We're Not Alone in the Universe, So it seems
UFOs and earthlike planets are in the news. The Kepler, NASA's space based telescope launched just two years ago, has found some serious possibilities for potential life out there. So far it found 1,235 planets orbiting nearby stars. But more tantalizing, it has found 54 planets in habitable zones –atmospheres and liquid water and - conditions that may support life. "It's very likely that life is common in our galaxy," said the chief scientist of the Kepler mission, William Borucki.
Meanwhile, UFOs are being spotted practically every week, and with the advent of portable cameras they can been seen. Whether many are hoaxes remain to be seen but these videos become viral on the internet. In Utah last week, witnesses saw a ufo – three red dots of light in a triangle shape - dropping bright lights. At the same time, a bright round spot of light could be seen hovering over the dome of rock Jerusalem. Four videos captured it and millions have viewed them on youtube. While some claim them to be hoaxes, Many are believers.
It may sound hokey in the past, but increasingly more and more people believe in extraterrestrial life. A Scripps Howard News Service poll in 2008 says that a whopping 56 percent Americans believe “very likely or somewhat likely that intelligent life exists on other worlds.”
“One in every 12 Americans has seen a mysterious object in the sky that might have been a visitor from another world,” According to the poll, conducted with Ohio Univeristy, “while nearly one in every five personally knows someone who has seen an unidentified flying object.”
Indeed, a radical shift in human psyche regarding our relationship with the rest of universe is taking place. Not so long ago, until Copernicus came along, we assumed our world was the universe's center -- and, for that matter, flat -- and that the sun orbited Earth. Last century we held on to the notion that our solar system was unique. Scientists just a generation ago assumed, too, that conditions on Earth -- a protective atmosphere, ample water and volcanic activity -- made it the only planet that could possibly support life.
That sense of self-importance has given way to a more humble assessment of our place in space. The conditions on our home planet may be unique, but solar systems are not at all anomalies. We are in the process of accepting that we are very much part of the larger universe.
Furthermore, by sending space probes to the edge of the solar system, by collecting moon rocks and comet dust, by landing probes on Mars to dig for soils and search for signs of life, and by planning manned missions to Mars, we are in constant exchange with the universe.
Consider these astonishing discoveries made in the past decade or two.
Using the Hubble Telescope to study Earth's atmosphere, astronomer Lou Frank proved that Earth is constantly hit by snowballs from space. The implications are enormous: If snowballs from outer space hit Earth regularly, it is raining elsewhere onto other planets, providing much-needed water for the primordial soup.
The two rovers found ice on Mars. If there's ice on Mars, the probability of ice on other planets has grown exponentially as well.
And then, in 2009 , we found water on the moon.
A quarter of century ago, a meteorite from Mars found on Earth, known as the Allan Hills meteorite (or ALH 84001 to scientists), astonished everyone when some scientists claimed they found tantalizing traces of fossilized life within it. Their findings have been contested, but the meteorite renewed enthusiasm for the idea of "panspermia."
The interstellar exchange of DNA was a theory championed by Francis Crick, who discovered the DNA molecule with two other scientists in the last century. If scientists laughed behind the Nobel laureate's back when he first suggested it, no one is laughing now.
Besides, there is such a thing as self-fulfilling prophecy: If Earth didn't receive DNA for a startup way back when, we are now actively sending out DNA through space with our spacecrafts and satellites and shuttles.
And what do scientists find when they analyze the comet dust collected by space probes? Organic materials, rich in biogenic materials with great varieties of organic molecules.
Roland Robertson, a social scientist, defines globalization as "the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole."
Taking Robertson's definition a step further, it seems inevitable that the universe, too, shrinks and compresses as we explore and measure it, and infer profound implications from our discoveries.
Perhaps it is why so many of us have changed our mind: We are not alone in the universe. Earth maybe unique, but only in the sense that every human being is unique. It’s harder, after to all, to claim the role of sole inheritor’s of god’s grace in a vast universe abundant with water and organic materials and planets with atmospheres orbiting stars like our own sun.
War and strife and revolutions and bloodshed seem endless on our little blue planet, but when man gazes up to the heavens it remains sublime. To paraphrase the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell, that sea on which humanity now sails is infinitely more vast than that imagined by Columbus. And the cosmic age, no doubt about it, has arrived.
Andrew Lam is author of East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.