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Monday, December 21, 2009

Life Elsewhere? Some Contemplation...

It's almost Christmas, the season of miracles. One long-standing question contemplated by every thinking human being on the planet is: "Is there intelligent life on Universal bodies other than planet Earth?" How miraculous would the discovery that life exists elsewhere be? The study and theorization of extraterrestrial life is known as astrobiology, exobiology or xenobiology. Speculated forms of extraterrestrial life range from life with the simplicity of bacteria to sapient beings (insightful and wise) or sentient (conscious) beings. Intelligence is a term involving a wide range of knowledge and reasoning.

The Universe is huge, billions of light years across. Hundreds of billions of galaxies exist, and each one contains hundreds of billions of stars. Life happened here on Earth, and with countless other stars out there, it would be logical to think life would have arisen somewhere else. And yet, scientists have no credible evidence there's any other life in the Universe. If life is common in the Universe, where are all the aliens? No hard evidence to date supports their existence.

The Fermi Paradox

The Fermi Paradox is "the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterritorial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations." With the age of the Universe and its vast number of stars, typical life like that on Earth, should be common. (Carl Sagan, Cosmos,1985)
Sagan, himself, supports the theory of exploration. To put it in Carl Sagan's words: "The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a search for who we are." (, 1997)

Fraser Cain ("Fermi Paradox, ", September 10 2009) reported, "The Fermi Paradox was first described by the physicist Enrico Fermi. Even if we aren't visited by aliens, we should see some evidence for them out in the Universe, or be able to detect their radio transmissions. And yet, scientists haven't found a single piece of technology that wasn't created by humans, or found a life form doesn't share a common heritage with all life on Earth. There hasn't been a single intelligent signal detected from the Universe."

And although astronomers and scientists have been working to solve the Fermi paradox, the easiest way is disprove the finding to just find evidence of alien civilizations. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, involves scanning distant planets to detect alien signals. This research has been going on for decades, and no clearly intelligent signals have been discovered.Thus, the simplest answer is that Earth was just just the first body to give rise to an intelligent civilization. This is the belief of many who choose to root themselves in present-day evidence.

That's seems unlikely, but maybe civilizations are so rare that there's only one for every few million galaxies.

Perhaps intelligent civilizations are doomed to destroy themselves. They reach a certain level of technology, develop weapons of mass destruction, and bring about their own extinction. Or maybe intelligent civilizations will attempt to destroy each other.

Or, could other intelligent civilizations choose not to interact with Earth. Perhaps Earth is some kind of galactic zoo, and the aliens have agreed to leave us alone until we reach some point in our evolution. Or maybe they're just too alien, and we couldn't understand them if we tried. Speculation abounds.

Hypotheses regarding the origin(s) of extraterrestrial life, if it exists are as follows: (1) Life may have emerged, independently, from different places in the Universe. (2) Panspermia (or exogenesis) contends that life emerged from one location, then spread between habitable planets. These two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive.

Drake Equation

In 1961, astrophysicist Dr. Frank Drake reported an equation showing the astoundingly high probability of finding extraterrestrial life in the Universe. John Carl Villanueva reported, "He (Drake) factored in parameters like the rate of formation of suitable stars, fraction of stars containing planets, number of Earth-like worlds per planetary system, and a few others. If the Drake Equation holds, there should be 10,000 planets containing life with the capability of eventually communicating with us." ("Life in the Universe,", August 21, 2009)

A new paper published by a scientist from the University of East Anglia suggests the odds of finding new life on other Earth-like planets are low, given the time it has taken for beings such as humans to evolve combined with the remaining life span of Earth. Professor Andrew Watson believes that the age of the universe is working against the odds of understanding the likelihood of complex life and intelligence arising on any given planet.

"At present, Earth is the only example we have of a planet with life," Watson said. "If we learned the planet would be habitable for a set period and that we had evolved early in this period, then even with a sample of one, we'd suspect that evolution from simple to complex and intelligent life was quite likely to occur. By contrast, we now believe that we evolved late in the habitable period, and this suggests that our evolution is rather unlikely. In fact, the timing of events is consistent with it being very rare indeed." (Nancy Atkinson, "The Odds of Intelligent Life in the Universe,", April 19 2008)

Father Funes (head of the Vatican observatory) said that even though the study week looked exclusively at scientific evidence and theories, it was "very important that the church is involved in this type of research" looking at life in the cosmos.

He quoted Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the commission governing Vatican City, as telling participants that "truth from research cannot make us afraid; what is to be feared is error."

Science opens up the human mind to new knowledge and contributes toward the fulfillment of humankind, the cardinal said, according to Father Funes.

When asked whether God would have to be incarnated elsewhere if there were intelligent life on another planet, Father Funes recalled the parable of the lost sheep.

God's incarnation in Jesus Christ was a singular and "unique event not only in human history but in the history of the universe and the cosmos," he said.

The existence of evil and original sin on Earth meant God, the good shepherd , had to leave behind his entire flock to go get his one lost sheep, he said.

"Humanity would be this lost sheep and in order to find this lost sheep (God) became man in Jesus," Father Funes said.

Impey said that whether there is extraterrestrial life or not, either scenario "is staggering."

"If the universe is abundant in life there is companionship in our future," he said.

But if space exploration after several decades turns up nothing, then it will help remind people that "this planet is rather special and so with that will come an extra obligation even if we didn't already feel it to care of this place and this special thing that happened here."

Merry Christmas to all, and may this post enlighten the minds of those everywhere as Christmas resounds not only with "Peace On Earth and Goodwill To Men" but with "Peace In the Universe and Goodwill to All." Religion, the Universe, Mankind -- all spring from a mighty creator. Earthlings, we may not be alone in our struggles to hang onto a spinning, dying planet representing a minute part of the scheme. After all, faith is the key to all the great discoveries unlocking just another tiny grain of the strand of heavenly mysteries.

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