Top 10 ‘discovered’ aliens

Is it the fear of being all alone in the universe? We seem to want to believe that there are alien life forms, whether it’s aliens shooting through our atmosphere in flying saucers, bacteria on our neighboring planets, or radio signals from a distant civilization. But proving that there is life outside our planet proves damn difficult. NEMO Kennislink presents the ten most important discoveries of aliens, which later turned out not to be extraterrestrial life.

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10. Traces of primordial bacteria
Traces of very early life on Earth. The black spots are probably from bacteria that lived on Earth 3.5 billion years ago
Research on the planet … Earth shows that it is difficult to detect traces of life in any case! Scientists have been discussing alleged traces of early terrestrial life that inhabited the planet between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago (Earth is 4.5 billion years old). This does not concern walking or swimming creatures, but relatively simple primordial bacteria. The spores in question are fossilized, cone-like layers left behind by groups of bacteria that have long since digested themselves. The difficulty lies in assessing whether the structures cannot be explained in some other way, without the intervention of the single-celled organisms. How and where life originated on Earth is as much an open question as the comparable question in the rest of the universe.

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9. Crashed UFO near Roswell
On July 8, 1947, according to various American newspapers, a flying saucer crashes near the town of Roswell in the American state of New Mexico. Even the US Air Force confirms the accident in a press release, but quickly withdraws it. The so-called Roswell incident is undoubtedly one of the most legendary sightings of UFOs in history. It is now clear that it is a hoax that started with the remains of a fallen weather balloon, such as shiny foil, found by the owner of a ranch. Innumerable other UFO sightings also lack convincing evidence that green men are secretly flying through our atmosphere.

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8. Channels on Mars
For years, the American astronomer Percival Lowell (1855-1916) studied Mars with his telescope and was sure: on the surface of the red planet he saw the work of Martians. They had dug colossal canals there. These “channels” had been previously described by the Italian Giovanni Schiaparelli, but Lowell ultimately championed the idea that an intelligent civilization was digging up our neighboring planet. The artificial channels on Mars that Lowell saw didn’t exist — neither did the Martians. The blurry image of the planet through telescopes of the time left too much room for speculation.

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7. Spaceship or space boulder?
Impression of Oumaumua.
The elongated object Oumaumua, estimated to be 150 by 400 meters, will hurtle through our solar system at about 160,000 km/h in 2017 and 2018, keeping people busy. Telescopes and radar installations are pointed at it from Earth and researchers listen for radio signals. Those radio signals are not there, nor are sharp images. And despite rumors that it is an alien spacecraft, the vast majority of astronomers are convinced that it is a rapidly rotating space boulder. Strangely enough, the object appears to be accelerating as it leaves our solar system, which can be explained by gases escaping from the heated object, as do comets. Oumaumua is the first known interstellar visitor, so he’s special anyway, even if it’s just a boulder.

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6. Little green men make themselves heard
A so-called neutron star.
In 1967, astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell uses a radio telescope to discover a signal she cannot explain. It is as if she hears a clock ticking with an iron regularity of 1.34 seconds. No one can explain the signal and soon the researchers involved nickname the object LGM-1, or little green men-1 (little green men). Was this really a sign of an alien civilization? That same year, Bell Burnell and colleagues find several of these strange repetitive sources, but they rule out that they are extraterrestrial life. Later it becomes clear that the researchers discovered rapidly spinning so-called neutron stars, compact and heavy remnants of burned-out stars. Such a celestial body sends a strong beam of radio radiation into space on two sides. LGM-1 rotates on its axis in exactly 1.34 seconds and shines briefly on the earth like a kind of lighthouse.

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5. Waiting for answer
The message (link) sent into space with the Arecibo telescope (right) in 1974.
Why search when you can be found yourself? In 1974, scientists led by astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan send a radio message into space. It is a somewhat cryptic message, incorporating information about our chemical makeup, our DNA and the solar system. They hope an alien civilization catches it someday. To date, however, ET has not called back. Perhaps we should be a little more patient: The message was aimed at a group of stars about 25,000 light-years away, making an answer soon 50,000 years away. Sagan is also involved in the gold plates hanging from the Voyager space probes. They are now traveling at about 60,000 km/h into space. Those plates contain ‘sounds from the earth’ and a description of the location of our planet. The question is whether they will ever end up in the hands of extraterrestrials (in one piece); the probes are not aimed at specific stars.

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4. Neighboring bacteria
Venus as seen by the US space probe Mariner 10 in 1974.
In 2020 there is consternation about a signal that researchers are picking up from our neighboring planet Venus. The scientists write that they have discovered a trace of the chemical substance phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus with a large telescope from Earth. This (toxic) substance is produced on earth by bacteria, among other things. Because those involved consider the natural process of development without bacteria improbable, they conclude that micro-organisms may be at work. Other scientists are cautious and state that we do not yet know the chemical processes on Venus well. Afterwards it appears that mistakes were made in the processing of the signals from the telescope. This casts doubt on the conclusions.

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3. Tabby’s ster
Of the millions of stars astronomers study, KIC 8462852 or Tabby’s star suddenly caught the eye in 2015. For years, the star has shown unusual variations in brightness. At one point, the star even loses 22 percent of its brightness in a short period of time. One of the suggested explanations is that aliens are building a gigantic structure around the star. Ultimately, astronomers also find a natural explanation: colliding comets around the star can send large amounts of gas and dust into space, temporarily ‘obscuring’ the star. Since then, the star has been extensively examined, but no signs of life have been found.

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2. Active Mars Ground
The Vikinglanders, who were the first to make a (fully) successful payload on Mars in 1976, have four experiments on board to investigate whether there is life on the red planet. Three out of four experiments find nothing, but one experiment yields remarkable results. When ‘nutrients’ are added to an isolated soil sample, a number of gases are immediately released. According to the scientists involved, this could be a sign that there are bacteria in the soil that convert the nutrients into gases, such as carbon dioxide. Later, researchers find another non-biological explanation for the released gases, including reactive salts in the Martian soil. In combination with the negative results from the other experiments, most scientists are convinced that Viking did not find life on Mars.

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1. Wow!
It is August 1977 when astronomer Jerry Ehman reviews data from the Ohio State University Radio Observatory. The radio telescope had been used a few days earlier to search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. Soon, a 72-second signal grabs his attention. The scientist sees a single, but powerful spike in the radio spectrum. “Wow!” he writes in the margin. Ehman and other astronomers look for a repeat of the signal in subsequent years, but find nothing. Some consider the ‘Wow! signal’ one of the strongest candidates for a message from extraterrestrial civilizations, even if it doesn’t appear to contain any encoded information. Many have already attempted to find a natural explanation for the signal. Maybe it’s a natural distant radio source that varies widely, or a comet causing a ‘radio peak’, or even a piece of space debris reflecting a terrestrial radio signal. All in all, no really satisfactory explanation has ever been found for the signal.
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