Speculation has been rife about the contents of an unclassified report set to be released later this month from the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) task force.
The document, expected to drop on June 25, will supposedly provide a comprehensive summary of what the US government knows about UAPs — or, to use the more popular term, UFOs.
While the report is not yet public, the New York Times recently published what it claimed was a preview of the findings, provided by unnamed senior officials who were privy to the report’s contents.
Will the Pentagon report resolve the controversy?
According to the Times’s sources, the report does not provide any clear link or association between more than 120 documented incidents of observing and watching unidentified flying objects known as “UFOs” during the past two decades, and a possibility of aliens visiting the planet.
In other words: the presence of an unknown or mysterious flying object is not evidence (necessarily) that it was made by aliens from other planets.
And here other questions arise: Does this mean that other intelligent creatures do not exist on any planet in this vast universe? And if there are other rational creatures, is there a possibility of proving or finding them, as well as communicating with them?
To answer these questions, The Conversation published a report that included the answers of 5 scientists specializing in astronomy, planets and astrobiology, about the extent to which they agree and disagree with the possibilities of other life in the universe, whether sane or unreasonable, and the opportunities for humanity to find.
Jonti Horner: Are other creatures close enough to communicate with them?
Jonti Horner, an expert in astrobiology and astrophysics at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, believes that there is life on planets other than Earth, but he stresses that finding evidence to prove this life will be an almost impossible task.
So the question to ask is not whether or not there are other intelligent creatures in the universe, but whether they are close enough that we can detect them?
Space is unbelievably big. In the last few decades, we’ve learned almost every star in the cosmos has planets. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is estimated to have up to 400 billion stars.
If each of those has five planets, we’d have two trillion planets in our galaxy alone. And we know there are more galaxies in the cosmos than there are planets in the Milky Way.
In other words, there’s a lot of real estate out there. And with so much variety, I find it impossible to believe Earth is the only planet that has life — including intelligent and technologically-advanced life.
If we assume that there is a star out of every billion stars orbiting a planet that contains intelligent creatures with advanced technology and able to announce their existence in the universe, this means that we have 400 stars in our galaxy that contain advanced life.
But our galaxy is huge, the distance between its two ends is 100,000 light-years, which is a very large distance that means that the distance between these stars is on average about 10,000 light years, which is way too far for us to hear alien signals (at least at the moment) — unless they’re way more powerful than anything we can send!
Steven Tingay: We don’t have a definitive or unified definition of life!
Although Steven Tingay, professor of radio astronomy at Curtin University, Australia, supports the saying that the universe must contain intelligent creatures like us, he demands that the concept of life be defined first, since the term “other life” means from his point of view all the forms of life that we understand here on the earth.
But we don’t yet have a definitive definition of the very complex concept of “life.” If we find bacteria on another planet, it is possible to classify these bacteria as a form of life.
The universe contains hundreds of billions of galaxies, each of which can be composed of up to billions and billions of stars. Most of these stars have at least one planet each. These planetary systems form out of a rich mixture of elements, including all the elements regarded as essential for “life”.
So, it is hard to believe that the particular mix of conditions that resulted in “life” only occurred on Earth, and not on the trillions of other planets in the universe.
But other life in the universe may be like bacteria or a high-tech civilization that we can communicate with.
We are now making great efforts in the search for other sane civilizations that may use techniques similar to the ones we use, such as powerful telescopes that send radio signals via radio waves with wavelengths suitable to cover vast distances in the universe between planets and constellations.
Steven does not rule out the existence of images of life that are incompatible with the characteristics or qualities of life as we see it on planet Earth. Perhaps living creatures on other planets have characteristics different from the concept of life on Earth!
Helen Maynard: The results of astronomical observations suggest the existence of another life
As for Helen Maynard, a planetary scientist and astronomer at the Australian Organization for Nuclear Science and Technology, she believes that it is only a matter of time before we find something resembling images of life on Earth on another planet, because astronomical observations reveal more potential pockets in our solar system that may harbor life as we know it.
For example, the oceans under the ice on Europa and Ganymede – two of the largest moons around Jupiter – are places that have the right temperature, there is access to water and to minerals, too. We see life through the lens of our concept of life as we saw it on Earth, and of course life in the universe may be completely different from Earth.
Helen also believes that studying other moons in our solar system, such as Titan – one of Saturn’s moons – may be promising in reaching other discoveries that bring us closer to finding a form of life or intelligent creatures somewhere in the universe.
As to the extent to which these living or rational creatures are able to communicate with us, that is a fundamentally different question.
Rebecca Allen: The odds of finding microorganisms are much higher than having advanced creatures
Rebecca Allen, a space technology expert at the Institute of Space Technology and Industry at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, is convinced that there are images of life on other planets, but they are certainly not like us.
It is estimated that there are 100 billion planets in the Milky Way alone, of which 6 billion are Earth-like, Therefore, the probability that life exists elsewhere is all but confirmed.
But Rebecca notes that the word “alien” is not necessarily supposed to mean the human-like form, which is the habit of imagining that we associate with when we imagine aliens.
But even on Earth, the most predominant form of life is much older, smaller and more resilient. I’m talking about microorganisms, of course. These organisms defy science by existing where life has no business existing, such as in the sludge around volcanic vents. I would bet alien life exists in the form of these “extremophiles”.
NASA has sent a sample of a microorganism known as a “water bear” to the International Space Station to study its behavior and ability to withstand climate conditions. With the discovery of the basic components of life in our solar system, the possibilities of similar images of life seem very strong.
But Rebecca believes that the odds of finding advanced images of life are slim, space is very massive, and from the Kepler telescope we learned twice the odds of finding other worlds, let alone finding a planet similar to Earth.
In addition, advanced life on Earth took billions of years to flourish on Earth, which makes the chances of finding advanced living organisms on other planets very small, but not zero.
Martin van Kranendonk: We don’t know! Current experimental data denies any picture of life in the universe
Geologist Martin van Kranendonk and director of NASA’s Australian Center for Astrobiology rules out the existence of any picture of life in light of current experimental data, which suggests that there are no other living creatures outside Earth.
But Martin adds by saying that human knowledge that denies any other life in the universe is limited.
we have not investigated every corner of the universe for signs of life and we do not even know what may constitute life in another chemical system, as there is no agreed-on definition of carbon-based life even here on Earth.
So perhaps the more accurate answer that Martin suggests is “we don’t know”, and he believes that we may never have a chance to settle this question and find a definitive answer to it.
Perhaps one day we will know whether we have neighbors in another group of planets nearby, or we may be certain that we are truly alone in the universe, and we may never know this or that.