|Feeling a bit off colour today|
This post is the first in a series of posts concerning our universe. I've always had a deep abiding fascination for the cosmos, probably because it is impossible to grasp with a mere mortal brain. A select few of mankind, such as Einstein, Feynman, Hawkins, and
have been allowed to peek behind the veil. They can only convey what they see in a maelstrom of mathematic formulae; sadly, formulae, only they can understand. Newton
In 1961 an astronomer, Dr. Frank Drake, deduced a formula for calculating the existence of intelligent life in our own galaxy. The formula is very basic just a succession of simple terms. I don’t intend to consider the equation here as it will be dealt with in a future post. It makes a lot of assumptions, but even on a conservative estimate, it calculates that there should be 50,000,000 technological civilisations ‘out there’unless of course, the equation is not an accurate reflection of how the universe runs. Recent revisions of the formula suggest that this figure is a gross underestimate.
If we take a lower limit of 50,000,000 technological civilisations as a reasonable estimate we are left with the question, where are they? Or more to the point, why haven’t we detected their presence? I know some would argue that we already have and that UFO sightings are proof of alien life. I’m not convinced. The evidence to date for UFOs being non-terrestrial is not compelling.
It is not as if we haven’t tried. The SETI Institute has been actively searching for intelligent life with detectors reaching out into the deepest regions of space and have come up blank. It is likely that a technological civilisation would give off electromagnetic radiation as a by-product of civilisation, even if they are not intentionally beaming their presence to other civilisations. The earth has been emitting radio waves into the cosmos for about 100 years. Those signals travelling at the speed of light could conceivably be monitored by a civilisation within that 100 light year radius (1 light year =8.9 trillion miles ). Another possibility is that we are in fact all alone in a cold, almost lifeless, universe? And if we are alone, why? The seeming paradox of the Drake equation and the absence of evidence of advanced life is known as the Fermi paradox, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi. Here are a few postulates as to why we may be alone and adrift in an uncaring universe……
No intelligent life
Biologists have concluded that the formation of life on a suitably primed planet with the right conditions is virtually inevitable. Remember life comes in many forms and does not necessarily equate to advanced intelligent life. Taking our own earth as an example: Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years. The first simple life emerged at about 3.5 billion years ago. For 2.5 billion years life remained very basic and mono-cellular. A single event in evolution produced a cell with a fundamental advantage. A primitive cell engulfed another cell for nutrition, but the cell resisted digestion and became incorporated within that cell and contributed to the cell’s metabolism. Today we can still see that primitive ingested cell within all advanced cells today- they are called mitochondria and act as the ‘power generator’ for the organism. Perhaps this chance event in evolution is exceedingly unlikely and without such an event advanced life cannot evolve. Thus the universe may well be teeming with life but not advanced life as we know it Jim. Is it conceivable that we are the only technological advanced species in the whole of the universe?
Intelligent life is exceedingly rare
Maybe intelligent life has existed in the universe, but currently, we are the only example. The universe has been around for 14 billion years. During this period civilisations may have come and gone. Maybe, most technological civilisations fizzle out because of nuclear war and/or over utilisation of resources. The universe can be a dangerous place. Planets can be sterilised or destroyed by cosmic events such as supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts and large object impacts. A star going supernovae within 1,000 light years of the earth would be sufficient to destroy all higher life on earth.
Broaden our horizons
Mayhap we are not looking in the right place or using the right search frequency. Our search parameters are very restricted and the universe is very large, perhaps infinitely so. Even if we are looking in the right part of the sky the detectors may not be tuned to the correct incoming frequency. Or maybe the signals have not reached us yet. The speed of light appears to be the fundamental speed limit of the universe. Even though electromagnetic wave propagation is blisteringly fast it would take information 100,000 years to cross our galaxy. A signal from our nearest galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, would take at least 2.5 million years to reach us.
Could it be that aliens are deliberately masking their presence? Perhaps they are operating a ‘Star Trek Prime Directive’. They could be leaving us alone and watching our development. The problem I think with this hypothesis is that communication is still restricted to light speed. To watch us they would have to be close. It is not inconceivable, I suppose, that highly advanced aliens have developed a means of communication and travel much faster than the speed of light, even though it would violate all known laws of the physical universe.
Some argue, including Professor Steven Hawking, that it is a good thing that we haven’t established contact with alien beings. There is no reason to assume that they would be benign. They may be so advanced that they may view us as we view microbes. They might just ignore us or simply swat us as a minor irritation or impediment. They could be predatory and exploit our planet for resources and despoil all with impunity. If this proved to be the case then it is probably a good idea that we haven’t established contact. When humans groups come into contact with cultures less technology savvy than themselves, the ‘developing folk’ invariably suffer.
One day, if we haven't destroyed our civilisation, we may be able to traverse vast interstellar distances and actually seek out other civilisations. Hopefully, we will be more technologically advanced in order that we may rob them of their precious commodities, enslave the population and make better lives for the dominant life form in the universe, US.
|That's more like it|