Life Elsewhere in the Universe

I was monitoring one of the internal NASA social media channels this morning and was reading a thread dedicated to “Do NASA Employees Believe in Extraterrestrials?”. The premise of the question itself I thought was interesting and amusing, but some of the dialogue and discussion that followed I found quite thought provoking – the following two quotes in particular. And being that this is a page dedicated to science fiction, I thought it would be an appropriate forum to share with you.

“[There are] many planets but few the right size in stable orbits around stable stars at right temperature and mass. Earth is about 5B years old. Life appeared very early in that history but intelligence arrived only after 98% of the Earth’s stable lifetime, due to solar luminosity increase Earth may be uninhabitable in 100M yrs. So intelligence could easily have missed the boat and there probably must be along period for life to exist first. I suspect life exists elsewhere but intelligence may be pretty rare.”

“No matter what the Drake equation might indicate, there are really two and only two alternatives – either there is, or there isn’t. So far, there hasn’t been any evidence I count as substantial that would indicate that there is. The consequences of either option being proved would be profound. If there isn’t – then the future of intelligent life in the universe depends entirely on the actions and decisions of the people we see around us every day. That is the scariest alien story I’ve ever imagined. If we discover that there is, indeed intelligent life elsewhere on a different planet – IT DOESN’T CHANGE THE CONSEQUENCE. The future of intelligent life in the universe still depends on the actions and decisions of the people we see around us every day.”

Wow! On both counts.

The first point boils down to this: until we develop the technology to span the unfathomable cosmic distances, we will never be able to “make contact” with any other intelligent species – no matter if the universe is literally teaming with intelligent life or if there are just a couple of oases! The second point I find even more profound. In our universe, on the topic of life elsewhere, there are only two options: Life exists elsewhere, or it doesn’t. It’s that simple.

What this person (he happens to be an astronomer) goes on to say is that if you belief (for whatever reason) that Earth is the only foothold of Life – intelligent or otherwise, – then the future of Life in the universe is up to us. Wooh! That’s right. If we don’t take care of our business here and end up ruining the planet or don’t protect it from asteroid/comet impacts or we successfully mutually annihilate ourselves; that may be the end of the story for Life in the universe and that responsibility weighs on our shoulders.

The second part of the premise states that if you assume Life (intelligent) does exist elsewhere and were are able to make contact, visit, etc. either by our own means or they come to us, then it still depends on the actions of everyone around us today, or tomorrow, or the next day. To say it a different way, let’s say that ET came to visit us tomorrow, how would we act? Would kill them off out of fear or misunderstanding of their intentions? Would we accept them with open arms not knowing or understanding their intentions? Will we have prepared ourselves to know how to handle the situation or even be able to possibly defend ourselves if the case may arise? The answers to those questions are all predicated on what the people around you would do, or the decisions that they could/should make today.

Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot and examine it from the position that we are the ET visiting another planet where there is intelligent life. First what are we doing today to make that a reality tomorrow? Then assuming we can find them and get there, how would we handle first contact? How would we make sure that our intentions were not misunderstood? Again, all of these answers would all be made by the people around you and the ones we see on the media streams every day. That should set you back on your heels.

But regardless of which scenario comes to pass, the point I hope that I have made is this: How we handle and behave regardless of the scenario, the continuation of Life in the universe – regardless of your religious or scientific convictions – is up to us, through our collective decisions, today.

Terry R. Hill

Category(s): Inspired Moments
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