Forgetting Earth, What Kind of Alien Life is Out There?

Study Theorizes 36 Galactic Civilizations Might Coexist

Sometimes you have to flip off your shoes, lean back in a comfy chair, and think about the big questions. Putting aside current events (mercifully), have some perspective and dare to wonder. One of the BIG questions is: are we alone in the Universe? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Humans may not be looking the right way. Cavemen looked for other tribes by finding smoke from cooking fires on far away land, for example.

A recent study puts an upper-limit to the number of alien cultures in our galaxy alone at 36. Factors considered start with the scientific. By that we mean things like percentage of planets formed that are within the “habitable zones” of their suns, i.e. can liquid water exist there or not? Also considered are very unknown guesswork variables, like how long a civilization that gets past a certain stage lasts. Another piece of guesswork is if such civilizations hide their emissions so not to attract attention, or keep broadcasting outward like we do.

“The classic method for estimating the number of intelligent civilizations relies on making guesses of values relating to life, whereby opinions about such matters vary quite substantially.”

Tom Westby, University of Nottingham, UK

Other Studies Yield Other Answers

That explains why a previous study was more generous with the estimated number of civilizations in the galaxy. So it seems like the modern version of that middle ages question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Given that there are 400 Billion stars in our galaxy alone, and hundreds of Billions of galaxies in the observable Universe, there can be one statement made. The answer of no other intelligent life present is far more incredulous than any number from 36 to thousands in this galaxy alone.

If indeed there are a number of advanced life forms out there, we can make some general statements.

  • They are likely far ahead of us technologically
  • They likely have had more development as a civilization
  • We at best are viewed as a “quaint” band of savages that just started making radio waves
  • The galactic Vegas equivalent probably has long odds on us not wiping each other out
  • If they do come here on occasion, they aren’t very public about it (violating some protective regulation?)

It’s clear that we should take it as our greatest challenge to survive as a species long enough to be independent of our home planet. It has to do more with not putting all our eggs in one existential basket than any delusions of the science fictional kind. Private enterprise needs to be harnessed to hunt for Earth-colliding asteroids and comets. They also should work on better methods of space travel, we might need them someday. Not to mention following humanity’s drive to succeed and natural curiosity.

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Karl Donaldson
Karl Donaldson
Karl Donaldson is an editor and writer for NRN. Partial to his two cats, he lives in New Hampshire with his wife and a veritable menagerie of his wife's creatures.