Is There Intelligent Life Out There?
MAN’S search for intelligent life in outer space has, in a sense, grown up, become an adult. It has been going on in a concentrated way for some 21 years now.
For example, in April 1960 the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia first pointed its cone-shaped ear toward the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani to see if radio communications from them could be heard. In 1968, Soviet astronomers scanned 12 nearby stars similar to our sun. Actually, over 1,000 individual stars have already been examined. And the search is continuing with the massive radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and many others elsewhere.
The search for life in space has proceeded on a different front through numerous rockets launched to the moon and to planets in our solar system—Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Mars.
What have been the results so far and what indications are there for the future? Is there a basis for your expecting to wake up some morning and hear a news announcement to the effect that intelligent beings on another planet have definitely been contacted? Or has the search for life in space provided reason to believe that we on earth are unique, that there is no intelligent life out there?
At times excitement has run high among scientists manning radio telescopes tuned to the universe.
Once, for instance, Soviet scientists picked up a signal from space that was not mere random radiation or natural radio noise. It gave evidence of coming from a source directed by intelligent beings. And they were right. It turned out to be a signal from a recently launched American spy satellite.
British astronomers in 1968 were excited about a signal they detected. It seemed to be pulsating from and originating in a distant part of the universe. Could it be a coded signal containing an intelligent message? In fact, they had detected a pulsar, that is, a huge star that spins rapidly and thus seems to flash off-and-on radio signals as with a beam shining from the turning light in a lighthouse. Discovering pulsars was a significant astronomical feat, and now several hundred of them are known. But no intelligent message from extraterrestrial creatures had been found.
Thus with all the variety of signals and noises received by radio telescopes, no messages from intelligent life forms in outer space have been detected. The New York Times of June 26, 1979, observed: “The failure to detect signals and the lack of evidence for long-range colonization by superior civilizations has led some scientists to conclude it is unlikely that such civilizations exist within the Milky Way Galaxy, to which the Earth belongs.”
A fundamental assumption of exobiologists—those seeking to find life in outer space—is: There must be millions upon millions of planets around other suns; hence intelligent life surely must have evolved on some of them.
But are there other planets? Maybe yes, maybe no. The fact is that other stars, or suns, are so extremely far away that scientists have not been able to prove whether there are any small planets around them.
David Black of NASA’s Ames Research Center said that “there was still no unequivocal evidence for any planet beyond the solar system to which the Earth belongs.” And Dr. Iosif Shklovsky, a Soviet astronomer and corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, reached a similar conclusion, though having previously been enthused about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. By 1978 he explained: “It looks as though our sun, that strange and solitary star surrounded by a family of planets, is most likely a rare exception in the stellar world.”
One can see, then, that it is certainly unwarranted for persons to speak so positively about advanced civilizations on distant planets. They have not even proved that such planets exist, much less that they have advanced civilizations on them.
Microscopic Life Forms
Though advanced beings have not been located, scientists would draw some relief if they could discover even microscopic life forms on the planets in our solar system. This would give a basis for thinking that if life in any form exists on these planets, then there is still the possibility that beyond our galaxy more developed forms of life could exist. For this reason much attention was focused on the life-detecting laboratories carried to Mars by the American Viking probes.
The two Mars probes, Viking I and II, performed 26 complicated tests on soil samples. For example, one experiment exposed some Martian soil to an atmosphere containing radioactive carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. It was felt that if there were living organisms present, they would convert some of the radioactive carbon into organic material, which could be detected. Another experiment soaked a sample in nutrient solution, monitoring to see if any metabolism took place—if, as it were, anything ate the food.
Commenting on the overall results, The World Book Science Annual 1978 said: “Despite months of study and attempted interpretation, the results of the experiments were inconclusive.” Why is that position taken? Well, some of the tests gave unexpected responses. The tests did not actually locate any life or even proven organic material. But some scientists have leaned over backwards, clinging to a glimmer of hope that there might be a biological implication to the results instead of these being simply an evidence of unusual chemistry in lifeless Martian soil.
According to the British journal New Scientist, one experiment employed a gas spectrometer that is so sensitive it could detect organic molecules even if there were only a few among a million other molecules or even among a billion. Yet, the test failed “to detect organic molecules in the [Martian] soil.” Klaus Biemann, spokesman for the team analyzing the results, said that “the absence of organic compounds . . . makes it unlikely that living systems that behave in a manner similar to terrestrial biota exist.” Putting it more simply, Newsweek reported that the test “could find no evidence of organic molecules, an essential for the life process on earth and, presumably, anywhere else.”
Consequently, the 26 varied and intricate tests failed to prove that there is even microscopic life on Mars.
Some Are Concluding . . .
Back in 1976, before the Viking probes landed on Mars, astronomer Clay Sherrod observed: “If there’s no life on Mars—which is so very similar to our planet—then we very well may be alone. We may be unique in the universe.”
Now that Viking I and II are past history, more and more scientists are reaching that conclusion. Dr. Iosif Shklovsky wrote in the Soviet magazine Sputnik: “[The evidence] suggests that the assumption that we are the only civilization in our galaxy or even the local system of galaxies, if not in the whole universe, is now much more—not less—valid than the traditional concept of the plurality of inhabited worlds.”
Also, astronomer Dr. Michael H. Hart described a computer analysis he made of “hypothetical planets, sketching in the features they would seem to require to produce advanced civilizations like our own.” He concluded that, “far from being common, civilized life must be exceedingly rare and the one we have on earth may even be unique.”
Are we to conclude, then, that scientific evidence clearly points away from the possibility of any other intelligent life in the universe?
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“It looks as though our sun . . . is most likely a rare exception in the stellar world”
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Twenty-six varied and intricate tests failed to prove that there is even microscopic life on Mars
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“We very well may be alone”