Published: September 09, 2010
By Robert Legge - Editorial Columnistfirstname.lastname@example.org
The universe is big. And I mean really big. Just how big is beyond our normal ability of comprehension. Our Milky Way galaxy has up to 400 billion stars. The Hubble telescope is capable of detecting about 80 billion more such galaxies. Surely there are more. Each star may have a number of planets circling it.
One thing for sure is that Earth is not the center of the universe. A popular analogy gauging the number of stars in the universe is that the Earth is comparable to one grain of sand among all the grains of sand on all the beaches on earth. I don’t know, there’s a lot of sand on even one beach, but both are incomparable numbers.
And not only are there a lot of stars but they are all incredibly far apart.
Just traveling across our own Milky Way galaxy would take 100,000 years, even at the speed of light.
So given the huge number of stars, it seems logical that at least some of them, probably millions, support some kind of life, some with life forms far more advanced than ours.
But we’ve been seriously looking and listening for 50 years for signs of life from the cosmos to no avail. We’ve seen tantalizing photos and video of UFOs that can’t be easily explained. Yet there has never been any concrete evidence of even the simplest of extraterrestrial life forms.
Polls indicate that a majority of people believe that there must be intelligent life forms out there presumably because of the huge number of planets that might harbor life. In spite of those numbers, public figures are often ridiculed about “little green men” if they seriously broach the subject.
Personally I’m skeptical that we’re being watched but also a little leery about trying to let anyone far more technologically advanced than us know that we’re here.
But it’s still exciting to speculate what a human/extraterrestrial encounter might be like, what we could learn from them and how it might change us.
Realistically, it may very well never happen. Anyone who comes to visit will have had to overcome that speed of light barrier — no small feat. Signals we might detect may have been sent thousands if not millions of years ago.
Would an alien encounter make us earthlings feel a new connection and closeness?
How would religions deal with such a revelation? Would aliens have their own religions?
Even if we did confirm that we’re not alone, we’d still have a lot of questions.Would religious texts be compatible with discoveries of extra-terrestrials? I’ve never heard of any mainstream religions having any references in their texts to aliens.
Some observers assert that aliens would be bad for believers. A National Geographic poll found that churchgoers were far less likely to believe in extraterrestrial life than non-churchgoers. Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), once wrote that finding intelligent other-worldly life “will be inconsistent with the existence of God or at least organized religions.”
But NASA chief historian Steven Dick said “Religion hasn’t gone away after Copernican theory, after Darwin. They’ve found ways to adapt, and they’ll find a way if this happens, too.”
Legge’s column runs every other Thursday. He lives in Madison County.