Exoplanets, Aliens, and Where Are They?
Today during lunch, one of my colleagues mentioned there was recent turmoil presented at the TEDGlobal conference. Normally, I’d not be thinking about it except that the enjoyable readings of Alan Boyle reminded me with an article: Millions of Earths Talk Causes a Stir. Ironically, I just the other day finished the book by the same author referenced at the bottom of the article, The Case For Pluto. Then the discussion quickly turned into the “have we ever seen an exo planet, or do we just see the transits affect the stars brightness” discussion. Enter the 2008 image from the Hubble Space Telescope, providing the first visual image of an exoplanet.
Recent history has shown extremophiles expand the ranges where astrobiologists can hope to find life in other worlds. And, if Kepler and new technologies are showing us tons of planets out there — more than we originally expected — then why is it we haven’t found the aliens? Or even been contacted by them? SETI has been looking for communications for decades and hasn’t found anything. What gives?
In the 1960′s, Frank Drake formulated a thought experiment to calculate the probability of finding life out there. The Drake Equation is pretty simple:
N = R * fp * ne * fl * fi * fc * L
N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;
R = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.
A few months back, Astronomy Magazine had an article highlighting some of the recent findings and how they may be affecting the estimates of these variables. To me, the universe seems so huge that the chances of life being out there are pretty good. Yet, the distances are so retardedly far apart that unless that have super special warp drives or wormhole teleportation, it’s not likely they’re going to be visiting us anytime soon. And, all this ‘scale of the universe’ talk brings up a fun way to really appreciate and visualize the true distances involved. Check out this flash scale of the universe flash to help get acquainted…