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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jul > Jul 12

Seeking Intelligent Life Out There And Right Here

From: Mark LeCuyer <randydan@wavetech.net>
Date: Sun, 12 Jul 1998 01:32:02 -0500
Fwd Date: Sun, 12 Jul 1998 12:40:28 -0400
Subject: Seeking Intelligent Life Out There And Right Here

Source: MSNBC's Space News July 10
Space: the final and best frontier
Seeking intelligent life out there and right here
By Athena Andreadis

I believe in math. All less-than-zero probabilities carried to
infinity are certainties, which is why I know that E.T. will phone
one day. Whether we'll be able to carry a meaningful conversation is
a separate topic but, given the odds, it's a sure bet E.T. - or some
other form of extra-terrestrial life - is out there.

Neither Earth nor the solar system will live forever. The search for
life on other planets offers a new idea of what it means to be human.

IT'S IN THE numbers. There's a famous equation which makes the point,
called the Drake equation after Frank Drake of the SETI Institute who
formulated it for Project Ozma in 1960. It calculates the number of
civilizations capable of long-range communication.

The equation has seven terms. The first three address astrophysical
and geological questions =97 the rate of star formation, the fraction
of stars with planets and the number of Earthlike planets within each
system. The last four address chemical and biological questions =97 the
fraction of planets on which life develops and flourishes long enough
to develop intelligence, then technology and then ultimately becomes
mature enough not to destroy itself before sending out an obvious
signal of its presence.

Twenty years ago, as a Harvard undergrad, I listened to a taped
lecture by Carl Sagan, in which he went through the Drake equation.
Twenty years ago, we knew just a bit about the first term, and
nothing about the others. In the years since, we've witnessed stars
form, flare, dim and die. In the last three years, we saw star orbits
wobble from what could only be surrounding planets. Two months ago,
we gazed at the first pictures of a planetary system forming, a dark
ring around a star, a celestial embryo in its first division. And a
few weeks ago, the Hubble telescope directly photographed a rogue
planet streaking away from nearby stars.

All of these observations essentially set the first three terms of
the Drake equation to values close to one, and serve to remind us,
again, that Earth's experience is not so unique after all. In fact,
given that only a few stars were sampled for planets, we might be
just another block in the Levittown we call the universe. Earth is
not so unique after all. We might be just another block in the
Levittown we call the universe.

So now we're left with the other four terms of the Drake equation,
which deal with chemistry - of planets, as well as of brains - and
which have not yet been systematically explored. Still, answers have
been accumulating to reassure us that life on Earth is not an odd
accident, not an isolated shooting star destined to burn unobserved.

Even within our own solar system, we have met with encouraging hints
wherever we've sent a craft with sensitive instruments. Water, the
solvent that would support life forms similar to us, exists in the
atmosphere of Titan, under the surface of Europa and in the Martian
polar caps. Several other planets have conditions similar to those in
hot sulfur springs, polar regions and ocean depths. Such locales may
be hell for creatures who utilize oxygen and prefer ambient
temperatures. Nevertheless, they teem with exotic life. Finally,
there is the unusual soil chemistry of Mars, and its abundance of
optically active quartz. An equally "exotic" chemistry of silicon
scaffolds supporting complex carbon compounds heralded the dawn of
life on Earth.

With the intractable problems on Earth, why should we care if there
is life beyond our planet? Because what makes us human is our ability
and need to venture into the unknown. At this point, we have overrun
Earth, leaving no more space to experiment, no new lands to discover,
no frontier - except for the ersatz thrills of cyberspace.

Having neither a strong antagonist nor a great cause to unite us, we
have become navel-watchers, despoilers and cannibals, just like rats
when they are confined in too small a cage. Without real challenges,
we invent artificial ones that are often malign. Our spirits are
shrinking along with our boundaries, giving rise to endless petty
disputes, random Balkanization, social fragmentation and a sense of
free fall. Without real challenges, we invent aritificial ones that
are often malign. Our spirits are shrinking along with our
boundaries, giving rise to endless petty disputes.

The discovery of life on another planet - or even of conditions
favorable for life - will reopen outlets which are now dammed (as
well as guarantee our long-term survival, since neither Earth nor our
solar system will live for ever). The pursuit of these questions will
not only infinitely expand our scientific knowledge, but will also
grant us a new definition of what it means to be human, just as each
discovery about the terms of the Drake equation has led us to
re-evaluate our vision of the universe and our position in it. By
providing endless nourishment for our irreducible needs as an
exploring, curious race, space is not the final but the best

From: Mark - Alien Astronomer