We'll Probably Never Meet Aliens While They're Still Alive, According to 2018 Research

Elliott's heartwarming friendship with E.T. was obviously a fictional story. Well, that scenario may be even further from what's possible than we realized. Humanity has never met aliens, and, according to one research team, we never will. Not alive, anyway.

Space Ghosts

You've most likely heard of the Fermi paradox, which asks — given the overwhelming chances that aliens exist somewhere — why we haven't found any aliens yet. (There are so, so, so, so, so, so many creative solutions to this problem, by the way.) That famous conundrum is based on the Drake equation, which estimates the number of intelligent civilizations that there could possibly be in the Milky Way.

Originally calculated in 1961 by Frank Drake, the equation got a facelift in 2018: the new Drake equation calculations come from physicist Claudio Grimaldi from the Federal Polytechnical School of Lausanne in Switzerlandand his colleagues, which include Frank Drake himself. The team updated the original equation to consider how much radio signaling from those civilizations could be filling our galaxy. The new number-crunching basically means that if we do ever receive signals from intelligent aliens, those aliens will be long dead by the time we hear from them. R.I.P. to our maybe-neighbors.

"If the civilisation emitted from the other side of the galaxy, when the signal arrives here, the civilisation will already be gone," Grimaldi tells Science News. If a civilization sent own signals, those signals would keep on traveling long after the aliens who sent them died out. We all know what that means: ghosts signals. Kind of creepy, no?

Hellooo? Anybody There?

For their calculations, the team assumed that a given civilization exists for 100,000 years, the same amount of time it takes light to cross the galaxy. (For comparison, modern humans have been around for 200,000 years, but we've only had writing for about 5,000 years). The study determined that, for an alien community that existed for that amount of time or less, there is a microscopically tiny chance that their signals ever reach us while they were still alive.

As for the messages we've thrown out into the universe? We've only broadcast signals to potential neighbors for 80 years, so humanity's cries have only covered less than 0.001 percent of the Milky Way. Basically, we'll never encounter living aliens, according to the team, or even the signals from living aliens. That, or maybe there are civilizations out there with million-year lifespans and they want to chat. In that case, hi!

Want to keep searching for intelligent life? Check out Frank Drake's book "Is Anyone Out There?" We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Where Are All the Aliens?

Written by Joanie Faletto April 25, 2018

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