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Biggest Discovery

I have recently been considering what might be the biggest discovery in the near future, possibly of all time. Before I even started I had a possible answer in mind. The answer was the discovery of intelligent life on other planets.

Until recently there was no real way to know much about the subject but now real progress is being made. There are two broad approaches: first, there is the search for signs of technology, especially radio signals from advanced civilisations; second, there is the search for planets which might be able to support life (this includes research from the search for life on Mars to the search by the Kepler mission which is looking for planets which might be able to support life).

I’m getting the impression now that real progress is being made. Recent news certainly doesn’t show any strong evidence of life but there are interesting signs that it might be possible.

The discovery of methane on Mars is interesting. So far no one knows what is creating the methane but several non-biological sources have already been eliminated. If the methane is of biological origin its likely to be from simple bacteria (or the Mars equivalent) which isn’t quite as exciting as finding intelligence but it still makes the chances of finding advanced life elsewhere far greater.

If simple life exists independently on two planets in our solar system then the chances of it existing on other planets orbiting other stars is far greater, in fact its likely to be extremely common. There are two problems though: first we don’t know if there is life on Mars; and second, even if there is it isn’t necessarily independent of life on Earth because one planet could have transferred life to the other inside a meteor.

The Kepler mission has launched and started operating very successfully and has already located several new planets. None of the new planets are much like Earth so far: they’re either too hot or cold, or too big, or composed of gas instead of rock. But one recent discovery of the first hot rocky planet – CoRoT-7 which circles a star about 480 light years away – is interesting even though its far too hot for any reasonable form of life to exist.

I just seems that its only a matter of time before a planet very similar to Earth (in composition, size, temperature, etc) is discovered and that will be another big step on the road to finding life.

So how is the second part of the search going? Well not very well, actually. SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) projects have been running for many years now and have searched a lot of the sky on a lot of radio frequencies. There have certainly been some interesting signals found but nothing which has been convincing as being artificially produced.

Of course there are many interesting signals which need to be re-examined and maybe one of these might produce results but at this stage the alien civilisations are conspicuous only because of their absence.

It seems that the “biggest discovery” might be a few years away yet. It will be interesting to see what people’s reaction is when it does happen.

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