Less-advanced alien civilizations may be nearby — but we're not looking for them

Humans are more likely to have "first contact" with an advanced alien civilization, according to a recent NASA-funded paper.

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  • A new paper outlines some of the most promising ways scientists and space agencies can search for evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations.
  • Because of a concept called "contact inequality," the researchers suggested it's relatively unlikely humans will discover evidence of alien civilizations that have similar levels of technology to us.
  • However, near-future technology could soon allow scientists to search for both highly advanced and less advanced alien civilizations.
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Can humans travel through wormholes in space?

Two new studies examine ways we could engineer human wormhole travel.

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  • Sci-fi movies and books love wormholes—how else can we hope to travel through interstellar distances?
  • But wormholes are notoriously unstable; it's hard to keep them open or make them big enough.
  • Two new papers offer some hope in solving both of these issues, but at a high price.
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If we do find alien life, what kind will it be?

Three lines of evidence point to the idea of complex, multicellular alien life being a wild goose chase. But are we clever enough to know?

Credit: "Mars Attacks!" / Warner Bros
  • Everyone wants to know if there is alien life in the universe, but Earth may give us clues that if it exists it may not be the civilization-building kind.
  • Most of Earth's history shows life that is single-celled. That doesn't mean it was simple, though. Stunning molecular machines were being evolved by those tiny critters.
  • What's in a planet's atmosphere may also determine what evolution can produce. Is there a habitable zone for complex life that's much smaller than what's allowed for microbes?
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Finding aliens: Is there a ‘theory of everything’ for life?

The search for alien life is far too human-centric. Our flawed understanding of what life really is may be holding us back from important discoveries about the universe and ourselves.

  • What, should it exist, is the universal law that connects all living things? To even dream of answering that question, and to one day find alien life elsewhere in the cosmos, humans must first reconcile the fact that our definition of life is inadequate.
  • For astrobiologist Sara Walker, understanding the universe, its origin, and our place in it starts with a deep investigation into the chemistry of life. She argues that it is time to change our chemical perspective—detecting oxygen in an exoplanet's atmosphere is no longer sufficient enough evidence to suggest the presence of living organisms.
  • "Because we don't know what life is, we don't know where to look for it," Walker says, adding that an unclear or too narrow focus could result in missed discoveries. Gaining new insights into what life on Earth is could shift our quest to find alien life in the universe.
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Top 5 theories on the enigmatic monolith found in Utah desert

A strange object found in the desert has prompted worldwide speculation.

Credit: Utah Department of Public Safety
  • A monolithic object found in a remote part of Utah caused worldwide speculation about its origins.
  • The object is very similar to the famous monolith from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: Space Odyssey".
  • The object could be work of an artist or even have extraterrestrial origins.
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