So, I know it’s cool to think that we’re not alone and the truth is really out there and all of that, and it’s true that our galaxy contains the closest planets to Earth in the whole of the universe, but listen…it’s still really, really freaking big.
Sure, I’m as excited as the next person about maybe possibly meeting some aliens or visiting another civilized planet some day, so let’s dream for a minute about how experts are guessing there could be around three dozen intelligent life forms floating about the Milky Way.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom, have found that there could be around 36 active life forms in our galaxy alone.
To reach these conclusions, they revised the famous Drake equation to include new data, strike some of the unknowns, and in the end, make what they feel is a good attempt to calculate how many Communicating Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent (CETI) civilizations there may be.
They issued the following statement about their parameters and methods:
“The class method for estimating the number of intelligent civilizations relies on making guesses of values relating to life, whereby opinions about such matters vary quite substantially.
Our new study simplifies these assumptions using new data, giving us a solid estimate of the number of civilizations in our galaxy.”
They used knowledge of intelligent life on earth – the Astrobiological Copernican Principle – and assumed that a planet much like ours, situated in a place much like ours, and roughly as old as ours, will have developed the same sort of intelligent life as on earth.
The simpler set of circumstances helped eliminate several terms used in the more complex Drake Equation, which also factors in the fraction of suitable planets on which life appears, the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.
These new findings have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.
The categorized planets from “weak” to “strong” in their ability to develop alongside a timeline similar to ours.
They said in their statement,
“In the strong criteria, whereby a metal content equal to that of the Sun is needed (the sun is relatively speaking quite metal-rich), we calculate that there should be around 36 active civilizations in our galaxy.”
Like I warned at the outset, though, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be meeting any alien counterparts any time soon. Even if these civilizations existed, and they were putting signals out into the galaxy, the average distance between us and them would be around 17,000 light years – which means that, with our current capabilities, it would take us around 3060 years to detect their signal.
That said, scientists are always keen on dreaming big.
“If we find that intelligent life is common then this would reveal that our civilization could exist fo much longer than a few hundred years.
Alternatively, if we find that there are no active civilizations in our galaxy it is a bad sign for our own long term existence.
By searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life – even if we find nothing – we are discovering our own future and fate.”
You see? There’s a silver lining, even in failure.
It’s one of the nice things about science, if you ask me.
And we could all use a little silver lining these days, don’t you think?