Published: 6:21 AM 2/7/2014
Once upon a time, Stephen Hawking was just another schoolboy... Apprehensive about how humans may treat other-worldly beings, Stephen Hawking has famously called the search for extra terrestrial life 'foolhardy.'
But India's celebrated astrophysicist, Jayant Narlikar is the perpetual optimist, who believes extra-terrestrials with superior intelligence could provide us a short-cut to progress, and the key to a better civilization.
"If there are extra-terrestrial beings more advanced than us, we could ask them so many questions and perhaps leap centuries ahead. Imagine how they could widen our perspective of the universe," he remarked, delivering a lecture 'Search for extraterrestrial life in the Universe' at the DD Kosambi Festival Of Ideas in Panaji on Thursday.
"Over the years, people have tried various ways of communicating with extra-terrestrial beings; from sending out satellites to look for them, to leaving information on discs in outer space, for them to find their way to us. As of now, the most reliable means of communication is through radiowaves--for the past 30 years, we have been continuously transmitting coded messages and illustrations to outer space, with a sophisticated system of computers manning the radio receivers. The biggest such set-up is located in Puerto Rico," he said.
"But, this search requires patience, because assuming someone from the closest solar system 'Alpha Centauri' responds to us, the message would take eight-and-a-half years to get here," he quipped.
Until then though, we can still find extra-terrestrial life closer home, just outside the earth's atmosphere, he added, calling for more research into primitive forms of extra-terrestrial life.
"Not only does outer space contain all the chemicals of DNA, which are the building-blocks, but we have proof that the space between stars is full of bacteria and other microbes," he said. Nearly a decade ago, Narlikar had led an experiment carried out by the Pune-based Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Indian Space Research Organization to capture 'falling bacteria' from comets and meteorites that hurtle through space.
Using a balloon and automated equipment, the team collected air from the earth's stratosphere (41 kilometers from the earth) in sterile steel flasks.
"We were able to isolate 12 new bacteria and six fungal colonies-and three kinds of microbes were unknown. The others displayed characteristics very different from earth-organisms-they were also resistant to the gamma rays, x-rays and UV-radiations found floating in space," he explained.
The huge audience that had gathered to listen to Narlikar's lecture was bursting with questions-but much to his discomfort, most queries centered around God and spirituality.