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Jason Hinterweger
Jason Hinterweger

Strange New Worlds: The Search For Alien Planets And Life Beyond Our Solar System Ray 13



Closer to home, our neighbouring world Mars remains a prime target in the search for life beyond Earth, with growing evidence of past water flows raising the prospect of habitability sometime in its history. Likewise, the big moons of Jupiter and Saturn, especially those that might harbour subsurface oceans, continue to intrigue us.




Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life beyond Our Solar System Ray 13


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In a year when mysterious monoliths literally appeared out of nowhere, you'd think the first real detection of alien life would be a stone's-throw away. Well, 2020 didn't bring any little green men, but it did bring astronomers closer to finding extraterrestrial life than ever before. From organic molecules turning up around the solar system to mysterious radio signals finally being traced back to their source, here are some of the biggest findings of the year about where aliens may be (and definitely aren't) hiding in the universe.


How did the researchers arrive at that number? By taking a fresh stab at a decades-old alien-hunting riddle known as the Drake equation. Named for astronomer Frank Drake, who debuted the equation in 1961, the puzzle attempts to guess the likely number of alien civilizations in our galaxy based on variables like the average rate of star formation, the percentage of stars that form planets and the much-smaller percentage of planets that have the right stuff for life. Most of these variables are still unknown, but the authors of the new study tried to resolve them with the most up-to-date information on star formation and exoplanets available.


Their result? There are precisely 36 planets in the Milky Way that could host intelligence life similar to that on Earth. But even if the researchers nailed all those unknown variables, it'll still be a while before we meet one of our intelligence neighbors; assuming an even distribution of civilizations throughout the galaxy, the closest one is 17,000 light-years away from Earth.


The team calculated that approximately 1,000 star systems within about 300 light-years of Earth could feasibly see our planet as it passes between their location and Earth's sun. Those sky-watching aliens would see our sun dim as Earth passes over it, just as humans have detected thousands of exoplanets by watching for suddenly-dimming stars in the night sky. What's more, if those alien astronomers have similar technology to ours, they could even detect traces of methane and oxygen in Earth's atmosphere, which would be potential signs of life, the researchers noted.


Another underrated target in the search for alien life: oxygen-free planets. While it has been long assumed that alien life needs air to breathe, a study published May 4 in the journal Nature Astronomy (opens in new tab) argues that maybe "air" and "oxygen" aren't always synonymous. Hydrogen and helium are far more common elements in our universe (Jupiter's atmosphere is 90% hydrogen, for example), so what if an alien species evolved to breathe that stuff instead?


Ocean worlds in our solar system are attractive places in the search for life beyond Earth. Beneath a thick, icy shell, Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus likely harbor oceans, scientists believe. On Earth, the oceans teem with life, but is the same scenario possible on these frosty moons?


Half a billion years ago, the oceans were filled with life that looked more like aliens than the marine animals we know today. Now, researchers have uncovered the fossil of an unusual creature that was likely a giant compared to tiny ocean life 500 million years ago.


Hot, ocean-covered exoplanets with hydrogen-rich atmospheres could harbour life and may be more common than planets that are Earth-like in size, temperature and atmospheric composition. According to astronomers at the University of Cambridge, UK, this newly defined class of exoplanets could boost the search for life elsewhere in the universe by broadening the search criteria and redefining which biosignatures are important.


For generations, scientists have been scouring our galaxy for evidence of life on other planets. They are searching for a specific set of circumstances and chemicals to come together in the right place, at the right time.


Kenrick said, 'In the search for life in the solar system, one strategy is to follow the water. Liquid water may exist below the dry surface of Mars and the frozen surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. The search for life has broadened to consider worlds far from the Sun.'


This space documentary is narrated by the famous English physicist Brian Cox and takes us on a 5 episode long adventure around our solar system. Forget the galaxies, black holes and neutron stars, this series focuses solely on the complete history of the planets inside our home solar system.


Alien Worlds is a 4-part docu series that explores the different ways that life could develop on exoplanets. What would life look like in a world that has two suns? Could life thrive on a planet with a very weak gravity pull? How would alien life evolve on a planet where one side is scorching hot and the other is permanently frozen?


10. Nobody is transmitting. Instead, everybody may be listening. That's basically how it is here on Earth. Apart from a few paltry efforts to broadcast strong signals over a narrow frequency band towards the stars above, we've barely made our presence known in the universe. In fact, if aliens have radio telescopes similar to what we have on Earth, our television and radio broadcasts would only be detectable up to 0.3 light-years away. That distance doesn't even transcend the farthest reaches of our solar system.


Space physicists have long known that the Moon's gravity affects winds in Earth's ionized upper atmosphere. This means the Moon can actually modify electrical currents in the ionosphere, altering electromagnetic fields. The research team looked at data from NASA's Van Allen Probes and found that, indeed, electric fields reaching up into the plasmasphere appear to be modulated by lunar tides. Computer models suggest that these fields can shift the bulge to a 90 degree offset position and explain its daily and monthly variations. "Our discovery of this plasma tidal effect may indicate a fundamental interaction mechanism in the Earth-Moon system that has not been previously considered," says Shi. "Understanding this phenomenon could lead to better forecasts of space weather and improved safety for spacecraft and satellites." For more information about these strange tides, please read the team's original research.


4 Rogue black holes Our galaxy is full of black holes, collapsed stellar corpses just a dozen miles wide. How full? Tough question. After all, they're called black holes for a reason. Their gravity is so strong they swallow everything, even the light that might betray their presence. David Bennett of Notre Dame University in Indiana managed to spot two black holes recently by the way they distorted and amplified the light of ordinary, more distant stars. Based on such observations, and even more on theoretical arguments, researchers guesstimate there are about 10 million black holes in the Milky Way. These objects orbit just like other stars, meaning that it is not terribly likely that one is headed our way. But if a normal star were moving toward us, we'd know it. With a black hole there is little warning. A few decades before a close encounter, at most, astronomers would observe a strange perturbation in the orbits of the outer planets. As the effect grew larger, it would be possible to make increasingly precise estimates of the location and mass of the interloper. The black hole wouldn't have to come all that close to Earth to bring ruin; just passing through the solar system would distort all of the planets' orbits. Earth might get drawn into an elliptical path that would cause extreme climate swings, or it might be ejected from the solar system and go hurtling to a frigid fate in deep space.


18 Alien invasion At the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, a cadre of dedicated scientists sifts through radio static in search of a telltale signal from an alien civilization. So far, nothing. Now suppose the long-sought message arrives. Not only do the aliens exist, they are about to stop by for a visit. And then . . . any science-fiction devotee can tell you what could go wrong. But the history of human exploration and exploitation suggests the most likely danger is not direct conflict. Aliens might want resources from our solar system (Earth's oceans, perhaps, full of hydrogen for refilling a fusion-powered spacecraft) and swat us aside if we get in the way, as we might dismiss mosquitoes or beetles stirred up by the logging of a rain forest. Aliens might unwittingly import pests with a taste for human flesh, much as Dutch colonists reaching Mauritius brought cats, rats, and pigs that quickly did away with the dodo. Or aliens might accidentally upset our planet or solar system while carrying out some grandiose interstellar construction project. The late physicist Gerard O'Neill speculated that contact with extraterrestrial visitors could also be socially disastrous. "Advanced western civilization has had a destructive effect on all primitive civilizations it has come in contact with, even in those cases where every attempt was made to protect and guard the primitive civilization," he said in a 1979 interview. "I don't see any reason why the same thing would not happen to us."


The best space games on PC give you the best excuse to take a virtual trip to space. There are planets and solar systems to explore and plenty of games to do it in. In space, you can craft, you can build, you can manage, and you can survive. The endless black expanse is, well, endless when it comes the types of games you can enjoy in it.


A first-person open world game (opens in new tab) about exploring a small solar system full of weird planets and odd cosmic phenomena. The catch? You're trapped in a time loop, giving you just 20 minutes to explore at a time. Outer Wilds is reminiscent of games such as Her Story and Obra Dinn in the way you piece a puzzle together by discovering and connecting small, often seemingly unrelated details.


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