Is there life on other planets?
I’ve often gazed up at the stars and wondered whether we’re alone in the universe. I’m sure many people have done the same. There are billions of stars in our galaxy alone — surely there must be other intelligent life out there, no?
Many stars are similar to our own star, the sun, with planets orbiting them as well. Some even have exoplanets, which are planets that follow an orbit outside a particular solar system. Kepler-186f is an example of a planet that is very much like ours. It is some 500 light years away and orbits a star smaller than our sun. It takes about 130 days to orbit its star, Kepler-186, while cohabiting its solar system with four other planets. The Kepler solar system is therefore likely to provide fertile ground for life.
With all these stars and planets, it seems unlikely that there wouldn’t be any other life out there somewhere. This is the basis of the Drake equation, developed by physicist Frank Drake in the 1960s. The Drake equation provides an estimate of the number of planets that could potentially support intelligent life in our galaxy, including how many civilisations might have the means to communicate.
But, if there is extraterrestrial life out there, why haven’t we encountered them yet? This conundrum forms part of the Fermi paradox. The Fermi paradox is named after Nobel prize-winning experimental and theoretical physicist, Enrico Fermi. It raises some interesting questions like: If the chance of there being other intelligent life in the universe is so high, why haven’t they made contact with us yet?
Several solar systems are much older than ours, suggesting that life would have had more time to evolve intelligently, and possibly even surpass our own capabilities. Thus, highly intelligent lifeforms would be likely to have developed the means for interstellar travel — with the ability to make their way to our planet, or at least contact us in some way.
So, we’re left with an equation, a paradox and starlit sky of possibilities. Is there life on other planets? The simple answer is that we don’t actually know yet. It would be likely that there is intelligent life somewhere in the cosmos, but we haven’t come across them yet. Unless the government is holding out on us, of course. Or maybe intelligent life exists in some way that we cannot detect or perceive them because we don’t have the means. We just don’t know.
In conclusion, scientists continue to find planets that have the potential to support life. Theories suggest that there’s a good chance that there would be life on other planets due to the sheer number of inhabitable solar systems. But, since we haven’t made contact yet, no one knows for sure. Nevertheless, it won’t stop me from staring at the stars in awe of the vastness of the universe, wondering how we, the Earthlings, can be the only ones here.
© Alex Godley | March 2021
Alex is a writer, editor and narrative designer based in Australia.
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