The search for extraterrestrial life is in its' 47th year*
and has not detected a single sign of intelligent life.
I began wondering what this may bode for the future of mankind here on Earth.
A few facts and assumptions are needed to proceed:
If we earthlings are normal, we became space travelers approximately
five billion years after the formation of our sun.
The age of our universe is estimated to be 14 billion years old
and galaxy and star formation is thought to have begun around
two billion years after the Big Bang.
Therefore, space traveling aliens should have appeared
roughly seven billion years after the creation of the universe.
That is, they had a seven billion year head start on us.
Additionally, we began to pollute the universe with electromagnetic
radiation at the beginning of the 20th Century. Our wireless telegraphs,
radios, televisions, telephones, and internet bounce signals off of the
upper atmosphere and satellites to achieve transmissions of data
(voice, text, music, video, etc.). Some of this radiation "leaks" out into
space and basically travels forever at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second).
This equates to six trillion miles per year. So these signals have now reached
600 trillion miles from Earth. It follows that alien cultures with a
seven billion year head start should have filled the heavens with
electromagnetic radiation. The search for extraterrestrial life should have begun
gathering snippets of alien "I Love Lucy" reruns the moment they went live in 1960,
unless, of course, there were not any alien civilizations within a sphere about our
sun with a radius of seven billion years.
This is what makes the silence of the heavens so intriguing to me.
There seem to be only two possibilities - both disturbing.
If there is no coherent radiation within seven billion light years,
then life forms like us must be incredibly rare in the universe,
which means that contacts such as portrayed in a show like "Star Trek"
and books like Carl Sagan's "Contact" are virtually impossible.
There simply are too few of us in the universe to ever meet up.
Secondly, it could be the case that life forms that achieve space travel
and electronic pollution of space wipe themselves off the face of their
planets relatively quickly. If this were true, then coherent radiation might
have crossed Earth billions of years before astrophysicists first looked upwards.
Neither are very pleasant thoughts.
However, supposing we were able place species like us under a standard normal curve.
Perhaps five billion years to space travel is well below the mean for the universe.
Maybe the birth-of-star to space travel norm (mean) is ten to twelve billion years!
That might earn us the status of pioneer aliens of the entire universe.
* I'm counting from the 1960 Frank Drake experiment in West Virginia