Europa, a frozen moon around Jupiter, is believed to be one of the most habitable worlds in the solar system. It was first imaged in detail by the Voyager 1 probe in 1979, revealing a surface almost devoid of large craters. This suggested that water regularly floods up from inside, resurfacing the satellite. Europa is also criss-crossed with long troughs, folds and ridges, potentially made of icebergs floating around in melt-water or slush.
When it comes to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) in the Universe, there is the complicated matter of what to be on the lookout for. Beyond the age-old question of whether or not intelligent life exists elsewhere in the Universe (statistically speaking, it is very likely that it does), there’s also the question of whether or not we would be able to recognize it if and when we saw it.
Despite an observable universe sprinkled with several trillion galaxies, each stuffed with a trillion planets, we see no evidence of anyone. No signals, no megastructures, no interstellar rockets. While astronomers routinely uncover puzzling objects in the sky, these always turn out to be manifestations of natural phenomena.
The supertelescopes are coming, enormous ground and space-based observatories that’ll let us directly observe the atmospheres of distant worlds. We know there’s life on Earth, and our atmosphere tells the tale, so can we do the same thing with extrasolar planets? It turns out, coming up with a single biosignature, a chemical in the atmosphere that tells you that yes, absolutely, there’s life on that world, is really tough.
So far, the search for extraterrestrial life has primarily centered on finding two basic clues on alien planets: the presence of water above or below the planet’s surface and significant levels of oxygen in its atmosphere. However, in a new study published in the journal Science Advances, a team of scientists from the University of Washington (UW) detail a novel biosignature search strategy not limited solely to oxygen levels.
Humans have made a staggering amount of scientific and technological progress over the past century. We’ve created technology that has transformed our society; scientific advances have helped us answer fundamental questions about who we are and the world that we inhabit. And, yet, mysteries persist.
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It astonishes me how much we seem to know about aliens. They build technology-driven civilisations and pilot spaceships across the galaxy. They create energy-harvesting structures around their stars. They beam interstellar greetings to us. We cannot be sure that, when our own broadcasts reach them in some future era, they will breathlessly await the arrival of the next episode of Glee – but it seems a fair bet.
It is good time to be an exoplanet hunter… or just an exoplanet enthusiast for that matter! Every few weeks, it seems, new discoveries are being announced which present more exciting opportunities for scientific research. But even more exciting is the fact that every new find increases the likelihood of locating a potentially habitable planet (and hence, life) outside of our Solar System.
The extremely energetic events that we see out there in the Universe are usually caused by cataclysmic astrophysical events and activities of one sort or another. But what about Fast Radio Bursts? A pair of astrophysicists at Harvard say that the seldom seen phenomena could, maybe, possibly, be evidence of an advanced alien technology.