Where Random Happens

Posts tagged “Milky Way

Addressing the Ghost in the Room

I don’t want to pick on George Dvorsky as he certainly isn’t the only one who believes this way. But I have to start with someone or else this post will come off as a Strawman and I’m left arguing with air.


The Andromeda Galaxy! Coming soon to a galaxy near you!

First, his 2013 article at io9,
11 of the Weirdest Solutions to the Fermi Paradox

I’m not going to address his 11 Weirdest Solutions, as they are a fun read and I’m a man who enjoys a fun read even if it’s Terry Pratchett fantasy (and I’m a man who enjoys Terry Pratchett fantasy).

Instead I’m going to address the initial false conjecture, which is based entirely upon Taking Things for Granted at a galactic scale.+

The launch supposition,
“Most people take it for granted that we have yet to make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Trouble is, the numbers don’t add up. Our Galaxy is so old that every corner of it should have been visited many, many times over by now.”

Is gargantuan-ly incorrect*. Our galaxy is so old and YET so expansive (100,000 180,000 light years from end to end. The writer *really* needs to let that sink in) that every part of it couldn’t possibly have been visited within the space of 9.5 billion years. Imagine the life forms that possibly rose, gained intelligence plus technological advancement, turned their technological advancement to other systems, and had the ability to visit those other systems across a galaxy (assumed to be spiral barrel shaped like the Andromeda Galaxy~) that is – to be stressed – 100,000 to 180,000 light years diameter and over 20,000 light years deep.

Such monumental travel is something we have not begun, though we’ve had the initial capability since the 1950s. Now add the optimistically broad assumption that all went well so for said Aliens that they advanced to a stage far beyond us. How far?  To the point that we would and/or could not recognize them as life forms, any more than amoebas could recognize the whole human being as a technologically advanced single life form.

This is a logical progression when you account for the fact that our solar system didn’t form until about 10 billion years after our galaxy formed (our sun is the progeny of other stars that were born, lived, died, and exploded). The first billion years of the Sol system, as we’ve come to regard it, didn’t have its planets form until after about the first billion years of our sun’s existence: our sun is about 4.5 billion years old.

Even if we said that our area of the galaxy may have been visited many times over during the first 10 billion years, the overwhelming result of that would have been aliens looking at a primordial, gaseous cloud, in turn possibly containing planets: uninhabitable and so devoid of life.

In the last 5 billion years? Maybe one of the smallest planets, dangerously close to its star, developed simple life forms. Then that planet got wiped out by another planet.

A few hundred million years later, this now hybrid planet showed single celled life forms again.

They wiped themselves out by polluting their atmosphere with oxygen.

Billions of years later, less than half of our sun’s age, single cell Eukarote cells appeared (cells with a nucleus). This generously occurred about 2.1 billion years ago.

Over the course of the next 2.1 billion years, life forms rose and fell, rose and fell: mass extinctions on an epic scale never seen before or since. Eventually the age of the dinosaurs ceased forever – when the earth no longer had enough oxygen in the atmosphere to support such megafauna, and then came the age of the mammal.

And then it happened all over again. Entire species rose and fell, rose and fell: mass extinctions on a smaller scale yet still epic enough by comparison to never be seen since.

To any of the multitudes of passing aliens keeping track over the course of their species’ lifetime – and let’s make the fantastical assumption that they found and translated long dead historical transcripts of other long dead ancient planetary species that had come and gone into singularity in the multi-billions of years that had gone before – earth must have looked like one hellishly inhospitable place!

Cro-Magnon didn’t appear until about 43 thousand years ago and didn’t become technologically advanced (I’m being so very liberal with this concept) until about 5,000 years ago – the Bronze Age.

Humanity couldn’t communicate (transmit and receive a recognizable communication) with possible alien life until less than half a century ago. Once analog is completely gone from our modern tech – gone the way of punch card and punch tape computers – it will be impossible to find any alien signals.

And! And! And! This is entirely under a Stupifyingly obtuse concept:

“Of course aliens would communicate across the vast gulfs of space using a weak analog radio signal; virtually indistinguishable from the massively powerful random analog radio signals being spewed out by their own star and Every Single Star along the route – all within this strictly narrow slice of all radio spectrums; in turn within this strictly narrow slice of the sky we are looking at – and on top of all that – within the narrow confines of a language that we can understand!


Triple-facePalmWe can’t even use a digital receiver to recognize a digital signal – our *own* digital signals – from the rest of the universal clutter or “static” unless we first have the software to decode it. Analog receivers are blind to digital. That’s under the -Facepalm- preposterous idea that technologically advanced aliens would – naturally – be using 19th Century analog or 20th Century digital radio signals to communicate!

So the “Great Silence” that only covers less than 50 years out of 4.5 billion – the rise and advance or the rise and fall of billions of life forms in that time, prior to 1950 when there was some semblance of a planet earth – is nothing to a life form so technologically advanced that galaxy hopping Faster Than Light (FTL)  is a snap.


+ Just look at how people, perhaps you, take things for granted at a Solar system scale. Check out Josh Worth’s If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel.

~ FUN FACT: Our Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy. Theoretically the collision/merging/tearing asunder may have already begun. We’ll know for certain anywhere in up to the next 100,000 to 180,000 years. In any case, since we’re in the outer arm spiral of the Milky Way, it’s possible that our solar system may be ripped out of our current galaxy long before our star is set to expire.

I say current because it is within the realm of possibility that our solar system was captured by the Milky Way in the first place – possibly (again) from a prior collision – instead of being born here. A whole hell of a lot can happen to a universe in 14 or so billion years.

*Again, this is based on one widely accepted initial concept which Dvorsky is postulating upon and not at all on George’s list of wild theories. George wrote a fun read, backed by real-world suppositions from actual scientists and it’s worth checking out. I could have picked someone other than George as my starting point, but their articles are all rather dry.^

^Which is not to say that George’s article is all wet. I’m not new to the ‘Net. I know how some folks love to look for a safe keyboard courage fight, you scurrilous bastards.