What makes man unique in the universe

Is there life elsewhere in space?

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No science without questions. The editorial staff of the Unispiegel takes this principle seriously and will immediately ask Heidelberg scientists for answers in loose succession. We ask directly, aim right into all of our lives and are driven by boundless curiosity. Here is a first answer to a first question.

There is life on earth, probably for four billion years. Our earth is a planet that orbits the sun, like Venus and Mars. Is there or was there life on these planets? This question has preoccupied laypeople and scientists, writers and philosophers alike for centuries. Despite an intensive search for traces of life on our neighboring planet, no convincing evidence has yet been found.
Our Milky Way is made up of billions of stars. Many are similar to the sun. But even scientists have long disagreed as to whether they should expect planets around other stars or whether the solar system is unique. In 1995 the first planet was finally discovered around another star.

Almost 300 such "exo-planets" are now known, some of which were found by Heidelberg scientists. It looks like planets around stars are "normal". This raises the question: is there life elsewhere in the universe?

We cannot yet answer this question scientifically. Astronomers around the world are working hard to develop new telescopes and techniques to find life. For example, the proof of an oxygen atmosphere would be a strong argument in favor of photosynthesis on an exo-planet. I am optimistic that such discoveries will be made soon.

 
Professor Wambsganß, we have a question ...

Photo: Hentschel

Most people associate "life" on exoplanets with the idea of ​​communication with extraterrestrial civilizations or even interstellar travel. I am skeptical about these aspects. The nearest star is four light years away. With current technology, spaceships would be traveling there for about 100,000 years. It's quite a long journey.

But I also consider communication with light or radio waves to be impossible. Because "life" does not mean that highly developed beings exist. For billions of years only simple life structures existed on earth; it was barely a million years ago that Homo Heidelbergensis lived here. In addition, we are only able to communicate to a very limited extent with even closely and highly differentiated forms of life - such as dolphins, horses, or monkeys.

Professor Joachim Wambsganß is a professor at the Astronomical Computing Institute (ARI) of the Center for Astronomy at Heidelberg University (ZAH). He is an expert in cosmology, gravitational lenses and X-ray astronomy. He also deals with the search for extrasolar planets and the question of whether there are Earth-like planets in the universe on which life would even be possible.

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