Any overzealous fan of sci-fi will support the idea in a heartbeat, and any politician (except maybe Reagan) will scoff at the very mentioning of aliens. Some may claim they’re among us right now, hiding, just waiting to jump out and sell us something that would make their mind controlling efforts that much easier.
Others may say our humble little planet has never felt extraterrestrial feet. Whether the Roswell UFO incident actually happened, or the 1959 movie Teenagers from Outer Space was based off true events or not, one thing should ring true: Door-to-door shampoo salesmen deserve your suspicion.
A popular idea from sci-fi movies and books is the stereotypical alien invasion of Earth. Picture flying saucers rising from underground hangers nestled in the rocky surface of Mars. Once aloft in the midst of their Martian atmosphere, they aim their sights at our fragile blue home – similar to the opening sequence of the film Mars Attacks.
Thanks to the Mars Curiosity Rover launched onto our red neighbor in 2011, we now know that many dried river beds decorate the planet’s surface. This shines a glimmer of hope that maybe – just maybe – life had the opportunity to call a planet other than Earth its home a few billion years ago.
Wait, what was that? Billions of years ago?
What about right now?
Unfortunately, our solar system isn’t too much of a promising place when it comes to extraterrestrial real estate. With that, looking beyond our comfort zone is a way to lead to an answer of the age-old question, “are we really alone?”
Imagine a football field, something us Americans are quite familiar with. A football field is about 110 meters in length (about 360 feet), which is not too great of a distance.
Now consider something ever so slightly larger – the Universe.
With the help of modern technology and some good ol’ fashioned mathematics, it is estimated that the observable universe is 1027 meters in length. For emphasis’s sake, that’s a one with 27 zeros behind it.
Light, the fastest thing we know of, would take 10 billion years to travel from end to end of this colossal space. With such unimaginable room for life, why would humanity stand alone?
We have barely left our solar system, thanks to the Voyager probes launched decades ago, leaving the vast majority of the Universe unknown and uncharted. With extraordinary space to harbor life, it seems as if it must exist.
Even being home to humanity, regions of Earth can still be quite an unpleasant place to live. Volcanoes holding molten rock, scorching water spilling from thermal sea vents, and even arid deserts like that of Antarctica and the Sahara don’t exactly sound like home. So if Earth is such a magnificent place for life, the question arises, “what could possibly live there?”
If we were to see some form of extraterrestrial life, it is almost guaranteed it will be like nothing we have seen before. All life that we currently know of has (most likely) originated from Earth, and adapted to everything our planet has to offer. From the structure of our DNA, to our adaptation to the atmosphere – all life on Earth is accustomed to its environment.
If life were to form on Venus, where it rains sulfuric acid, it would have to be accustomed to the planet’s harsh conditions. If by chance life arose on a planet made entirely out of diamond (and a planet like that is indeed believed to exist), then the life there would need to be able to survive in high-pressure conditions.
The fact that not all planets are similar to Earth (and its usually wondrous habits) adds to the idea that alien life may be extremely different from anything our minds can conceive of. So throw away the stereotypical picture of grey lanky beings trying to pull some probing maneuvers (and worst of all, selling you shampoo) that sci-fi perpetuates. In reality, we have no idea what could lie just beyond our reach.
The universe is large enough to host unprecedented opportunities for life to spring up and flourish. Whether some form of extraterrestrial life is the first to contact us – or we beat them to it – it’s important to keep in mind a quote from an anonymous individual, “You are never stuck in traffic, you are traffic.”