Where are all the aliens?!
The universe has given great awe to humanity throughout its existence, shining its stars and galaxies upon humans making us ponder what it holds. Multiple questions arose throughout millennia. Great astronomers and theorists gave way to multiple answers of the universe but led to even more and complex questions that can’t be answered with what we have today. One of these questions is a pretty famous one. Are We Alone in the Universe?
Let’s first take into account how much time it took us to reach where we are right now from the birth of the Universe. The Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago where the Universe started as a single point, and then in less than a fraction of a second, the Universe expanded and stretched to where it is right now and is still expanding! The formation of Earth occurred 4.8 billion years ago as gravity pulled clumps of dust and gas together. During this time, it wasn’t a great time for life to develop on Earth since the Earth was continuously bombarded by asteroids and life said,” you know what, maybe later”. These asteroids are believed to be the primary source of water on Earth. It wasn’t until 1.1 billion years later where the first signs of life appeared on Earth which were microscopic organisms (microbes). Through evolution from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of mammals, the earliest ancestors of humans did not come to existence till 7 million years ago. The agricultural revolution started around 12,000 years ago! The industrial revolution started around 260 years ago and we landed the first man on the moon about 51 years ago! Comparing how much time it took from our very existence to where we are now, we’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time and our technological advancement is just exponentially growing!
The Kardashev Scale
As technology advances with more and more energy used, a soviet astronomer named Nikolai Kardashev, came up with a method to determine a civilizations technological advancements with the amount of power that is accessible to that civilization ( in watts ). Originally, this scale uses three categories but over the years it’s been modified with adding other categories but in this article, we’ll only go over the four types.
- Type I: A Type One civilization can also be known as a planetary civilization with having the ability to store and use all of the energy from its home planet. This is consuming 10¹⁶ w of energy. This type of civilization is capable of building structures, mining, and joining and break ing solids. This is where we’re heading!
- Type II: A Type Two civilization can be known as a stellar civilization having the capability of controlling all of the energy from its solar system. This civilization would consume 10²⁶ w of energy. This type of civilization would be capable to change who they are with the ability to read and engineer their genetic code. Concepts like the Dyson Sphere with encapsulating their home star is out of this world! Literally!
- Type III: A Type Three civilization, also known as a galactic civilization, would be able to control all of the energy its host galaxy has to offer. This would be around 10³⁶ w of energy. This type of civilization is capable of manipulating molecules and molecular bonds creating new materials. This is every Star Wars/Star Trek fan’s dream of our civilization reaching this level!
- Type IV: A Type Four civilization, which could be known as an intergalactic civilization, has the ability to control all of the energy it’s whole Universe has to offer! Consuming around 10⁴⁶w of energy! This type of civilization would be able to manipulate individual atoms and creating complex A.I. ( The original scale does not include a Type IV due to the speculation of it being impossible) Alright this civilization is god level!
A civilizations “type” can be found by using this formula called the Kardashev formula developed by Carl Sagan.
K = Type
P = Power a civilization uses (watts)
Using this formula, if we input the global amount of energy used which is about 18.40 TW or 1.84 × 10¹³ W, we’ll end up with a Type 0.73 civilization. Not yet a Type I civilization but in a few hundred years we’ll definitely make it to Type I! This is a surprisingly simple equation to determine how advanced a civilization is. You may now be thinking, “Wow! There must definitely be life out there” and this is where the Drake Equation comes into play.
The Drake Equation (not the singer haha) was made by an American astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake in 1961. This equation’s solution gives you the number of intelligent civilizations out in the Milky Way using 7 variables:
R = The average rate of star formation in the Milky Way Galaxy per year (This averages at around 7 stars a year according to NASA and the ESA).
fp = The fraction of those stars that have planets ( Around 20%-60% of stars have planets, let’s use 50%).
ne = The average number of planets in a solar system that are suitable for life (Using the solar system as reference, only two planets are suitable).
fl = The fraction of planets that actually develop life ( The estimated number of planets where life evolved is lower than 0.13 based on evolution here on Earth).
fi = The fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life ( Intelligent life may be hard to emerge seeing how diverse life is on Earth but with only humans being intelligent, let’s put this at 0.01)
fc = The fraction of intelligent life that’s able to develop technology to show signs of existence in space. (Basing off humans and Earth, it would be really hard to detect our existence, let’s put this at 0.1)
L =The average expected length of time these civilizations can show sign of existence. ( Basing off human history this can variable can fluctuate all the way to billions of years but we’ll put 10,000 years)
Let’s now insert these numbers into the equation!
( Disclaimer : Know that these numbers can fluctuate and these numbers are rough guesses so the amount of intelligent life out there can just be one to billions!)
N = 7 × 0.5 × 2 ×0.13 × 0.01 × 0.1 × 10,000
N = 9.1 civilizations
With inputting some rough estimates, we’re at about 9 civilizations in our home galaxy and knowing that the universe has existed for a pretty long time, and our advancements are getting way quicker, shouldn’t have a life already be teaming up with each other across the Universe? Welcome to the Fermi Paradox.
The Fermi Paradox was created by Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist from the 1950s who made a lunchtime remark that holds the attention of multiple astronomers and scientists today:
“Where is everybody?”- Enrico Fermi
So simple but yet so deep! (*brain thinking intensifies*) The Fermi Paradox is the apparent contradiction that the Universe seems so empty with no life at all but with the high possibility that life out there does exist! There are around 10,000 stars for every grain of sand on Earth, the Universe is around 90 billion light-years in diameter, and has existed for more than 13.8 billion years! Surely someone should’ve answered our calls! Below are some thoughts and possible ideas to why:
1. The Limits of Humanity
Firstly, we are confined to a certain region in space called the local group, which is a cluster of galaxies containing more than 50 galaxies (mostly dwarf galaxies). This is due to something called dark matter. In a nutshell, as time goes on, the expansion of the Universe increases, solar bodies become further and further apart from each other possibly faster than the speed of light (299, 792,458 m / s). It’s like a loaf of bread, there are berries inside the bread, imagine as the bread being the Universe and the berries being planets! As the bread expands in the oven or whenever it grows, the raisins are stuck in that finite place, and the distance between each berry increases and gets further away from each other. This analogy applies to the expansion of the universe. Due to this, we’ll only be able to have contact and explore only 0.00000000001% of the Observable Universe(that must hit deep…good!). Even with the speed of light, it’ll take billions of years to travel from the local group to the nearest galaxy cluster. So even though if life may exist outside in other pockets of the Universe, we may never see or know due to the ever-increasing expansion of the Universe.
For a century, we’ve been sending radio waves out into the vastness of space. Our ways of life and how were made up may apply differently to other lifeforms in the Universe! Our ways of communication with radio waves may be very primitive compared to other civilizations with having far more advanced ways of communication or so different that they can’t detect our existence in the Universe! An analogy of this is like a person in a house with a morse code transmuter. It’s being sent out there, but no one would answer at all due to morse code being outdated today. Meaning it may not be that aliens don’t exist, but they can’t detect us with our ways of proving our existence. It’s also notable that our messages have only reached 200 light-years out into the galaxy! A fraction of the Milky Way Galaxy and as these go further out in a few light-years, these radio waves will just only be sounds, unable to be read.
3. The Great Filter
There’s an idea called the Great Filter to explain the Fermi Paradox on why the Universe seems so dead. The Great Filter is a filter that life needs to pass to become a galactic/intergalactic civilization. Let’s imagine this whole process as a path, as the path goes on there will be a filter where only certain civilizations and forms of life can pass and these filters can be passed by evolution and advancement of life of civilization whether it’s in an evolutionary, societal, or technological aspect. The Great Filter in its self filters what civilizations become more intelligent and technologically advanced. This filter would be considered the most difficult and could be near impossible to pass being the graveyard of life. For example, the development of life, from dead things to living things to occur can be the Great Filter. It could be possible that we were fortunate enough for evolution itself to get to the point where we are today. It’s also possible for the Great filter to be within the evolutionary process with the development of multi-celled organisms or the development of intelligence. It could be possible that the Great Filter is behind us with us being lucky to develop or the Great Filter could be ahead of us! Examples of this are like an all-out nuclear war or climate change where civilization falls apart turning our planet inhabitable. This could explain why there’s barely any life out there in the Universe because we might be the first to arise, we might be ahead of the filter! (haha imagine possibly being one of the first civilizations out there in the universe is all lonely…wait)
4. Reason to Explore
This is the final idea that’ll be covered in this article. The reason that we don’t see any life out there in the Universe is because of the reason to explore. As time goes on technology would become so advanced where everyone lives a decent life. Technologies like AI or super-powerful computers where we can upload our consciousness into could become reality and be part of our normal life. When we’re at that point, what’s the purpose anymore? What’s the purpose of doing all of this hard work just to colonize some planets and make life with stress and worry when you can go for the option of eternal pleasure with no problems or anything to worry about. This could be another possibility why we don’t see any aliens out there in the Universe, they’re so advanced where they have no care for the exploration of the cosmos.
Awesome! You just finished this whole article(more like finished frying your brain)! Or you just want to know the basic summary of this article, so here you go:
The Universe has existed for 13.8 billion years, and during that time, it only took humanity a few thousand years to go from agriculture revolution to the development of advanced technologies.
The Kardashev Scale measures how technologically advanced a civilization is! There are four types of civilizations;
2a. Type one: Has the ability to control all of the energy from its planet
2b. Type two: Has the ability to control all of the energy from its solar system
2c. Type three: Has the ability to control all of the energy from its galaxy
2d. Type four: Has the ability to control all of the energy from its Universe
3. The Drake Equation is an equation that determines the amount of intelligent life in the Milky Way galaxy
4. The Fermi Paradox is the apparent contradiction of the lacking evidence of extraterrestrial life out there in the universe with a high-probability theoretically that they exist.
5. Some theories/ideas exist to explain the Fermi Paradox but there’s no exact answer!
5a. It could be possible that life out there exists but we are confined to a very small insignificant portion of the Universe. It could be possible for life in other galactic clusters to exist, but we’ll never know due to the expansion of the Universe.
5b. Extraterrestrial life out there could exist but they would be so different from us that we wouldn’t be able to detect their existence. Radio waves may be very obsolete compared to the technology these beings use. Meaning, they wouldn’t be able to detect us.
5c. The Great filter could be known as the graveyard of life. It’s a filter that prevents life from growing into something more complex and intelligent. This could be from abiogenesis (from dead things to living things) to an advanced technological civilization that eliminates life forms once they reach a certain stage. It might’ve been hard for life to develop in general and we just passed the filter. We may be one of the first if not the first civilization in the Universe.
5d. The last reason that was covered was what’s the reason to explore the Universe anyway? Yes of course to see everything, colonize planets, be the change in the Universe, but this requires a lot of work. Why would you do this when you can eternally live an amazing, peaceful, relaxing life? This is how an advanced civilization that we don’t even know of could exist but has no motivation to have contact others and decide to live easy and calm lives.
So are there Aliens out there in space!? Are we alone in the Universe?! Well, it’s still a vague answer, some people may agree that life out there does exist, and others may not and that’s perfectly fine! There’s no definite answer if extraterrestrial life out there in the Universe because we only have theories, no one has answered our calls and we’ve seen nothing. There’s this quote that I feel like would leave a lasting impression about this topic;
“Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying”
— Arthur C. Clarke
With the existence of extraterrestrial life, it could mean some bad news for us, it would be comparable to Christopher Columbus landing into the Americas making contact with the Native Americans. In this case, if we were visited by a super-advanced civilization from the cosmos, we would be the Native Americans, and we know how that played out and also in multiple sci-fi movies. But knowing that we are alone in Universe, leads into seeing that it’s as if we’re not supposed to exist and that the Universe is dead, which means we’re the only hope for life to exist out there in the Universe. It gives us a responsibility to explore and experience the quiet but beautiful Universe and to continue the delicate flame of life.
I hope you learned something new and enjoyed reading this article! I’m a 10th grader at Gladstone High School and a current innovator at The Knowledge Society! Any Inquires, Suggestions, or want to get to know me? Please, feel free to contact me on Linkedin!
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