Researchers taking the Fermi Paradox to task have come up with a new calculation that uses a 500-year-old principle, as well as some readily available time and space data, and they figured out that there’s a reason why humans have yet to contact or be contacted by aliens.
The Fermi Paradox is quite simple: If there are aliens or alien civilizations, why hasn’t there been contact? According to work of two Cornell University scientists, the reason there has yet to be a first contact isn’t that they are nonexistent, but that space is vast and it might take a while longer before our interstellar neighbors — which exist, albeit only mathematically thus far — are detected or detect us. Even so, it could be 1,500 years before first contact is achieved.
Gizmodo reported on June 15 that Cornell University researchers Even Solomonides and Yervant Terzian combined the Fermi Paradox, posted by noted physicist Enrico Fermi, and the Copernican Mediocrity Principle to arrive at the conclusion that humanity shouldn’t expect to make first contact with aliens for perhaps another 1,500 years. Contact could be made at any time, they maintain, but given the size of the Milky Way, relative distances, and other factors (such as a modified Drake Equation — the calculation of the presence of alien intelligence), it could take at least a millennium and a half before extraterrestrials are encountered.
“It’s possible to hear any time at all, but it becomes likely we will have heard around 1,500 years from now,” Solomonides relayed in a press statement. “Until then, it is possible that we appear to be alone—even if we are not. But if we stop listening or looking, we may miss the signals. So we should keep looking.”
Along with the Fermi Paradox, the Mediocrity Principle (the existence of life is not unique to just the Earth and must exist elsewhere), and the Drake Equation, Solomonides and Terzian took a look at what would be our planet’s first wave of communications with other worlds: radio wave transmissions. Since these waves, which move at the speed of light, have been generated for 80 years, it is possible that the transmissions have reached, according to the researchers, some 8,531 stars and 3,555 Earth-like planets in an 80-light-year sphere. This is only a very small number of stars considering that the Milky is estimated to have in excess of 200 billion.
Solomonides further explained in the statement, “Even our mundane, typical spiral galaxy – not exceptionally large compared to other galaxies – is vast beyond imagination. Those numbers are what make the Fermi Paradox so counterintuitive. We have reached so many stars and planets, surely we should have reached somebody by now, and in turn been reached … this demonstrates why we appear to be alone.”
The idea of the perception of being alone — not the actuality of it — was explored in a study posted in May by researchers Adam Frank and Woodruff Sullivan. The duo concluded that the chances of Earth being the first planet in the universe to produce a technological civilization were extremely minute and that there have possibly been at least 10 billion alien civilizations that have arisen since the beginning of the universe. They also posited that the Fermi Paradox continues to hold sway is not that Earth is unique in bearing living organisms that have progressed to a technological space-faring level, but that there is the possibility of vast distances between such civilizations to consider, not to mention the fact that all of said alien civilizations may no longer be extant.
Gizmodo noted that the Solomonides and Terzian study has three major problems. The first is the reliance on basic SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) parameters as being the only way to communicate, detect, and/or gain contact with aliens. The second is mathematical. Radio waves degrade over time and distance, so the Cornell University researchers’ calculations, which do not account for degradation, are somewhat optimistic in terms of the 1,500-year boundary. And thirdly, the study ignores the Fermi Paradox’s position of the possibility of alien technological civilizations successfully colonizing the Milky Way, something that theoretically could have occurred several times over by now.
And there’s always a few other aspects of potential first contacts that should be considered, like the ability to know when an alien civilization has been encountered and having the ability to understand communications from such advanced beings. At the Messaging to ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (METI) International workshop in Puerto Rico in mid-May, scientists met to work on alien contact methodologies. The workshop directed their attention to the two biological principles, cognitive ecology and evolution (as it is known on Earth), in the hope to better understand how alien cognitive functions, physiological systems, and concomitant behavioral attributers might influence their communications capabilities and perceptions.
Still, to communicate with aliens, there has to be an alien audience. And given that the Milky Way (and, by extension, the rest of the universe) is a fairly immense place, it could be quite a while before first contact with an alien civilization might occur. But if the Fermi Paradox’s underlying position — that there are no aliens to be detected — is correct after all.
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