Monday, July 18, 2011

Wonders of Physics: Search for ET's

Have you ever wondered what our lives would be if we lived in a universe similar to those depicted in Star Wars or Star Trek? What would it be like living in a universe full of various bizarre and amazing alien races? Well guess what, scientist are interested in the same questions. These days scientists not only believe in a possibility of extraterrestrial live out there, but they are even looking for it. And this is our strange and amazing fact of today.

Arguments that Habitable Planets Might Exist

All life on  Earth requires special conditions. Life requires many minerals like: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus as well as numerous other elements in smaller amounts. Another basic need for life is water. Many scientist believe that Earth was made of relatively abundant chemical elements formed from stars which have ended their lives as supernova and that it is very probable that there other planets which were formed in a similar way. The huge number of galaxies and planets has also inspired the believe of ET life forms.

So How Do We Search?

There are two main forms of search techniques for ET life forms - direct and indirect. Direct search mostly deals with meteorites from outer space and other planets. Whereas indirect deals with search of radio signals that might be sent by intelligent alien civilizations.

Direct Search

When these meteorites fall to Earth, they are analysed, as scientists hope to find some kind of proof of ET microbial organisms. This also gives great information about the environment on neighbour planets.

Another direct search technique is sending space probes to nearby planets. These probes analyse the surface of a planet and search for any proof of any life forms. This method has many advantages. Firstly it is possible to gain much more information than in indirect search methods, because it is possible to examine the surface of the planet, atmosphere (if it exists) and look for clues of water and other important chemical elements. The main disadvantage however is that, we can't reach planets that are out of the solar system.

Indirect Search 

Many scientists believe that a civilization, at least as advanced as our civilization is right now, would transmit some kind of radio signals to outer space. That is what indirect search deals with. Scientists try to catch these radio signals with huge antennas and radio telescopes. Perhaps the most famous indirect search program is the so called SETI.  SETI or Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence is a project with an aim of finding ET intelligence in space by examining radio signals from space. Of course, there are many critics of such an approach, as ET's might be using other forms of communication, or very different frequencies from our ones. 

The interesting thing about SETI is that everyone around the world, who has a computer, can help the search for ET intelligence. SETI@home is a unique project that examines radio signals from space by using home computers of people from all around the world. The best part is that you can download SETI@home and use a small part of your computer power to help the search for ET.

What if We Find ET's?

So what happens if we find intelligent alien civilizations? Some people believe that it will be the first step towards a galactic civilization like in Star Wars or Star Trek. Others, on the other hand, think that it might not be such a great idea. Stephen Hawking once said that sending a message to aliens wouldn't be a great idea, as we can't be sure, whether they are peaceful or not. So what do you think about this? How would our lives change if aliens were found?

Links: SETI@home project


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