For centuries, men have pondered the possibility of life on other planets and tried to prove its existence. Even before the first shuttle or probe was launched, stories of life on other planets and life invading our own planet, were published prolifically. Whether it’s a desire to connect with others or a burning curiosity to know whether we are truly alone, the question of life on other planets fascinates people from every walk of life.
An article on extraterrestrial life would not be complete without discussing Mars. Mars has been the biggest focus of the ongoing search for life on other planets for decades. This is not just a wild assumption or fancy; there are several reasons why scientists consider Mars the best place to look for extraterrestrial life. One reason why many people, including scientists, look to Mars as a possible source of life is because they believe there may be water on the planet. Since the telescope was first invented, astronomers have been able to see the channels in the terrain that look like canals or canyons. Finding water on a planet is vitally important to proving that life exists there because it acts as a solvent in chemical reactions for carbon-based life.
Another reason astronomers consider Mars as a likely location for life is because there is a good possibility that Mars is in the habitable zone. The habitable zone is a theoretical band of space a certain distance from the Sun in which conditions are optimal for the existence of carbon-based life. Unsurprisingly, Earth is in the middle of the habitable zone. Although astronomers do not know how far this zone could extend, some think that Mars could be in it.
Most astronomers are looking for life that is carbon-based and similar to life on Earth. For instance, the habitable zone only applies to favorable conditions for supporting carbon-based life, and it is definitely possible for forms of life that do not need water to exist.
Astronomers do not limit themselves to our Solar System either, suggesting that we should look at different solar systems. Scientists are planning to use interferometry–an investigative technique that implements lasers, which is used in astronomy as well as other fields– to find planets in the habitable zones of other solar systems. Astronomers believe that there are hundreds of solar systems and thousands of planets, which means that statistically the odds are favorable for finding another planet that supports life. While NASA develops better probes, the search for life continues.
Universe Today has a number of articles concerning life on other planets including searching for life on non-Earth like planets and single species ecosystem gives hope for life on other planets.
Take a look at this podcast from Astronomy Cast on the search for water on Mars.