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Students seek life beyond earth

Written by Rebecka McAleer


Scientists, geeks, and average Joes of all kinds have always been intrigued by the idea of life on other planets. Science fiction movies present possibilities galore. Perhaps there is a massive series of terraformed galaxies in our post-apocalyptic future, as presented by Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” or an evil Empire and a mystical Force a la Star Wars. Perhaps the aliens that do exist just want to ‘phone home’ like E.T. and leave us alone.

The search for extraterrestrial life isn’t all nerds in basements with conspiracy theories. Just recently, meteorites supposedly featuring living microorganisms from beyond Earth’s atmosphere have been discovered in both Sri Lanka and Canada. As usual, rumors abound that these discoveries might join the endless ranks of failed hoaxes and fakes from years gone by, but we can at least retain some hope.

VSU students certainly seem to agree. “Oh they’re out there, alright,” Lewis Ritenour , senior and former physics/astronomy major, said. “We just haven’t found them yet.”

Surprisingly, students are much more willing to believe in intelligent life beyond our atmosphere from a logical perspective than from a fantastic one.

“The mathematical chances are way too high to not believe that there’s life out there. It’s just logic; there are too many galaxies and star systems for there not to be any other planet capable of sustaining life,” Will English, graduate history major, said. English’s reasoning was echoed and approved by a number of surrounding students, and not a single conspiracy theory was heard.

This attachment to logic may be the result of the informative teaching here on campus. An enlightening interview with astronomy professor Dr. Martha Leake revealed just how right these students are. “They’ve found 27,000 planets that might possibly have life-sustaining conditions, and over 800 of them have been confirmed,” She said. “It’s extremely likely that there’s life out there. I’d love to think that there is, but we haven’t found any proof yet.”

She also went into surprising detail on exactly how much interest there is in the field of the extraterrestrial search. “Searching for other planets with the ability to sustain life is a very busy field right now. Right now the Kepler telescope is using views of planets’ atmospheres in the light of eclipses to determine more about whether our surrounding planets can host life. We’re also looking into the moons of Jupiter and Saturn like Europa, Enceladus, and maybe Titan.”

Students who are interested in the hunt for life should look into the Kepler telescope and its mission at kepler.nasa.gov.

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