How Close Are We To Answers About Aliens?

33:06 minutes

Blue exoplanet with a solid surface, water and oxygen.
Over the past three decades, the scientific search for life in the universe—a field called astrobiology—has exploded. Credit: Shutterstock

The idea of creatures from another planet is part of our culture, from the warnings of the alien in “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” to the plaintive desire to return home in “E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” to the hulking creature of “Nope.” Aliens appear in movies, books, comics, you name it. But are they more than science fiction? And if they were, how would scientists prove it?

The government has investigated reports of alien sightings, including in Project Blue Book, which ran from 1947 to 1969. And last summer, congressional hearings into Navy pilots’ sightings of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs) brought the search for intelligent life back into the public eye. But there’s more to the search for alien life than people spotting lights in the sky. Projects such as Breakthrough Listen are surveying the stars for signals. Advanced telescopes such as JWST are enabling us to collect data on the atmospheres of exoplanets, a first step in detecting biosignatures on distant worlds. And astrobiology projects such as the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission are looking for signs of ancient life elsewhere in our own solar system.

Dr. Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester and author of The Little Book of Aliens, joins hosts Ira Flatow and Kathleen Davis to talk about the evidence for life elsewhere in the universe, and how scientists might go about trying to answer the question of whether we’re alone.

Read an excerpt of The Little Book Of Aliens.

Further Reading

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Segment Guests

Adam Frank

Dr. Adam Frank is author of The Little Book of Aliens (Harper, 2023), and the Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.

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As Science Friday’s director and senior producer, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.

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Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

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