The Search for Extraterrestrial Life


The planet KELT-16b has been spiraling around its star for over 2 billion years. In a few hundred thousand more, it will finishing circling the stellar drain, and be consumed by its star. In the meantime, astronomers are getting all the information from it they can, in the hopes of discovering more about extra terrestrial life from its atmosphere.

Atmospheric analysis is generally considered to be our best hopes of discovering planets hosting life forms, especially those that haven’t reached a human level of intelligence. Life, at least the type we’re familiar with, tends to produce certain telltale traces of gas, when then affect the light and other radiation being emitted by the planet. Oxygen is one of the signs of life like we have on our planet, since animals need it to live, and plants produce it. However, for the time being scientists can only closely monitor our neighbors in the Solar system, which limits our data to planets experiencing the conditions present in the Solar System. A situation like that of KELT-16b gives us a lot of information, since the situation changes incredibly rapidly. It makes a full rotation of the sun in under a day, meaning that both the seasons and the temperature are in constant flux.

Some of the Satelite Dishes SETI Uses to Search for Radio Signals.

Of course, KELT-16b isn’t the only way scientists are trying to get a better grip on whether or not extraterrestrial life exists. As mentioned earlier, analysis of the physical attributes of planets is one major approach. Beyond that, the SETI, or Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Institute tries to determine if there are any civilizations out there by looking at radio signals. While radio emissions are present throughout the universe, they tend to be very spread out naturally. Because of this, if SETI found a strong signal coming from a very specific region of space, that would be strong evidence in favor of it coming from an alien civilization.

Of course, the question of whether or not extraterrestrial life exists at all is still up in the air. We’ve yet to find any solid proof that it does, but with such a gigantic universe, it’s almost impossible to rule it out. Additionally, our current methods almost exclusively focus on finding similar life to that on Earth, since that’s what we know the most about, and thus can find the most easily. As our knowledge of exoplanets and the strength of our telescopes increase, hopefully we’ll eventually find an answer