When will Humans Encounter ET?

Sam Janousek, Co-Editor

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Space is a vast realm filled with various planets, exoplanets, solar systems, and galaxies. In addition to this, various movies, from Men In Black to Space Jam, have popularized our childhood with interplanetary Aliens. So, naturally we wonder, is there extraterrestrial life?

NASA has been leading the search for extraterrestrial life since their foundation, in 1958. On April 24, 1990 NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope designated to view and photograph the most distant stars and galaxies, which continue to provide a glimpse of life in our broad universe.

 

This image, courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope website, shows stars, Alpha Centauri A and B, which contain exoplanets in what is considered the, ”habitable zone.”  

This image, courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope website, shows stars, Alpha Centauri A and B, which contain exoplanets in what is considered the, ”habitable zone.”

In addition to the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA launched the Kepler Mission and later the K2 Mission, designed to search for exoplanets in the Milky way, accomplishing its mission, discovering over 2,500 exoplanets in our galaxy. However, of these exoplanets, only 21 lie in the habitable zone and show promise of potential extraterrestrial life. These exoplanets lie thousands of light years away, so, humans will not be able to detect signs of life on these planets for many years to come.

Furthermore, in our solar system there are various potentials for life, most likely in the form of microorganisms. For example, Jupiter’s Moon, Europa, consists of subarctic oceans, and NASA researchers, such as Grunsfeld, a former astronaut and administrator for the science mission directorate, believe that Europa shows promise for life. In an interview with National Geographic, John Grunsfeld stated, “We are going to do a Europa mission, and I’m very excited about that.”

 

This image, courtesy of National Geographic, shows Jupiter’s moon, Europa and its subsurface oceans, which may harbor life.

This image, courtesy of National Geographic, shows Jupiter’s moon,
Europa and its subsurface oceans, which may harbor life.

Similar to Europa, there have been hints of life on the Red Planet, Mars. Mars, which lies one orbital arc away from Earth, is a rusted iron planet, leading the belief that there must have been, or still is, some source of water on Mars. This Martian water could inhabit various microorganisms and could be the first  signs of life in our solar system.

Although there are vast potentials for extraterrestrial life, it seems to be that we truly do not know if there is or isn’t life outside of Earth. In our solar system, the most promising signs of life come from Europa and Mars. But how will we know if there is life outside of Earth?

In order to answer this question, leading organizations, such as NASA and SpaceX, are sending landers and rovers to Mars, and soon hope to send a manned mission to the Red Planet, to test for signs of life. NASA has already sent three rovers to Mars, Opportunity, Spirit and Curiosity, of which Curiosity contains a lab to test the surface of Mars.  Also, as previously highlighted, NASA hopes to isolate water from Europa’s Oceans, in order to test for life.

Humans are vastly uncertain of the possibilities of life in our universe. We may discover extraterrestrial life tomorrow, in 100 years, or maybe never. However, if humans soon discover life on another planet, most likely it will come in the form of microorganisms, rather than the human like Aliens often seen in popular culture.  There are leading possibilities in the search for life outside of Earth, however most of them would be extremely difficult and costly not only to reach, but also to test for life and return the findings to Earth.

Recently in an interview with Business Insider, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, summed up our knowledge of extraterrestrial life, “Hopefully we do [detect other life], and hopefully it isn’t a warship coming toward us.” (Business Insider)