IV. The Search for Life
For hundreds of years, humans have looked to the stars and wondered "are we alone in the universe?" The invention of the telescope by Galileo in the early 17th century allowed us to look beyond our Earth for the first time in detail: so began our exploration of other worlds, and the search for intelligent life. Our search was initially constrained to within the Solar System, and over the years we have learned much about the planets and their moons. As technology has advanced we have been able to look not only farther in space, but also in time (and in more detail than ever before). Now we are witnessing the discovery of the first observed exoplanets and the first opportunities to look for life beyond the Solar System.
The development of an understanding of life beyond Earth is the realm of astrobiology. Although its ultimate goal concerns alien life, a significant portion is dedicated to understanding life on earth from an astronomical perspective. By understanding how life on earth might be identified when viewed from the outside, as in the famous 'Earthrise' photo above, we can gain insight as to how we might identify life on other worlds when viewed from the Earth.
The search for life outside Earth has yet to be successful. However, optimism remains and the search continues. As Thomas Edison once said: 'I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work'. So too has the search for life not failed, but has rather found ways where life does not 'work'. Indeed it can be argued that the field of astrobiology has been greatly successful, as our understanding of other worlds and of life on Earth has grown immensely.
Though the search for life is now mainly focused on finding life in other planetary systems, research continues to be done concerning Mars, Titan, Europa, and other bodies within our Solar System. Come explore with us in the Search for Life: where we have come from, where we are now, and where we are going.