Not (that) far: a planet where life is likely

Still alone: Over 500 films have been made featuring aliens, but none have yet visited.

Would contacting aliens be such a good idea? Another planet that might support life has been found, while China is investing huge amounts in the world's most advanced alien-spotting radar.

Ross 128 b. Remember the name.

This newly-discovered planet is the second closest to the solar system which has been found. Its temperature is around 23°C — ideal for supporting life. In fact, it is now the most likely home to aliens that we know of.

Ross 128 b is 11 light years away. On the scale of the universe, which is believed to be at least 156 billion light years wide, this is nothing. But 11 light years is still 64,664,881,000,000 miles, so you will not be going there any time soon.

Nonetheless, a new space race is on. And it is China, not the USA or Russia, which appears best placed to make the first contact with extraterrestrial life.

The country has built the world’s largest radio dish to detect signals from other galaxies. It is sensitive enough to search tens of thousands of stars for the radio waves that attempts at contact would produce.

But there is a problem. Any aliens with the ability to contact us would be likely be far more advanced than humans. As Stephen Hawking puts it, “The outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”

Would it be wise to encourage contact?

Lonely planet?

It would be incredibly reckless to contact extraterrestrial life before we know how advanced it is, and how they would treat humans. Instead of reaching out to potentially hostile invaders, we should consider hiding our existence from aliens. Otherwise we could be inviting our own destruction.

Others are more optimistic. As scientist and writer Steven Pinker has argued, humans have naturally become more peaceful over the course of history. If this is a recurring pattern throughout the universe, played out on much longer time scales, these highly advanced extraterrestrial visitors really will come in peace.

You Decide

  1. Would it be wise to encourage contact with aliens?

Activities

  1. List five objects from Earth that you would show to a group of aliens to tell them about humanity.

Some People Say...

“We've never been visited by aliens because they have decided there's no sign of intelligent life.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A planet 11 light years from Earth called Ross 128 b has been discovered. Scientists believe it is likely to have the correct conditions to support life.
What do we not know?
A great deal. Does extraterrestrial life exist? If not, what makes Earth unique? If so, where is it, and how long will it take for humans to be able to make contact? Why have we not been contacted yet?

Word Watch

Light years
A light year is a measure of distance not time, being the distance that light travels in one year. One light year is about 5.9 trillion miles.
At least 156 billion light years wide
The observable universe is believed to be around 90 billion light years across, while the highest estimates for the whole universe are 554 billion light-years.
64,664,881,000,000 miles
The fastest spaceship ever built travels at 36,000 mph, meaning that it would take about 205,000 years for the spaceship to reach Ross 128 b.

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