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The Search For Life In The Cosmos

1081 words - 5 pages

The scientific community is largely in agreement on the fact that life began here on Earth about three and a half billion years ago. In a universe ruled over largely by entropy, it is inane to say that any set of circumstances could be completely unique. The primordial constituents of Earth’s atmosphere gave way to the building blocks of life, as could and in all likelihood has happened elsewhere in the vastness of space and time. Since the dawn of mankind, we have looked to the stars in search of answers, and one question has always been prevalent in our thinking: are we alone? It is ingrained in our culture, with science-fiction spreading rampantly through the world of novels and ...view middle of the document...

Intelligent life, however, requires a lot more than a subterranean ocean on a frigid block of ice, which is why the search must extend beyond our little solar system. This is where an organization like SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) comes into play. As they put it, the mission of SETI is to “explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.” An organization like SETI makes it possible to gather together funding and scientific talent in one place and focus the studies on that which is deemed most important. Through such SETI-run programs as SETI@home, ordinary people can get involved by downloading a screensaver that utilizes the computer’s processing power to sift through the reams of data collected by SETI while the owner of the computer is not using it. SETI@home has taken the financial burden off of the research institutes because they no longer need as much processing power on site. About one hundred and thirty five extrasolar planets have been discovered thus far, but their discovery is no longer nearly as startling as it was when the first few were found. Researchers are finding more and more that planets like those in our solar system are not a particularly uncommon feature throughout the galaxy. These extrasolar planets are found primarily by tracking the fluctuations in radial velocity, called the “wobble method” of finding planets. Much like a see-saw at a park with a heavy adult near the center and a much lighter child near the end, planets revolving around stars exert only the slightest pull, but it is enough to make the star “wobble” slightly off center. With such a method, it is easier to locate planets that are many, many times larger than Earth, but recently there have been planets found that are as small as Neptune, approximately fourteen times the size of our own planet. These planets are much more similar in makeup to our own than the gas giants that have been discovered in...

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