One of the biggest mysteries humans face is: are we alone in the universe? Some of the greatest scientific minds in the world have thought about this question, and at more length than the scientific layman. So what do they think? Are we alone in the vast universe? Or will we one day meet intelligent life?
10. Julian Assange
We know what you’re probably thinking. These guys are idiots. Julian Assange is not a technologist or a scientist. To that we counter: maybe we are. But Assange was a computer programmer and hacker. However, we mostly want to include him because if there’s anyone who knows about government secrets, such as classified information on UFOs and alien contact, he may be the best person to go to.
Assange, of course, is the editor of WikiLeaks. He’s responsible for the biggest leak of military information in history. Assange has been asked numerous times if the government was hiding UFO or alien information. And, according to him, the answer is no. The only reference to UFOs ever found on WikiLeaks is a Canadian UFO cult called the Raelians.
Assange gets very annoyed with crazy conspiracy theories, like UFOs and people involved with the 9/11 “Truth” movement. He says that there are conspiracies everywhere that lead to war and mass fraud, and people don’t need to make up new ones.
9. Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II. He also helped popularize physics through books and TV shows that were known for being informative and funny.
Feynman was definitely open to the possibility of life other than our own in the universe. He saw there was no definitive proof that it didn’t exist. But one thing he highly doubted was that flying saucers visited Earth. At a lecture in 1965 at Cornell University, Feynman said, “I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.”
8. Edward Snowden
A lot of times, Edward Snowden is associated with Assange and WikiLeaks. The truth is, they are completely unrelated. However, they do share similarities because both are responsible for massive information leaks. In the case of Snowden, he was a computer technician working for the CIA, and then he became a subcontractor with the NSA. While working there, he uncovered that the NSA was spying on its own citizens. They were also watching major technology corporations like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple. He also exposed that the NSA wasn’t the only one doing it. Britain’s version of the NSA, Government Communications Headquarters, was also spying on their own citizens. Snowden took the information to the press, and was immediately labeled a traitor. He’s been in Russia ever since.
Even though he had access to amazing amounts of confidential government information, he did not find a single shred of evidence that supports that aliens have made contact. However, where they differ is that Snowden thinks alien life could be out there. We just haven’t been able to communicate with them because of encryption.
While talking with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Snowden said that, like us, other advanced beings may encrypt their information. That will make finding them much more difficult. He pointed out that only the beginning of our communication technology wasn’t encrypted. For example, before encryption, information was transmitted through waves, and picked up by antennas for television and radio. However, some of these signals would have also been sent out into space. Once encryption started, fewer signals would have been sent out, making it harder for alien life to find us because there is less “noise” coming from Earth. On our end, aliens could be sending us messages. Perhaps our satellites just aren’t recognizing them because our tech is too heavily encrypted.
7. Ellen Stofan
Ellen Stofan is a scientist you may not have heard of, but she’s been NASA’s Chief Scientist since 2013. She is quite optimistic when it comes to finding other life in the universe. While speaking on a panel in 2015 about water in the universe, Stofan said that she believes by 2025, we’ll find strong indications of life outside of Earth. Then, within the next two or three decades, we will have definitive proof.
So, why is she so optimistic? Stofan says that NASA is implementing new technology that will help in the search. Plus, researchers have a much better idea where to look. They also know how to look for life other than our own. Amazingly, the other panelists agree with her and think that finding extraterrestrial life is a matter of when, not if.
Stofan also clarified that the alien life may not be intelligent, and will probably be microbes.
6. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein is synonymous with genius. But did he think it was possible that aliens existed? In 1920, a reporter from the Daily Mail asked Einstein about life elsewhere in the universe. He replied, “Why should the Earth be the only planet supporting human life? It is not singular in any other respect.” So while it was fairly clear to Einstein that there’s a good chance life does exist somewhere in the universe, he thought that people trying to contact aliens were doing it all wrong. From the late 19th century up to the present day with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) programs, most people have tried to make contact with life on other planets with radio waves. Einstein thought that, if alien life were out there, they would contact us using light rays. Light rays are easier to control.
The question then, is: was Einstein correct? Have we been trying to contact aliens incorrectly for over a century and wasted billions upon billions of dollars and man hours? Well, yes and no. When Einstein gave his answer, he didn’t have enough information about outer space. Specifically, in space there is something called interstellar, or cosmic, dust. This dust blocks shorter-wavelength light, but radio waves can easily pass through it. In 1920, when Einstein made his prediction, scientists didn’t know that.
With that being said, there are teams trying Einstein’s method, which is called Optical SETI. A notable program using light beams to contact aliens is at Harvard. The problem is that when using light beams, the light has to be directed. Radio waves, however, spread across space like ripples in a pond.
5. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla, one of the more notable madmen of science, definitely believed that there was alien life. Specifically, he thought Mars housed intelligent beings. Tesla also believed there was a way to communicate with these beings on other planets. In 1901, he promised that he would make it possible. This was an incredibly ambitious goal, considering this was the early 20th century and home telephones were just becoming common.
Tesla’s big plans of phoning another planet started in 1899, when he moved to Colorado Springs. There, he set up his most ambitious plan: a power station that would provide inexpensive energy to thousands of people without the use of wires. For some reason, he also thought that it would be possible to use similar technology to contact other planets. How Tesla planned to communicate with Mars was not exactly clear. He tried to explain it in an article in Collier’s Weekly, but unfortunately, he was short on specific details. Tesla was ahead of his time, but working without a lot of knowledge that we now know. So what he did say was incorrect. For example, his plan uses electrical conduction and induction, which couldn’t travel across space in the same way radio waves would.
However, Tesla was apparently aware that radio waves may be helpful in inter-planet communication. In 1901, Tesla received an unusual radio signal. He thought it might be from Mars. Although it’s unclear what the radio signal was, it’s obvious that Tesla thought alien life is out there.
4. Bill Nye
Based on the sheer number of stars and planets outside of our own solar system, Bill Nye believes that there has to be life out there somewhere. However, Nye’s reason for this assertion brings up one of the biggest problems when it comes to searching for extraterrestrial life. If the universe is so vast, where do we even begin to search?
Nye believes that the likeliest candidate for finding life is Europa, which is one of the many moons of Jupiter. It was one of the first four moons discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. The four moons are called the Galilean satellites, and Europa is the smallest. The reason that Europa is so promising is because it has twice the amount of seawater as Earth. That’s a good indicator of the possibility life. The problem is that since Europa is so far away from the sun, the surface is ice. That ice is about 10-30 miles deep. Below all that ice is water that remains liquid, thanks to the tidal actions of Europa.
Nye believes that a vessel could be sent to Europa with a specialized drill. It would cost about $2 billion and would take 10 years. While that may sound like a lot, Nye says it’s about the same price as everyone in America buying just one cup of coffee. He then points out: isn’t the price of one cup of coffee a good investment to find life on another planet?
3. Neil deGrasse Tyson
The host of the new Cosmos and NOVA, Neil deGrasse Tyson hopes that we will find out if there is alien life within the next 50 years. He thinks the discovery will advance the field of biology by leaps and bounds, because it will help us explain what exactly makes something “alive.” For the first time we will be able to compare and contrast with a non-Earth life form. This will open up the spectrum on what exactly life is.
However, Tyson also says that there is the potential that alien life is out there and they might be too advanced to bother communicating with us. Tyson suggests, because there are plenty of habitable planets other than our own, someone could be sending us what they think are simple messages. However, the messages are way beyond our comprehension. To illustrate his point, Tyson compared our interactions with chimpanzees. Chimps and humans share 98.8 percent of the same DNA. Yet, we are so intellectually different. Chimps can do some basic math, but humans are doing quantum mechanics.
What if the intelligent life is more than 1.2 percent different in DNA than us? Say 2%, or even 10%. It would mean that alien life trying to communicate with us, would be like us trying to open up a line of dialogue with the chimp population. Tyson says that this very thought sometimes keeps him up at night.
2. Carl Sagan
The late Carl Sagan was an astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, and astrobiologist. He only published one fiction book in his life, Contact, which was made into a movie of the same name in 1998. The book focuses on the very question of what first contact with extraterrestrial life would be like. Instead of monsters or an invasion, the aliens send Earthlings plans for a machine, which we are supposed to build, but for unknown reasons. So did Sagan believe in UFOs and Aliens? Well, it was a rather complicated question for the man. When asked directly, he said:
“I’m frequently asked, ‘Do you believe there’s extraterrestrial intelligence?’ I give the standard arguments- there are a lot of places out there, the molecules of life are everywhere, I use the word billions, and so on. Then I say it would be astonishing to me if there weren’t extraterrestrial intelligence, but of course there is as yet no compelling evidence for it.
Often, I’m asked next, ‘What do you really think?’
I say, ‘I just told you what I really think.’
‘Yes, but what’s your gut feeling?’
But I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.”
Even though there was no evidence to prove or disapprove aliens exist, Sagan was fascinated by the possibility of intelligent alien life forms since he was a child. He thought there was a good chance that other life forms existed somewhere in the universe. Notably, while hosting Cosmos, Sagan said that there should be millions of other technological civilizations just in the Milky Way. He also co-wrote a book that was published in 1966 called Intelligent Life in the Universe in which he theorized life on other planets was possible. However, he was very doubtful of alien abductions, and this could have come from his work with the government.
Supposedly, Sagan worked for Project Blue Book, which was a study of the possiblity UFOs by the United States Air Force that ran from 1952 to 1969. The goal of the project was to determine if UFOs were an actual threat to national security, and to scientifically analyze UFO-related data. The official statement from the Air Force is that Project Blue Book did not find any evidence of UFOs or alien life.
After working with the Air Force, Sagan continued to work with the government. He became an advisor to NASA. Later in his life, Sagan worked with SETI projects and in the last year of his life, he was a member of the SETI Institute’s Board of Trustees.
1. Stephen Hawking
Since about 2010, world renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has been very clear in his thoughts on alien life. Mainly, there’s a good chance that they will be hostile and crush us, no different than a human wiping out an ant colony. Hawking’s reasoning stems from humanity’s history. Humans have a tendency to kill off species and even other civilizations of humans with lower technology. Why would an advanced alien species be any different from our own?
Hawking said that the reason aliens might come to Earth isn’t too different from the original Independence Day. He said, “I imagine 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.”
However, despite the danger, Hawking believes we should keep looking for alien life. Still, he thinks that the probability of finding life on another planet soon is pretty low. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We just may have a hard time finding it.
As for what Hawking thinks alien life might look like in our solar system, he said that most of it would be microbial or, at most, small animals. He also said that on ocean planets and moons there might be life underwater.
Another theory from Hawking regarding extraterrestrial life is that there may have been advanced civilizations throughout the universe that have already come and gone. They could have wiped themselves out before mastering interstellar travel. Hawking uses this example as a warning to humankind about scientific advancement. In the past, we’ve been on the brink of destruction with things like the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is possible we will do so again in the future before we master interstellar travel.