Space

Alien contact not likely for another 1,500 years say scientists

Alien contact not likely for a...
Astronomers have built on existing equations to come up with a timeline for when we might make contact with aliens.
Astronomers have built on existing equations to come up with a timeline for when we might make contact with aliens.
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Astronomers have built on existing equations to come up with a timeline for when we might make contact with aliens.
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Astronomers have built on existing equations to come up with a timeline for when we might make contact with aliens.

There is perhaps no more compelling question for mankind than, are we alone in the universe? Given the odds, with billions of stars in our galaxy similar to our sun and billions of planets orbiting them, it seems unlikely. But, as Fermi's paradox asks, if aliens do exist, why haven't we found any evidence of them yet? Astronomers at Cornell University have done the sums to provide an estimate of when we might expect a call from ET, but don't worry about marking the date on your calendar – they believe contact isn't likely for another 1,500 years.

Setting aside the theories that extraterrestrial life might commonly emerge but not thrive, or that maybe we should avoid making contact altogether, the idea of discovering life on other worlds is one our world is fascinated with. So why isn't our curiosity being reciprocated?

"We haven't heard from aliens yet, as space is a big place – but that doesn't mean no one is out there," says Evan Solomonides, a student at Cornell University. Solomindes, along with Professor of Astronomy, Yervant Terzian, deconstructed Fermi's paradox and coupled it with the mediocrity principle – which suggests that Earth isn't all that special in the universe – to arrive at the disappointing 1,500-year time frame.

One factor taken into consideration is the rate at which our broadcast signals are traveling through the Milky Way. For the last 80 years or so, we've been indirectly announcing our existence to the universe as a result of beaming TV and radio signals into space, meaning those signals have reached every star and planet within 80 light-years of Earth. That's around 8,531 stars and 3,555 Earth-like planets, and yet, we haven't heard any response.

And although that might sound like a lot of planets, it's barely a drop in the ocean. The Milky Way contains around 200 billion stars, with estimates there could also be billions of Earth-like planets. This is the mediocrity principle, which Carl Sagan once summed up in a beautiful but depressing thought: "We find that we live on an insignificant planet, of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy, tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people." With that in mind, it might just be that aliens can't find us. We need to give them time.

So why have the researchers penciled in humanity's first date with extraterrestrials for the middle of next millennium? By combining the Fermi paradox and the mediocrity principle, they calculated that we will most likely have a response by the time our radio signals have spread across half of the Milky Way, circa 3,500 CE.

"It's possible to hear any time at all, but it becomes likely we will have heard around 1,500 years from now," says Solomonides. "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."

Obviously, that isn't a hard-and-fast time limit, and the researchers are clear that even if ET stands us up on that date, it doesn't mean we'll be alone forever.

"We simply claim that it is somewhat unlikely that we will not hear anything before that time," Solomonides says.

Source: Cornell University

29 comments
Mel Tisdale
'None so blind as them who won't see!' Perhaps if these scientists were to examine Dr Steven Greer's Sirius Disclosure Project, they might get a different perspective on the matter. As for me, what I and one other witness saw in the sky over the Midlands of the U.K. one summer's evening back in the 1980s was not, and could not have been, any aircraft that I know of - and I am a mechanical engineer with an interest in avionics. I would not be surprised to learn of alien involvement somewhere along the line.
Paul Nash
Can we expect our TV and Radio transmissions to be detected by any alien civilisation (or to detect theirs)? Are the transmissions not likely to be far too attenuated to be registered beyond a few light years away?
VincentWolf
The problem with finding an intelligent species that's capable of producing their own versions of light, sound and other waves is that of the Universe's timeline. Mankind has only been around in it's present industrial state for about 100 years which is a blip on the overall time period of 15 billion years since the big bang and formation of stars. The chances of another lifeform overlapping our timeline so that we co-exist in the same point in time (in our ability to communicate via technology) is very tiny. That, more than the possibility of other Earth's is the primary reason we haven't heard from ET yet. And vice versa.
EcoLogical
Scientists? Is Cornell part of the "Flat Earth Society"? There's evidence of ancient (1,000 ~ 15,000 years ago) highly advanced technology/civilization all over this planet. These so-called scientists from Cornell should watch a few episodes of "Ancient Aliens" on the History Channel or H2 (now in their 8th season) or read Erik Von Danican's book "Chariots of the Gods" published in 1968.
piperTom
As to aliens finding something, the artice claims, "we need to give them time." Fermi might respond that we HAVE given them time. Earth has had life and the resulting oxygen rich atmosphere for two billion years. Planets elsewhere in our galaxy have had 10 to 12 billion years to get ready for this event. The oxygen shines even more brightly than our TV signals -- what are the aliens waiting for?
fb36
@Paul Nash, Consider that digital (which is superior to analog) signals coming from deep space probes require giant antennas, have very slow data speed and require lots of advanced error correction tricks. From that I would think there is not really any chance radio/TV broadcasting from Earth to be recovered at another star.
Rustin Lee Haase
1500 years!! By then we will have probably spread out far enough and diversified enough that we will be indistinguishable from any space aliens that we might encounter. We may never find any and will only get false positives where we keep rediscovering ourselves. People who want to find life out there in space need to address it the Elon Musk way, not the Carl Sagan way.
Bob809
Perhaps what they really meant was that Scientists will not be ready for contact for another 1500 years. Most people I know have a belief in something other than ourselves operating within our tiny insular world.
Non-techie Talk
Ah, intelligence, that magical, mystical product of evolution, a process understood to gain traction generationally. So, creatures with shorter lifespans have had exponentially more generational iterations, within a set period of time, through which to evolve. While a human being lives ~75 years, some creatures on earth only live a day or less; given that lower orders are understood to have emerged millions of years before humans, and that that they live shorter lives, they've had exponentially many, many more generational iterations to evolve intelligence...yet they haven't; while humans, emerging so much later and generationally iterating at a much slower pace, have. How can we begin to approach grasping intelligence elsewhere in the universe when the manner by which we ourselves arrived at this capacity seems so...odd?
Grumpyrelic
1,500 years? Humph! When I was a kid, I read the 1933 Universal encyclopaedia and in it was a "scientific" rendering of Phobos showing a landscape festooned with needle sharp mountains because there was no atmosphere to erode them. If they had looked at the Moon... They did have telescopes in 1933... A further thought. Imagine aliens whose "Adam & Eve didn't eat the apple? Do they want to find this crazy place?