Peter Chow: Where Are The Little Green Men?

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Science can stop pretending and admit to you, looking you right in the eye, that it, Science, is almost as guilty as the Pope in promoting feel-good myths and well, utter nonsense, about the universe.

Let’s talk about the cosmos.

You know, that great show, Cosmos, with Carl Sagan, in its first iteration, and then with Neil De Grasse.

People like Sagan and De Grasse have tried to promote the idea of the universe as this fascinating and colourful Wonderland.

Movies like Star Wars, TV shows like Star Trek, science fiction in general, and basically the minds of every single person on Earth ever since JFK announced in the early 1960s that we were going to put a man on the moon, have imaged space as the exciting “Final Frontier.”

This, of course, is utter nonsense.

Deep space is the deadest, dullest, darkest, coldest, most boring nightmare you can ever imagine, an endless, cold, dark void, with a bunch of rock and dust and gas and fire sprinkled every few million years if you were able to travel at the speed of light, which you never will.

 

There ain’t shit out there, folks.

Nothing worth mentioning anyway.

Sure, there are some elements, hydrogen mostly, some helium, a bit of lithium…..and some other elements.

But what it is, really, is a bunch of shit on fire.

Burning in the sky.

A bunch of cosmic campfires made by nobody.

 

There are no extraterrestrials  –  at least none that we could ever communicate with or reach.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this.

It is absolutely 100% scientifically proven that we are, for all practical purposes, alone.

Perhaps there are other sentient beings in other parts of the universe, (or even in an infinity of other universes within the Multiverse), but the dimensions of space and time between us are so vast that it would take eternities for us to contact each other — even at the speed of light (671,000,000 miles per hour).

 

Wait!!!……Wormholes!!!

What about wormholes??!!??

Scientists use this myth to make us feel better about these mind-numbing and horrific distances that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that ET is never going to phone us, let alone visit us.

I don’t know about you — I’m not a worm.

I ain’t gonna go in no wormhole.

Who knows what I’ll find in the other end?

 

One of the most compelling expressions of this is called Fermi’s Paradox.

 

At lunch in 1950 at Los Alamos laboratories in New Mexico, in between testing hydrogen bombs, a bunch of brilliant minds were discussing the high probability of extraterrestrial life and advanced civilizations in space and so on, when Enrico Fermi (the Italian Nobel Prize winning physicist and the creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor, who has been called the “architect of the nuclear age”) politely asked,

“Then where is everybody???”

Go ahead, Google it.

Nobody has a good answer to that question.

The paradox asks that if it is so likely that the universe should be teeming with extra-terrestrial intelligent life, then where the hell are they and why haven’t they contacted us?

 

Are the aliens grossed out by us?

Do we not rate?

Why the hell haven’t they come visit, the selfish bastards?

Maybe it’s a sign of their advanced intelligence that they haven’t tried to contact us.

Don’t they know how desperate we are for some cosmic company?

 

We are utterly alone.

And everything is really, really, really far away.

 

A recently published paper proposes that according to our current understanding of science, the existence of our human civilization is improbable and the chance of finding ETI (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) may be nil.

 

The Drake equation, originally penned by astronomer Frank Drake in the 1965, laid out a series of terms estimating how many intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations, ETIs, might exist.

N = The number of civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions (radio waves) are detectable.

R* = The number of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.

fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.

ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.

fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears by Abiogenesis, the natural process by which life arises from non-living matter, such as simple organic compounds.

fi = The fraction of life-bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.

fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

L = The length of time such civilizations have to release detectable signals into space, i.e. their lifespan before they disappear

Mathematically, this is expressed as:

N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L

 

Research released in 2016 revised the number of galaxies in the observable universe from a previous estimate of 200 billion (200,000,000,000) to two trillion (2,000,000,000,000) or more.

The observable universe is bounded by a “cosmic horizon,” much like the horizon at sea.

Just as we know there’s more ocean over the horizon, we know there are more galaxies (probably an infinite number) beyond the cosmic horizon.

The number of stars in each galaxy averages 100 billion which means that there are about 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 2 trillion trillion) stars in the observable universe alone (more stars than all the grains of sand on planet Earth).

70% of all stars have a planet of Earth-size or larger.

In 2013, astronomers reported, based on the Kepler space mission data, that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, alone.

Remember, there are 2 trillion other galaxies besides our Milky Way.

 

The Drake equation would suggest that there should be intelligent life teeming out there somewhere in the universe.

Drake himself postulated in 1965 that according to his equation, there should be anywhere from 100 million to 1 billion extraterrestrial civilizations with sufficiently intelligent life that could communicate with us.

 

The Fermi Paradox asks:

If the universe is so large and contains billions of Earth like planets, there should be other intelligent life out there.

If so, why haven’t we met them yet?

Why have we been so far unable to find any evidence of little green men??!!??

Where is everybody ?!?

 

The scariest answer is that of the “Great Filter,” the idea that all industrial, technological spacefaring civilizations like our own cannot overcome a certain unknown obstacle (the “Filter”) to further development and either go extinct, self-destruct, burn out or de-industrialize and fade away.

If the answer to the Fermi Paradox is usually the “Great Filter,” then there are a few possible trajectories for an advanced civilization….like our own..

The new paper builds upon the previous work determining the likelihood of intelligent life emerging in our galaxy and predicts that, at this moment in time, we’re probably the only advanced civilization in the observable universe.

It’s the first study to consider what previous papers have overlooked……..the likelihood of intelligent life destroying itself.

 

These are just a few of the many possible endings to Humanity on Earth.

 

1)  Sterilising events, i.e., catastrophic events that would wipe out life on a planet.

In this study the authors used supernovae (the explosion of a star that has reached the end of its life) as the apocalyptic event.

Any planets within 1,000 light years of the blast would be in the “kill zone” and thus their chance for ETI would be reset back to zero.

On average, a supernova will occur about once every 50 years in a galaxy the size of our Milky Way.

Put another way, a star explodes every second or so somewhere in the universe, and some of those aren’t too far from Earth.

Our sun doesn’t have enough mass to explode as a supernova (though the news for Earth still isn’t good, because once the sun runs out of its nuclear fuel, in a couple billion years, it will swell into a red giant that will likely vapourise our planet, before gradually cooling into a white dwarf).

 

2)  The probability that intelligent life would kill itself.

A bit hard to consider, but quite realistic.

It may be a universal truth that technological civilizations invariably fail to survive — a proposition not entirely unreasonable, as no civilization may be able to check its tendency to self-destruct over long time scales.

Scientists and cosmologists estimate the lifespan for an industrialised, technological civilization to be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 (Earth) years.

We all know how good we humans are at making planet-killing technology such as nuclear weapons and chemical and biological weapons.

Additionally, the existence of climate change and environmental degradation and extinction of species proves that it is possible, if not inevitable, for intelligent life to destroy itself.

Take the history of our own Earth – our industrial civilization is only 200 years old, our technological civilization just over 100 years old, our digital civilization only 50 years old.

We were on the very edge of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, avoiding thermonuclear Armageddon during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 by only the narrowest of margins, by the maverick decision of one Soviet submarine commander who refused to press his finger on a nuclear button.

Human Civilization seems to be hell-bent on its own self-destruction.

So How Exactly Did Homo Sapiens Evolve Into A Horrifyingly Efficient Killing Machine That Wipes All The Other Species (and maybe itself) Off The Face Of The Earth?

Horrifyingly Efficient.

Magic……Evolution.

That’s how.

 

3)  Death by future technologies.

Besides war and nuclear holocaust, existential threats from overpopulation, global pandemic, resource depletion, and critical climate change, Mankind faces the future spectres of AI and Molecular Nanotechnology.

Elon Musk has been a constant vocal critic of Artificial Intelligence, calling it an “existential threat to humanity”  and saying “AI will make humans an endangered species.”

Once created and reaching the Singularity, the point at which AI basically surpasses human intelligence and attains virtual Consciousness, an Artificial Intelligence could take mere minutes for its capabilities to squash that of the human race, until, by comparison, we’re little more than ants.

Taming and controlling this technology will be the most daunting task humanity may ever face, and if we fail, it will probably be the last challenge we will ever face.

Molecular Nanotechnology has the potential to be both both incredibly lethal and widespread.

If capable of self-replicating, it could swiftly decimate humanity as an unstoppable virus.

The utilization of Molecular Nanotechnology by a dangerous Artificial Intelligence could  permit weapons of mass destruction that could self-replicate, as viruses and cancer cells do when attacking the human body.

4)  A natural disaster.

The ending could very well be natural, such as a super volcano like Yellowstone or, even an asteroid or a comet.

The Yellowstone Super Volcano, is a volcanic caldera (the large cauldron-like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of a magma chamber in a volcanic eruption) in Yellowstone National Park.

The caldera measures 43 by 28 miles (70 by 45 kilometers).

By comparison, the caldera of Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980, was 1.2 by 2.1 miles.

Yellowstone’s geyser, “Old Faithful,” which shoots up 150 feet every 74 minutes is testament to the heat brewing under the ground.

Yellowstone’s last big eruption was 631,000 years ago and it erupts on average every 600,000 years.

Yellowstone is overdue.

If another large, caldera-forming eruption were to occur at Yellowstone, its effects could be worldwide, such as 3 feet of volcanic ash burying Sault Ste Marie and a planetary volcanic winter, a reduction in global temperatures caused by volcanic ash and droplets of sulphuric acid and water obscuring the Sun, lasting years to decades.

 

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Near-Earth Object Office is tasked with plotting the orbits of present-day comets and asteroids that cross Earth’s path, and could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

On the Fall Equinox this past Wednesday, Sept. 22, while Canadians were preoccupied with their federal election, the universe was doing its own thing and an asteroid three times the size of the Statue of Liberty zipped past Earth, travelling at 33,800 mph.

According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) the asteroid 2021 NY1, which was 984 feet across, passed our planet within a distance that, in cosmic scales, was a hair’s breadth.

The last ballbuster collision with Earth was in 1908, the Tunguska Event, in Siberia, where a large space rock, only 120 feet across, entered the atmosphere of Siberia and then detonated in the sky.

That asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere traveling at a speed of about 33,500 miles per hour.

During its entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the 220-million-pound space rock heated the air surrounding it to 44,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

At a height of about 28,000 feet, the combination of pressure and heat caused the asteroid to fragment and annihilate itself, producing a fireball and releasing energy equivalent to about 185 Hiroshima bombs, wiping out 800 sq. miles of remote Siberian forest.

NASA estimates that, on average, a Tunguska-sized asteroid will enter Earth’s atmosphere once every 300 years.

 

Apophis is a near-Earth asteroid about 1,100 feet – or 335 meters – wide.

Early observations suggested it might strike Earth in 2029.

Although it will be a really, really close call for Earth, Apophis should pass on Friday 13, April 2029 at a distance of 19,662 miles (31,643 km) from Earth’s surface.

In contrast to the moon’s distance of 225,623 miles (384,400 km).

In 2068, the asteroid “Apophis” has an even closer chance of impacting the Earth.

An asteroid the size of Apophis can be expected to strike Earth about every 80,000 years.

Asteroids with a 1 km diameter strike Earth every 500,000 years on average.

Large collisions – with 5 km objects – happen approximately once every 20 million years.

The last known impact of an object of 10 km (6.21 mi) or more in diameter was at the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago which famously extincted the dinosaurs.

That was a 12-to-15-kilometer (7.5 to 9.3 mi) asteroid hurtled into Earth at Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, releasing the same energy as 100 trillion tonnes of TNT, more than a billion times the energy of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leaving a crater 200 km. wide.

 

An even harder-to-calculate risk comes from a recently discovered class of comets known as Manx comets.

 

Named for Manx cats, these are comets so inactive that they do not produce visible tails.

Like normal comets, however, they dive deep into the inner solar system from origins well beyond the orbit of Pluto, and possibly close to the boundary of interstellar space.

That means that when they reach us, they are coming in hard and fast.

Their lack of tail-forming volatiles also means they are rocky and dense, capable of hitting with enormous amounts of energy.

Worst of all, their lack of tails makes them hard to spot until they are practically upon us.

If you are looking for the ultimate disaster-movie scenario, a Manx comet, not seen until less than a month before impact, might be as good as it gets.

Manxes would have very short warning times and would impact us with civilization-ending effect.

 

Will mankind destroy ourselves because our technology has advanced more rapidly than our wisdom, or succumb to a natural disaster because our technology has not advanced quickly enough?

 

No wonder Elon is bailing.

 

Let’s say the time taken for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence to evolve, from Abiogenesis (the origin of life from non-living matter) to the development of a technological civilization, is similar to that on earth……around 3 billion years.

The study found that even if there was a 99.9% chance of life wiping itself out, there would still be around 40 ETI’s in our galaxy, the Milky Way, alone – somewhere and at some time.

The nearest ETI may be a million light years away from Earth, its radio signals taking a million years to reach Earth, almost certainly from a civilization that long ago burnt out or destroyed itself.

(Radio waves, like other electromagnetic waves, travel through the vacuum of space at the speed of light, 671,000,000 miles per hour)

 

The ETI may have lasted hundreds or thousands or even millions of years, but its lifespan is lost anywhere in the immense 13.8 billion year history of the universe.

The limiting factor in interstellar communication between technologically advanced civilizations is not just distance, but also time.

In the Block Universe of Space-Time, civilizations may just be too far apart in the dimensions of both space and time to ever interact.

As even neighbouring civilizations might be highly separated in time, time also affects the conduct of individual contacts.

Centuries, even thousands of years have to pass before each transmission’s success can even be evaluated.

If we assume that during the 13.8 billion year course of its existence the Galaxy has hosted a million technologically advanced civilizations, and each of them survived an average of 100,000 years, at any one time we could expect less than a hundred active ETI’s in the entire Galaxy  –  about one for every 10 billion stars.

These numbers are not very encouraging.

 

The average age of a civilization is one of the crucial teasers in the Drake Equation.

For ETIs to be common enough to find easily, this value has to be inordinately high.

It seems inescapable that even if civilizations are very common over the total timespan of the universe, 13.8 billion years, at any one time they are few and far between, if existent at all.

In an observable  universe that is 13.8 billion years old, and 93 billion light years across, with a trillion trillion star systems, civilizations might emerge and develop and burn themselves up, simply too fast and separated too far by the immensities of both space and time, to ever find one another.

At any given moment in cosmic history, the Universe might well be populated by only a few (and maybe only one) cosmic intelligences.

Or none.

 

As it is, Abiogenesis is a slippery idea to buy into.

It seems amazing that all the living things we see around us, including us, have stemmed from non-living chemicals at some point in the Earth’s turbulent history.

250 nucleic acid pairs are required to produce replicating life.

The chances of that happening in the observable universe may be rare, but the chances of it happening in a much larger universe with 10⁸⁰ more stars is easier to believe.

An infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters (or word processors), given an infinite amount of time, will eventually produce the complete works of William Shakespeare.

The likelihood is that the creation of life, Abiogenesis, is common enough that it may produce life outside of our cosmological horizon but uncommon enough that we are the only place where it has happened within our small bubble.

Our sample size, our bubble, is just too small to find more life.

 

Is it better that we are the only instance of life in all the cosmos, or would we rather know that we are one of many?

Out there somewhere are civilizations with architecture we’ve never seen and intelligent beings whose language to us will sound like incantations.

Yet it is impossible for us to speak to one another.

We cannot touch, or greet, or hear them.

We can only do as our eyes always do, from moment to moment:  watch.

Aware that there is something fascinating in the Great Beyond.

Accepting that it must remain unknown to us forever.

2 COMMENTS

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