Is there anybody out there or is all life in the universe limited to our tiny ‘third rock from the sun’? And if we manage to establish contact with extraterrestrials, will it be love at first sight or a match made in hell? These and other eternal questions are explored on Extraterrestrial Life, the 2022 edition of our ever-popular Silver Niobium coin.
What if there really is somebody out there? Making contact with aliens would change our whole concept of the universe. Is this really plausible or are such thoughts purely fantasy? Given that we only know a tiny part of the universe, which comprises some 100 billion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars, it is hardly surprising that we continue to ask these questions. The James Webb Space Telescope, the largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built and launched into space, is designed to help us find out the answers. The telescope’s improved wavelength coverage and greater sensitivity compared with those of its predecessor, the Hubble, will enable the Webb to look much closer to the beginning of time, when the first stars and galaxies started to form, and fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe. Launched into space on 25 December 2021, since 24 January 2022 the Webb has been successfully unfolded to its operational configuration and successfully entered orbit at its target destination.
The wait for the Webb to detect signs of extraterrestrial life will no doubt be a long one. But in the meantime, one day visitors from another galaxy may drop in to say hello. If they do, will they look down on us or consider us their equals. Whatever the answer, they will have to be from a civilization even more technologically advanced than the James Webb Space Telescope itself.
The Webb is shown in the silver outer ring on the coin’s obverse alongside the famous Drake equation, which is aimed at calculating the probability of extraterrestrial life. The violet niobium core is dominated by an alien holding the earth in its hands like a plaything, symbolising that we may well be defenceless against them should they exist.
In the niobium core of the coin’s reverse, some of the factors that could favour life on other planets are represented: carbon dioxide, methane, oxygen, vegetation and water. In the outer silver ring, the Webb is shown capturing an exoplanet passing in front of a star.