Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Anyone Out There?

There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life in the universe. One group insists that the “eerie silence” means that we are alone in the universe. We have been listening for more than fifty years now and there has yet to be an alien signal discovered. The other group insists that we have searched a tiny bit of the observable universe and we have used technology that may very well be irrelevant to extraterrestrials- the radio spectrum.

Lee Speigel with the Huffington Post writes about a new effort to predict the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe. His story focuses on an Astrobiology journal paper by Adam Frank and Woodruff Sullivan. They use new data from the search for exoplanets to update the famous Drake Equation. Frank Drake sought to quantify the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe back in 1961. His equation is still in use today. The Astrobiology paper, as outlined by Speigel, suggests that the new exoplanet research be used to update the equation. According to NASA, There have been 3,268 expoplanets discovered as of May 19, 2016. The Astrobiology authors extrapolation of this number is rather astonishing to consider:
“Even if you are pretty pessimistic and think that you’d have to search through 100 billion (habitable zone) planets before you found one where a civilization developed, then there have still been a trillion civilizations over cosmic history!” Frank wrote. “When I think about that, my mind reels — even if there is just a one in a 100 billion chance of evolution creating exo-civilizations, the universe still has made so many of them that we are swamped by histories other than our own.” –Huffington Post

It’s quite a difference in perspective- either we are the only civilization in the universe or there may be a trillion civilizations in the history of the universe.
All considerations, with this little real information, is basically speculation. Even with the scientific discovery of thousands of exoplanets, we still don’t know enough about how life could develop outside of the Earth to truly consider the possibility of life on another planet, or for that matter a trillion planets. The article does provide some new ammunition for those seeking extraterrestrial intelligence. The discovery of exoplanets and more importantly, the nature of those exoplanets, allows us to now focus our search in a way that we could not even five years ago.
We need to update the search with the continuing discovery of exoplanets. We need to update our search strategies to get beyond the radio spectrum. We need to keep searching.

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