Looks Like There Could Be 35 Other Alien Civilizations in Our Galaxy
Photo credits: NASA, ESA and T. Brown (STScI)
From the popular mechanics
A couple of astrophysicists revealed new calculations suggesting that we are one of only a few dozen complex civilizations in the galaxy.
Scientists have been using the Drake equation since the 1960s to estimate the likelihood of contacting extraterrestrial life in our galaxy.
According to the team's new calculations, our extraterrestrial neighbors are probably 17,000 light years away.
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For centuries, scientists have been researching the universe for cosmic clues as to whether we are alone in the universe. New estimates suggest that other active civilizations could indeed exist - but not many.
The Drake equation, introduced by astronomer Frank Drake in the 1960s, is a formula that many researchers use to estimate the likelihood that we could communicate with extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Drake's seven key variables, ranging from the number of habitable planet exoplanets in the galaxy to the period in which intelligent life is taking shape, can hardly be determined. The formula acts more as a framework for the likelihood of finding life. Previous estimates ranged from zero to over a billion civilizations.
A pair of researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK, working on the assumption that life in the distant regions of the galaxy will take just as long to develop as it does here at home, has narrowed this estimate down to exactly 36 alien civilizations.
"There should be at least a few dozen active civilizations in our galaxy, assuming that it takes 5 billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets like Earth," said astrophysicist Christopher Conselice in a press release. The team called this calculation "Astrobiological Copernican Limit".
Using this calculation as a guide, the scientists recorded several scenarios: one end of the spectrum is a weak scenario in which the formation of an intelligent life does not take longer than 5 billion years, and on the other end there is a strong scenario in which it is intelligent life is blooming between 4.5 and 5.5 billion years ago.
Scientists calculated for the strong scenario that there should be between four and 211 complex civilizations that can send signals into the universe, of which 36 are most likely. The closest of these complex civilizations should be about 17,000 light years from Earth and orbit a low-mass M-type dwarf star.
However, this is not a good sign of our chances of contacting distant aliens. Communication over these distances is not possible with today's technology.
Not everyone buys the analysis published in the Astrophysical Journal on June 15. According to the Guardian, some researchers are skeptical about the work. Oliver Shorttle of the University of Cambridge told the news organization that other factors - such as how exactly life was formed on Earth - must be taken into account before the new knowledge is taken for granted.
What could this mean for the future of life on earth? The search for life elsewhere in the universe will give insights into our own destiny.
"If we found intelligent life to be common, it would show that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years," said Conselice. "[A] Alternatively, if we find that there are no active civilizations in our galaxy, it is a bad sign of our own long-term existence."
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