Author Topic: 4 experts views on alien life  (Read 1650 times)

oldbill4823
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4 experts views on alien life
« on: March 05, 2009, 10:33:52 AM »
from BBC 5 march 2009



Is there anybody out there? 
 


What is the chance that alien life exists? Nasa's latest mission - the Kepler Space Telescope due to launch on Friday night to survey the heavens for Earth-like planets - could soon give us an answer. Kathryn Westcott asks four experts whether mankind prefers the idea of being alone and unique or whether we long for cosmic cousins.


 
"To learn that an extraterrestrial civilisation has survived its technological adolescence would be inspiring"Robert J SawyerScience fiction writer


 
"Because of popular culture, such as Star Trek, people are already prepared for intelligent life to exist"Dr Steven J penis
Nasa historian


 
"As for intelligent life I'm putting my money on the fact that in the whole universe, we are pretty much unique."
Dr Michael Perryman European Space Agency

 
"The idea that there might not only be us, is a wonderful one. It does not question our uniqueness"
Brother Guy Consolmagno Vatican observatory





Robert J Sawyer is a Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer


Throughout the history of science, there have been a series of developments from Copernicus (who displaced the Earth from the centre of the universe) to Darwin (who showed we weren't created full-blown by the hand of God) that knocked out our status of being special. The one claim to being special that we have been able to hold on to is the belief that Earth is the only place in the universe where intelligent life exists.

 
 We already know that our galaxy is teeming with planets - that was the first step in dethroning us from being the only abode of intelligent life

For many people, there is a psychological need to be special, and so Kepler - which I bet will succeed in its quest - will take away from that. But for those of us believe that Earth is merely a typical example and that life-bearing planets are common, Kepler's success will be a wonderful thing.

We already know that our galaxy is teeming with planets - that was the first step in dethroning us from being the only abode of intelligent life. Kepler takes us on the next step: determining if many of those planets are Earth-like. After that, we need to determine if such planets have life, and then if that life is intelligent. Still there are only two possible answers to the question of whether other Earth-like worlds exist - and whichever answer we get will be astonishing.

If we were to find intelligent life on an Earth-like planet, that civilisation would almost certainly be more advanced than ours, given that our universe is 11 billion years old; we are absolute newborns on the cosmic state.

And, because we are so young, we are facing a huge crisis: our civilisation is on the brink of disaster because of our immature use of technology, both through climate change and through weapons of mass destruction. Many people think we won't survive; there's been a resurgence in the belief in Armageddon. To learn that an extraterrestrial civilisation has survived its technological adolescence would be an inspiring object lesson for us, and would help put an end to all the nay-saying and doom-mongering.

At the moment, people's focus is incredibly narrow - there is a lot of navel-gazing. We are not thinking about the big questions. If the Kepler mission is successful, our focus will widen - and that's all to the good.

Robert J Sawyer is the author of Hominids, in which Neanderthals have developed a radically different civilization on a parallel Earth.





Dr Michael Perryman is a senior adviser at the European Space Agency

In the past 15 years, the area of exo-planet research has been one of massive progress. Since 1995, more than 300 planets have been discovered orbiting other stars relatively near to us in space.

Earth's circumstances are really far too special to be easily replicated
 
But when it comes to whether earth-like systems are common or not, we really are into the realms of pure speculation.

If Kepler finds earth-like systems, the next question would be whether this is the kind of environment in which one might start looking for life. That next level of detail requires a few steps in inference.

The conditions must be right for life to evolve. These planets would have to be the right distance from its star to have liquid water, and would have to have a similar temperature to earth. And, in terms of the host star itself, you need very special conditions: it would need to be the right age, mass and luminosity for life as it we know it to develop.

And if the planet is much lighter than the earth, or much heavier, then the conditions would not be right either.

In terms of what Kepler might find, the best knowledge at the moment is that it might discover some 50-100 earth-like planets, but we simply don't know.

Astronomers would not be surprised if that many were found. It's an exciting experiment, because it might find many more - or perhaps many less! Whatever it finds, it's going to advance our knowledge.

But is life as we know it common or unique? Earth's circumstances are really far too special to be easily replicated - there are so many coincidences, chances and conspiracies that seem to be needed for life to take hold and thrive.

Perhaps primitive life forms could exist out there amongst the almost infinity of worlds that probably exist, but as for intelligent life I'm putting my money on the fact that in the whole universe, we are pretty much unique.





Brother Guy Consolmagno studies the nature and evolution of small bodies in the solar system.
He is curator of the Vatican meteorite collection - one of the largest in the world - at the Vatican Observatory

We Jesuits are actively involved in the search for earth-like planets.

The idea that there could be other intelligent creatures made by God in a relationship with God is not contrary to traditional Judeo-Christian thought.

The Bible has many references to, or descriptions of, non-human intelligent beings; after all, that's what angels are.

I would be delighted if other Earths harbouring intelligent life were discovered

Our cousins on other planets may even have their own salvation story including other examples of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. We are open to whatever the universe has for us.

I am, however, sceptical that we will be able to have these conversations with any life form that is discovered... certainly, not in my lifetime!

The idea that there might not only be us, is a wonderful one. It does not question our uniqueness or contradict our belief in God. For most people, if new forms of life were to be discovered, it would not mean everything they believed was wrong, it would only reinforce what they believed all along.

John Herschel, son of the discoverer of Uranus and a founder of the Royal Astronomical Society, argued that it would have been a waste of a universe if God had only created one place where there were people He loved. This is not an argument based on logic, science or philosophy, but an aesthetic one.

The important thing is to keep in mind that the universe is the deliberate creation of a loving God. Catholics should not be afraid to embrace such speculations, but we should always remember that they are just speculations. We don't know. But reflecting on these possibilities lets us appreciate in a deeper way what God's redemption actually does mean for us.

My science tells me how God created the universe and that he loves that universe.

We shouldn't be afraid of the truth.

I would be delighted if other Earths harbouring intelligent life were discovered. For most people, however, it would be nothing more than a nine-day wonder. I think that we've lived with the idea so much, from speculations by scientists to creatures in science fiction movies, that the human race has already well used to the idea that we are not alone.

We need to look beyond ourselves that's what religion does when it's done right and what astronomy does when it's done right.





Dr Steven J penis is an astronomer and chief historian at Nasa

The Kepler mission is definitely a landmark one, and finding an Earth-sized planet will raise the debate about whether we are alone or not.

 
 Because of popular culture, such as Star Trek, a lot of people would be expecting intelligent life to exist
 

We have known for a long time that we are not the centre of the universe, the question now is whether biologically we are central. It's all we have left.

Even if intelligent life were discovered, we would remain unique in terms of morphology and form.

The chances are another civilisation would be more advanced than us because of the age of the universe and the fact that our species is comparatively young.

For the human mind, this is a natural question going back to ancient Greeks. Because of popular culture, such as Star Trek, a lot of people would be expecting intelligent life to exist, and are already prepared.

The whole idea of life on another world would raise certainly raise a lot of debate, particularly in terms of how unique our religion and our philosophy is. This would be good, we have got into a rut of looking at everything from a terrestrial point of view.

Is it scarier to learn that we are alone or not? Well, there are those who would warn us to be careful but most people would be open-minded.






 
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