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Science with Sam: Do aliens exist?

Do aliens exist? It’s a query that has spawned numerous movies and TV collection, books, podcasts, paintings and conspiracy theories, however the query of whether or not or not we’re really alone within the universe stays unanswered. In this episode of Science with Sam, we clarify the continued hunt for extra-terrestrial life and whether or not or not they could already be right here.

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Video transcript

We people are obsessed with the concept we’re not alone, that someplace on the market within the universe, there are different life varieties clever sufficient to speak with us.  Or perhaps even destroy us. But if there’s life on the market, why haven’t we heard from them but?  Or have we?


In 1961, the astronomer Frank Drake devised a calculation that predicted the existence of hundreds of thousands of civilisations on the market among the many stars. His Drake Equation used some pretty speculative assumptions, however it ignited our curiosity.  Are we only one small a part of an unlimited, cosmic zoo?

For physicist Enrico Fermi, the contradiction between this prediction and actuality made no sense, and it got here to be often called the Fermi Paradox. “Where is everybody?”, he needed to know. There might be an infinite variety of solutions to this query. Here are a couple of:

There isn’t any paradox and we actually are alone within the universe

Depressing although it might be, generally the best solutions are probably the most believable.

They’re ghosting us

Maybe aliens have a coverage to not intrude with much less superior cultures.  A bit just like the “prime directive”, on Star Trek.

They don’t reside lengthy sufficient to get in contact

This thought, often called the Great Filter, says that no superior civilisation survives lengthy sufficient to nonetheless be round when its neighbours are thriving. For us, threats like nuclear battle, local weather change or pandemics would possibly spell our doom.

They’re already right here

From Roswell to The Lubbock Lights, there have been loads of UFO sightings on Earth. Is the federal government hiding the proof? Or is it faux news?

If there are any aliens watching, why not say hello within the feedback under? Better but, click on like and subscribe. You would possibly be taught quite a bit about human behaviour from our movies. And, each Aliens and earthlings can get 20 per cent off a New Scientist subscription by utilizing the code SAM20.

The silence from different civilisations is just not for need of trying on our half.  In 1960, Drake pointed a radio telescope in direction of two close by stars, and waited for that hotline bling. Instead of clever messages he received a load of static, and interference from a secret army experiment. Nevertheless, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, was born.

Then, on 15 August, 1977, one other SETI program recorded a quick radio sign coming from the route of Sagittarius. Jerry Ehman, the astronomer analysing the information at ‘Big Ear’ telescope that day, was so excited that he wrote “Wow!” within the margin of the print-out. So far, that ‘Wow!’ sign stands as our most hopeful signal of alien communication but.

But listening for ET to telephone house is a bit like standing by the payphone, ready for the telephone to ring. Maybe we’ve to make the primary transfer.

Drake tried this too, sending a radio message in direction of globular star cluster M13. Known because the Arecibo message, it confirmed potential aliens our DNA construction, photo voltaic system and a number of the biochemicals of earthly life. We additionally tried sending aliens a greeting onboard house probes Pioneer 10 and 11, which included photos of people and instructions to our planet.

Then, in 1977, we despatched a extra formidable message, filled with audio and pictures, on board the Voyager probes. We even included a mixtape of a few of our favorite tunes, together with Bach, Beethoven, Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry, to impress any pleasant lifeforms – or no less than those with ears. And if that didn’t entice them to get in contact, perhaps this illustration of people consuming, licking and ingesting would possibly?!

By now aliens would possibly know rather a lot about us – together with what we have to survive and how one can attain us. And you is likely to be questioning whether or not it’s such a good suggestion to be broadcasting our location all around the galaxy, after we don’t know who’s listening.

“It’s like shouting in a forest before you know if there are tigers, lions, and bears”, says Dan Werthimer, a SETI researcher. Worse nonetheless, these bears may need planet-destroying interstellar missiles.

Putting apart the query of whether or not we should always attempt to contact aliens, are we even doing it proper? These alien societies is likely to be hundreds of thousands of years previous, so to them our radio messages would possibly look as outdated as flip telephones, pagers, and, effectively, radio.

Plenty of different methods to search for life have been tried or instructed. Here are a couple of choices:

Look for biosignatures

Over time, the biochemistry of billions of creatures can remodel a world in distinctive methods. By analysing the wavelengths of sunshine that come by means of the planet’s environment, we are able to search for gases that recommend the presence of life.

Look for technosignatures

if we do see indicators of life on one other planet, that received’t inform us whether or not it’s inhabited by senseless inexperienced slime or sentient city-builders. A extra dependable strategy to search for kindred spirits is to search for chemical compounds that solely clever civilisations can produce.

City lights

Aliens with night time imaginative and prescient as restricted as ours would possibly festoon their constructed atmosphere with synthetic lighting. So perhaps we might spot cities lit up on the planet’s darkish facet.

Aliens on the go

Alien spaceships is likely to be simpler to identify than their house planets. Maybe, we are able to search for high-powered lasers used to push optical sails, or intense plumes of sunshine generated by an antimatter engine, like these imagined in Star Trek.


Aliens may need constructed gargantuan engineering initiatives like Dyson spheres, named after the physicist and engineer Freeman Dyson, that are swarms of units round a star that harvest its vitality, and nothing to do with vacuum cleaners

The Ozymandias Effect

The ruins of superior civilisations doomed by their very own know-how may need their very own telltale signatures. If we discover useless civilisations earlier than we discover residing ones, which may not bode effectively for our personal future.

If we do make contact with aliens, it will be a decisive blow to the concept people are the centre of the universe. But how a lot cooler wouldn’t it be to find that we’re only one department of an unlimited galactic tree of life?


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