Aliens, Aristotle & Andromeda: How To Answer Your Kids’ Questions About Life Elsewhere

Is your child fascinated by outer space? Do they ask heaps of questions on planets, stars and aliens? If they love to talk about heavenly bodies, then they are in good company. 

Humans have long been captivated by what lies beyond planet Earth

As long ago as 300 BC, Aristotle was asserting exciting theories of space. Chinese astronomers were mapping the stars in the 3rd and 4th centuries. 

Fast forward to the 20th century to Sputnik, humans on the moon, and the International Space Station; today, we are witnessing the race between Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and others in their quest to propel ordinary people into space. 

The desire to understand space and what else is out there is strong. 

Here we share some of the most frequently asked questions posed during our STEM camps for kids

Are there really aliens out there?

This is a tricky question to answer and we may never be able to answer it. Why? Because even if aliens are out there, there is virtually no chance we’ll be able to visit them

The Drake Equation also explains why it will be difficult to find alien life. The Drake Equation is a formula for computing the number of intelligent civilizations existing in the Milky Way, using radio signals.

Unfortunately, the numbers suggested by the Drake Equation are very small. There is little chance of finding life in the Milky Way. How about elsewhere?

While we have ‘local’ galaxies, the distance between us and them is still vast. 

Even if we had spacecraft that could travel at the speed of light, it would still take millions of years to reach our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, for example. If there are aliens, they will need to find us because we are unlikely to ever have the scope to find them. 

Could humans live in another galaxy? 

Searching for life, even in our own solar system, is very difficult. 

We don’t yet know if there is life in other galaxies, but it is a possibility. 

Scientists have discovered that there are trillions of planets out there and this means that the chances of life being able to exist on another planet out there somewhere is reasonable. Space scientists are interested in the ‘habitable zone’ of other solar systems, where a planet would be the right distance from a star to potentially have water. 

The James Webb Space Telescope, launched in 2021, will give us our best chance yet of detecting the possibility of some form of life elsewhere. It is capable of detecting signs of life elsewhere, such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane. It won’t be able to tell us for sure that life exists on other planets, but may suggest a probability. 

But, let’s say there are planets out there that can sustain human life. We would need to get there. Perhaps we could build a new generation of spaceships capable of sustaining a population for thousands of years, then we might be able to colonize the whole Milky Way. However, this project would take millions of years

Could we send messages to aliens?

If we can’t visit aliens, perhaps we could message them? 

We’ve already tried contacting aliens many times and in many weird and wonderful ways. We’ve not yet been able to interact with alien life. So far, all our calls have gone unanswered.

Some scientists have used focused, amplified radio waves to connect with extraterrestrial beings. Radio waves are less affected by cosmic dust than light, and can be targeted accurately. 

Using this logic, messages have been sent many light years into space. One destination was the star cluster M13. This area is thought to be more likely than some to contain intelligent life. However, M13 is 21,000 light-years away. 

If we do get a reply, it will take over 40,000 years to receive it. 

If there’s a chance of life out there, why haven’t we found it or why hasn’t it found us?

If your child has asked this, then they are outlining what scientists refer to as the Fermi paradox. If there’s a strong chance that life exists elsewhere in the universe, why can’t we find any proof? 

Nobody has yet been able to answer this question but there are some theories that might explain it. One is ‘filters’. Filters are obstacles to life. Examples of filters that challenge mankind are climate change and nuclear wars. 

Extraterrestrial life will face its own filters. There may be life on our level of intelligence or higher that is surviving these filters. Or perhaps it has already been destroyed by a terminal filter. Perhaps that civilization ran out of time to find us. Maybe mankind will run out of time, too.  

On the other hand, perhaps alien life isn’t interested in reaching us. Or maybe they are yet to develop the resources to reach us. 

Could we live on the moon?

If we are unlikely to colonize another planet, we could at least occupy the moon. After all, the first humans visited there over 50 years ago, so it should be easy, right? 

Well, it’s not as easy as your child may think. 

Firstly, it requires a very powerful spacecraft to take people to the moon. Taking people to occupy a moon station as well as carry everything they need to set up life there would be a gargantuan effort. It would also require an enormous amount of fuel, the use of which would contribute to climate change.

There are practical problems to solve, too, like how to grow food in space. 

Building materials are an issue. Right now, the moon station would need to be built on Earth and transported to the moon in several pieces. Scientists are looking at how lunar dust could be used as a building material to combat this problem. 

It is difficult for governments to justify the expense of creating a moon station right now. However, efforts to preserve human life are absolutely necessary and a moon station may become very important to this cause in the future. 

What should the next generation of space scientists do?

Maybe we are alone in our universe. After all, right now, we have no concrete evidence of extraterrestrial life. 

We could be just a single, tiny speck in the 90 billion light years of the universe. 

Whether we are alone or not in the universe, life must be regarded as very precious. It is very important to preserve life in all its forms. 

This means we must do all we can to protect the biodiversity on our planet and to ensure life can continue here. However, many would argue we should also be investigating the possibility of life existing elsewhere in space. Making such a discovery would teach us valuable lessons about life in all its forms and how we can preserve it.

Do you have a budding space scientist in your family? 

Why not consider attending an exciting STEM education camp where they can investigate all these ideas and much, much more?

AUTHOR BIO

AMAN BURMAN – Researcher at Premier Genie FZ LLC