Top NASA officials have been preparing for the coming next five years when they suspect astronomers will discover planets that could be considered habitable outside of our solar system. As the brand new Kepler telescope discovers hordes of planets, scientists are noting the number of statistical traits in some of the “almost habitable” ones and compiling a statistical analysis that indicates at the current rate of discovery we should find a planet that’s “just right” for human-like life within the next five years.
It’s incredibly exciting to think that life as we know it may not only be discovered within our own lifetimes, but before this decade is even halfway done. If the statistics turn out to be correct, then we may be facing the greatest discovery this planet has ever come across. “Exoplanets,” that is planets that have been discovered outside of the Solar System, are the next hot area of research. No longer do we rely on signals to come from other planets in the form of radio transmissions. We are now actively searching for visual confirmation of habitable planets via high powered telescopes.
Would a radio transmission from a hundred million light years away even have a surviving host civilization by the time it reached Earth? How long does a typical civilization last? Is it measured on average in thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years? A two word telephone conversation at that vast distance could take more time than the entire span of the Human Race’s existence on Earth. And this is assuming the transmissions are sent and received with nothing interrupting the flow of information. Such long distance information transmission seems unlikely, but luckily the search for extraterrestrial intelligence did not die at the turn of the millennium when much of SETI’s funding was cut. In fact, with the addition of several powerful telescopes the search for life on other planets has actually increased in power.
When first learning of the claims made by scientists that they had almost found life on another planet, I wondered how it could be possible to “almost” find something. After viewing the mathematical equations behind their claim, however, it does seem a little more credible than previous claims made of potential future discovery. It seems distant life on other planets has indeed become a statistical inevitability with the number of “almost habitable but not quite” planets that have been discovered in just the past few months.
Of course such a project will not be without its expenses. A telescope capable of discovering water, carbon dioxide, and oxygen would cost somewhere around five billion (with a b) dollars. By comparison, the Large Hadron collider cost somewhere around six and a half billion, and the SETI program in the late 90’s cost conservatively somewhere around one hundred million per year to power and maintain. Such programs were very serious attempts to change life on Earth through Science, but how motivated would we be to develop faster than light travel if a world waited out there for us ripe for colonization and populated with a whole new species of creatures to befriend or for that matter fight with?