What’s Out Tonight?

A general ASTRONOMY site to get you started exploring the night sky

Are we alone in the Universe?

This is the most frequent question I get asked, especially when I am having a private conversation with someone about astronomy. 

Because of the almost innumerable stars that are in the Universe, probability alone says that there HAS to be life, like us, somewhere out there. There are at least 200 billion stars in our galaxy and there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the Universe, so that equates to around 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the Universe. And, we know from recent discoveries that planets exist around most stars. Let’s say that intelligent life, like ours, occurs on only 1 in a trillion planets (or around one star since most stars have multiple planets). Even at this rate, there would be about 200,000,000,000 (200 billion) planets with life at our intelligence level. But remember, galaxies are extremely large and the distance between galaxies is even greater—so it might not be easy for intelligent races to bump into each other. 

Almost every space scientist believes that we will find microbial life under the surface of Mars and I wholeheartedly agree, however, at the snail’s pace that we are exploring Mars*, we might first detect telltale signs of life-bearing atmospheres on planets orbiting nearby stars (that we see in the night sky) instead of finding life on a planet in our backward. Based on the study of our solar system, many scientists believe that life may be much more plentiful in the Universe than we ever imagined. However, there is a difference between life and intelligent life—how plentiful is “intelligence” life? 

One concern that has been around for years is the fact that in the last 5,000 years of history, we have not been “visibly” visited by alien life, so are we alone in the Universe? And, the SETI project (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has not been able to detect any radio signals from nearby stars, signals indicating technological societies. We might, at least, be alone in our sector of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Some people say that UFOs are proof that there is other life in the Universe but the jury is still out on what these objects represent because there is no tangible proof available to the public. We are absolutely at the infant stage of a technological civilization and I guarantee you that we have a lot to learn about all the sciences before we can understand who we truly are in relation to the Universe. There are scientists who believe that we pretty much know how the Universe ticks but if you talk to “mature” scientists, almost every one will say that we are just babes and don’t understand as much as we think. 

Yes, we have a good handle on a lot of science. Our modern electronics is evidence of this fact but there are still a lot of discoveries and insights to come that will bring about inventions and understanding beyond our wildest dreams. If we continue at our present rate of technological development, science fiction stories on steroids is what the future may hold—and it may be this future that is needed to discover alien races. What are some reasons why we have not been visited or can’t find signs of “intelligence” in the Universe? Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Life like ours might be very rare and the average distance between worlds with intelligent life (on par with ours) might be so great that contact is very difficult, if not impossible. 

2. If there is no means to travel faster than the speed of light, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to meet or detect alien species. By the way, Einstein’s theories do not preclude faster-than-light travel. They only state that objects cannot be accelerated to the speed of light. This may be a “barrier” that only has to be “broken through” or “sidestepped” to achieve speeds faster than light. Additionally, if other dimensions exist, it may be possible to travel great distances in short periods of time using these dimensions. 

3. Races like ours might be short lived because they lack the maturity to sustain themselves. Although we have an ability to create sophisticated technology, we are unable to effectively govern ourselves—we are very bent on annihilating ourselves instead of working together in cooperation.

4. We may not be as intelligent as we think. In fact, we might be considered animals in relationship to the truly intelligent beings. So, we might not be capable of discovering others in the Universe because they are extremely advanced and our intelligence may not get us to their level—to the point of finding or understanding them. Dogs have some intelligence but they cannot build a rocket to go to the Moon. We can go to the Moon and beyond but maybe this is not enough to contact and engage with the truly “intelligent” aliens in the Universe. 

5. There might be a Prime Directive as made popular by Star Trek. Maybe other intelligent species are ignoring us for a reason. 

6. If UFOs are real, maybe our government already knows that there is intelligent alien life but refuses to share this information with us. However, if this is the case, and for some reason, the aliens are purposely avoiding open and direct contact with us, too. 

7. We might need to make many more scientific discoveries and technological innovations before we have the means to discover other intelligent life in the Universe. For example, I applaud SETI for its search but I do not believe that any advanced alien race will be using radio waves for communication. Radio waves used for communication is most likely a primitive technology — heck, it is still our first “form” of invented communication. 

8. Our civilization has been technologically active for only about 100 years. It is possible that we have not yet been noticed by other civilizations. For example, only aliens at the very closest stars to us might detect our existence. And, chances are that the nearest planet with life, like ours, is considerably farther away. At the speed of light (the speed of our radio transmissions), it could take tens of thousands of years before our transmissions get far enough and are “heard.” 

9. Civilizations on planets may develop and extinguish themselves naturally. The probability that there are two nearby intelligent species developing at the same time might be very, very, very small. For example, if technological societies last at most 10,000 years, 100 such civilizations could have developed and died around us in the last million years. So, timing might be very important for alien civilizations to meet or detect one other.   

My best guess is that there are aliens out there and they know about us but they are keeping their distance, for reasons that we might not even understand. They might be checking in on us but I think their level of intelligence is so much greater than ours that the “gap” may be too wide for us to cross. Our reality is what we see around us. But, “reality” may be much more than what we can see, hear and touch—aliens might be able to tap into an extended reality that we cannot. Additionally, our brains are, in my opinion, very simple processors. What if there are alien races with multi-processing brains that can access, process and interweave great quantities of information? Alien races might be ignoring us because we are not as smart or as special as we like to think. _____________________ 

*I am not a fan of NASA because it is a typical, bloated and inefficient government organization that is aimless and spends up to 10x more than it has to on every space mission. We could get much, much more for our money if NASA used competitive biding for spacecraft missions, like the practice of “regular” businesses. No, organizations like Lockheed, etc. are quasi-governments organizations that keep the cost of spacecraft artificially high—there is no real competition between these providers.