We asked iREx’s young astronomers: Do you think there’s life elsewhere?

Artistic representation of an inhabited world. Credit: dottedhippo (Getty Images).Filter by Canva.
Artistic representation of an inhabited world. Credit: dottedhippo (Getty Images).Filter by Canva.

To introduce you to our young researchers, we conducted a series of flash interviews throughout the 2022-2023 academic year, to which all our master’s and doctoral students and researchers were invited to respond. In recent months, we’ve been posting portraits on Facebook under the keyword #iRExFlashInterviews

In this fourth article in a series of four, we compile the various responses received from these up-and-coming young scientists to the question:

Do you think there is life elsewhere in the galaxy? If so, what is it like?

From right to left, top to bottom: Alexandrine L’Heureux, André Beaudoin, Anne Boucher, Ariane Deslières, Caroline Piaulet, Charles Cadieux, Charles-Édouard Boukaré, Chris Mann, Clémence Fontanive, Dereck Lizotte, Dominic Couture, Érika Le Bourdais, Etienne Artigau, Frédéric Genest, Giang Nguyen, Jared Splinter, Jonathan St-Antoine, Katherine Thibault, Keavin Moore, Kim Morel, Leslie Moranta, Lisa Dang, Loïc Albert, Marylou Fournier Tondreau, Michael Matesic, Neil Cook, Olivia Lim, Pierre-Alexis Roy, Romain Allart, Simon Delisle, Thomas Vandal and Vigneshwaran Krishnamurthy.

Pierre-Alexis: In my opinion, yes, there is life elsewhere in the galaxy. Now that we know planetary systems are common in our galaxy, it makes perfect sense to me to assume that there is life in other systems. Now, what would this life look like? I believe it would be very different from life on Earth; that’s the most precise answer I dare give!

Ariane: Of course! I think every astronomer hopes so. My scientific response is that it would probably be microscopic life. However, I’d love for us to find marine mammals with primate-like intelligence. Imagine a philosophical whale!

Jared: Given the size of the galaxy, I think life exists somewhere! While I think intelligent life elsewhere is less likely, it’s not impossible. Although we don’t yet have the ability to communicate with other forms of life, I hope that one day we can fulfill our dreams of space exploration, Star Trek-style!

Frédéric: Thanks to the thousands of exoplanets we’ve detected so far, we know a significant fraction of stars have planetary systems. Potentially billions of planets in just our galaxy! It’s hard to believe that we’d find life only on Earth. I believe there must be microbial life on several exoplanets.

Chris: I think the odds of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life are low, but with the vast number of planets in our galaxy, it seems almost certain that some form of life exists somewhere. And for the first time in human history, we have the technology to detect it. It’s very exciting!

Neil: I have no doubt that there must be life somewhere in the universe. The important question is how difficult it is for life to exist. The answer to that question will tell us whether life is widespread or very rare. Much of our exoplanet research is bringing us closer to answering that question!

Leslie: It seems egocentric to believe that Earth is the only planet in the Universe where life could have developed. Furthermore, I remain convinced that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would involve finding a form of life fundamentally different from ours.

Dereck: It seems statistically nearly impossible that we’re completely alone in the universe, especially if we’re talking about very simple life like bacteria. Other forms of intelligent life like ours, however, seem extremely improbable (though I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing)…

Dominic: I believe the emergence of simple microbial life is quite common in the galaxy, provided suitable conditions exist on an exoplanet. However, the emergence of more complex and especially intelligent life could be rarer, and humanity might be the only civilization existing in the current era of the galaxy.

Kim: I think we’ve somewhat won the life lottery, meaning we’ve had the immense luck for everything to align for life to develop on Earth. However, as with a lottery, while winners are rare, there are still many of them. So, I do believe there must be another place in the universe where life exists, but in a form different from ours, with a different kind of cell.

Olivia: I hope so! In addition to invisible microorganisms, I like to imagine there’s vegetation, animals, and other forms of life indescribable with our Earthling vocabulary elsewhere in the universe. But I have no idea if any of these speculations have any scientific basis!

Anne: I’m convinced that life exists elsewhere in our Galaxy. The challenge is finding it. I don’t think we’ll find “intelligent” life anytime soon, but certainly something equivalent to bacterial, fungal, or even plant life. I’d like to believe that somewhere in our galaxy, there’s another planet filled with the most exotic plants and flowers.

André: The galaxy is so vast that it’s inconceivable to me that life only happened by chance on a single planet among hundreds of billions. The real questions for me are: Can we detect this said life with today’s technology? And in 100 years? And in 1000 years? Will we ever be able to communicate with another intelligent species? I think we should never say never, but we’re still far from answering any of these questions. Exciting challenges for future generations!

Caroline: The past twenty years of exoplanet discoveries have revealed that most stars have at least one planet. With the hundreds of billions of trillions (!) of stars in the universe, I think it’s likely that there are a few other places besides Earth where conditions are right for life to emerge! I imagine that extraterrestrial life forms would probably not have much resemblance to the way aliens are portrayed in movies, which are very centered on life as we know it: it might just be life at the single-cell stage or a few cells!

Katherine: Yes, I believe there is life elsewhere in the galaxy! I like to think there are tiny bacteria living in a world of lava or perhaps a civilization more advanced than ours where the balance between the environment and life is respected. Whether intelligent or not, I believe life is very different from what we know here on Earth.

Étienne: To get a rough idea of what extraterrestrial life might look like, go snorkeling in the sea with a mask. Look at sea anemones, sea cucumbers, and jellyfish. I think the representation we have of a potential contact with an extraterrestrial civilization says much more about the humans who wrote the script than about potential extraterrestrials! Even those in the movie “Contact” have a language that’s way too clear. I’ll let you ponder what response you would give to a whiff of C7H9O2N blown your way… yet some living beings who share bits of DNA with you can interpret this message very well! If you want to see what encountering non-human intelligence looks like, watch the beautiful film “My Octopus Teacher.”

Romain: When we look at the starry sky, it’s hard to believe we’re alone in the Universe, and for good reason – the number of stars in our galaxy and galaxies in the Universe is so vast it’s incomprehensible. But knowing how life manifests on other worlds? Would there be more advanced life forms than single-celled beings? I don’t know, but assuming it might resemble something on Earth or what we can imagine would be a mistake. I prefer to believe that nature will always surprise us!

Michael M.: Statistically speaking, I expect that at least one of the hundreds of billions of other planetary systems in the Milky Way harbors life. Given the age of our galaxy, life could take the form of single-celled organisms or advanced civilizations.


If you want to hear other iREx astronomers discuss this important question, watch our video Y a-t-il de la vie ailleurs? from the Des exoplanètes et nous series (French with English subtitles available)


To read our astronomers’ answers to other questions, see the other articles in the series: