Would you like to explore the cosmos of aerospace technology? Dangerous “Great Filters’’? What about the vast universes of advanced environmental sciences yet to be tested? A new Mars? I would. I think of these sometimes, but I am finally here writing about this now. Doesn’t it astonish you, thinking about the vast unknown technologies ready to be devised or the glory of a flourishing future?
It astonishes me. Everything that you just read above will be mentioned in detail here. By the end of this insightful article, You might as well become an astrophysicist yourself (just kidding, that is what college is for). Let’s blast off.
Is the Sun the Answer to Finding Alien Life?
Since the 90s, technology has allowed us, humans, an eye on planets outside the farthest reaches of our solar system. Satellites like Kepler have discovered about 4,000 of these “exoplanets” and counting.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) have been heavily testing a new method more powerful than any telescope yet. This new technology may allow humanity a glimpse at these exoplanets in detail. It will be able to image solar systems thousands of light-years away, and possibly find another “Earth.” It may even discover signs of intelligent life. A new technology called the “Sun Telescope.”
With stalwart telescopes such as Hubble, Keck, or Herschel, we have been able to image galaxies millions of light-years away. Here is an example. This is the Sombrero Galaxy in some detail, captured 24 million light-years away. Of course, we are also looking millions of years into the past while doing this because light travels at a finite speed. It takes some time for it to reach places (don’t judge it), and that time gradually adds up over distance.
But back on topic, when we get to exoplanets as close as just ten light-years away, these powerful telescopes give back tiny blobs of light. Using these telescopes, only about 50 of the more than 4,000 exoplanets found could be imaged, and that too, not in much better detail.
Dr. Christian Ready, a LaunchPad Astronomist, says, “If we didn’t know any better, we would just think they were very, very faint stars when in reality, they are just large planets reflecting their star’s light.”
Even if you want to image the closest exoplanet in detail, 1000 x 1000 pixels, the telescope needs to be about 90,000 km in diameter, 7 times larger than Earth. Even if it was built of the lightest material fit for space, it would weigh about 1 trillion (million million million) kilograms. In other words, it’s impossible.
But thanks to Albert Einstein, we know that light converges around any mass. Using a powerful source of light, we could see when the light converges in the presence of a star or star system.
Using that, someone could, in theory, image an exoplanet in detail. That is how the sun telescope works. So that brings us back to the question: Is the sun the answer to finding alien life?
In the Milky Way Galaxy alone, there are about one hundred billion stars orbiting around Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Then there are around ten planets to a star, give or take a few. In total, with all those estimated planets, totaling some, one trillion, there are four-thousand exoplanets confirmed. Many of those are habitable on either the surface or below ground.
If you ask me, that’s a pretty high chance for life to thrive out there. That’s one opinion though– what about you?
The Mysterious Fermi Paradox…
If there is one thing all scientists love together, it is a nice, good, paradox. Merriam Webster defines a paradox as, “a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true”.
Countless paradoxes are disturbing our brilliant scientists of the world, but one paradox strikes fear in a scientist as nothing else would. I am sure that after reading this, you will be wondering about something other than “ Hmm… I think I should order pizza today.”
The Fermi Paradox is among the most controversial paradoxes. Why can’t we see other blossoming civilizations, if we know that many worlds may contain life?
The physicist and Nobel-Prize laureate Enrico Fermi asked the same question written above. “Where are they?” he famously asked his colleagues. As you would have probably figured, he coined the term “Fermi Paradox”.
Astrophysicists and astronomers introduced three main actions that must occur to become a splendorous space-faring civilization, a solution called the “Great Filter”. They are:
- “Life itself first has to arrive on that planet
- Those organisms must create advanced technology needed for space colonization. (This is roughly where humans are today.)
- The space-faring species must go on to colonize other worlds and star systems while avoiding destroying itself.”
The last point is the main part of the Great Filter to us humans, but previous points may be applicable for any less intelligent civilizations (some human self-pride there). But as we don’t know yet 1% of a 1% of a 1% of the observable (you know, the part of the universe light allows us to see,) universe, we don’t know if there are more steps (some human self-humiliation right there).
Now, you might be asking yourself, “Okay, but what could the Great Filter be?” (If you weren’t asking yourself this, and are still preoccupied with the whole pizza thing, I’m going to pretend that you did ask yourself this question.)
Well, the short answer to that is– like tons of stuff. The more comprehensive answer, however, is a loss of stuff (wait, there are more sentences in this explanation!).
Abiogenesis or life arising from something that is not alive may be a very rare occurrence. Of course, as we are humans still trapped in our measly world, we don’t know if that is true at all (disclaimer!). Maybe that was the Great Filter.
Eradication through technology is a very real threat. Through means of nanotechnology, A.I. that has gone haywire, or nuclear war (cue the Cold War), the Great Filter may be lying ahead, or we passed it through the Cold War (sorry for bullying you Cold War!).
Or maybe, drumroll please, it is something that we just can’t imagine. Sorry for being kind of anti-climactic, but yeah.
But if we passed the Great Filter already, then the cosmos, maybe cosmoi (please stop laughing and bear with me, it is the plural form of a cosmos), is ours for the taking. If we can, you know, get smarter.
If the Great Filter is ahead of us though, then we might be doomed. Anything could happen really, just ask those space physicists, who tell us that any asteroid larger than a few kilometers could conk the Earth into a global winter, lasting many decades. These guys can detect (but not stop) any asteroid heading our way for a little farther out than a century, so you got lucky.
So, I guess what you can take home from this section is that there is a tad bit concerning paradox, the Fermi Paradox, that suggests that there must be something blocking other civilizations from rising too much. The most widely accepted solution, the Great Filter, says that there are one (or many) obstacles that may lead a life on a planet to fall, due to natural or their own causes. Let’s look at the next section, which finally might take your mind off that pizza.
An Obvious Message From Another Planet?
Imagine this. You are an astrophysicist working at an Australian research laboratory amid The Breakthrough Listen Project. You’re bored, so you’re sipping your coffee with your legs propped up on your desk, watching cat videos on your phone.
You hear a notification ping on your computer. What, another spam-mail? Ugh. You gradually turn your head toward the computer screen. Your heart seems to have just skipped a beat. You can’t believe your eyes. A signal from outer space?
That is exactly how some scientists felt when the Parkes Telescope in Australia discovered a breathtaking radio wave signal in December of 2020. What is a radio wave signal you ask? (If you didn’t ask, please bear with me.) A radio wave signal is a signal that travels at the longest electromagnetic wavelength as per NASA, ranging from as tiny as 0.04 inches, all the way to dozens of miles. Radio waves are basically what, well, radios use (younger audiences, even I didn’t know what radios were either until I started writing this article). Like all wavelengths, radio waves travel at the speed of light. Here’s the scale to help you out.
Radio waves were first utilized less than a century ago. That is a tiny, tiny fraction of time humans have been on Earth. Don’t even ask how small a range of time that is to the universe. Not only that, but we have done a few better by inventing microwaves (not the most creative name), e-mail, and cell-phone reception (yes, your ancestors lived without Wi-Fi). Radio waves were just stepping-stones towards greater stuff, in just a few decades.
So guess what– the radio waves may have come from the Alpha Centauri System– four light-years away, the nearest solar system to us! How on earth– ahem, in space did radio waves bombard the Parkes sensors in about the same era we were doing all this? Not only that, but out of the billions of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone, what chance is such a coincidence possible? According to NASA, it is too insignificant a chance to count it as anything but zero using the Copernican Principle, the idea that humans are not the privileged observers of the cosmos.
On the contrary, Dr. Avi Loeb, the head of the Harvard Department of Astronomy, insists that the signal came from Alpha Centauri. Where else could it be from? A former Harvard postdoc of Astrophysics Dr. Manasvi Lingam agreed. What do you think? Do you think that life could be flourishing out there, and is trying to do as we are doing, just sending messages wherever and wherever we can? I think if advanced intelligent life is out there, it will be trying to reach us. At least, I think so.
Mars, But Only it’s Green.
I think that our pale blue dot is getting a little lonely. How about a nice, green companion to go along with it?
We know that our world, Earth, is plummeting into a global crisis. Global warming. While many may try to save our world, it may be too late to prevail. So where will humanity find a new home?
What about Mars? No, not how it is now, how it will be soon.
Many ways are being devised to colonize Mars. Some experts suggest geodesic domes, huge glass and steel structures that cover cities. That’s cool and all, but that would also be expensive to maintain, and good luck making the glass and steel sturdy enough across vast areas.
Okay fine. What about huge buildings here and there, and tunnels to connect them? I mean, you don’t have to worry about strength. Would that work? Well, no. Even if you could find a way to block the radiation in those tunnels, it would be so stinky, you might as well live in a public bathroom.
That’s where terraforming comes in. To terraform a planet is to change the chemical makeup of the planet. And it is a real possibility for Mars.
Many studies have shared that it may be possible to grow plants on Mars, but the samples of Martian dust and rock to be certain of that claim are too small. Obviously, there’s no way to do farming trials on Mars itself, so scientists try their best to replicate the conditions.
For example, researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology tried to grow lettuce in replicated Martian soil. The researchers suggested that the lettuce could survive in the soil without adding those nasty fake nutrients.
Another study, conducted by the University of Georgia, states the low levels of salinity (salt content) in the soil may contribute to the greening of Mars.
Of course, it will be a long way to go before humans set foot on Mars, but at least until more evidence proves or disproves this hypothesis, Mars is terraformable.
So What in the Cosmos was Happening?
What in the Cosmos was Happening? Sun telescopes are being designed, and radio messages allegedly from aliens are being deciphered. The Fermi Paradox asks whether life is really omnipresent, or whether we are the only ones, and a solution, the Great Filter, was covered in the process. Finally, we went over a possibility of a green Mars, which would be the result of terraformation.
Hopefully, you took something away from this, because that’s why this was written. Let us land our spaceship now. Thank you for reading, stay tuned for next time.
- https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2021-01-18/using-the-sun-to-image-alien-planets-video — Imaging Planets Using the Sun
- https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/did-we-receive-a-message-from-a-planet-orbiting-the-nearest-star/ — A Message Received From an Orbiting Star?
- https://www.fox19.com/2021/01/17/scientists-discover-super-earth-planet/ — Super-Earth
- https://www.ign.com/articles/mars-needs-minerals-researchers-are-trying-to-turn-the-red-planet-green — Turning Mars from Red to Green
- https://astronomy.com/news/2020/11/the-great-filter-a-possible-solution-to-the-fermi-paradox — Fermi Paradox
- https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paradox — Paradox Definition
- https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2020/02/14/distant-aliens-may-have-sent-us-radio-signals-every-16-days-so-why-dont-we-look-in-our-own-galaxy/?sh=9e495d069c1c — Alien Messages?
- https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/using-the-sun-as-a-cosmic-telescope/ — Sun telescope
- https://www.airspacemag.com/daily-planet/ultimate-space-telescope-would-use-sun-lens-180962499/ — Ultimate Sun Telescope
- https://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/science/toolbox/emspectrum1.html — EM Spectrum
- https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00224-z — Expensive Sun Telescope
- https://www.britannica.com/science/electromagnetic-spectrum — Longest Em Wavelength
- https://www.livescience.com/50399-radio-waves.html#:~:text=Radio%20waves%20have%20the%20longest,billion%20hertz%2C%20or%20300%20gigahertz. — Radio waves
- https://ed.ted.com/lessons/when-will-the-next-ice-age-happen-lorraine-lisiecki — Ice Age
- https://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6332/1408#:~:text=Mars%20has%20a%20thin%20atmosphere,different%20heights%20in%20the%20atmosphere. — Mars Atmospheric History
- https://www.space.com/190-terraforming-mars-experts-debate.html — Terraforming Ideas
- https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0103138 — Can Plants Grow on Mars?