Astronomers say that half the planetary systems in our galaxy could contain Earth-like worlds that can sustain life. In 15 years, we'll have space telescopes that will be able to observe these planets and detect any life that may be on them. But will we be able to contact them?
Helen Briggs writes in bbcnews.com that Earth-like planets are too small to be seen with our current telescopes. The only planets we can see in other solar systems right now are the large, Jupiter-sized ones. However, one of these giants in an outer orbit of a solar system is an indication there may be an Earth-like planet in an inner orbit, since these planets absorb blows from incoming asteroids, allowing life to develop on inner planets. "We would certainly expect them to be something like Earth in size and in mass, to have a reasonable atmosphere; they'll have oceans and continents, they'll be potential abodes of life, but the big question is?has there actually been life there?" says astronomer Barrie Jones. "It's likely the nearest Earth-type world in the habitable zone would be a few tens of light-years away, maybe 100 light-years away; that's being optimistic. There's not much prospect of travelling to these worlds; all we can do is rely on instruments orbiting somewhere in the solar system and making observations. I think we could be in the rather frustrating position of having indirect evidence of life through the nature of the atmosphere but not being absolutely certain and not having any prospect of becoming absolutely certain in the foreseeable future."
David Whitehouse quotes astronomer Martin Dominik as saying, "If 20% of these stars are surrounded by planets we expect to find 10-15 giant planets and one or two Earth-sized worlds within three years. We might be able to detect a second Earth. Its typical distance would be 20,000 light-years away?much too far to think of establishing any contact."
However, with the new quantum research being done on entangled particles, which will make communication possible over huge distances, we may eventually be able to "talk" with inhabitants of distant planets, even if we can never meet them.
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