We are alone in the Universe ! It’s one of the biggest questions that haunts our imaginations. Astrobiologist Adam Frank argues in his new book “Light of the Stars” that we have never been in a better position to answer that question, thanks to a revolution in our knowledge gained by powerful telescopes like Hubble and space probes like Voyager. Indeed, the chances that there has never been another civilization in the universe are as low as one in ten billion trillion. But whether there is still one out there today is a more complicated question.
Your book centers on a relatively new field of study known as Astrobiology, which you call revolutionary. Explain what it means and why it is giving us new insights into our place in the universe.
Astrobiology is the study of life in its planetary or astronomical context. People will say we have only one example of life—here on Earth. But, if you take that position, you miss three revolutions that have happened in the last 30 years.
The first revolution is that we have been visiting other planets in our solar system. We have now sent probes to pretty much every kind of object in our solar system, including Mars. And from this we’ve learned about climate and how planets work in a generic sense. There’s an app you can pull up that will give you the weather on the Mars. We have climate models for Mars, Venus, and Saturn, and we know a huge amount about climate as a generic planetary phenomenon, not just on Earth.
The second revolution is studying the Earth’s history going back 4.5 billion years. We have been able to unspool in some detail the long history of the Earth and its life co-evolving over that time. We see that Earth has been many different kinds of planets, sometimes a snowball world, sometimes a hothouse world without ice. In the beginning there were no continents; it was pretty much a water world.
The last big revolution is the revolution. When I was a school student in 2006, I did not know whether there were any stars in the universe with planets around them. Now we know that the universe has ten billion trillion planets that are in the right place for life to form. Those three revolutions completely changed not only how we think about life and planets, but also leads us to think very differently about exo-civilizations.
There are two possibilities, we are either alone in the universe or we are not. Both of these are equally terrifying.” Arthur C Clarke.Tweet
Workers in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) would have needed more than a little luck in the first 45 years of the modern hunt for like-minded colleagues out there. Radio astronomer Frank Drake’s landmark Project Ozma was certainly a triumph of hope over daunting odds. In 1960, Drake pointed a 26-meter radio telescope dish in Green Bank, West Virginia, at two stars for a few days each. Given the vacuum-tube technology of the time, he could scan across 0.4 megahertz of the microwave spectrum one channel at a time.
Almost 45 years later, the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, completed its 10-year-long Project Phoenix. Often using the 350-meter antenna at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Phoenix researchers searched 710 star systems at 28 million channels simultaneously across an 1800-megahertz range. All in all, the Phoenix search was 100 trillion times more effective than Ozma was.
“If Other beings live out there, if we’re to find them, we must do so before one or either of us is expired by the universe.” ~ Simon FarnellTweet
Time as I have said before is such a relative thing, based on what we can perceive and measure with our minds. If we imagine the universe as a giant entity existing in its place we can maybe imagine that our existence is a fleeting and insignificant thing, a moment of time too short to measure and other races that may or may not exist will also be a similar fleeting moment.
Reference- divyanspacetech.wordpress.com and nationalgeographic.com