Is there life on another planet?
AThere are two things you can always rely on in the media: the short-term memory of the news recipient and a certain unwillingness to deal with subjunctive moods and considerations of possibility. And so many will not have been surprised at all that it is already a long way off planet“on which there may be life,” was sold as a sensation — or a “possibly life-friendly exoplanet,” as the more cautiously put it Press release from the responsible Max Planck Institute for the discovery of the exoplanet “Wolf 1069b”.
In fact, there have been variants of this headline with regularity over the past few years. Whether planets around Trappist-1, Proxima Centauri, LHS 1140, Ross 128, Teegarden’s star or Kepler 1649: there was always great optimism that possible life could potentially be very homely there. And for all those who are about to dream of interstellar travel or ready their radio antennas to receive alien messages, this word cannot be stressed enough: potential. Possibly.
Because apart from the fact that we still do not know how likely it is that life will emerge even under optimal conditions, we also know very little about the conditions on these distant planets. This has to do with the fact that we don’t know their atmosphere. But we can already see how crucial this information is from our homeland: if the earth had no atmosphere, the average temperature would be minus 18 degrees and its livability would be highly questionable.
However, Wolf 1069b is not an ideal candidate to provide this crucial information anytime soon. From our point of view, it does not pass in front of its home star, otherwise its light could tell us the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Instead, more complicated methods will have to be used, and according to the scientists, that won’t work until the early 1930s at the earliest. Until then, one has to make do with theoretical models, and the question of possible life-friendliness will focus empirically on other exoplanets.
But while we are already talking about alien life: No, also the ones announced a week ago and by an artificial intelligence in radio data from the Green Bank telescope detected potential alien signals probably do not really come from alien intelligences. Because when you watched again, the signals were gone again.