In 1950 Enrico Fermi, an Italian-born American Nobel prize-winning physicist, posed a very simple question with profound implications for one of the most important scientific puzzles: whether or not life exists beyond Earth. The story goes that during a lunchtime chat with colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the issue of flying saucers came up. The conversation was lighthearted, and it doesn’t appear that any of the scientists at that particular gathering believed in aliens. But Fermi merely wanted to know: “Where is everybody?”
Indeed. It’s not as though the aliens would have much to fear. Or maybe…
There are some who argue that life on Earth appeared pretty quickly after the right conditions emerged almost 4bn years ago, which was when our planet had cooled sufficiently for liquid water to exist. Doesn’t that mean it could easily appear elsewhere too? Actually, no. A statistical sample of one tells us nothing. It is quite possible that biology is a freak local aberration, the product of a chemical fluke so improbable that it didn’t happen anywhere else in the observable universe.
Once we bring in the “statistical sample of one,” a great many media-friendly ideas collapse.
I did say that the study also provided some cheer. Some have claimed we have not found ET yet because intelligent life (including us) always annihilates itself before it can successfully develop the technology for interstellar travel or communication. But maybe the silence is simply because no such alien civilisations exist. So, as the authors put it, pessimism about our own future is therefore unfounded. We may be alone, but we may just survive. More.
Space entrepreneur Elon Musk isn’t deterred:
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk cited the study’s conclusions as an “added impetus” for humanity to become a spacefaring civilization capable of extending life beyond Earth. He tweeted: “This is why we must preserve the light of consciousness by becoming a spacefaring civilization & extending life to other planets…”
Hat tip: Ken Francis
See also: Researchers: We have dissolved the Fermi Paradox!
Question of the hour: Are space aliens hoarding stars in an expanding universe? If the aliens are really advanced, they can shop for stars in the past and the future and have them delivered. There’s nothing wrong with this stuff at all except that it isn’t science.