Recently Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute, wrote an article in the Huffington Post How to Find Extraterrestrial Life. He had proposed that the search for extraterrestrial life was a three-way horse race. According to Shostak:
(1) Discover Life Nearby: This is the search for life in our solar system.
(2) Sniff It Out: Do the sort of spectral analysis that might detect atmospheric gases caused by biology.
(3) Eavesdrop On ET: Otherwise known as SETI, is the effort to detect radio signals or laser flashes from technically savvy extraterrestrials.
Neat, Shostak has set the frame work for further dscussions. Note that the (1) is the search for the existance of life based molecules. That (2) is the search for life forms, whether past or present. And (3) is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
He says that a priori all are equally likely to be successful. Lets think again.
With respect to (1) Discover Life Nearby, lets look at the record. Using the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit & Opportunity, as examples, Spirit which was 2.3m wide, covered 8.81 km over 581 sols (a Martian day that is approximately an Earth day), that is approximately 19 m2 per day. Given that the surface of Mars is 144,798,500 km2 it will take Spirit about 7.6 x 1012 days or 208,340,844 centuries, to examine the total surface of Mars. That is, assuming randomness, and that life did exist on Mars in the past, the quick & dirty probability of finding life on Mars on any day with current technology is 1.3 x 10-13. We have a better idea of Mars. It is mostly barren. However, not a clue about the Europa the moon of Jupiter, that is believed to have oceans beneath its ice.
With current projections it likely that NASA will have a satellite at Europa in the 2020–2030 time frame.
So, we can make 2 types of guesses. Assuming that life started on Europa some millions ago, then the probability (from a detection perspective) of finding life on Europa is good, close to 1. However, if Europa is a liquid version of Mars, then the probability is on the order of 1 x 10-13.
Therefore, the time frame for discovery of extraterrestrial life by (1) Discover Life Nearby, is about 2025 assuming no budgets cuts or other re-prioritizations.
With respect to (2) Sniff It Out, scientists estimate that there are about 1 x 1010 Earth like planets in our Milky Way. Lets assume that the Goldilocks Zone is a necessity. Using Pluto as the outer extreme of planets in a Star Local system, and Mars and Venus as boundaries of our Goldilocks Zone, then the approximate probability of finding one of these Earth-like planets in the Goldilocks Zone is 2.89 x 10-2. This reduces the number of Earth-like planets capable of supporting life to 289,340,102. Or the probability of finding life on at least one of these planets (assuming life is present) is at least 3.45 x 10-9.
I would estimate that the time frame for detecting extraterrestrial life is between today, and 35 years from now to 2047.
It could be any day now as the Dutch using the Very Large Telescope in the Chilean Andes have detected carbon monoxide on a planet hugging the star Tau Bootis that is 51 light-years away. The other end of my estimate is 2047. This is because developing a technology like the James Webb telescope was 30 years in the making.
So (2) Sniff It Out, has a better chance of finding evidence of life than (1) Discover Life Nearby.
Now how about (3) Eavesdrop On ET? As the author of the 12-year study An Introduction to Gravity Modification, it is slim. Sorry, Tarter, Shostak and all of you at the SETI Institute. But wait, I haven’t finished.
Look at our civilization. In 1895 Guglielmo Marconi proved that long distance radio transmission was possible. In 117 years we have exponentially evolved our technological sophistication to what it is today, 2012.
As the author of the 12-year study An Introduction to Gravity Modification I have proposed (see page 195) the existence of subspace, where everything is probabilistic, and light speed is not a restriction. Therefore, if confirmed, there is the strong possibility that by 2025/2035 this planet will go radio silent, because all our transmissions will be through subspace.
That is, the window to observe a radio intelligent extraterrestrial civilization is about 100 to 150 years, then they go silent. 100–150 years is an immensely thin slice or duration compared to the distances of stars even within our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Or the probability of detecting extraterrestrial radio transmissions within our own galaxy is approximately 1.25 x 10-6. It is actually a little better than this but I am using quick & dirty for this blog posting, and this will do. This is much better than a posteriori 1 x 10-13 for (1) Discover Life Nearby and 3.45 x 10-9 for (2) Sniff It Out.
So SETI, keep eavesdropping, and we can expect confirmation of Extraterrestrial Life by 2047 latest.
Benjamin T Solomon is the author & principal investigator of the 12-year study into the theoretical & technological feasibility of gravitation modification, titled An Introduction to Gravity Modification, to achieve interstellar travel in our lifetimes. For more information visit iSETI LLC, Interstellar Space Exploration Technology Initiative
6 Comments so far
Nice post :) Why not discuss a bit about the well known paradox regarding ET intelligence!? And also, if we on Earth are indeed the most advanced form of life in the known, visible universe (how crazy an idea that might sound), what should mankind’s attitude be towards this? If I were to decide, then of course I urge the need to conquer, in a good-healthy-constructive way, this visible universe! As Dr. Michio Kaku says, mankind should strive for a level 3 civilization, and right now, we’re level 0 or less (not on the scale)!
The way I see it is that E.T’s are really old in which case they don’t really care about us as they are to busy doing whatever they do to notice us aside from that crazy planet over there, or they are two young to really know what those pinpricks in the night sky are it is highly unlikely that they will be the same age as us.
Yes, Fermi’s Paradox deserves at least a mention.
Here’s the counter arguments. We have already looked for life on Mars and it appeared more likely than not that is doesn’t exist. But also, if we do find simple bacteria, it is more likely than not related to the same life that we have on Earth. Whereas this would still be a big discovery, it wouldn’t tell us much about the probability of life elsewhere in the galaxy. If life appeared twice in our solar system, why hasn’t it made its way over the eons to the rather friendly Earth? Likely, uniquely different life doesn’t in our solar system. Besides, if life spontaneously arose twice in our solar system, then it must be so easy to arise that life is common throughout the galaxy. If so, no evidence whatsoever for intelligent life in the galaxy? Hmmm.
Yes, sniffing it out on exoplanets is a lot more probable than finding uniquely different life in our solar system since we would have so many more chances given the innumerable Earth-like exoplanets we’ll be finding. But still, none of those in the entire galaxy developing to intelligent civilizations?
Finally, regarding the closing window of radio transmissions. Highly intelligent civilizations would have to know at least as much as we do. They would likely know that we would go through a phase of easy radio communications before moving on to subspace, lasers, etc. But their technological understanding would be so great that they would have the option to communicate with us by radio communication during our current technological phase IF THEY SO CHOSE. It certainly wouldn’t be impossible for them to do so. Given our current state of sickness, death, poverty, and warfare, why would they choose to let us continue in our current state when they could easily communicate with us by means that could reach us?
There are, of course, many other possible explanations. But I find that a confident calculation of a certain date when we will detect alien life is failing to take into account the bigger picture when that biger picture is readily available to anyone who has thought through Fermi’s Paradox.
Anemet, 4l!3n & JohnHunt
Re: if we on Earth are indeed the most advanced form of life in the known, visible universe
That is most unlikely.
Here is why. The Universe is 13.7 billion years old and the oldest (recently) discovered galaxy is 11 billion years old. Therefore, even if there is only one planet with life per 1,000,000 galaxies (this is equivalent to a probability of planet life of 1×10^−16) that would still be 105 planets with life in this Universe. If this life started 1,000 years apart, the oldest life would be 100 billion years old. Not possible because this is older that the Universe. That is the average time between any two planetary life forming events should be about 100 years or the oldest life form in the Universe is 10 billion years, and still younger than the oldest galaxy.
If it took the Earth about 4 billion years for life to start and evolve to humans, this would suggest that there are about 6 million planets with life that is as evolved as humans or more! SO I am pretty sure we are not the most evolved in this Universe.
Re: Fermi’s Paradox
According to Wikipedia, “the Fermi paradox (Fermi’s paradox or Fermi-paradox) is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations”.
Actually, I did address Fermi’s Paradox, without mentioning it. If we examine Fermi’s Paradox carefully, the implicit axiom is that out technology is at its zenith and all extraterrestrial civilizations must use ‘our’ type of technology and therefore all ‘developed’ civilizations are about the same.
And because these extraterrestrial civilizations are about the same as us and since we cannot detect them even though the probabilities for their existence are high, therefore these civilizations therefore cannot be in existence.
The fallacy in Fermi’s Paradox is that technology cannot evolve to some form higher than we have achieved it. In my book “An Introduction to Gravity Modification” I propose the existence of subspace, and therefore a technology that we are not familiar with and cannot recognize is feasible.
Re: Big picture
Fermi’s Paradox is wrong.
Re: Highly intelligent civilizations
My apologies but I have to ask you this question. Have you tried to teach a cockroach? I guess your answer must be … No. It is easier to let them evolve.
Why do we keep assuming that other advanced civilization must want to interact with us? Especially if there are 6,000,000 other extraterrestrial civilizations who are more advanced than us. But then again, may they are and we don’t have the technology to detect them?
If it’s true that bacteria can hibernate in rocks, and if the simulations of impact ejecta distribution around the solar system are accurate, it would be quite surprising if we didn’t find life somewhere else nearby. Not so exciting if it’s related to us though.…..!
Bad luck because I’ve already met the Alien Greys 33 years ago.