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Is there life in a galaxy far away?
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Is there other life out there?
That’s a question that’s been asked for centuries and a question addressed Thursday by Dr. Gary Flandro during a McMinnville Noon Rotary Club meeting.
“The chance we will ever detect other life is very slim, although the movies say otherwise,” said Dr. Flandro, a professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. “Could we do anything about it if we found another habitable planet 20 light years away? If we could go the speed of light, it would take 20 years to get there.”
Dr. Flandro said the search for other life has been ongoing for over 500 years since man began the study of the stars.
He said some important milestones were achieved by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) who determined the sun, not the earth, is the center of the solar system, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who theorized there are an infinite number of habitable worlds and infinite number of solar systems, and Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who said other solar systems would be constructed similar to ours.
“Since we’ve done everything in our solar system, the next thing to do is look for life outside our solar system,” said Dr. Flandro. “There’s been a lot of focus on Mars and at this time there are no signs there is anything there. However, there’s a huge amount of evidence there’s been running water on Mars at one time. The grand canyon of Mars, which is larger than our own Grand Canyon, was formed by running water. But that planet is so small, it has lost its water.”
Dr. Flandro said the Kepler Space Craft, which was launched March 7, 2009, has done a great deal to find other planets which could contain life.
The Kepler telescope has accomplished this by determining the brightness of a star, which in turn determines if a habitable planet could be orbitting around it.
Dr. Flandro said there are a number of factors which scientists use to theorize whether a planet can support life. Those factors include its size, distance from its sun, surface, and whether it has an atmosphere which can maintain stable temperatures. The distance from the sun is especially crucial because the planet has to sustain liquid water.
There are several questions Dr. Flandro asked the group of Rotarians to consider about space exploration.
“Where are we going, and should we keep spending money on this type of thing?” asked Dr. Flandro. “Will there be any long-term benefits from this? Would we be better to spend our money on something like building schools?”
He closed by saying it would be highly doubtful we could ever reach another planet, or that life from another planet could ever reach us. He said Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests we could never travel faster than the speed of light and we aren’t even close to reaching that speed now.