NASA Releases a Video Guide For Finding Life on Other Planets

Thursday, 16 November 2017 - 6:45PM
Space
Alien Life
NASA
Thursday, 16 November 2017 - 6:45PM
NASA Releases a Video Guide For Finding Life on Other Planets
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/LK Ward
As the search for life outside out own planet continues to come up empty, those tasked with finding new friends for us out in the cosmos are having to rely on increasingly desperate strategies in order to do so. Now, NASA's scientists have reached possibly the most unlikely solution yet: they're searching for aliens through the medium of YouTube.

A short little video that's been released by the NASA Goddard YouTube channel, entitled How to Find a Living Planet, breaks down the process through which scientists analyze different planets and moons throughout the cosmos in an attempt to find humanity some new (hopefully) friends.

The steps are fairly basic, but there are a few insights in here that may provide a new piece of information for even the most dedicated of stargazers. Firstly, the video explains that the best way to find an inhabited world is to take a good look at our own home, in order to spot what would make the Earth stand out from the crowd when viewed from afar.

According to Dr. Shawn Domagal-Goldman, who appears in the video, if we're hoping to find life out there in the universe, the best way to do it is to find worlds that vaguely resemble our own. See the whole thing below:



What matters most is the planet's size and location. A habitable world - at least one with life that resembles our own - would be within the so-called "Goldilocks Zone" that's a comfortable distance away from its star. Things wouldn't be too hot, or too cold, and hence, would be just right for life to develop.

The planet would also need to be the right size as well. Get too small, and the planet's gravity wouldn't be able to hold onto an atmosphere, while if the planet is too big, it similarly wouldn't be comfortable for life.

Next, scientists look at a planet's environment. Lots of water is a big plus, as global oceans give life somewhere to develop. An atmosphere that's rich in methane and oxygen is a strong indicator of the presence of life as well - the only way to quickly develop a solid oxygen environment is to have plants that strip the gas from carbon dioxide, while methane suggests the presence of animals that are, to put things bluntly, breaking wind with regularity. The color of a planet also matters - a nice green world can suggest the development of chlorophyll, which suggests plant life.

There are a few problems with the points presented in this video, although there's no simple way of solving them. One issue is that we don't yet have the means to collect all of the necessary data from these planets to determine if they hold life. We can get a good idea of what kind of environments exoplanets might have, but we can't read all data simply from looking through a telescope.


The bigger issue is that if life does exist on other planets, there's no way of knowing whether it would even vaguely resemble life on our planet. Certainly, our continued attempts to find life in our own solar system point to an optimism that life might be possible in conditions that are different to those on our own world.

If life on distant planets doesn't resemble Earth - if aliens breathe a different mix of gasses, or thrive in warmer or colder environments than we're used to seeing, then astronomers could be overlooking an awful lot of habitable worlds in their quest to find somewhere that looks vaguely like our own home territory. Considering that Earth doesn't look like it should be all that habitable itself, using conditions on our own planet as a measuring stick for other worlds might not give us all the answers we need.

It seems that the quest for alien life is going to have to continue slowly. As NASA points out, we're now at the point in space exploration where we should be wondering not just whether we're alone, but also why we haven't found anyone else yet.

The uncomfortable truth is that our efforts might all prove to be in vain. There may genuinely not be any more life anywhere in the cosmos. If so, as the video's Contact quote points out, the entirety of creation does seem like an awfully big waste of space.
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