Ways of Communication Essay Example
Do you believe in aliens? In 2017, this same question was posed to our nation. The results were almost 50/50, with 45% of people believing in the existence of ET, according to the survey. 18 Perhaps they’re right to believe, after all, there are billions of galaxies -- an estimated 100 billion -- in the universe.13 And within ours alone, it’s thought that there could be billions of Earth-like planets!7 But, the non-believing 55% are just as right. Despite the vastness of our universe, the existence of extraterrestrial life has yet to be proven, though we humans have been looking for it for decades, so what progress has been made so far?
Over the years, many initiatives and projects have come about with some connection to the search for alien life. One such initiative is Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. Formerly funded by NASA, SETI continues to run search programs today.5 An initiative similar to SETI known as Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or METI, which focuses on, as you could guess, sending messages into space for potential life to receive. Their goal is to not only try to communicate with ET, but to communicate with and educate the public about their findings and what the response would be if we did find alien life.15 Often, we’re so caught up in the idea of aliens existing that we don’t think about what life would be life if they do exist. And with all the conspiracies and false information, it’s easy to assume that whatever life could be out there might not like us. But, we could just as easily be wrong. Humans have committed many atrocious acts toward our own species, so we could very well be the ones who don’t like aliens.
One day, while we ponder what other life might be like out there, we may have robots that can tell us a lot about what life could be like on other planets. These robots would solve one of the biggest issues when it comes to space travel: sending humans to space. Humans need food and shelter, not to mention the surface of many moons and planets to sustain us. Robots can be equipped to change their own batteries when needed, and can be built to adapt to many different surfaces. If it weren’t for machines, we wouldn’t have the information we have today to make theories about alien life. According to a project known as the Robex Alliance, robots could one day be used in space travel.12 Collaborations like the Robex Alliance, which includes space engineers, enable planetary scientists to test-drive robot prototypes in places similar to the extraterrestrial terrains they hope to explore. (Hernandez)
If intelligent life is out there, maybe they’ve already contacted us. We received a signal from a star not unlike our Sun, HD 164595. This star is over ninety light years away, though it’s possible there are beings from an orbiting Earth-like planet that are reaching out, like us.17 We can’t say for sure. In 1977, Jerry Ehman noticed a sequence received by Big Ear radios’ telescope. The sequence, “6EQUJ5” was printed on paper, and Ehman circled it, writing ‘Wow!’ next to it. Known as the Wow! signal, to this day Ehman doesn’t know where it originated from.14 Maybe it was man-made, or maybe it originated from somewhere far away. In 2012, organization Breakthrough Listen discovered radio bursts sent from a dwarf galaxy.2 Though none of these findings are concrete evidence, we as humans can’t help but wonder. We as humans looking for ET have to consider all options, Someone could be trying to reach us.
If we are being contacted, the call could be coming from very far away. Exomoons are moons that aren’t part of our solar system.And while we haven’t confirmed any yet, an exomoon might be home to some type of life or resemble our planet. Of the exoplanets we have found, a lot of them aren’t Earth-like, but if any of them have moons, they could have atmospheres and liquid water.6 We know life can’t exist on our own moon, but if there could be life on the moons in our solar system, then maybe there’s life on exomoons.
As it turns out, astronomers aren’t looking too far away from home for places that might have life. Within our solar system, there are moons Enceladus and Titan, of Saturn. Enceladus’ global ocean could have life in it, be it that enough time (a few billion years) has passed.9 As for Titan, it scores second place on the habitability index. There’s Earth, with .96, and Titan with .84. Despite this high score, Titan has more methane than water.20 Life on Titan is unlikely, but Enceladus is still a pretty good bet.
Usually when humans talk about aliens, the aliens we have in mind are human-like in physicality, just as or more intelligent than us, and have their own language. But it’s much more likely that the first alien beings we find are simpler forms of life. Venus is the only other planet in our solar system speculated to have life, but not on its surface. Conditions in the atmosphere at an altitude of around 50 kilometres are relatively hospitable: the temperature is about 70 °C, with a pressure of about one atmosphere. (Clark) Within the planet’s thick and gassy atmosphere, there could be microbes that use the gases in Venus’ atmosphere to produce energy.4 They certainly aren't the ‘little green men’ that usually come to mind when someone says alien, but if they’re there, these life forms would be the first aliens found by humans!
Outside of our solar system, planets called exoplanets might also be habitable. These are the planet version of exomoons. Three of these exoplanets; Gliese 581 c, Ross 128 b, and Proxima b are thought to be Earth-like with rocky terrains and to orbit stars at just the right distance for them to have liquid water. The closest of these to us is Proxima b, which is about 4 light years away.11 Star TRAPPIST-1 could have three terrestrial planets surrounding it, and it’s over 40 light years away from us.19 In April 2018, NASA launched a satellite that will, among other things, search for exoplanets. Used alongside other devices, this satellite, named TESS, could find more Earth-like planets.8 Perhaps one day we’ll send a satellite out there to look for exomoons. It will definitely take time, considering we haven’t found our first exomoon yet.
ET might be out there, on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Researchers say there could be a “Great Lake” under the moon’s surface, hidden by a layer of ice on top. There might even be more than one! These hypothetical lakes could have life in them, if the ice isn't too thick. This theory has become a priority over the years, so some time during the 2020s NASA will send a mission to Europa.20 This means alien life could be discovered during our lifetime! And if not, Europa means we’re getting closer.
Until then, we humans will have to occupy ourselves with the “alien” messages we’ve received, as well as the ones we’ve sent out. Since the 1970s, humans have sent many messages to different constellations and planets. One of these is the Arecibo message, which includes pixelated images of a stick figure human, the DNA double helix, the Arecibo telescope itself, and more. Sent in 1974, the message hasn’t yet been responded to.1 More recently, social media site Bebo sent over five hundred messages towards Gliese 581 c. These images, messages, and videos will reach their destination in 2029. With the opportunity to reach out to aliens, some wrote serious messages, others were more light hearted and funny.16 What does this mean for us? If these messages are received by ETI, it’ll give our “neighbors” a more accurate depiction of the human experience, something not done by the earlier Arecibo message.
One of the projects carried out by METI was the transmission of a message to a red dwarf 12 light years away. Sent in October of last year, this message will arrive in twenty five years.3 This isn’t as upcoming as the Bebo messages, but making our presence known all across our solar system, known across the galaxy and known beyond increases our chances of finding life.
There are other messages out there that weren’t sent too long ago. The Cosmic Call and Teenage Message were sent in the early 2000s. The Cosmic Call was composed of individual messages like the Arecibo message, the Braastad message, and others. With several messages and repetitions per broadcast, and the widest directional net, this might well be the message most likely to get us noticed. (Valentine) The Teenage message was made by teens, hence the name. It included music, binary, and radio signals. In total, the two were sent to fifteen stars.23 Messages in space take time to get to their destinations, so it’ll take some time before we get a call back.
If alien life is out there, it could be as close as Europa, (which is still far away) or outside of our solar system. With the technology we have today, we’ve made quite a lot of progress considering we can’t easily go to these theorized habitable planets yet. The universe is vast, it might be a long time before we find concrete evidence. If we find any at all, that is. No one can say with 100% certainty that life on Earth is the only life there is, and until we prove that it is or isn’t, we should continue to look. Knowing other life exists could help us understand the meaning of life on Earth, why we exist, and how. Even if takes hundreds more years, even if we only find microbes, finding extraterrestrial life could change our perception of ‘life as we know it.’
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