Monday, August 06, 2007

Life Beyond Our Pale Blue Planet

This is one of the rare sensible discussions about life in the distant universe. Usually any talk of alien life quickly degenerates into flying saucers, crop circles, humanoid aliens and abduction cases. This isn’t the type of “life” that deserves anything more than a good 2 hour science-fiction movie.
(The Whirlpool Galaxy, M51. Taken by the Hubble Space Telescope)

But the question of whether or not anything is out there continues to enthrall the human mind, and a discovery would certainly be another nail in coffin of the Abrahamic religions, since they all seem pretty certain that their god created this one planet as his lone little outpost of life.

Of course, I’m unduly optimistic. They have already been scientifically proven wrong time and again about various notions that come from their books of absolute truth. This never deters them. They simply end up incorporating the new evidence into their story. This is what will end up happening with evolution ( indeed, it has already happened for many religions, with only the fundamentalists trying to hold the fort against it).

(No, those aren't stars. Each light you see in this picture is a galaxy! Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), the exposure reveals the first galaxies to emerge from the time shortly after the big bang)

It still remains a fascinating topic though. Part of the problem of confirming other life, as I see it, can be found in this from the article “But some exoplanets are wondrously Earth-like. Scientists recently spotted one world only 20.5 light-years away that lies within the habitable zone of its star—the region around a star where liquid water, and thus life, might exist.” So, if we ever get to the point where we can travel at, say, 1/100th of the speed of light, we could have an exploration vehicle there in just 2,050 years! If that’s not bad enough, there is a very good reason that the quote says “only 20.5 light years”. That’s actually incredibly close to us; so hundreds of billions of other possible stars are even further away.

Still, as the article indicates – “"Depending on what level of seeking and finding we are prepared to do, we could make discoveries in the next two decades that entirely change the way we understand the universe and life," said Margaret Turnbull, an astrobiologist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. This is due to the fact that there are, and will be even more, ways of discovering life without actually going there. I’m a probabilities guy, so when I figure that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, each with hundreds of billions of stars, it means the odds are very decent that life exists elsewhere. Hell, we have barely begun investigating our own solar system.

Please look for the poll "Is there life out there" on the side bar and register how you feel about it. Also, to see more awesome Hubble photos, you can find them under "Links You Might Enjoy".

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