Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe free to our newsletters via your

Scientists debate likelihood of finding life on other planets
by Staff Writers
Chicago IL (SPX) Feb 01, 2016

UChicago scientists debated whether remote sensing will reveal evidence of extant life on an exoplanet by the end of 2042.

In a debate hosted by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, six scientists argued whether remote sensing will reveal evidence of extant life on an exoplanet-any planet outside our solar system-by the end of 2042.

The scientists arguing for the discovery of extra-terrestrial life in the near future centered on the ideas that life is versatile, that living organisms create noticeable biosignatures by changing their environment's chemical makeup, and that with the increasing number of earth-like planets found through ventures like the Kepler mission, it shouldn't be too long before we find one with the right signs.

"The history of science is full of many surprises," said Laura Kreidberg, a PhD student in the astronomy and astrophysics. "We should be open-minded about what to expect."

The opposition focused on branching lines of logic. In addition to the possibility of false positives on biosignatures and the unlikelihood of humanity devoting serious resources to finding life, a paradox by UChicago Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi argues that if there's life among billions of planets, some should be advanced enough to have reached Earth already.

"We hope that we can find life in the universe," said Edwin Kite, an assistant professor in geophysical sciences. "But we should vote based on facts, not hopes."

The debate, held Nov. 18, 2015, was the penultimate event for AstroChicago 123, which honored the department's founding with talks, a film and panels on the department's past and ongoing research. It also celebrated the completion of the William Eckhardt Research Center.

In the discussion, three researchers defended each side. Audience members had the opportunity to vote before and after the debate.

Dorian Abbot, associate professor in geophysical sciences, framed the arguments for finding extra-terrestrial life in the near future, or the "yes" side. First, he described how microbial life was common and able to survive in extreme conditions on Earth. This meant that, with the raw materials essential for living matter being abundant in our universe, life could likely survive on planets within habitable zones.

Leslie Rogers, assistant professor in astronomy and astrophysics, explained how all life modifies its environment, and that biosignatures such as oxygen and ammonia would be positive evidence toward the existence of life on an exoplanet. It would only take one thousandth of the biomass in the Earth's ocean to produce a noticeable amount of ammonia.

Kreidberg said that NASA currently has the technology to find these signatures, and had a list of planets that were promising candidates for life.

Kite, framing the arguments of the "no" side, explained that at the lab and on the planetary scale, life does not arise spontaneously-the exception being Earth, which proved that life was rare. He further explained that there is no combination of atmospheric signatures that cannot be explained through non-biological processes.

Daniel Fabrycky, assistant professor in astronomy and astrophysics, argued from the standpoint of Fermi's paradox-that with the abundance of earth-like planets, including many much older than ours, an alien civilization should have reached the stage of interstellar travel and made some contact with Earth. Following the theory further, Fabrycky argued that confirming existence of life on exoplanets would mean there's a higher probability of intelligent alien civilizations, and the fact that over billions of years none have made it to the point of reaching Earth means humanity has dismal prospects for space exploration and expansion. "By voting yes on your ballot, you are dooming humanity," Fabrycky quipped.

The last argument against finding life by 2042, put forth by Jacob Bean, an assistant professor in astronomy and astrophysics, was that humanity had too many political hurdles to overcome. Should humanity devote serious funding to developing remote-sensing technology to find extant life over other projects, it might find evidence that life exists elsewhere in the universe. However, Bean expressed doubt that the astrophysics community could band together, let alone the nation, to agree to this mission and overcome the technological difficulty.

Before the debate began, 33 members of the audience voted that life on an exoplanet would not be found by 2042, and 38 voted it would. After the debate, 40 members of the audience voted life would not be found and 38 voted it would, in an unexpected turn that Angela Olinto, the Homer J. Livingston Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics and the College, attributed to "the Chicago tradition of voting often." The ballot and a summary of the debate were placed in a time capsule to be opened 2042.

For those interested in learning more about exoplanets, lectures and classes on the subject will be forthcoming during Winter and Spring quarters. Rogers will give a faculty research lecture on the "Diversity and Demographics of Distant Rocky Worlds" at noon Feb. 29 in ERC 576. In addition, Fabrycky and Bean will teach classes on exoplanets in Spring Quarter.


Related Links
Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC
Life Beyond Earth
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Antarctic fungi survive Martian conditions on the International Space Station
Madrid, Spain (SPX) Jan 29, 2016
European scientists have gathered tiny fungi that take shelter in Antarctic rocks and sent them to the International Space Station. After 18 months on board in conditions similar to those on Mars, more than 60% of their cells remained intact, with stable DNA. The results provide new information for the search for life on the red planet. Lichens from the Sierra de Gredos (Spain) and the Alps (Aus ... read more

Phase of the moon affects amount of rainfall

Russia postpones manned Lunar mission to 2035

Audi joins Google Lunar XPrize competition

Lunar mission moves a step closer

Sandy Selfie Sent from NASA Mars Rover

Mars Rover Opportunity Busy Through Depth of Winter

4 people to live in an HERA habitat for 30 days at JSC

Getting real - on Mars

Challenger disaster at 30: Did the tragedy change NASA for the better?

Innovations in the Air

Astronaut rescue exercise proves Det. 3 command, control ready to support DoD, NASA

Voyager Mission Celebrates 30 Years Since Uranus

Last Launch for Long March 2F/G

China aims for the Moon with new rockets

China shoots for first landing on far side of the moon

Chinese Long March 3B to launch Belintersat-1 telco sat for Belarus

Russian Cosmonauts to Attach Thermal Insulation to ISS

Astronaut Scott Kelly plays ping pong with water

Japanese astronaut learned Russian to link two nations

NASA, Texas Instruments Launch mISSion imaginaTIon

SpaceX Tests Crew Dragon Parachutes

Initial launcher assembly clears Ariane 5 for its payload integration process

70th consecutive successful launch for Ariane 5

AMOS-6 Scheduled for May 2016 Launch by Space-X

Astronomers discover largest solar system

Lonely Planet Finds a Mum a Trillion Km Away

Follow A Live Planet Hunt

Lab discovery gives glimpse of conditions found on other planets

A new quantum approach to big data

NASA Engineers Tapped to Build First Integrated-Photonics Modem

Lockheed Martin UK supplying radar to Royal Navy

Laser Debris Shields

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.