Author at ‘The Secrets Of The Universe’, I am an 18-year-old high school student from Switzerland taking the IB diploma. I always strive to share and spread knowledge should it be through writing, tutoring, or engaging communities with shared interests in my school.
Fermi Paradox: Where are the aliens?
Aliens should be everywhere yet nowhere are they to be seen.
According to notable Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, humans evolve in a universe exempt from highly intelligent civilizations. However, the world of physics also contains abundant estimates for the probability of extraterrestrial civilizations, seemingly contradicting the lack of evidence we have of them: a paradox known as the Fermi Paradox.
Enrico Fermi claimed that any civilization holding above a certain amount of rocketry technology (Type III civilization) would hastily (relatively to the time frame of the universe) be able to maintain control over entire star systems. Thus, he argued that if the universe were host to intelligent life other than us, we would have already noticed its presence. However, that had never been the case.
Strength of Fermi’s argument
Fermi’s claim stands due to the gargantuan age of the universe as well as the time it still has to live. Indeed, it is so grand that no matter how slow or fast we take a civilization’s galactical colonization speed to be, it won’t ever compare to the age of the universe. Thus, no matter if their speed were more like 1% of the speed of light or 20%, the time it would take these civilizations to colonize the universe would still be shorter than the time frame of our galaxy.
The strengths of Fermi’s assertions, although unproved, lead to a rise in interest in the paradox. Within the scientific community, papers and theories were aplenty, considering scientific and sociological explanations as to how these aliens would not have come to know about our presence. One explanation that found legitimacy was the idea that interstellar travel, although theoretically achievable by some civilizations, remained too costly, in terms of energy, resources, and thus money, to perform at such wide scales. Also, some practical considerations, such as settling on colonized planets and implanting offspring to spawn new generations, would heavily restrict full galactical colonization.
However, the fact might be as simple as Earth unluckily (or maybe fortuitously) happens to evolve in an area unpopular for colonization, the main centers and areas of interest with heavy “urbanization” being elsewhere. Thus, although our world may be known to and observed by alien civilizations, they have decided not to settle or interfere within our solar system, not caring for less advanced civilizations like ours. A logical deduction from this may be that we do not yet have the necessary technology to intercept messages they have been sending us or are afraid of a close-by predatorial species.
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These suggestions are amongst plentiful others, yet they remain as plausible as absurd. One counter claim being that although these assertions are valid, will they apply to all alien civilizations? Will one not have stood out and come into contact with humans? Leading once again to the conclusive solution some tend to opt upon: that we are indeed alone or maybe, as claimed by some scientists, we are alone now, but were surrounded by alien life, in the past, and will be in the future, but simply beyond the human time frame.
Although all of this speculation was stimulation, perhaps even necessary, experiment and practical proof were needed for definitive certainty. Thus, in 1961 at the SETI (Search for extraterrestrial intelligence) research organization, Frank Drake attempted to quantify these speculations into an equation today known as the Drake equation and the number one opposition to Fermi’s claims. It aims to find the number of intelligent civilizations within a set of boundaries and restrictions, in our case notably, within the Milky-Way Galaxy.
Considering the star formation rate within that galaxy, the equation computes the fraction of those stars with planetary systems and then again the fraction of those planetary systems that could actually sustain life. Within those simulated planetary systems that contain life, the equation calculates the subset in which the life is intelligent and the time frame it would take to develop such colonizing technology. Finally, the last parameter is how long such civilizations could use these technologies before going extinct and ceasing to exist.
The results are astounding as it predicts that merely within the 100-year span our generation is living in right now, there would be around 10 intelligent civilizations within our galaxy. Indeed, these numbers solidify the paradox between Fermi’s and other scientist’s speculations and such calculations. Thus, the determining factor will lie in rigorous experimentation, making the odds shift in favor of one of two claims, but which one will it be?
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