Life on Other Planets?

What was the stuff of science fiction stories when I was a kid seems more and more likely to be reality now.  At least in terms of life on other planets.  While many of us born in the early 80s are still wondering how we got to our thirties without flying skateboards and Mars colonies, some technology and scientific discoveries in our lifetimes have been beyond anyone’s wildest childhood imagination.  Computers and medical advances, for example, have come farther, faster, than I would have thought possible as a kid.  But space exploration really seems to have stalled.

Instead of moon bases, missions to Mars, and maybe someone working on how to manage insterstellar travel, we have to bum rides from the Russians to our (shared) space station.  Commercial flights may be available by the end of this year on Virgin Galactic, but we definitely didn’t have Pan Am flights to a space station in 2001.  So there are things that would have grossly disappointed my eight-year-old self, but also some things that would have blown my mind – like my current smart phone.

One thing that is definitely beyond my wildest expectation is the number of planets out there that potentially have life.  It seems like at least once a week we hear about another new planet (or several planets) that has been discovered and has the potential to host life.  Just last month, NASA’s Kepler mission found an Earth-size planet within its sun’s habitable zone a mere 500 light years from us.

Artist’s concept of Kepler-186f Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

It’s now almost certain that there’s life of some kind on other planets.  What that life could look like and whether it could be intelligent is currently subject to wild speculation.  Really, really exciting and spectacularly wild speculation.  And I’m willing to bet that life, in some form, will be discovered in my lifetime.

I will say, though, that I doubt intelligent life will be found anytime soon.  I’m in the camp where other intelligent life is either not advanced enough for us to find each other yet, or so far beyond us that they would pay us about as much attention as we would an amoeba.  But I think the most likely thing we will find first is very primitive life.

I could, though, be as completely wrong about all of this as I was at age eight about how I would definitely have a jet pack in my twenties.  The one thing I can say for certain is that the discoveries are only going to keep getting more exciting.

What do you think we will find out there?  What do you hope we will find?

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