I don’t think anyone familiar with TV or video games, would not be familiar with the word “Alien”. Aliens have become common features in action-packed movies or video games. These movie franchises and entertainment platforms usually adopt the common storyline of humans trying to fight off big, strong, ‘bad’, ‘evil’ or flesh-eating creatures who are from another planet and plan to take over the world. The protagonists in the movie or video game character have to save the world or stay alive by killing the aliens or by sending them back to their planets. In a few cases, the aliens in the movie can be made to see reasons that earth is not for them and they should return back. Hence, almost everyone has encountered the concept of an alien either in movies, video games, or even in some books.
However, apart from the fact that they are creatures from another planet or another solar system, most of the perceptions we have about aliens are quite flawed, especially the one where we seem to have all agreed that they are all these big scary creatures.
Firstly, in general terms, an alien is someone or something – mostly living – that belongs to a foreign country, but in terms of creatures from another planet or solar system, an alien (Extraterrestrial life) is hypothetical life that may occur outside earth and did not originate from earth. These extraterrestrial lives may range from simple single-cell organisms, multi-celled organisms, and even intelligent beings or sapiens.
Therefore, the first misconception that is cleared about extraterrestrial lives is that, as of now, they remain hypothetical and irrespective of a few minor breakthroughs here and there, there remains no strong evidence that the level of alien presence portrayed in these movies or video games, barely exists. Also, there is a very important need to understand that even the usually most portrayed of aliens – the intelligent ones — are the ones with the least signs of existing.
The reality is that the study and search for extraterrestrial lives is one that is still evolving. Even though there are signs to keep believing and a few breakthroughs here and there — some will be duly highlighted in this article — the fact is that work being done in that field of science, is still centered around a lot of belief, hope, and determination. The question is “why keep searching?”, why do we need to determine if we are not alone in the universe, and most importantly what is the consequence of this alien intelligence?
Are Aliens even real?
Despite all the buzz around aliens or extraterrestrial life, the fact still remains that no one can actually prove categorically that aliens are real. We keep imagining if humans are actually alone in the universe and that there is no other form of intelligent being out there. There are even major concerns that when we do end up discovering any form of extraterrestrial life, they may just be micro-organisms and not fully fleshed intelligent beings as popularly portrayed in movies and the likes.
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), has still continued to be a progressive field despite the doubts that might surround the core concept of it. In fact, in 2016, the search for intelligent extraterrestrial communication received a massive boost as it was funded with $100 million dollars and thousands of hours of dedicated telescope time on state-of-the-art facilities. The project was titled Breakthrough Listen. The funding is part of the innovative breakthrough project being pioneered by Russian Billionaire and most influential tech investor, Yuri Milner. It is believed that with this funding, more exploits can be made in this field like never before as this is the biggest form of funding or support SETI has ever received.
When one considers the level of doubt around the field due to insufficient evidence so far, the optimism that still remains around the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence is actually quite remarkable and encouraging. However, this optimism isn’t just borne out of “passion” or the need to fulfill some whimsical desires. The optimism is a reflection of the little progress that has been made in the field and the breakthrough project funding can even be seen as a reward for that little progress made.
What have been these encouraging signs?
Major breakthroughs or signals that aliens exist might always be presented as puzzles or controversies by scientists or researchers. This doesn’t or hasn’t validated the concreteness of such signals because the distance between our planet (the earth) and other planets can make communication very difficult and hence, signals are very powerful indicators of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. In fact, the research on the existence of aliens is like a group of puzzles being solved, and hopefully, once all those puzzles can be pieced together and there can finally be soundproof and reliable evidence that there is actually intelligence away from planet earth.
Hence, the progress being made by scientists in this field might be scoffed at by someone with little knowledge of astrophysics or related science field, but it is this progress that has actually emboldened scientists to keep on trying to communicate with possible extraterrestrial intelligence.
For example, a year before the breakthrough listen to funding, in October 2015, scientists developed a new theory to explain why a distant star named Tabby’s Star (KIC 8462852), was displaying a bizarre “blinking” behavior which caused its light to dim periodically. One researcher made the serious suggestion that the light was being blocked by a huge object called a Dyson Sphere – a theoretical structure that could be built around a star in order to harvest its energy. Jason Wright of Penn State University said the bizarre signals around Tabby’s Star were “something one would expect an alien civilization to build” because they look like a "swarm of megastructures”. There have obviously been other explanations for the behavior of Tabby’s star but scientists believe it is one of those events that signals that aliens might exist or seek to reach out to us.
Some other controversial and notable events down the years are also discussed below:
In 2003, Italian scientists hypothesized that Sulphur traces on Europa might be a sign of alien life. The compounds were first detected by the Galileo space probe, along with evidence for a volcanically warmed ocean beneath the moon’s icy crust. The Sulphur signatures looked similar to the waste products of bacteria, which get locked into the surface ice of lakes in Antarctica on Earth. The bacteria survive in the water below, and similar bacteria might also thrive below Europa’s surface, the researchers suggest. However, some other experts rejected the idea, suggesting that the Sulphur somehow originates from the neighboring moon Io, where it is found in abundance.
In 2004, a mysterious radio signal is received by the SETI project on three occasions – from the same region of space. In February 2003, astronomers with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) project, used a massive telescope in Puerto Rico to re-examine 200 sections of the sky which had all previously yielded unexplained radio signals. These signals had all disappeared, except for one which had become stronger. The signal – widely thought to be the best candidate yet for an alien contact – comes from a spot between the constellations Pisces and Aries, where there are no obvious stars or planets. Curiously, the signal is at one of the frequencies that hydrogen, the most common element, absorbs and emits energy. Some astronomers believe that this is a very likely frequency at which aliens wishing to be noticed would transmit.
Why is the Search for Alien Intelligence Important?
It's hard sometimes to not ask: “why is alien intelligence important?”. You wonder why to go through all this stress and spend lots of money just to establish if there might be extraterrestrial life out there. You would not be a ‘bad person for thinking money spent on trying to discover ‘zombies’ might be best utilized for other things. However, the same questions would have been asked when a man tried to walk on the moon, the same question would have been asked when man decided to launch satellites into space. Imagine if a man had decided not to walk on the moon, imagine if a man had decided not to explore space.
The search for alien intelligence is not just significant if we finally discover intelligent life away from earth. Obviously, the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence could revolutionize how we think as the intellectual capacity from fusing ours as humans with aliens can be mind-blowing, but even if this never happens, this search in itself is significant and should not be trivialized. The search or exploration for extraterrestrial intelligence enables man to value his own planet more because various findings so far have been proof that there might hardly be life outside of earth and we may need to do everything to preserve what we have.
Also, the present calamities befalling earth and civilization (for example, the coronavirus pandemic), poses the need for us to keep looking for alternative solutions either as a possible new planet that is habitable or as a possible alliance with aliens who might have more sophisticated technology or infrastructure than those available to a here on earth.
Besides, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is more than just an experiment as there are no grounds to disprove it but more evidence to continue it. This exploration must never be trivialized because exploration in itself goes beyond the need to find something but also the possibilities in the action itself. The world in itself evolved and grew because men decided to leave their present geographical boundaries to discover other parts of the world at large. Imagine if the Aztecs of 1400 had been informed that there were large cities on the other side of the ocean, that could have positively affected them somehow.
Hence, the search for alien intelligence must not be relegated to a ‘box-office’ concept or fanaticism but as an endeavor by man to become more by doing everything possible to explore the very endless possibilities of the universe at large, and as a legendary physicist, Steph Hawkins said during the launching of breakthrough listen: “In an infinite Universe, there must be other life. There is no bigger question. It is time to commit to finding the truth”. It is the duty of scientists to not stop trying to discover the truth.
And what is this truth?
The truth is that, as human beings, we would always be limited, our abilities to truly evolve as a species or race, depends on our continuous efforts in maximizing all the resources available to us not just on planet earth but in our infinite universe.