[dropcap]Enrico Fermi[/dropcap]’s much ballyhooed paradox — the aging saw that “If E.T. is out there and technologically-advanced, why aren’t they here?” — now seems a tad simplistic.
It’s a conundrum that has plagued SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers since their first radio searches began more than a half century ago. But the lack of verifiable SETI signals should not be held up as evidence that they simply aren’t there.
In this age of planetary plenty, when by some estimates there may be as many as 100 billion planets in our galaxy alone, it’s still premature to think that we have cornered the Milky Way’s market on intelligence.
That’s not to say that anyone need keep one eye open for bug-eyed aliens skulking about the foot of their bed. But if technologically-advanced extraterrestrials are out there, there is ample reason to believe that they will have long known we’re here.
Here are five reasons why:
1) The “I Love Lucy” Argument.
Even if E.T. has only crude 1960’s-era radio telescopes, they would be able to pick up 1950s-era TV broadcasts out to a distance of at least 60-plus light years. Given the recent announcement that one of the stars in the Alpha Centauri star system, our nearest stellar neighbors, has an earth-sized planet, the implication is that there may be dozens of terrestrial mass within only a hundred light years.
2) “Earth, you’ve got to hide your life away…”
Putting a new spin on that old Beatles tune, our own planet’s numerous bio-signatures due to both plant photosynthesis and animal respiration would be readily apparent to extraterrestrial astronomers.
Before funding cuts put a squelch on plans for NASA’s Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) and Life Finder (LF) spacecraft, the space agency was already well along in its plans to sniff out signs of life on dozens of nearby extrasolar planets.
As I note in my book “Distant Wanderers,” French astronomer Antoine Labeyrie says that within a century at the outside, large-scale ground- and space-based optical arrays will be used to track real time weather on other nearby earthlike planets.
Thus, if within fifty years of Sputnik, we are capable of using space-based spectroscopy to sniff out life on other earthlike worlds; then an Alien Search for Terrestrial Intelligence (ASTI) must possess capabilities a thousand fold in advance of our own. That is, if they are even a modest 10,000 s=”StrictlyAutoTagBold”>years aheadof us.
A 2007 paper published by The Astrophysical Journal notes that with an array of large very powerful optical space telescopes, “hypothetical observers” would likely be able to establish earth’s rotation period, discern its oceans, and possibly even its signatures of life — all from data contained in a single pixel and from an estimated distance of 30 light years.
3) They aren’t likely to be couch potatoes.
Arguments against extraterrestrials out riding the spacetime continuum are flawed. From Christopher Columbus, who barely squelched a mutinous crew — to the Apollo 11 lunar module crew narrowly avoiding an unexpected crater just before touchdown; great leaps have always been made running on empty. Why should we expect an advanced intelligence to be couch potatoes, content never to push the envelope across their own heliopause?
After all, we are afflicted with wanderlust. If we had the ability to travel throughout even a small quadrant of our galaxy, we would already be doing so. When making assumptions that life is out there and communicating, we should also acknowledge that our communications and travels are limited only by our present technology, and certainly not by any lack of desire. Why should we expect E.T. to be any different? Evolution appears to be hard-wired with curiosity.
4) To E.T., “warp factor” would be more than just a good name for a rock band.
If they are there, they will likely have long circumvented the speed of light.
In a Forbes Q&A I did with former NASA physicist Marc Millis last year, he says that “inferences from the expansion rate after the Big Bang suggest that spacetime can indeed expand faster than objects within spacetime can move.” Millis predicts that humans might achieve Faster-than-light travel as soon as 2300.
5) They’d likely forgo the Oscar after-parties.
Technologically, our own stealth bomber, which saw fruition a mere 75 years after the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight, can render itself virtually undetectable on radar. And research is already underway on atmospheric cloaking technology to make aircraft optically-invisible as well.
Thus, if E.T. is merely 1,000 years ahead of us, surely they would have much more advanced cloaking mechanisms that would allow them to operate within our geo-sphere with impunity. The end result would be somewhat akin to using a one-way mirror at a primate zoo.
Bruce Dorminey - Forbes