August 27

What is an Extraterrestrial?

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Posted by Gonzo on August 27, 2023 4:42 PM
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People have long speculated about extraterrestrial life. Some hold to the belief that unidentified flying objects seen in the sky may be alien spacecraft and crop circle patterns were created by aliens.

The Scientific Revolution and Copernican challenge to geocentric cosmology brought the possibility of life on other planets into mainstream discourse, although excitement quickly subsided as actual probes visited potential alien habitats within our Solar System.

Origins

Extraterrestrial, or alien, refers to beings from another planet that are neither sapient beings depicted in science fiction nor bacteria living on this world. Astrobiology or xenobiology is the study of possible extraterrestrial life forms.

Ancient Egyptians, Babylonians and Sumerians had beliefs in other worlds which often combined cosmology with religion; their perception of aliens could often be hard to separate from gods and demons. Thales and Anaximander were two influential Western thinkers to first argue for extraterrestrial life through systematic arguments for other planets’ existence in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C.

Scientists remain divided about whether extraterrestrial life exists. While some contend that complex Earth life unlikely, others suggest convergent evolution will dictate significant similarities between off-Earth organisms and our own species.

Physical characteristics

The possibility of life beyond Earth has long been the subject of intense debate and speculation. Astronomers like William Herschel were convinced our Solar System contained sufficient planets capable of supporting life; some philosophers advocated “cosmic pluralism.”

Major questions surrounding extraterrestrial life involve its physical characteristics. One hypothesis states that extraterrestrial organisms would share similar features to what we find here on Earth; water serves as a medium for molecular interaction as well as providing structural molecules like carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus sulfur and oxygen for growth and reproduction.

Discovering signs of alien life would be a huge breakthrough, whether that meant finding signs of microbial activity in Antarctic rocks or chemical disequilibrium caused by shifting atmospheric conditions. Astrobiologists have been searching for this evidence through studying extraterrestrial planet spectra’s absorption features as well as biosignatures which hint that living organisms exist; such as in Murchison meteorite which revealed amino acids which form proteins.

Culture

Extraterrestrial life refers to any species not native to Earth and the search for it is known as astrobiology or xenobiology – two fields which have grown increasingly popular as more advanced technologies allow scientists to easily explore distant star systems.

Searches for extraterrestrials have long influenced science, popular culture, secular and religious worldviews alike. If alien civilizations were discovered and made contact with humans on Earth, their arrival could profoundly change human understandings of themselves and of life in general.

Though meeting aliens may seem unlikely, such encounters have long been explored in movies and books. For instance, 1962 comic There are Martians Among Us illustrated the potential fear that such encounters would bring. Another plausible scenario would involve an advanced alien civilization avoiding contact with humans to facilitate natural growth at its own pace; according to Michael Michaud’s theory this intelligent extraterrestrial civilization might even avoid making contact entirely in order to minimize any unintended repercussions from encountering us humans.

Languages

Extraterrestrial languages tell much of a civilization’s story; Extraterrestrial Languages explores their development for interstellar communication, providing historical accounts and scientific insight on astrolinguistics into an accessible primer.

Though hypothetical aliens might have evolved differently on other worlds, linguists such as Noam Chomsky maintain that there may be universal factors which facilitate communication across great biological distances.

Assuming any civilization capable of building spaceships or radio telescopes requires communication systems that meet linguistic criteria, we may assume any civilization capable of building such projects would need a way of conveying its complex ideas across to many workers involved simultaneously on each project – thus necessitating language-like systems of expression for this endeavor.

Hans Freudenthal developed Lingua Cosmica in the 1960s as an interstellar communication system, using formal logic and basic arithmetic as its foundations. The Lingua Cosmica language served as the basis of messages broadcast to numerous stellar targets around the new millennium; these messages began with numerals and notation before evolving into more intricate topics like information on Earth and other planets in our Solar System.

Technology

Humans don’t intentionally send radio signals into space, but the technologies we do use may emit unintentional ones which could be detected by astronomers looking for technosignatures. For instance, humans emit nitrogen dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere which would become pollutants on distant exoplanets if any existed.

Astronomers might search for other technosignatures such as large artificial structures orbiting stars that alter their brightness over time. James Webb telescope will scan distant planets for signs of such megastructures by measuring dips in starlight intensity.

Other researchers are more optimistic. They note that an advanced extraterrestrial civilization would likely recognize the need to minimize their ecological footprint on Earth and may develop robotic probes instead of radio waves to communicate with us, thus limiting any unintended consequences. If life ever is found, however, decisions that balance benefits and risks must be reached upon by society as a whole and political bodies alike.


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