March 6th, 2011

Evidence of Alien Life

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Today I woke to news reports of a NASA scientist stating he has found confirmation of life beyond Earth. That is going very well with my morning coffee.

Now let’s face it most of us new sooner or later we would finally hear about conclusive evidence of alien life. Ironic when you think about how not long ago that might have sent some running into the streets while religious scholars tried to explain away the implications.

Our current generation is just a wee bit more desensitized to new information.  Now since I make films and write specifically about the preservation of wildlife you might wonder what is the connection?  Being a naturalist simply means I spend my life in the admiration of the natural world.  I have always included space in that belief because our whole planet literally floats in the sea of space and when you start to look at the unimaginable size of the known universe it gets really tough to think that life wouldn’t be plentiful in the oceans of the cosmos.

The problem for us is a small one, literally. You see compared to all that, we are not even microscopic. I don’t just mean us, or even our planet for that matter, I mean our entire solar system is just a tiny spec.  Our life giving Sun is actually one single star floating in the Milky Way galaxy with somewhere between 100 and 400 billion “other” stars. It is even estimated there may be as many as 50 “billion” planets in our own galaxy and a real possibility that a huge number is residing in the so-called “habitable zone” distance to their own stars.

It’s so close and yet so very far?

The distance to our nearest neighbor star, “Proxima Centauri” is only 4.24 light years . Ok in miles, each light year is 5,865,696,000,000 miles (that is a really big number) so if you multiply that by 4.24, then you’ll know how many miles to the closest star. It gets super interesting when you think that the other approximately 400 billion stars in the Milky Way are all “much further” to us then Proxima Centauri and very much so in fact.

All that is just in our own galaxy of stars of course so everything else is further on entirely different scales. There are hundreds of billions of Galaxies, just as large as the Milky Way.  So like I said, we are tiny. Now when you again consider the Milky Way could have as many as 50 “billion” planets, and as many as 500 million habitable zone worlds, then the jaw really begins to drop to the floor.  Suddenly life beyond Earth is no longer possible it actually becomes “very” likely and even dare I say, plentiful?  Of course I no longer have to make the argument about extra terrestrial life. Thank you Dr. Richard B. Hoover an astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. What does this incredible discovery mean?

I’m talking about the big picture, of our understanding of our own place in the universe? Well it means something we already knew, life is amazing, resilient and we are all lucky enough to be a part of a magic time in history where a scientist can openly share a ground breaking discovery and not be thrown in prison by religious fanatics.  It also means that we are of course not alone and that perhaps we should all pay a little more attention to the beautiful night time sky.

Will we ever communicate with an intelligent species?  I am not sure but I think so.  Since our own species is a part of the natural world I believe all the same rules apply.  Maybe one day we will hear a voice coming from the blackness of space across the great void like a frog singing across a quiet pond. When they first sing early in the season there are few, but quickly are joined by many others across the untold distance of their domain and eventually thousands of singing frogs join in for the beautiful nightly chorus.

Perhaps one day that’s what it will be like for us beginning with a faint call of a distant species looking to connect.  In time more and more until our songs unite our species across space and time.

Not yet though, this first discovery seems to be more about ancient fossilized bacteria blasted into space from some distant world and eventually raining down here on Earth with a meteor so we won’t be striking up a conversation any time soon.   It does mean though we are now entering a new time. From now on we can stop saying “if” and start asking “when”.

That’s exciting to someone like me.

One of the greatest joys of my life is finding a new species that I didn’t know about.

With the millions if not billions of forms of life on our own world just imagine what could be out there…

Maybe one day there will be a “Nature Walks in Space” episode… hey- you never know!

Mark Fraser




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