Saturday, April 25, 2015

SETI – The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

OK, this short blog post is a reality check.  “Are we really alone?”  Is Earth-based humanity the only intelligent species in the whole universe?  OK, we are pretty sure that we will find life – elemental life, single-celled life – pretty nearby and soon, on Mars, on one or more of Jupiter's or Saturn's moons.  But how about intelligent life, more intelligent than us – from whom we might learn SO much that would solve SO many human problems – how about really intelligent life?

Some scientists and some non-scientists like to imagine that there are a million planets harboring intelligent life forms, more intelligent than us.  What about THAT?  Let’s do the Math.*  If you spread these one million planet civilizations evenly or randomly across our observable universe, what you get is one planet civilization 200,000,000 light years away from its closest neighbor.  Two hundred million light years away from each other!  We can barely detect these civilizations’ galaxies with our best telescopes, and what we can see happened 200 million years ago, so even radio communication is out of the question.

But maybe there is one next door, close by.  OK, maybe, why not?  You better hope that they’ll be friendly, and scientifically inclined, else we’d be to them like ants are to us.  Or maybe our science is just so … infantile, maybe we don’t know anything yet, maybe we can collapse the whole universe into a manageable bunch of chunks.  Maybe we are 100 Einsteins away from understanding anything.  Maybe.  And here’s the thing: if we have been visited or legitimately contacted by an alien civilization, not all the governments in the world could keep the lid on this story, no conspiracy of silence could possibly keep YOU from KNOWing about it.  The fact that the NY Times has not reported the biggest story this side of the Big Bang – way bigger than the Second Coming of Christ, bigger even than the beginning of the Rapture – is PROOF that it has not happened yet.

So, don’t get up your hopes, next thing you know … will be a … hoax.

But I am all for our continuing to try, what do we have to lose?  Ah, THAT is an entirely different question!

*    Doing the Math: The Volume of the observable Universe is 8 * 1030 cubic Light Years.  One of those one million chunks would occupy a Volume of 8 * 1024 cubic Light Years, a cube with a dimension of 2 * 108 cubic Light Years on a side, or 200 million Light Years on a side.  The average such cube would contain more than 100,000 galaxies, so one civilization every 100,000 galaxies!  Not too brimming with intelligence, eh?  But the likelihood that we are IT is even more remote.