Two million people signed up on Facebook to go alien hunting at the highly classified US air force facility Area 51. Are they crazy or is there something to it? What would happen if we came into contact with aliens?
For some it’s a joke, for others it’s as serious as it gets: 1.9 million people have announced on Facebook that they will storm the US military compound Area 51 in Nevada on September 20, 2019.
Many are absolutely convinced that the US government is hiding UFOs or aliens there.
It was not until 2013 that the American secret service officially confirmed the existence of the military zone Area 51. Local residents and visitors had reported seeing mysterious flying objects at the site and speculated they were UFOs. The US military has been working on new spy planes on the site for decades, which could have been the reason for the mysterious sightings.
Tucked in the remote, dry Amargosa valley, the military zone has become an object of popculture, often linked to aliens in films and television series. Hotels and restaurants in the area have taken on the ‘alien’ theme.
What science says about aliens
While the internet is awash with Area 51 alien hunting memes and conspiracy enthusiasts are preparing for the trip to Nevada, several scientists around the world are actually researching the possibility of extraterrestrial life. And they aren’t ruling it out.
“I would find it surprising if extraterrestrial life didn’t exist,”astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch from the Technical University of Berlin told DW.
“With the trillions or more planets and moons, it would be strange if we were the only place where life would occur.”
How do we find out if there’s life out there?
Schulze-Makuch looks for life in its simplest form, meaning microbes. First, he tries to define conditions for life to exist. There must be an atmosphere or an ice shield, he says, to protect life on a planet.
Relatively stable air pressure, not too much radiation and favorable temperatures are needed as well. But microbes can survive even under harsh conditions, such as in the Atacama Desert in Chile or in hot springs at more than 100 degrees.
If there are no liquids, there can be no life. But the liquid does not necessarily have to be water, says Schulze-Makuch, it could also be ammonia or methanol. A common mistake is to extrapolate too much from the conditions that make our life on earth possible, he says. Ammonia and methanol may be toxic for humans, but for other living beings, they could be the source of life.
The search for a second Earth
While Schulze-Makuch’s research looks for livable conditions on the planets within our solar system, there are also scientists searching for earth-like planets in other galaxies. Nearly 4000 other planets have already been discovered. About 50 of them have a suitable mass and a favorable distance to the sun they orbit around. A certain distance is needed to enable temperatures suitable for life.
A candidate for livable conditions getting a lot of attention right now is a planet called “Proxima B” in the galaxy Proxima Centauri. But that’s only because it’s comparably close, says Schulze-Makuch. Close in this case means 4.3 light years away. If it is possible to fly at 10% of the speed of light one day, it would still take 43 years to get there.
Hello? Is there anyone out there?
If we can’t get to other planets and have a look ourselves, we have to find the aliens by other means. If other developed civilisations exist, they should also be able to emit radio waves, the researchers of the SETI Institute in California assumed. With giant telescopes they try to register possible radio waves from space.
“The most complex part is to filter out all the Earth’s interfering radio waves”,Andrew Siemion, leader of the project, told DW.
Scientifically, no one has proven that extraterrestrial life exists. Statistically, however, it’s probable, says Siemion. If it was possible for life to form here on earth, then why not somewhere else?
After all, we thought Earth was the center of the solar system, we thought our solar system was the center of our galaxy, we thought our galaxy was the center of the universe — all this turned out to be wrong, says Siemion. We are not as unique as we thought.