Could humans already be living on other planets? Scientists have released their first analysis of a meteorite that crashed in Gloucestershire last year, with results which gesture towards the possibility of life in the universe — and it may look more familiar than you think.
'Witness' from space hints at origin of life
Could humans already be living on other planets? Scientists have released their first analysis of a meteorite that crashed in Gloucestershire last year, with results which gesture towards the possibility of life in the universe - and it may look more familiar than you think.
In the fifth season of the BBC's hit creation Doctor Who, about a voyaging alien "Time Lord" with a soft spot for human companionship, the Doctor's companion is shocked to discover that he is extraterrestrial.
"But you look human," she says. He shakes his head indignantly: "No. You look Time Lord. We came first."
Long gone are the days of budget CGI aliens with huge, protruding skulls, antennae ears and leathery green skin. From their appearance to their behaviours, most recent depictions of aliens look quite a lot like us, with some eerie differences.
Now, scientists are speculating about whether the media might have got it right. Last year, a meteorite crashed in the town of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, England, and a new analysis of its components is opening up opportunities for discovery.
Lab researchers' breakdowns of the 500g fragments of meteorite that made it to Winchcombe from Jupiter - which is approximately 649 million kilometres away - showed that 11% of its weight was made up of water.
Even more strangely, the water extracted from the meteorite had around the same ratio of hydrogen atoms as on Earth - meaning that it closely resembles the composition of the water that created life on Earth.1
The news seems to add more compelling evidence to an existing theory: that Earth's water, the foundation of every single organism that exists on our planet, was brought by asteroids.
Water opens up unlimited possibilities. If meteorites can carry water almost identical to ours across the universe, other planets could have developed life in the same way as us. As well as presenting hope for an inhabitable planet outside of Earth, this also provides more evidence for extraterrestrial life.
If alien life forms developed on a planet with a similar composition and atmosphere to Earth, they might appear "humanoid". Evolution could have pointed them in the same direction, giving them a similar appearance to us. If their planet had supported life for longer, they could even show us what we might look like in the future.
But there is a longstanding debate among biologists about whether evolution could ever create something close to 'human' ever again.
Palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould famously theorised about "replaying the tape" - giving history a blank slate and seeing if evolution would repeat itself in the same way - and concluded "I doubt that anything like Homo sapiens would ever evolve again", since we evolved as a result of the total coincidence of history.2
But plenty of scientists disagree, pointing out that there is plenty of evidence for something called "evolutionary convergence", whereby completely unrelated families of organisms evolve similar features due to environmental challenges.
This could not happen if different evolutionary branches were created purely by historical chance. It would also mean that aliens living on different planets confronting similar challenges could look exactly like us, even if we were raised in totally different corners of the universe.
Could humans already be living on other planets?
Yes: If we think about how big the universe is - possibly limitless - the law of probability states that there must be some human, or at least humanoid, species living on different planets. In fact, it is much more likely that we would find something with evolutionary similarities to us than something totally different.
No: Even if some small conditions were similar, small differences could create huge changes in the evolutionary process of life on other planets. It is highly unlikely that we would find anything out there that strongly resembled us. Besides, we do not even have proof of any extra-terrestrial life yet.
Or... It is unlikely that "humans" could be living on other planets, because regardless of the similarities, it is functionally impossible that a lifeform absolutely identical to a human would have developed on a different planet. But there could certainly be similar lifeforms.