the universe, our aspirations for space and our philosophical and theological beliefs. Our psychological shock would resemble the one encountered by my daughters when they met kids smarter than they were on their first day in the kindergarten.” What Should We Do if Extraterrestrials Show Up? – Scientific American
ET contact is such a serious thought as NASA has even hired a team of theologians to prepare people for contact with aliens and to help to understand how representatives of different religions of our planet will react.
As mankind’s technology (especially artificial intelligence and quantum) and computing capabilities continue to grow, so will our ability to explore in greater detail the expansiveness of space and the multitude of galaxies. What was yesterday’s science fiction is now today’s reality. The continued discovery Earth-like planets in our galaxy and beyond is another small step in our contemplation of what may be out there among the stars as we peer among the night sky. Perhaps some answers will be coming soon?
About the author
Chuck Brooks, President of Brooks Consulting International, is a globally recognized thought leader and subject matter expert Cybersecurity and Emerging Technologies. Chuck is also Adjunct Faculty at Georgetown University’s Graduate Cybersecurity Risk Management Program where he teaches courses on risk management, homeland security technologies, and cybersecurity. He is also IEEE Cyber Security for Next Generation Connectivity Systems for Quantum IOT Vice-Chair and serves as the Quantum Security Alliance Chair for IOT. LinkedIn named Chuck as one of “The Top 5 Tech People to Follow on LinkedIn.” He was named as one of the world’s “10 Best Cyber Security and Technology Experts” by Best Rated, as a “Top 50 Global Influencer in Risk, Compliance,” by Thompson Reuters, “Best of The Word in Security” by CISO Platform, and by IFSEC, and Thinkers 360 as the “#2 Global Cybersecurity Influencer.” He was featured in the 2020, 2021, and 2022 Onalytica “Who’s Who in Cybersecurity” He was also named one of the Top 5 Executives to Follow on Cybersecurity by Executive Mosaic, He is also a Cybersecurity Expert for “The Network” at the Washington Post, Visiting Editor at Homeland Security Today, Expert for Executive Mosaic/GovCon, and a Contributor to FORBES. He has an MA in International relations from the University of Chicago, a BA in Political Science from DePauw University, and a Certificate in International Law from The Hague Academy of International Law.