The unfortunate truth is that SETI has found absolutely nothing in over 50 years of observations. Perhaps intelligent life is far more difficult to find than simpler life forms.
When speaking about the search for alien life, there are two main focuses. In our Solar System and on Mars, in particular, we search for ancient signs of life or at least biosignatures that would suggest that life may have been possible in the distant past.
When it comes to looking at distant worlds in the Milky Way or beyond, astronomers focus on a far more difficult objective – the search for intelligent life. In a recent publication, astrophysicist Paul Sutter expressed his opinion that the search for alien civilizations has proven to be impossible and we should not expect to find promising signs any time soon. Instead, he proposed an alternative focus area – non-intelligent life forms on distant worlds.
Why should we stop looking for alien civilizations?
Are we alone?
Are we alone in the universe? This is undoubtedly the biggest question in the world. Why wouldn’t we be? Scientists claim that there are 21.6 sextillion planets in the observable universe – in numbers, that is 21,600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
In those numbers, Earth is nothing special apart from the fact that life evolved here. It should be obvious that this should be possible all over the universe or at least on Earth-like planets, and there are more than enough examples of such.
Then comes the obvious problem – we have found nothing that proves that alien life exists in whatever shape or form. And the other problem is that we do not know if non-intelligent life is more common than advanced alien civilizations, for example. If life even exists, right? Believers or non-believers, we all want the same thing – evidence.
Where are those alien civilizations we have been searching for?
As astrophysicist Paul Sutter explains it, the ideas behind the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) suggest that it would be easier to search for intelligent life/alien civilizations than simpler life forms since advanced beings will know how to make their presence known.
That is, scientists who take part in SETI focus on the search for technosignatures – signs of artificial objects, pollution, lighting, radio signals, etc. The main problem here is that even scientists are not certain what kind of technosignatures they should look for and which are most promising. You can read all about technosignatures in our article “Looking for Technosignatures on Distant Alien Worlds is a Must for Astronomers“.
The unfortunate truth is that SETI has found absolutely nothing in over 50 years of observations. Perhaps intelligent life is far more difficult to find than simpler life forms – and Paul Sutter believes that we have a much greater chance of finding such with new instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope.
Detectable signs of life
With the launch of the James Webb Telescope, we enter a new era of space exploration. While astronomers have been cataloging thousands of exoplanet candidates for years, the world did not have an advanced telescope that could do serious follow-up studies.
With the JWST, astronomers will be able to study the atmospheres of distant worlds and detect unnatural changes such as the overabundance of oxygen, which is a common element in all corners of the universe.
The important factor here is that oxygen does not last for long on its own. It is highly reactive and it merges with other elements. And if there is an overabundance of it in the atmosphere of a distant planet, it could be a sign that single-celled organisms changed the equilibrium just like they did on our planet about 2 billion years ago.
In other words, non-intelligent life forms have their own ways to show their existence and an instrument like the JWST has what it takes to find those traces. And if we find evidence of even the simplest organisms elsewhere in the universe, it would be equally as significant as finding an intelligent alien civilization.
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• Al-Sibai, N. (2021, November 9). Astrophysicist says scientists need to stop searching for alien civilizations. Futurism.
• Physics World. (2021, October 21). Scanning the cosmos for signs of Alien Technology.
• Sutter, P. (2021, November 9). Why are we still searching for intelligent alien life? Space.com.