The Existence of Alien Life

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The Existence of Alien Life

Alissa Cottom, Section Editor

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When taking into account the sheer size of the known universe and the commonality of planets similar to Earth, is it really that outrageous to assume that there is life outside of our own planet? There has always been a stigma against those who strongly believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life. Those who believe in it have unfortunately been shamed and coined as crazy and illogical. This leads people to ignore the actual logic and statistics that strongly support life existing outside of our own planet.

I believe that there is alien life (which is life outside of Earth) in the universe. It is hard to ignore the strong possibility of this when taking the mind blowing size of just the observed universe into consideration.  In a testimony presented before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson claimed, “If the count of planets in our solar system is not unusual, then there are more planets in the universe than the sum of all sounds and words ever uttered by every human who has ever lived.” Though this statement seems exaggerated, it makes absolute sense once the true size of the universe is understood. To give an idea of the actual magnitude of the observed universe, it is estimated that there are 100 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Astrologists claim that there is on average one planet for every star, so by that logic there are at least 100 billion planets in just our galaxy. Our galaxy’s local group consists of 54 other galaxies. If other galaxies are similar to our own, there are 5.4 trillion planets in our local group. Additionally, our local group resides in the Virgo Super cluster with 100 other galaxy groups, increasing the estimate to 540 trillion planets. Finally, there are 10 million super clusters just in the part of the universe that we are able to see, giving us a final total of 54 sextillion planets in just the observed universe. This means that the life harboring conditions of our planet would have to be 1 in 54 sextillion for Earth to be the only planet containing life. That is a .000000000000000000002% chance of the Earth being the only instance of life. This is even using 100 billion as the base number of planets in the galaxy instead of the potential 400 billion.

Along with the abundance of planets in the universe, the elements and conditions that foster life are also more common than most would believe. In the same testimony quoted previously, Neil deGrasse Tyson states, “Consider that the four most common elements in the universe are hydrogen, helium, carbon, and oxygen. Helium is inert. So the three most abundant, chemically active ingredients in the cosmos are also the top three ingredients in life on Earth.” This means that basic elements that make up living creatures here on Earth are extremely common across the entire universe. This further disproves the rarity of life at a fundamental level. Along with the commonality of these basic elements, the conditions of Earth that make it habitable are not hard to come by. Assuming that life can only be sustained in the presence of liquid water, the “habitable zone” of a planet refers to the distance from the sun that would allow water to exist in a liquid state. According to data collected by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, there is about one planet in the habitable zone of each red dwarf star. From this we have learned that there are potentially 60 billion planets in our galaxy alone that fall within the habitable zone. As a reminder, this is not even considering the possibility of life thriving in more extreme conditions.

One counterclaim that has been brought up against the existence of alien life is as follows: If extraterrestrials exists, why have we not seen it or evidence of their existence? If we can know the size, distance, and even the elemental makeup of a planet thousands of light years away, then why are we not able to know if there is life present on those same planets? Along with this, if there is intelligent life in the universe, how have we not come in contact with them?

The explanation for this is actually quite simple, we currently lack the technology to observe such specific details about planets. The reason we know so much about planets is through observing light and radio waves that are reflected or produced by celestial bodies. Scientists use this information to pinpoint the location and movement of stars, planets, and nebulas as well as make deductions about their size, elemental makeup, and climate conditions. Unfortunately, that means we do not actually have the ability to see the surfaces of these planets and suns in any detail. In regards to intelligent life, there are multiple factors that may explain the lack of contact. It is possible that if there are intelligent alien life forms, there are none close enough to our planet that are technologically advanced enough to attempt to make contact. Another explanation could be that humans have been attempting to detect radio waves, but it is possible that these extraterrestrials have evolved this and use something much more complex that we humans have not even discovered yet. A final explanation could even be that they are not looking for us. Alien discovery is a two way street. If the other party is not emitting signals to alert us of their presence, then we are not going to be able to detect them.

The odds are entirely against us being alone in this universe. So, what if aliens exist? Since it is more likely than one would believe, how are we meant to respond to this? Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do. Any intelligent life that could be present in the universe would be near impossible to interact with unless they were intelligent enough to do all of the heavy lifting. Yet, there is something we can do: continue the search. As stated earlier, alien discovery is a two way street. If we ever want to have the chance to discover and learn from other intelligent life, we have to give them a way to be aware of our existence. Programs like SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) are actively participating in this search for alien life. By supporting programs like this we are increasing the chances of the human race coming in contact with another intelligent species. This discovery would be easily the most important scientific discovery ever made and would change the universe forever.