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Down from Earth

india Updated: Jan 05, 2010 22:03 IST

Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

We are not alone. That much we know by looking beyond our elbow and finding the guy in the next seat blissfully munching on his samosas. But are we humans the only sentient beings in the universe? Before you can quote that line from the Bhagvad Gita, Nobel Prize-winning Nasa astrophysicist John C. Mather tells us that we are “very close to finding other Earth-like planets in the universe”. Which makes it more likely for life like ours to exist outside this climate-changing planet of ours.

So what has made Mather revive that old chestnut of alien life? After all, finding extra-terrestrial life was the talk of the galaxy when the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan put that bee firmly in our bonnet some 30 years ago through his award-winning TV documentary series Cosmos and novel Contact. Well, apart from the instrument on Chandrayaan I finding traces of water on the moon last year and aliens returning in the post-Spielberg era with James Cameron’s Avatar raking up piles of earthly currencies, a series of telescopes scheduled for launch this year will be carrying new radiation-sensing technology that can detect planets revolving around alien suns. So? Well, bright boys like Mather presume that if planets spin around a star and have days and nights, they will have temperatures that support life forms. Frankly, we’re not holding our breath.

But before we get excited about the prospects of coming into contact with little green men or squidgy brown women, we
should ask two questions. Do they want to be found? And is there really intelligent life on Earth? Going by what we see these days, the truth is still out there.