Is there life out there?

Publication Date

Professor Charles Cockell FRSE was part of a programme of space themed school talks to schools located in Shetland.

The exciting developments around Shetland’s spaceport presage a general expansion of humans and robots into space, both by private companies and governments. Sitting among the many aspirations that we have for space exploration is one enduring question – is there life beyond Earth?

A man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
Professor Charles Cockell FRSE, Professor of Astrobiology, the University of Edinburgh

This quest to find out whether we are alone in the universe is scientifically interesting

It will tell us whether life is unusual or common in the universe, but it is also deeply philosophically important. It will tell us whether we are a lone intelligence in the cosmos or part of a menagerie of life across the cosmos.

During my talk, I wanted to get across some of the excitement of space missions – to Mars and the icy moons of our Solar System – and why this question about life elsewhere is important. I described some of the work going on in Scotland relevant to the search for life elsewhere and what we can learn about our own planet in the process.

The main purpose of my talk was to get across the idea that interesting questions about our universe, whatever they are, often involve many different sciences, from biology to physics and more besides.

Although we split up science for convenience in schools, if we want to solve some of the most enduring questions about our world and universe, it’s good to learn information in lots of different fields and to take an interest in different sciences and subjects.

Professor Charles Cockell FRSE is Professor of Astrobiology, the University of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

This article originally appeared in The Shetland Times.

The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.