The quest for alien life

Engr Sabir Hussain

The Earth is a tiny part of 40 million years old universe with 500 billion galaxies. Science is convinced that there must exist or must have existed extraterrestrial intelligent civilization also known as alien life. To explore this mystery, human being started search for approaching them. The search could be carried out in two ways, either by sending our own messages into space which might be received by some of those aliens someday or tracking signals from extraterrestrial.

In 1977, the sound of the Earth was launched by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), US, into space on a recorder made up of gold. One side of the record was encoded with music from all around the world and short messages in 55 languages, welcoming and wishing peace to all forms of life while on the other side of the record there were pictures, describing some basic mathematical principles and the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

On the other hand, on August 15, 1977, a strange signal received by the big aerial telescope from outer space. The intensity of the signal was 30 times higher from the usual signals and had a duration of 72 seconds. The computer processed the signal received into alphabets and numeric characters in which one of the sequences was 6EQUJ5. Moreover, it was one of the most highest level strange signals received up to now.

However, due to financial obstacles from the government and strong criticism from the people over this costly project, the NASA was unable to continue it and a non-profit organization was formed called Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, which is nowadays the world’s main institute devoted to the search of extraterrestrial intelligence.

The SETI’s famous innovative project started in 1999 by the astronomers of the University of California called SETI at Home. From home anyone can be the part of this project to analyze some of the data that comes from Arecibo Telescope using internet.

In addition, up to now 5 million people from all over the world participated in SETI at Home project. In 2007, the SETI started another one of the big projects in northern California called the Allen Telescope Array, funded by Paul Allen. This research consists of 350 radio telescopes which receives radio waves produced by all the objects that exists in the space.

Similarly, Mars also called the red planet and is the fourth largest planet from the Sun and the second smallest planet in the Solar System after Mercury. Mars exits 34 million miles away from the Earth about which researchers speculate that Mars is the planet which could support extraterrestrial life.

In 2003, a space mission was sent to it for the search of water, the basic substance of life on earth. The images taken there showed some remarkable landscape like deep valleys showing riverbeds leading to water must have flowed here and some places were found with frozen water giving evidence that Mars was once tropical. Furthermore, researchers assumed that the Mars might lost its atmosphere, cooled down and the water evaporated or became frozen. To investigate life on Mars, scientists from German Aerospace Center looked for the micro organisms at Antarctica which could tolerate the extreme cold.

They found certain bacteria, micro fungi and other tiny creatures. In Berlin laboratories, they were further studied in Mars Simulation Chamber – a simulator like Mars environment which temperature can go to minus 103 degree Fahrenheit. The Mars condition in context of pressure, temperature and amount of carbon dioxide were applied to those organisms and they still survived, however, other Earth creatures under these conditions perish immediately.

This revealed that fungi even under the Mars condition can form proteins and bacteria still reproduced. Similarly, they carried out photosynthesis too. Parallel experiments were carried out in space on these tiny organisms which revealed that life is possible on Mars but still undercover.

Extraterrestrial intelligence if discovered in future will open a new era of knowledge and discoveries and will not be against any religious belief as there are many references in the religious books regarding the creatures of the Earth and skies which according to the scholars may exist in some, in any other form of life.

The writer is a satellite engineer by profession. He did B.Sc Electrical Engineering (Telecom) from the COMSATS University, Lahore Campus and M.Phil in Space Science from the University of Punjab, Lahore. He can be contacted at:

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