Scientists search for out-of-this-world life forms

Photo illustration by Muhammad Al-Rawi

Photo illustration by Muhammad Al-Rawi

Shivangi Singh

Photo illustration by Muhammad Al-Rawi

As the sun set on Nov. 8, 2003, people of Alden, Ill. saw an object two to three football fields long sprawled across the sky. The citizens of the town saw the object moving through the air, right above their heads.
The sheriffs became aware of this unidentified object which they believed to be filled with human-like beings, and they immediately started following the object.
The two county sheriffs reported seeing what the people of the city saw, and when the object reached the third county, the object took off at an incredibly high speed.
“There are problems with these stories,” Richard Shanks, the Photonics teacher at Columbia Area Career Center, said. The problem is not “that these people saw it. I am sure that they [said] exactly … what they saw – some spaceship. [But] I personally don’t believe it came from space.”
Instead, Shanks believes the U.F.O. came from a different dimension, one that supports the survival of the aliens inside it. He said it’s not possible by the laws of physics for the U.F.O., or the aliens in it, to have traveled the appropriate light years and come down to earth.
The arrival of the U.F.O. from space is “not following the laws of physics. In the dimension that we live in, everything in this dimension must follow these laws,” Shanks said. “It’s how our make-up [is].”
Shanks believes there is a dimension that supports aliens, an assertion that is greatly reassuring to junior Sean Geerlings. His interest in extraterrestrial life started when he got hooked onto “Star Wars,” and today he dreams that one day aliens will be here on Earth.
“I don’t know if [alien arrival] is going to happen,” Geerlings said. “But I have a feeling that they could be out there.”
Geerlings believes the aliens that appear on Earth will be benevolent, like the ones in his fantasies. He believes most are currently observing Earth, but there will come a time when they will react to humans.
If the society understands the meaning of such a discovery, the aliens will remain harmless. But if the society fails, then wars could result. However, he said the ultimate outcome of both situations will be the same.
“I think eventually we will treat aliens just the way [humans] are treated,” Geerlings said.
Geerlings said the discovery of such life will come with more advanced technology.
Dr. Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, or SETI, has been working on developing such technology, but he has not been able to detect a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence, abbreviated ET.
“Does this mean that [searching for a signal] has been a waste of time?” Shostak said. “I don’t think so because we have been developing the technology. To [discover ET], you have do [everything] faster. In fact, today SETI researches are much, much faster [at developing new technology] than they were 20 years ago, and in the future they will be even faster than [they are today]. So even though we haven’t found [extraterrestrials] so far, I am not discouraged.”
In addition, Shostak’s team has evidence supporting the existence of life on other planets, even if it is in the form of microorganisms. Mars, Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons, and Venus have all shown potential to support life, which, Shostak said, makes the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence even more likely. In his 20-year career at the SETI institute, Shostak has gotten close to discovering extraterrestrial existence.
“There have been a couple of false alarms, but the most dramatic one,” was in 1997, Shostak said, “because it lasted about 15 or 16 hours. We thought that maybe we had found [ET]. We were using an antenna in West Virginia. I was in California when it happened, but it turned out to be the SOHO satellite which is a solar research satellite run by the Europeans. [The satellite] hit our antennas, and it fooled us for a while, but it was very exciting.”
Shostak considers that false alarm significant as the alarm showed what would happen if the SETI Institute really did find a signal. The institute was getting calls from everywhere; news stations were asking for reports and interviews.
“I was pretty nervous. I thought that ET was going to mess up everything that I had planned for this week,” Shostak said. “I couldn’t sleep. Nobody went to sleep.”
Shostak said if SETI were to find a signal, everything would change. Government funding would increase. There would be larger groups of people working on discovering extraterrestrial intelligence.
“It’s sort of like Columbus discovering North America,” Shostak said. The discovery of ET will “really just [be] the start of just something new.”
In the signals, Shostak is not looking for a particular message. He said the signal could be either mathematics or poetry; he is more concerned with finding the spot on the radio spectrum that denotes the existence of aliens. He said the signals are more likely to come from star systems that have planets with liquid water oceans or an atmosphere that can support life.
“I think you are going to see [the signal] happen. It will happen in your lifetime,” Shostak said. “The development of life and even intelligent life — that’s not some miracle that only happened once in the entire universe.”
By Shivangi Singh