The Spitzer Space Telescope located seven new Earth-sized planets, NASA announced February 22, 2017. It is the first known system of its size to orbit a single star. Three of the planets are located in the habitable zone—the area around the parent star where we might find planets with liquid water.
Water could mean life.
With this discovery, a revisit and update on the Fermi Paradox appears time worthy.
Scientists differ on estimates of the actual size of our universe, however, they do all agree: it’s big, very, very big. To put it into perspective, it’s estimated that for every grain of sand on earth there are 10,000 stars out there.
The kids in the novella, Wyso and the Other Creepy Kids on Gerard Street, spend a lot of time star-gazing and searching for aliens, while sorting out their earthly teen lives. And I would venture to say most of us, at one time or another, have looked at the stars and wondered at its seemingly empty vastness. Perhaps, you have even asked: Are we the only ones who inhabit this bewildering expanse before us?
Italian-American Physicist Enrico Fermi, 1901-1954, referred to as “the father of the atomic bomb,” asked this very same question. The simple query Where is everyone? produced centuries of debate and theories as to where everyone is. Everyone meaning extraterrestrials, space travelers, sky gods, and/or ancient astronauts. If the universe is so big, there ought to be life somewhere else out there besides Earth.
ProbeFiling the Fermi Paradox
A 2016 blog in the Scientific American examines Fermi’s discourse on the question. The author, Robert H. Gray, concludes Fermi was not questioning the existence of ETs but the feasibility of interstellar travel. He goes on to point out, Fermi’s skepticism about interstellar travel is not surprising, because in 1950 rockets had not yet reached orbit, much less another planet or star.
To most of us it’s evident, even some sixty-seven years later, Earthlings still need a more effective means of space exploration. According to Sky and Telescope magazine, with our most distant spacecraft, Voyager 1, it would take 72,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri.
The use of wormholes is a consideration dating back to Einstein. He imagined a bridge in space-time that connects two arbitrary point in the universe (Sky and Telescope, November 2016 issue). Some believe wormholes are merely fodder for science fiction lovers, but Einstein did find solutions to the equations of general relativity for them.
However, my fascination with Fermi’s question takes the direction many others have, but away from Fermi’s original intent—the speculation of interstellar travel. Why don’t we possess evidence of ETs?
Press delete, for a moment, of the notion there are a lot of us who believe there is evidence here on Earth of ETs. Either it’s being hidden as in conspiracy theory, thank you Fox. Or there isn’t any. Or we haven’t discovered any. YET.
Just delete that and accept we have no publicized hard evidence substantiating the existence of ETs’ existence. Why?
If the universe is so big, and we are so young, then: Where is everyone, else? Or, why are there no undeniable extraterrestrials and their artifacts apparent here on earth? Or, why are there no signs of intelligent life forms somewhere out there?
It was during a casual conversation with colleagues, that Fermi first asked the question: Where is everyone? Ironically, it was a cartoon depicting the disappearance of city trashcans and extraterrestrials being blamed for the thievery, which prompted the discussion. During the discussion, as reported by Herbert York, one of the colleagues present, Fermi did a number of quick calculations—making justified guesses about quantities that seem impossible to compute given limited available information. He is famous for these rapid calculations, also known as the Fermi Problem. These calculations led him to conclude: “We ought to have been visited long ago and many times over.”
There is, in itself, the paradox. We ought to have been visited, but what evidence exists to substantiate the hypothesis that we are not alone in the universe?
Since Fermi first asked, where is everyone, numerous explanations have been proposed. One being that while simple life may be abundant in the universe, intelligent life may be exceedingly rare. Another suggests, that though life exists on other planets they would not make contact or, like us, they do not possess an effective means of space travel.
Physicist Stephen Hawking even warned us against alerting ETs we exist. Perhaps, advanced space travelers are wary of us as well. Especially, since history exhibits our animosity toward beings we view as different.
In searching for answers, interesting concepts have surfaced. In upcoming blog posts, we will investigate a few of the more likely explanations to where is everyone and why they haven’t stopped by to say hello.
The Drake Equation
Before beginning our journey to examine explanations to Fermi’s question: Where are they?, one must look at the Drake Equation, which was formulated a decade after Fermi first asked the question. The equation is an effort to find a systematic means to evaluate the numerous probabilities involved in the existence of alien life.
Frank Drake, an American astronomer and astrophysicist and the creator of the equation, commented that his equation is unlikely to settle the Fermi paradox; instead it is a way of “organizing our ignorance” on the subject.
There is a problem with the last four factors. The information is unknown. We have only one example from which to extract statistical estimates and that’s Us. Our perspective may be biased and/or limited by the young age of our planet and our knowledge.Yet, the fact that we do exist, that there is intelligent life here on earth, is evidence that may produce the data needed to complete the Drake equation.
Another problem with the equation is it’s over fifty-five years old and the findings of NASA’s Kepler on the number of exoplanets that could host life was not available at its creation. However, the true value of the Drake Equation is not the answers, but the questions.
(ProbeNote:The Drake equation was the agenda for the world’s first ever Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) meeting in 1961. Drake is the founder of SETI. SETI is active in their search for signs of ETs.)
One other consideration must be examined before continuing.
The Kardashev scale, proposed by Soviet Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964, is a method of measuring an advanced civilization’s level of technological advancement. Although theoretical, it puts energy consumption of an entire civilization into a cosmic perspective. The scale presents three types of civilizations.
- Type I civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its home planet.
- Type II civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its solar system.
- Type III civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its galaxy.
Kardashev does not define a Type Zero civilization, but a common speculation exists that transition from a Type Zero to a Type I civilization carries with it a high risk of self-destruction.
Perhaps, as highly advanced ETs progressed—as we are now—their advancements led to their self-destruction. As an example, think of the power of nuclear energy and its helpfulness to mankind but also its destructive nature.
Another possible scenario for self-destruction, and we see it emulating on Earth today, is population growth outpacing its agricultural growth—look at the number of homeless, the statistics for starvation and poverty, and the need for new resources of water to put this into perspective.
The self-destruction offers an answer as to why we haven’t heard from ETs.
The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. —Malthus T.R. 1798.( “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” Chapter VII, p61.)
If an extraterrestrial civilization never advanced from a Type Zero to a Type I civilization, self-destruction might answer the question: Where Are They?
They overpopulated and their population numbers exceeded their world’s resources and energy output. They self-destructed leaving no evidence to their existence. Or at least, none that we can find at this time.
So where is Earth on the civilization scale? What are your thoughts?
- Michio Kahu, an American theoretical physicist known for his role in popularizing science, suggested that humans may attain Type I status in 100–200 years, Type II status in a few thousand years, and Type III status in 100,000 to a million years.
- Astronomer Carl Sagan, suggests humanity is going through a phase of technical adolescence, “typical of a civilization about to integrate the type I Kardashev scale.”
If we don’t achieve Type III status, perhaps the next Type Zero civilization will formulate their own Fermi Paradox and wonder where we are.
The Great Filter
Within the unlimited realm of answers to the Fermi Paradox exists The Great Filter hypothesis. This hypothesis asks: What prevents dead matter from giving rise, in time, to existing lasting life? This hypothesis will be featured next on The Probe.
Until then what are your thoughts? Where do you put Earth—Civilization Type Zero or Type I? Will we make it to a Type III Civilization? Are there Type III Civilizations out there who consider us too insignificant to make contact?