Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why Search For Life?

The search for life elsewhere in the universe is among the most awesome of scientific endeavors.  For the first time in the 4.5 billion year history of our planet, creatures from the Earth are now plumbing the depths of space in search of our neighbors.  It is a daunting and frustrating job: the vast distances between our solar system and others, the sheer number of stars that must be surveyed, and the complicated set of circumstances required just to allow for the possibility of life on another world, make the work exceedingly difficult.  Even as we have become accustomed to the idea of extraterrestrials through the science fiction of our time, and have made the most breathtaking discoveries about the cosmos, there are those who deride the search for life as mere fantasy, a waste of taxpayer dollars.  Meanwhile, there are some enthusiasts who persist in the delusion that intelligent extraterrestrials are probably close-by; hiding on the Moon, perhaps, or on Mars.  Such 19th-century thinking may be responsible for some disillusionment when it comes to genuine searches for extraterrestrial life, slow and painstaking as they are.  In light of the fact that interstellar travel will almost certainly not happen in our lifetime, there is a kind of exploration defeatism.  If the aliens are not reachable in our time, so the thinking goes, is it even worth trying to contact them?