It would be disappointing and surprising if Earth were the only template for habitability in the Universe.
Written speculation about life beyond the confines of Earth dates back thousands of years, to the time of the Greek philosophers Epicurus and Democritus. Unrecorded curiosity about this question undoubtedly goes back much further still. Remarkably, today’s generation seems about to get an answer from the study of exoplanets – planets orbiting other stars than the Sun. The early results are upending many assumptions from that long history.
Once we discover alien life out there, humanity will never be the same.
Finding an alien civilization will change humanity dramatically, but not so much in the obvious ways. Will we interact, trade, learn from one another's technology, or start intergalactic wars? None of that is highly likely, mostly for logistical reasons. Bill Nye thinks that the change will be more of an internal, philosophical, and spiritual change. What will it mean for humans to not be the only living thing in the cosmos? Many of us want to know and so, operating on just a small budget running in the background of all other scientific pursuits, there are astronomers and physicists continually looking and listening for life out there so that we may one day be able to ask ourselves that very question. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Are we alone in the universe? NASA's exploration of TRAPPIST-1 has the potential to answer one of humanity's deepest questions.
When NASA announced the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 solar system in February 2017, humanity’s collective ears spiked. The system is made up of a dwarf star surrounded by seven "Earth-like" exoplanets at potentially habitable temperatures. If we want to know whether we’re alone in the universe or if we have company, the exploration of this planetary group may get us closer to an answer. Bill Nye explains some key signals NASA’s researchers will be looking for as they focus their intellect, and telescopes, towards this extraordinary next step in our history. Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
NASA has turned to the internet for help in naming the newly discovered Trappist-1 exoplanets.
When the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) innocently queried the internet in search of a name for their new polar research ship, the web responded gleefully, and NERC got more of a response than they bargained for. They also got a name they hadn’t bargained for: Boaty McBoatface. Although their response was something along the lines of, “Ha, ha. Very funny. We’re naming the boat the RRS Sir David Attenborough,” it drew the world’s attention to the work done by NERC. (As a consolation prize of sorts, NERC bestowed the more awesome moniker on one of the ship’s remotely operated underwater vehicles.)
TRAPPIST-1 is 40 light years from Earth. It would take us millions of years to get there.
Back in September 2016, NASA announced that nearby exoplanet Proxima b might have what it takes to sustain life. In December however, it announced that it gets bombarded with “super flares” from time to time by its star, Proxima Centauri, and so perhaps isn’t the best candidate. It was a letdown for those of us who marvel at the thought of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy, but this latest announcement might just make up for it. The odds are better at least.