March 3, 2013
Other Life In The Galaxy
redOrbit’s Lee Rannals reported earlier this week on a new study suggesting there might be life on exoplanets orbiting white dwarf stars. Though white dwarfs are stars reaching the end of their lives, they retain enough heat and energy that they could warm nearby planets for up to a billion years. The researchers say they think the 500 closest white dwarfs might just harbor one or more habitable exoplanets.
Though this study is new, the idea that life exists elsewhere in the universe isn’t. We humans have been searching for other life nearly as long as we’ve been walking upright.
Discovery’s Science Channel made a list of the Top 10 Biggest Moments in the Search for Aliens, which I found fascinating.
10. Nicolaus Copernicus figures out that the Earth is not the center of the Universe in the 1540’s. Heliocentrism, as this theory was called, led people to start wondering, “If we aren’t the center of the Universe, could there be someone else out there?”
9. Giodano Bruno was one of those who took Copernicus’ theory and decided to look for aliens. He wrote a book about it in 1584 that made him rather unpopular with the Church. They burned him at the stake in 1600 during the Italian Inquisition.
8. In the 1800’s the idea was to catch an alien’s attention. Karl Friedrich Gauss tried it with a device he came up with called a “heliotrope” that reflected sunlight towards other planets. He also suggested creating crop circles in a Siberian wheat field to attract attention. Joseph von Littrow wanted to dig trenches in the Sahara Desert, fill them with oil, and set them on fire.
7. Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 was apparently a hotbed of alien invasion. Supposedly, a UFO crashed there, leaving a debris field – and if you are into conspiracies, an alien body or two – laying around to be found by the government. The government, of course, denies any knowledge, says it is all hooey and we should get on with our lives. I don’t know, the Area 51 rumors are awfully convincing!
6. The 60’s and 70’s saw a real push to contact other life forms. The US and USSR were racing to get to the moon first, but other scientists were dreaming of ways to get Martians to come visit us. Phillip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi suggested using electromagnetic waves to scan the skies, which led to the foundation of SETI. Ever wondered what SETI stands for? The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Frank Drake’s Project Ozma (named after the Princess in the Land of Oz) experimented with radio observatories that would intercept signals from space. Think Jodi Foster in Contact.” The Cyclops Report of the 1970s was authored in part by Bruce Murray. Murray argued against focusing on specific star systems. Instead he wanted to scan the entire sky for signals.
5. Frank Drake shows up again with the Drake Equation, which calculated the statistical chance that other Earth-like planets hosting life could exist. Drake estimated the number of possibilities between 1,000 and 1 billion.
4. NASA funds the first exobiology project in 1959 during the Viking mission to Mars. Hmmmm.. just 8 short years after the aliens crashed in Roswell. Coincidence?
3. The SETI Institute and the Planetary Society – founded by Carl Sagan, famous astronomer and author of the novel, Contact – start funding some really far out projects to find ET.
2. The discovery of exoplanets in the mid-1990s. NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP) and their Kepler Observatory are trying to catalog exoplanets specifically with the idea of finding which ones might harbor life. They are looking for planets in the “Goldilocks zone.” You get the idea right? Not too hot, not too cold, juuuuust right!
1. The Allen Telescope Array in the Cascade Mountains tops off our list. It is a joint project between SETI and UC Berkeley, using 350 radio dishes to scan for life forms and signals.
Image Credit: Benjamin Toth / Shutterstock