Natural, to think that there is life in another galaxy

The search for extraterrestrial life has served to explain its origin on Earth. More than five thousand planets have been identified outside our solar system.

Natural, to think that there is life in another galaxy
Space rover. Credit: UNAM

Ideas about extraterrestrial life are not a contemporary phenomenon, they date back to classical Greco-Latin antiquity where philosophers and thinkers such as Heraclitus speculated about it, explained Antonio Lazcano Araujo, professor emeritus of the Faculty of Sciences of the UNAM.

The first boom of these ideas occurred in the 1920s.  Before, during the 19th century, they permeated in a context between planetology and the Theory of Evolution, so now, together with the extraordinary technological development, "it is natural that we think that life is frequent in parts of another galaxy".

Speaking at the round table, "Life in the Universe: Views from Science and the Arts", organized by the Institute of Bibliographic Research (IIB) of the National University, the former president of the International Society for the Study of the Origins of Life, said:

The appearance of life is not a sudden event; "we do not know how much material from interstellar clouds was integrated into that primitive Earth, so the stage of the search for extraterrestrial life has also served to explain the origin of life on Earth."

In the auditorium "José María Vigil" of the IIB, the also doctor honoris causa by the universities of Milan and Valencia, said that the golden moment of the ideas of extraterrestrial life occurred in the mid-twentieth century: "it is in the Cold War where the phenomenon multiplies, in a persecutory atmosphere".

"It is just that relationship between history, politics, and prejudice that makes this subject fascinating; we have no proof that there is life beyond our planet, but we are hopeful," he added.

Exoplanet missions.
Exoplanet missions. Credit: UNAM

No more UFOs

The discussion was convened due to the interest that motivated the exhibition "125 years of news about unidentified flying objects in the Mexican press" -which is still open and will be extended until January 5, 2023, in the Consultation Room of the National Newspaper Library of Mexico of the IIB-, was presented by Pablo Mora Perez-Tejada, director of that academic institution, who mentioned that it is mainly about spreading the newspaper heritage on the subject.

In his opportunity, the researcher of the Institute of Astronomy of the UNAM, José Franco López, pointed out that those manifestations visualized in the sky "are no longer called UFOs".

"To begin with, they are no longer called that, because there is no evidence that they are 'objects'; they are now known as UAP, 'Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena', but in any case, their interest is based on two permanent questions: what is the origin of the world and life, and are we alone in the Universe?

Atmosphere composition.
Atmosphere composition. Credit: UNAM

The former General Director of Science Outreach at UNAM informed us that 5,284 planets have been identified outside our solar system, and a similar number is in the process of authentication.

Elements present in some molecules associated with life, such as Phosphine (Phosphane), a chemical compound generated in the intestines of animals, have been found in space.

"We must not lose sight of the fact that all the chemical elements that make up human beings - except hydrogen and helium - have been 'cooked' inside a star, so we can put these astronomical bodies in our family tree," he said.

Nor should we forget that Exobiology studies the possibility of life outside the Earth, either as a direct or indirect search, through the detection of microbial life, or traces that allow inferring the presence of life. "One thing is that there may be life on another planet, and another is that there is communication between entities".

The academic activity was attended by Marcela Chao Ruiz, director and founder of the Project, a site that compiles information about the planet Mars; as well as the writer and scientist Carlos Chimal.