Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterHollywood never seems to have a shortage of films that harbor the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the Universe. You’ve got elite blockbusters like E.T., Independence Day, Star Wars, Superman, and more recently – Transformers. And still, we have yet to find stories outside those just borne out of the human mind that show other life forms outside ours do exist.
Drake Equation – The math that says E.T. is out there
In 1961, astrophysicist Dr. Frank Drake came up with an equation showing the astoundingly high probability of finding extraterrestrial life in the Universe. He factored in parameters like the rate of formation of suitable stars, fraction of stars containing planets, number of Earth-like worlds per planetary system, and few others. If the Drake Equation holds, there should be 10,000 planets containing life with the capability of eventually communicating with us.
Fermi Paradox – Why then can’t we find them?
There is however a big difference between what the Drake Equation predicts and what we’re observing despite all our efforts to communicate with other intelligent lifeforms. This is summarized in what is known as the Fermi Paradox. Some theories have sprouted out of the paradox; among them, that no other civilizations exist or if they did, they just chose not to communicate with us.
Astrobiology – the science that E.T. can call home
Partly due to the overwhelming probability buoyed by the Drake Equation, a new interdisciplinary field has emerged. Astrobiology combines physics, chemistry, and biology plus many other disciplines with the objective of obtaining a better understanding of the origin, evolution, distribution, and even future of life in the Universe.
Kepler – NASA’s mission dedicated to finding other Earths
NASA has a number of missions having very specific objectives. One of them is Kepler, a space telescope designed to find planets very similar to our own. Launched just very recently (March 2009), among Kepler’s objectives is to scan habitable zones of certain stars for Earth-sized planets and to determine the properties of stars that support orbiting planets.
Terrestrial planet finder (TPF)
Back in 2002, a couple of projects were proposed with the goal of finding certain terrestrial planets. These were the Infrared Astronomical Interferometer (TPF-I) and the Visible Light Choronograph (TPF-C). Budget constraints have put these projects on hold. There are however some inexpensive projects that might just hit the jackpot. One of them is SETI@home
SETI at home
You don’t have to be some hot shot astrobiologist to contribute to efforts in finding extraterrestrial life in the Universe. A project called SETI@home allows you to participate by downloading a program into your Internet-connected PC. Once the program is installed, your home PC will form part of a vast network of computers that help in analyzing radio telescope data designed to find other lifeforms.
Here are some related articles from Universe Today that may interest you:
- A New Drake Equation? Other Life Not Likely to be Intelligent
- The Odds of Intelligent Life in the Universe
We have two more related articles from SETI@home and NASA:
Here are two episodes at Astronomy Cast that you might want to check out as well: