The Universe Has Trillions Of Life-Supporting Planets. Why Haven’t We Met Aliens?
With, as Carl Sagan famously put it, “billions and billions” of stars out there, many of them with planets that would support life, why aren’t we seeing that life the form of visits from aliens?
It’s statistically pretty likely that there are plenty of planets which support life.
In fact, there are between 1 and 4 billion planets pretty much like Earth just in the Milky Way alone – and there are 100 billion galaxies out there, each with 100 to 1000 billion stars. Which means trillions and trillions of habitable planets. Right?
There’s a thing called the “Fermi Paradox” that basically lays out the possible reasons why.
(Yes, the Fermi Paradox came from physicist Enrico Fermi. Part of it — the odds that life exists elsewhere — is closely related to the Drake Equation). The first aspect of the Fermi Paradox is that sheer numbers concept above. The second aspect is that life tends to do well despite adversity, and it tends to colonize new habitats, pretty much all the time.
So … why haven’t any E.T. types come and said hello?
Here are a few of many possible reasons:
1) Maybe it’s actually pretty difficult for complex life like that on our planet to develop. We don’t know yet. Maybe we’re unique or one of the first civilizations that’s made it this far.
2) It’s also possible that there’s a hard stop that means that any planet that supports life eventually stops supporting life and everything dies off — or kills itself. In other words, it’s possible that civilizations on all worlds hit a point where they destroy themselves, or are eliminated naturally. Always. Just as an example, 99% of all species that have ever lived on this planet are gone now.
3) This one’s scary but fascinating. Maybe there’s an ancient civilization that monitors the universe and when all worlds hit a certain point where they’re getting too big for their britches, steps in and takes them out. Bam.
4) There might be some extremely intelligent life forms out there that have checked us out, but decided to stay the heck away because we’re entirely too dangerous. I recall a Kurt Vonnegut sub-story called “The Dancing Fool” within the novel “Breakfast Of Champions” that rather hilariously depicts a version of that. Paraphrased, an alien with the knowledge to end wars and cancer but communicates solely by tap-dancing and farting lands in Connecticut, where he discovers a house on fire. He rushes in, dancing and farting away to warn them of the danger. The head of the house grabs his golf club and pummels the alien in the head until he’s quite dead.
Smart aliens could take one look at us and wisely decide to stay the heck away.
5) Maybe, just maybe, we are indeed alone in the universe. I mean, it seems unlikely that this is the case based on sheer numbers. But still … it’s possible.
Some other things to consider:
Time is a big factor — compared to the life of most planets and stars, humans have been here and able to communicate beyond ourselves for just a tiny sliver of time. So if someone happened across our Blue Dot and checked in on what kinds of life forms might be here, it could have been before we were even a species.
And there’s the additional consideration of distance — a ship would have to travel at thousands of times the speed of light to even cross the great divide that separates our solar system from the rest and arrive before the occupants are nothing but dust.
Maybe most or all life forms just don’t ever make it long enough to figure out how to reach out to other life-sustaining planets. It’s a daunting prospect — if it's even possible — to travel that far, that fast. And even then, they’d have to travel specifically to our postal code in the universe in order to even find us. Unless they knew we were here by picking up our telecommunications or TV broadcasts or energy releases (nuclear bombs, NASA launches, etc.) or whatever other signals we might be casting into space, how would they know to travel here? And that’s even assuming that they’d be able to pick up those flags; they could be operating on a totally different level and wavelength.
To me, it’s far more likely that we’ll find something hurtling past our planet or solar system that’s a shell of a ship or a remnant of a satellite, long empty of life and maybe much else.
Or perhaps, like our Voyager space craft, someone will send something like a message in a bottle and it will long outlive the civilization which sent it off with a kiss and a wave.
Here’s a short video that gets deeper into the Fermi Paradox:
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