The response to peculiar occurrences in the universe is typically not aliens, although there’s always a slim possibility. Just recently, scientists announced a rather enigmatic burst of energy in the radio segment of the electromagnetic spectrum at 980 megahertz, originating from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our own. Proxima Centauri, merely 4.2 light-years away, hosts a gas giant and a rocky world, 17% larger than Earth, within its habitable zone, where liquid water could potentially exist. The unexplained signal displayed a slight shift during observation, resembling the kind of shift caused by a planet’s movement. Researchers are cautiously excited but acknowledge the need to rule out other mundane sources such as comets, hydrogen clouds, or even human technology that might mimic an extraterrestrial signal. It’s likely to be some time before we determine definitively whether ET is trying to make contact.
In another intriguing development, the idea that alien bacteria might exist in the clouds of Venus piqued the interest of astrobiologists. The presence of phosphine, a rare and often toxic gas typically associated with living organisms on Earth, was reported in the upper clouds of Venus. Despite Venus’s harsh surface conditions, the specific cloud layer where phosphine was found had temperatures and pressures similar to those on Earth, making a biological explanation feasible. While the research team doesn’t claim it as conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial life, it has prompted further funding and research into the search for life in unexpected places.
Two years ago, scientists detected an elongated object traversing the solar system known as ‘Oumuamua. Initially considered an interstellar comet, close observations revealed that ‘Oumuamua was accelerating in a way that puzzled scientists. Astrophysicist Avi Loeb proposed an alternative theory that ‘Oumuamua could be an extraterrestrial probe with a light sail, a thin material that accelerates under solar radiation. Other scientists countered this idea, suggesting that hydrogen ice might have played a role in the object’s behavior. However, in August, Loeb defended his hypothesis, claiming that hydrogen ice should have sublimated before ‘Oumuamua reached our solar system. The debate on ‘Oumuamua’s nature continues, and further investigation may extend it for some time.
The Navy has declassified UFO videos, but skepticism remains
A significant number of Earthlings remain unconvinced by the cryptic evidence presented by scientists in their quest to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life. They firmly believe that Earth has been visited multiple times by advanced beings, citing accounts of UFOs and alien encounters (most of which are met with skepticism). True believers received a boost in April when the US Navy unveiled video footage captured by pilots, showing strange wingless aircraft traveling at hypersonic speeds, bearing a striking resemblance to otherworldly technology. Despite the presence of such videos, independent journalist Sarah Scoles, in her book “They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers” (Pegasus Books, 2020), cautions that people should remain cautious. Investigating the Navy’s evidence, Scoles couldn’t conclusively determine if it truly depicted extraterrestrial aircraft. Instead, she uncovered a more human narrative by engaging with leaders in contemporary UFO culture and exploring our innate desire to believe in something beyond ourselves.
The Milky Way may host numerous ocean worlds
Ocean worlds, characterized by significant water content on or just beneath their surfaces, are surprisingly prevalent in our solar system. Earth is an obvious example, but Jupiter’s moon Europa is believed to possess vast subsurface oceans beneath its icy exterior, while Saturn’s moon Enceladus is known for its water geysers erupting from its surface. Momentum is building in the astronomical community to send probes to these celestial bodies, potentially landing on one of these satellites in the 2030s to investigate the potential existence of life. Beyond our solar system, a study published in June examined 53 exoplanets of similar size to Earth. Researchers analyzed various factors, including size, density, orbit, surface temperature, mass, and distance from their stars. They concluded that approximately a quarter of these exoplanets could have the right conditions to be considered ocean worlds, implying that such environments might be relatively common throughout the galaxy.
Earthly insects breathe hydrogen; perhaps aliens do too
While most Earthlings rely on oxygen for survival, it’s worth noting that oxygen is relatively rare in the universe, comprising only about 0.1% of the ordinary mass. Hydrogen (92%) and helium (7%) are more abundant, and many planets, including gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, are primarily composed of these lighter elements. In May, scientists conducted experiments with E. coli (a bacterium found in the intestines of various animals, including humans) and common yeast (a fungus used in baking and brewing) to see if they could thrive in alternative environments. These microbes are known to survive without oxygen, and when placed in containers filled with pure hydrogen or pure helium, they managed to grow, albeit at a slower rate than usual. These findings suggest that when searching for extraterrestrial life, we should consider environments that differ from Earth.
The possibility of life near a black hole is also considered.
When scientists seek signs of life on other celestial bodies, they primarily focus on familiar terrain: the quest for Earth-sized planets orbiting stars resembling our Sun. However, they also consider more exotic possibilities, such as a planet encircling and warmed by a black hole. Initially, this notion may appear outlandish, but contrary to common misconceptions, black holes don’t simply engulf everything around them. Gravitationally stable orbits can exist, and light from the cosmic background radiation, a relic from the early universe with temperatures close to absolute zero, permeates space and could become heated as it gravitates towards the black hole. A paper published in March highlighted the potential for this phenomenon to supply heat and energy to any life forms that might have evolved in such an unconventional setting.
1,000 places where ET could be watching us
As we search for beings beyond our planet, it is important to keep in mind that we may not be the only ones doing so. In October, researchers compiled a catalog of 1,004 nearby stars that would be in a good position to detect life on eагtһ . “If observers were looking [from planets orbiting these stars], they could see signs of a biosphere in the аtmoѕрһeгe of our Pale Blue Dot,” said the study’s lead author, Lisa Kaltenegger, an associate professor of astronomy at Cornell and director of the study. from the university’s Carl Sagan Institute, said in a ѕtаtemeпt . Using observation tools similar to the transit timing methods that human astronomers use to study exoplanets, these extraterrestrial observers could look for oxygen and water in our аtmoѕрһeгe and perhaps conclude that eагtһ is a good home for organisms.
Most of the аɩіeпѕ are probably deаd.
In a universe where life exists, so does the inevitability of death. While we often entertain the notion that our galaxy is teeming with advanced civilizations eager to make contact with us, it’s essential to acknowledge the rise and fall of cultures. Many cosmic societies have likely perished in the distant past.
A recent model, published in December, quantified these realities. It considered factors such as the abundance of Sun-like stars hosting Earth-like planets, the occurrence of catastrophic supernovae emitting lethal radiation, the time required for intelligent life to evolve under favorable conditions, and the potential self-destructive tendencies of technologically advanced civilizations. The analysis concluded that the most probable emergence of life in the Milky Way probably happened around 5.5 billion years ago, even predating the formation of our own planet. This suggests that humanity arrived relatively late to the galactic scene, and many of our potential interstellar counterparts may no longer exist to communicate with us.
We must keep an open mind as we look for life elsewhere.
The human brain comes with various limitations. It is susceptible to cognitive biases, optical illusions, and inattentional blindness when confronted with the unexpected. An enduring question in the study of extraterrestrial life revolves around our ability to recognize life forms vastly different from those found on Earth.
Scholars have consistently emphasized the importance of anticipating the unexpected and not allowing rigid theories to overly influence our perceptions of what constitutes meaningful life. Life on other planets may not exhibit the same biological signatures as Earthly organisms, rendering them challenging to detect from our Earth-centric perspective.
As Claire Webb, a student in anthropology and the history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, highlighted in a conversation with LiveScience in January, we must train ourselves to view the familiar through a different, unfamiliar lens. By doing so, we can continuously reassess our assumptions and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves from an outsider’s perspective. This approach may enable us to engage with creatures from other worlds on their terms rather than imposing our own preconceptions.