BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Just as the New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Pluto is returning dazzling images of the distant dwarf planet – you can’t help but wonder and ask the big question; are we alone in the universe? The answer to that question is quite challenging.
Buffalo State College Planetarium Director Kevin Williams believes we need to keep searching. “We don’t know the answer. It would be incredible if there was not life outside of Earth.”
And if there is life out there — what form does it take?
Are they microbes flourishing in pools of water, or something more substantial like intelligent life capable of interstellar travel and communication?
“That’s what I want to know,” said Cassidy Nicholas, a Western New York based field investigator with the Mutual UFO Network known as MUFON which tracks and investigates UFO sightings.
“Nobody has the answer. There’s a lot of different theories . There’s a lot of different historical events that can put a lot of puzzle pieces together. But we don’t know.”
Just in the month of May there were 900 sighting reports to MUFON from around the world and 737 from the United States.
California, Texas, Florida, New York and Ohio round out the top five states with the most reports in May.
“People have always been looking to the skies to see what’s out there and what may be coming,” said Tim Bryant, a Buffalo State College professor and pop culture enthusiast.
During the height of the Cold War we looked to the sky and hid under desks during atomic air raid drills.
The 1960s closed out with a moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind.”
Bryant says there’s an imaginative supplement of what else is out there that we don’t know about.
“We’re being trained really to look at these technologies and look toward the sky. So, naturally the people themselves would imagine far beyond whatever any institution told them.”
In the past decade our understanding of planets around stars in our own galaxy has exploded.
“We’ve gone from knowing about none. No planets around other stars to now over 1,500 planets around other stars,” Kevin Williams explained.
NASA is also taking big steps toward an eventual robotic mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter believed to harbor ice-locked lakes and a vast sub-surface ocean. The space agency hopes the new probe will help determine if Europa really does have the ingredients for life.
According to NASA, the spacecraft would orbit the giant planet about every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa to investigate its composition and structure.
“Just the size of the universe . Even the size of our own galaxy. The number of stars. The number of planets. Even if a small, small fraction of those planets could contain life. There would still be lots and lots of planets with life,” Williams said.
NASA’s Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan thinks there will be strong indications of life beyond earth within a decade — and definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years.
She’s talking about little microbes — not little green men.
“We know where to look. We know how to look. In most cases we have the technology, and we’re on a path to implementing it. And so I think we’re definitely on the road,” Stofan said during a panel discussion in May.
At its core the fascination with UFOs and the possibility of life — at least intelligent life elsewhere — come down to belief and doubt.
Buffalo State College’s Tim Bryant has an interesting take on that.
“We doubt what we don’t know. We may doubt methods. We may doubt the people who don’t seek the unknown as we do.”
The unknown is what drives Cassidy Nicholas and others in the UFO community to keep searching and looking to the sky.
“There are so many things in this world that we don’t understand. I want to know about them,” Nicholas said.
John Lombardo, a MUFON field investigator from the Buffalo area, summed it up with a smile, “What don’t we know. And apparently we don’t know a lot.”