An update on the search for alien life

The answer to the question: “are we alone in the universe?” may be coming sooner than you think. Adam Frank, professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, joins guest host Courtney Collins to discuss the many ways scientists are searching for life in space and whether we’re ready to encounter the huge paradigm shift that would come with finally finding alien life. His book is “The Little Book of Aliens.”


The search for alien life might yield definitive answers sooner than you think

By Shaunessy Renker, Think Intern

Are we alone in the universe? It’s an ancient question, one that is least 2,500 years old, according to Adam Frank, author of “The Little Book of Aliens. There is evidence of the debate between alien optimists and alien pessimists all throughout history. The ancient Greeks, such as Aristotle and Democritus, often argued over this question with one another.

It’s not so different today. But Frank is confident we’ll have answers soon.

“In our lifetimes we’re going to have data, we will finally go beyond opinions, and we will have actual information from distant alien worlds that will help us decide the answer to this question,” Frank says.

In the mid-20th century, the subject surrounding UFOs and alien life became sensationalized through pop culture and the ‘Space Race.’ At the same time, scientists were making experimental strides in the astrophysics and astrobiology fields.

“Between 1950 and 1960 was this apocryphal epic-making decade when so much of the groundwork for how we think about alien life would get set,” says Frank. “Frank Drake carries out the first astrobiology experiment ever done. He takes radio telescopes and he points them at sun-like starts to listen for non-natural signals—any kind of radio emission that might indicate that there’s a civilization out there.”

Those unfamiliar with the field of astrobiology may be under the impression that scientists who have spent their whole lives gathering data and extensively searching have yet to find actual proof of alien life. In reality, the amount of the universe that humans have searched is miniscule, for which Adam Frank has an analogy.

“Most people think that we’ve search and haven’t found, and that’s sometimes called the ‘Great Silence,” says Frank. “If you think of what we would call the parameter space—the space of possibilities you would have to search—as being the Earth’s ocean and the aliens are fish, how much of the ocean have we searched so far? It turns out…it’s a hot tub.”