Life Beyond Earth

What are the Chances of Civilisations on Other Worlds?

This week our survey of children visiting the Education Quizzes website posed the question “Do you think there is life beyond Earth?” and 1,271 of you gave us your opinion.

About 22% of all respondents said they did not expect that life existed anywhere other than Earth and they may be right. After all, our cleverest scientists using our best modern technology have never detected life elsewhere.

You might expect that in the absence of proof, none of our scientists would subscribe to the idea of extra-terrestrial life but that is far from the case. Some of the best brains point out that the quantity of stars is so enormous that it is almost certain that life in one form or another is present elsewhere in the universe.

The truth is that unless and until we receive some sort of message from 'elsewhere', we will never be able to prove things one way or the other - but let’s look at a few of the figures that lead people to believe that life is PROBABLE on other planets.

We know that our Sun is one star amongst many but just how many? The best guess so far is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This number (a “1” with 24 zeros) is known to Americans as a septillion and to Europeans as a quadrillion. One way of imagining that figure is that it is more than the total grains of sand on every beach in the world! Each of those stars might have planets around them and on any one of those planets life MIGHT exist.

We are not about to try and convince you either way but we think it pays to keep an open mind!

Different Age Groups See Things Differently

An interesting fact emerged when we delved a little deeper into the statistics. It seems that the older children get, the more likely they are to expect life (and intelligent life) to exist elsewhere.

30% of our 5 to 11-year-olds thought that life exists only on Earth whereas only 17% of 15 to 17-year-olds believe this to be the case.

Only 34% of 5 to 11-year-olds thought that INTELLIGENT life exists elsewhere but 50% of 15 to 17-year-olds believe this is so.

The Fermi Paradox

Within the scientific community there is endless discussion about the probability of extraterrestrial life. Many people believe there are just so many chances for life to exist elsewhere that it almost certainly does. During one such discussion on the subject back in 1950 an Italian-American physicist called Enrico Fermi secured his place in history by uttering the simple question “But where is everybody?”

Since the 1950s, countless people have spent countless hours pondering the subject and many different explanations have been put forward for why we have never been contacted by alien beings. For those intrigued by such things there is a fascinating Fermi Paradox article on Wikipedia. Don’t go there without setting aside a considerable amount of time because the article extends to nearly 8,000 words!

Full Results

Here are the aggregated results from 1,271 children who answered the question “Do you think there is life beyond Earth?”

Answer Percentage of Respondents
Life only exists on Earth 22
Yes, but it’s very primitive 34
Yes, there are other intelligent civilisations 44

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