Is there life in outer space? Aug 2, 2010 18:04:29 GMT 1
Post by uforn on Aug 2, 2010 18:04:29 GMT 1
Dr Ruwantissa Abeyratne
By any modern standards of human endeavour and research, space transport stands pre-eminent in the wonderment it offers. What began as exploration of outer space in the 1950s and 60s is now full blown tourism in space. Added to that is the startling possibility of the existence of life in outer space which makes us not only think but wonder in amazement.
Stephen Hawking - one of the world’s most eminent and knowledgeable physicists has stated that in a universe with 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars, it is unlikely that life forms are present only on Earth.
Hawking has also said that, to his mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational the real challenge is working out what aliens might actually be like. Hawking thinks it is possible they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.
Exploration of outer space
Against this bewildering backdrop, we continue to use and explore outer space, take pictures, calculate trajectories of planets and determine who owns the moon and what the purpose of outer space exploration is. If life were to be found in outer space, the ensuing conduct of human kind would be more an ethical issue.
Any inquiry into life in outer space has to take into account both vegetation as well as intelligent life. In both instances the main consideration would be how we could protect such life forms and use them for the benefit of human kind.
The central theme of space exploration would incontrovertibly be international cooperation and abstinence from the use of force, which collectively form the cornerstone of space exploration from a legal standpoint.
Points to remember
* Detecting life in outer space
* Treatment of such life
* Sending more probes
* Treating it with dignity
The basic questions are: do we send more probes to further investigate and do we have a responsibility to protect that life and allow it to develop naturally? If robotic probes definitively find life, should we erect a do not disturb sign and refrain from sending further probes? While these questions would have to be asked and answered at one point or another, the more immediate issue would be what we would do on Earth to cope with the new exigency.
One of the corollaries to finding life in outer space would be the issue of how we would use such a discovery in the context of the prevailing environment of international relations. In this context international politics within the umbrella of the United Nations and the United Nations Charter may become extremely relevant.
It is not unrealistic to envision that the discovery of life in outer space could spark a discourse on interests and a renewed initiative to revisit international treaties to ensure the peaceful uses of outer space while at the same time ensuring some degree of control on the use of life so discovered.
At the 79th Plenary Meeting of its 61st Session, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 61/111 which, inter alia, expresses serious concern of the General Assembly about the possibility of an arms race in outer space and urges all States, in particular those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to the goal of preventing an arms race in outer space as an essential condition for the promotion of international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. Doubtless, such a threat would prove to be more real and ominous if life in outer space were to be discovered.
The General Assembly also agreed that a panel of space exploration activities, including the private sector participation should be convened during the 50th session of the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCUPUOS).
Perhaps the most noteworthy of the Assembly’s observations as recorded in the Resolution is that the recommendations of UNISPACE III could be integrated into the Office of Outer Space Affairs work program and that UNCUPUOS could consider these recommendations for implementation. UNISPACE III is the genesis of the Vienna Declaration which, inter alia espouses the protection of the outer space environment.
What should we do?
Humanity’s foray into the solar system brings out the ethical issue of what we should do if life is found in outer space. Do we send more probes to further investigate and do we have a responsibility to protect that life and allow it to develop naturally? If robotic probes definitively find life, should we erect a do not disturb sign and refrain from sending further probes? Then again, what if we were to find intelligent life forms closer to the human form and not mere vegetation? Could we exercise control over the welfare of such life and who would claim that control?
Air law is firmly entrenched in the principle of sovereignty of States, so that a State may lay claims to rights over the airspace above its territory. This essentially means that while the implementation of air law is heavily influenced by municipal law, space law is solely grounded on legal principles binding on the community of nations. Principles of public international law therefore play an exclusive part in the application of space law principles.
Findings on Extraterrestrial life
Extraterrestrial life is life originating outside of the Earth. Its existence remains hypothetical; there is no evidence of extraterrestrial life that has been widely accepted by the scientific community. Most scientists believe that if extraterrestrial life exists, its emergence occurred independently, in different places in the universe.
An alternative hypothesis is panspermia, which suggests that life might emerge in one location and then spread between habitable planets. These two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. The study and theorization of extraterrestrial life is known as astrobiology, exobiology or xenobiology.
Although remote astronomical observations of a planet or other celestial body provide information about its physical environment, the determination of the presence of life on these bodies is more difficult.
Exobiological techniques are designed to detect life forms, artifacts produced by intelligent life, waste produces of metabolic reactions, remnants of former life, prebiological molecules that may reflect early evolutionary stages or substances such as carbon or combination of Hydrogen and Oxygen forming water that are necessary for the sustenance of life as it is experienced on Earth.
In 1948 the US Air Force commenced maintaining a file of reports relating to extraterrestrial phenomena called Project Blue Book. In July 1952, the US Government established a panel of scientists including engineers, meteorologists, physicists and an astronomer to investigate a series of radar detection coincident with visual sightings near the national airport in Washington DC. The panel was organized by the Central Intelligence Agency, which underscores the thrust of public and government concern and interest at the time.
The concern was based on US military activities and intelligence and that its report was originally classified Secret. Later declassified, the report revealed that 90 percent of UFO sightings could be readily identified with astronomical and meteorological phenomena (eg bright planets, meteors, auroras, ion clouds) or with aircraft, birds, balloons, searchlights, hot gases, and other phenomena, sometimes complicated by unusual meteorological conditions.
The publicity given to early sightings in the press undoubtedly helped stimulate further sightings not only in the US but also in Western Europe, the Soviet Union, Australia, and elsewhere.
A second panel established in February 1966 reached conclusions similar to those of its predecessor. This left a number of sightings admittedly unexplained, and in the mid-1960s a few scientists and engineers, notably James E. McDonald, an Arizona University meteorologist, and J Allen Hynek, a Northwestern University astronomer, concluded that a small percentage of the most reliable UFO reports gave definite indications of the presence of extraterrestrial visitors.
This sensational hypothesis, promoted in newspaper and magazine articles, met with prompt resistance from other scientists. The continuing controversy led in 1968 to the sponsorship by the US Air Force of a study at the Colorado University under the direction of EU Condon, a noted physicist.
The Condon Report, A Scientific Study of UFOs was reviewed by a special committee of the National Academy of Sciences and releazed in early 1969. A total of 37 scientists wrote chapters or parts of chapters for the report, which covered investigations of 59 UFO sightings in detail, analyzed public-opinion polls and reviewed the capabilities of radar and photography. Condons own Conclusions and Recommendations firmly rejected ETH - the extraterrestrial hypothesis - and declared that no further investigation was needed.
We have to be mindful of a few fundamental truths. Firstly, if we come across any form of life in outer space it will be the concern of all humankind. Second, any treatment of such life, irrespective of the fact that it is found in outer space, should be according to the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter.
Within these parameters, yes, we could send more probes to investigate further. Yes, we could even put up a do not disturb sign. But whatever we do, we are bound by the principles of responsibility and international accountability to treat life in outer space with the same dignity accorded to life on Earth.