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a lone person looks up at the universe
Purposeful UniverseJune 6, 20242 min read

Are We Alone in the Universe?

For Dr. Oberg, the idea of life elsewhere in the universe is a thrilling possibility. She has spent years studying what makes life possible and dreams of discovering living organisms on an exoplanet. For some, finding extraterrestrial life would make human lives feel small and insignificant. For Dr. Öberg, the opposite is true.

Are We Alone in the Universe?

But are we alone in the universe? The universe has been expanding for 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang. Surely, there must be life on other planets? While many people seem to think so, the question of “Are we alone in the universe?” is far from having a conclusive answer.  

Meet Dr. Karin Öberg

Dr. Karin Öberg is a professor of astronomy at Harvard University and founder of The Öberg Astrochemistry Lab. Her research is focused on our universe's origins and the search for extraterrestrial life. Throughout her years as a scientist, she has attempted to answer whether we are alone in the universe.  

Human Significance

Dr. Öberg possesses a brave and open-minded curiosity about the universe and extraterrestrial life. For her, our ability to wonder, discover, and learn is as great a gift as the universe itself. Rather than feeling small compared to the infinite universe, she is enchanted by the possibility of broadening our horizons and deeply grateful for our ability to ask questions and seek the truth, ultimately seeing if we can answer the question, are we alone in the universe?

For more about Dr. Öberg's research and scientific perspective, watch the full video.

Video Transcript

Are we alone as a living planet in the universe?

There is this story that, over time, our insignificance has only gotten worse.

I don't think we should worry too much that we discovered that the universe is a little bit bigger than we have once thought.

I think that the thing I'm most excited about in astronomy is trying to figure out how planets form, and what the likelihood is that we can find life elsewhere in the universe.

If I were to dream what the next few decades would hold, it would be that we would find some extraterrestrial bacteria somewhere.

Almost every star has a planet. Hundreds of billions of planets. Even if a small fraction of those have similar conditions to early Earth, that would suggest there are many many places where life could have originated in our galaxy.

It's easy to feel a bit insignificant when you put it like that.

Does this matter for how we should think about our own worth? I would argue that it doesn't.

What matters is that you are fearless in that pursuit and that you keep that obsession for the truth alive.

Discover More About the Universe

Journey through more Purposeful universe content to learn more about our amazing and vast universe!

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*Originally published on March 16, 2022.


Purposeful Universe

The Purposeful Universe seeks to explore and present, through award winning videos, the abundant order in nature that funnels biological systems toward increasing levels of complexity and sophistication—suggesting that human life is the purposeful outcome of a complex, ordered system.