alien landscape

Science

Bummed by the Pentagon UFO report? These 4 alien missions are cooler

These ongoing projects may soon resolve the extraterrestrial mystery.

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The long-awaited release of the UFO Pentagon report received a rather underwhelming response from some alien enthusiasts who were expecting to learn some extraterrestrial revelations from the nine-page declassified document.

But while the government report on unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) did not confirm nor deny alien visitors, there are other ways out there to find aliens. You just need to know where, and how, to look.

One of the more profound quests undertaken by science is finding out whether or not we are alone in the universe. Although there’s no definitive evidence that life exists beyond Earth, some researchers believe the probability of life emerging elsewhere in the vast universe is pretty high.

Scientists, in turn, have developed very real ways to actually search for extraterrestrials — just perhaps not the kind of aliens one would normally expect.

Here are four real ways we might find evidence of alien life.

4. Listening to aliens

SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) is a series of interrelated programs that scour the universe for intelligent life mostly by trying to listen in on their radio signals.

Researchers use radio telescopes to try to eavesdrop on alien civilizations.SETI

SETI was inspired by astronomer Frank Drake’s initial quest to find aliens way back in the year 1960 as he pointed a radio telescope toward two nearby Sun-like stars, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani, which seemed like good candidates for hosting planets like Earth.

Drake’s experiment was dubbed Project Ozma and it marked one of humanity’s first real efforts to find alien life.

And although it turned up empty, Project Ozma inspired other astronomers to follow suit in trying to detect radio signals from nearby star systems.

Some of the ongoing projects that use the SETI method are:

  • The SETI Institute, which was founded on February 1, 1985 as a non-profit organization searching for narrow-band radio transmissions from other planets.
  • The Berkeley SETI Research Center, which conducts experiments searching for electromagnetic signatures of extraterrestrial civilizations that span across different wavelengths from radio to visible light.
  • Meanwhile, the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center searches for technosignatures, which are signals or other phenomena emitted by any sort of technology from an alien civilization.

3. Finding alien worlds

The first exoplanet discovery was announced in 1992 by astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail. The pair were observing a pulsar star located some 2,300 light-years away when they noticed two planets orbiting around said star.

By 1995, researchers confirmed a planet around a Sun-like star. Since then, the hunt for alien worlds that orbit around stars other than our own Sun was officially on.

The number of exoplanets scientists know of subsequently has gone from a small handful to more than 4,000.

In the past three decades, scientists have discovered all kinds of weird alien worlds orbiting around stars other than the Sun.NASA

That major leap in exoplanet numbers is due in part to NASA’s Kepler mission and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) missions. Kepler zooms in on stars to see if there are planets orbiting within their habitable zone, while TESS surveys 200,000 of the brightest stars in the sky.

With each discovery, scientists hone in on the characteristics of each of these planets to find out if they have conditions that may be suitable to host life.

Scientists usually look for biosignatures, a cellular complex or chemical compound that is indicative of an ongoing biological process. With the upcoming launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scientists are hoping to learn more about these foreign planets.

JWST will be able to study the atmosphere of exoplanets in great detail by observing exoplanets as they orbit in front of their home star and drawing out their atmospheric properties during transit. This could help us find places with surprisingly Earthlike atmospheres, giving alien hunters ideal places to look.

2. Aliens on moons

As scientists first began to look for life in the universe, they were basing their search on the only planet they know of that hosts life: Earth.

Unfortunately for our Earth-centric beliefs, some of the most promising places in the universe where possible alien life could exist have been anything but Earth-like.

While exploring the outer planets of the Solar System, scientists were captivated by their moons instead. Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa have all shown signs of possible habitability buried beneath their icy surfaces.

Life could have possible survived beneath Enceladus’ icy surface.NASA
  • Titan has methane and ethane lakes that may host some form of microorganisms designed to sustain the moon’s harsh environment.
  • Enceladus has a subsurface ocean and plumes of water ice and vapor where microbial life could possibly thrive.
  • Life may also exist in Europa’s subsurface ocean the same way life manages to survive in Earth’s hydrothermal vents.

1. And of course, Martians

If we’re back to being Earth-centric, scientists are placing their safe bets on Mars possibly hosting some form of life billions of years ago when the planet may have been habitable.

Evidence suggests Mars was once a wet, warm world and over the years lost its atmosphere and its water. But during that early period of Mars’ history, the planet could have been a habitable world.

“We know that Mars at one point was a place that that was suitable for life,” Alexander Hayes, director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, told Inverse in April. “What we don't know is what is the probability of having the right building blocks in the right environment means that life actually evolved.”

The Perseverance rover is collecting rock samples and placing them aside for a future sample return mission where they will be examined in a lab on Earth.NASA

Right now, NASA’s Perseverance rover is scouring the Red Planet in search of evidence of past microbial life on Mars.

If it succeeds in its quest to find life, then we may finally have an answer to the ongoing, existential question. But if it doesn’t, then Mars may be the first evidence of a habitable environment where life didn’t actually form or survive.

And from that, scientists go back to the drawing board.