Saturday, February 12, 2011

Are We Alone?

Taken from National Geographic
That planet pictured above—the newly found Gliese 581 e—could very well have life on it. Outer space is awesome.    

There are so many mysteries of the universe.
Astronomers are rapidly approaching the day when they discover a planet similar to Earth, and can search for signs of life. Recently, scientists have proposed the existence of unseen forms of energy and matter.  They've found galaxies moving twice as fast as they should, which implies that some mass holds them together.  But what's inside that invisible/dark matter is unknown.

What we know so far (these are from some recent National Geographic and news articles):
  • The NASA Kepler space telescope has spotted 5 Earth-sized planets in our galaxy, suggesting that we may not be alone in the universe.  They exist in the "habitable zone," which means that they're at a distance from their suns where water could exist.  And where there's water, there's life.  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has said the following: "In a generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today's reality." 
  • Astronomers have identified at least 370 exoplanets—worlds that orbit stars other than the sun.  11 have been photographed, and the rest have been detected by analyzing starlight for evidence that the star is pulled by the gravity of its planets.  Most of these exoplanets are larger than Jupiter.  
  • Incised gillies indicated that water flowed on Mars, and scientists think that flash floods erupted there in the past.  The existence of outflow channels imply that Mars once had rain falling from the sky and water flowing across the ground.  Did life exist on Mars? 
  • Of the 62 known moons of Saturn, at least two of them—Titan and Enceladus—have the potential for life.
Two more extremely unscientific fun facts:
  • The ancient Vedic texts of India like the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and the Bhagavata Purana describe in detail beings from other planetary systems: the aerial vehicles in which they travel, and their ongoing contact with humans.  There are many references to life in both higher and lower planetary systems.  In fact, it is written that it is easy to journey to these places if that's what our heart really desires, but that we should push past that and really question our life's purpose.  It's really fascinating stuff.   
  • Many ancient cultures and civilizations have left oral histories and writings that describe extraterrestrial entities.  The Native Americans, Africans, Latin and south American people, for example, have passed many stories down through generations about extraterrestrial contacts.
All I know is that I see more and more "Are We Alone?"-type of articles published in National Geographic, and I'm a sucker for them. :-)