IU Scientists Debate Alien Existence
- Dear Friends,
Love and Light.
IU scientists debate alien existence
By Hannah Schroder | Indiana Daily Student | Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Ten years ago, senior Adam Pollard thought he encountered aliens. He was camping, and one night he walked down to a lake. When he looked up in the sky, he saw lights moving from side to side.
"It looked like something was floating around in the sky," he said. "I thought they were aliens because I'd formed an opinion of how it would look after I'd seen it on TV and read books about alien encounters."
Most likely, Pollard didn't encounter aliens, but the mysterious lights in the sky made him wonder, "Do aliens really exist?"
With many eyes turned to the sky recently "I imagine some form of energy not made up of matter as we know it. I think it could be something that's unimaginable to us."
Richard Durisen, an IU astronomy professorfor the launch of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the landing of Space Shuttle Discovery, others might wonder the same thing.
But according to IU researchers, that question can't yet be answered.
"We just still don't know what's out there," said Lisa Pratt, an IU geology professor who's studying samples of subsurface Earth to determine what kind of life might exist on Mars.
Although life has not been found outside of Earth, the seeds of life as we know it on Earth have been found all over the place. These include liquid water, carbon and energy sources, said Pratt.
If life does exist in our own galaxy, it's most likely on Mars or one of the moons orbiting other planets in our solar system, said IU astronomy professor Richard Durisen. Mars' environment is the most similar to Earth's, and increasing evidence shows that large amounts of liquid water may exist on several moons.
But when and if life is found outside Earth, it most likely won't resemble the E.T.-like creatures many picture when they think of aliens.
"I don't think in terms of aliens being highly-advanced technological creatures," said Pratt. "For me, it's most likely the first aliens we encounter are (going to be) small, microbial organisms."
While aliens could be single-cell organisms similar to ones on Earth, they could also be completely different than any life forms on Earth, said Durisen. And any intelligent life that may exist is probably a few galaxies away, he said.
"My best guess is we don't live in a 'Star Wars' universe," Durisen said. "There aren't aliens flying around our universe."
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, a national organization, is looking for radio wave signals that could have been sent to Earth by intelligent creatures from other places in the universe. They haven't found any promising signals yet, but Durisen said it's always possible intelligent life does exist but doesn't want to contact us, or SETI is just missing the signals.
Pratt said she sees no reason why intelligent life couldn't develop elsewhere the way it developed on Earth.
Durisen said most of his students feel the same way.
"That's something most people would like to believe, that we're not alone in this enormous universe."
Pollard said he thinks it's highly likely there's other life in the universe, but he doesn't think it resembles humans.
"I imagine some form of energy not made up of matter as we know it," he said. "I think it could be something that's unimaginable to us."
Despite the questions that remain about what exactly life in the universe looks and acts like, Pratt said she's optimistic aliens will be found within current students' lifetimes.
"That would probably be the most important scientific discovery ever," said Durisen.
This semester, students taking AST-103: The Search for Habitable Planets taught by Durisen can decide for themselves whether aliens exist as they explore research about the possibility of life in the universe.
Whatever the case, students shouldn't worry about alien encounters -- the scary kind they see in movies and read about in books -- said Pratt.
"If the intent was malice it would have already occurred," she said. "My sense is there's no one else out there moving around, or they're waiting for us to be capable of understanding."
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