A study by researchers from the University of Nottingham in England suggests that there could be about 36 other intelligent civilizations spread throughout the Milky Way galaxy, but there are two big obstacles that are likely to prevent any communication with them: distance and time.
When you look at the numbers, you’d think the chance that there is intelligent extraterrestrial life in our galaxy seems enormous. The search for planets going around other stars by instruments like the Kepler space telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Sattellite, or TESS, have turned up more than 4,000 planets just in our cosmic backyard.
It is beginning to look like most stars have at least one planet going around them, and with up to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, that could mean on the order of a trillion planets in our galaxy alone. And there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies spread across the universe.
However, many of the planets discovered so far are gas giants like Jupiter, as close to their stars as Mercury is to the sun, or far away, making them super cold like Pluto. What we need to find are Earth-sized planets going around sun-type stars at just the right distance so liquid water can exist on the surface.
Another study out of the University of British Columbia looked at the number of sun-like stars in the galaxy and estimated that one in five of them could have an Earth-like planet, which brings the number down to sx billion. So that’s a lot of planets that could have someone interesting living on them that we might want to talk to.
The University of Nottingham team took this one step further suggesting that if we want to find something more intelligent than alien bacteria, or the equivalent of plants or simple animals, then you have to wait for intelligent life to evolve. Since it took nearly five billion years for intelligent life to evolve on Earth to the point where it had communications technology, they figured that might be a reasonable average. Then they assumed that these civilizations retained that capacity for about 100 years — again about as long as we’ve had it.
Taking this into account, they calculated that a mere 36 (plus or minus) intelligent, communicating civilizations might exist right now. That’s a very small number to be spread out across a very large galaxy. In fact, they think it’s likely these civilizations would be about 17,000 light years away from each other. That is the distance/time problem.
Our current rocket technology cannot cover even a significant fraction of a light year of distance. We are still struggling just to get people to the moon and Mars, let alone another star. Even if we had starships that could travel close to the speed of light, or if we sent a signal that travels at that speed, it would still take 17,000 years to get there, and the same amount of time for an answer to return — if they feel like answering and if they’re still there. That is the time problem. Space is simply too big for easy communication as we know it across the galaxy.
The other part of the time problem implicit in this research is that intelligent life might be common over the life of our galaxy, but civilizations are unlikely to appear nearby at the same time. Of course since no one knows how long intelligent civilizations last, (given our current trajectory, some might guess not very long) it is entirely possible that other civilizations have come and gone in our galactic neighbourhood while we were still trying to figure out how to become multicellular. Others have yet to evolve. We are just missing each other in the vastness of cosmic space and time.
Of course these are sterile calculations, and we could be the beneficiaries of a cosmic accident, if it turns out by rare chance an intelligent civilization has arisen nearby and recently.
These calculations can go right into the recycling bin if the folks at the SETI Institute detect a signal from an intelligence in deep space or an alien spaceship lands in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.
Then, of course, we will be faced with a communication challenge, if the aliens have no knowledge of Earthly languages (the movie Arrival looked at this problem).
In the meantime, we are faced with the reality that the only life we know for certain that exists in the galaxy is here on Earth. If those 36 other civilizations are out there, they may be essentially out of reach, which leaves us functionally alone.
The rarity of intelligent life means that we are indeed special in that we have figured out our place in the universe. Most other life on this planet is not aware of our cosmic address within the Milky Way. That seems a profound thing to contemplate.
The question now is can we survive, maintain our planet and our technology long enough to better the odds of meeting one of those alien civilizations?
Your guide to spotting the NEOWISE comet – London Free Press (Blogs)
Discovered at the end of March, the NEOWISE comet is passing within 100 million kilometres of our planet. “That in astronomical terms is close, but in human terms very far,” said Parshati Patel, an astrophysicist with Western University’s Institute for Earth & Space Exploration.
So don’t worry — even though Patel says comets are unpredictable, this one won’t ram into the Earth, as often happens in Hollywood movies and science-fiction paperbacks.
Comets are leftover chunks from the formation of a planet, she says, composed of dust, ice and rocks. “It’s almost like a dirty snowball in many ways,” Patel said. They appear as bright spots, with a tail, in the sky.
Patel got up early this week to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE, which gets its name from the asteroid-hunting part of NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission, an Earth-orbiting telescope that detected the object.
“I personally went on Tuesday. It wasn’t really great. There were some clouds in the sky,” Patel said. “We couldn’t really see it with the naked eye.”
Rare comet passing over Manitoba sky | CTV News – CTV News Winnipeg
Stargazers in Manitoba can get a glimpse of the brightest comet in years as it hurtles past Earth over the next several days.
Comet NEOWISE C/2020 F3, named after the satellite that first discovered it, has been travelling towards Earth in recent days, before it returns to the outer edges of the solar system.
Photos submitted from Manitobans show the comet as it appeared in the morning sky on Thursday.
(Comet NEOWISE C/2020 F3 is pictured over Winnipeg in a pair of photos take July 9, 2020. Source: Roy Jemison)
(Comet NEOWISE C/2020 F3 is visible over Steinbach on July 9, 2020. SOURCE: Christopher Bleasdale)
Scott Young, who is the manager of the Planetarium and Science Gallery at the Manitoba Museum, said this comet wasn’t expected to be as bright as it is.
“This wasn’t predicted to be all that impressive but as it swung around the soon it suddenly burst into brightness,” said Young.
It’s one of the few “naked-eye comets” of the 21st century, meaning it can be seen without a telescope. The comet was first discovered on March 27, 2020, and NASA was unsure if it would make it to Earth as the comet travelled towards the sun.
Young said over the next several days this will be the only time to see the comet.
“We won’t see it again for at least 6,000 years. So it’s kind of your only chance.”
(SOURCE: Scott Young/Manitoba Museum)
Young added the reason why this comet is so unique is because of how bright it is.
“I can count on the fingers of one hand how many comets we’ve had that have been this impressive. I mean, I have seen a lot of comets, but there’s only a couple that have outshone this in my entire lifetime.”
NASA said the comet will likely be visible in the early morning sky until July 11. It will be visible in the early evening sky after July 11.
Young says if people want to see it, it’s best to be away from the city and all the lights.
(SOURCE: Scott Young/Manitoba Museum)
– With files from CTV’s Jackie Dunham.
This is a corrected story. The original story said the comet was discovered in 2009, when it was discovered this year.
Scientists Discover Unexplained Glowing Circles of Energy in Space – VICE
The Tycho supernova. Image: NASA/CXC/RIKEN & GSFC/T. Sato et al; Optical: DSS
Astronomers have discovered a bunch of weird unidentified circles in space, visible only in radio light, thanks to images captured by one of the most sensitive observatories on the planet.
The mysterious rings “do not seem to correspond to any known type of object” and so have been simply dubbed Odd Radio Circles, or ORCs, according to a new study, led by Western Sydney University astrophysicist Ray Norris.
“We have discovered, to the best of our knowledge, a new class of radio-astronomical object, consisting of a circular disc, which in some cases is limb-brightened, and sometimes contains a galaxy at its centre,” Norris and his colleagues said in the study, which was recently posted on the preprint server arXiv and has not yet been peer-reviewed.
“None of the known types of radio object seems able to explain it,” the team said.
The team describes four of these inscrutable ORCs, three of which were detected by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope, a network of radio antennae that covers four square kilometers of the Australian Mid West. ASKAP has been scanning the sky in the radio spectrum to create an Evolutionary Map of the Universe that could help scientists better understand the development of stars and galaxies.
Norris and his colleagues noticed three odd blobs in ASKAP’s 2019 observations. Each of the circles measures about one arcminute across, which is roughly equivalent to 3 percent the diameter of the Moon. However, it’s difficult to tell how far away the ORCs are based on these images, and that in turn makes it challenging to estimate the actual size of the objects, at least until more detailed observations are made.
The glowing circles are so bizarre that Norris and his colleagues wondered if they might be an instrumental glitch, especially since radio imagery often contains errors that look like rounded apparitions, according to the study.
But when the team went hunting through archival datasets, they were surprised to discover that a fourth ORC was imaged all the way back in 2013 by India’s Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope, though nobody had made note of it at the time.
By combing through past radio surveys, as well as obtaining new images with the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the researchers were able to collect at least two independent observations of each ORC. The fact that the circles show up across multiple telescope datasets makes instrumental error “a very improbable explanation,” the team said in the study.
So if the ORCs are real celestial objects, what could they be? Norris and his colleagues outline several possible identities for the objects, though none of them are an obvious fit.
The circles might be the fallout of exploded stars, or bubbles blown out by winds in galactic star factories, or “Einstein rings,” which are signatures of warped spacetime created by the gravity of massive objects. They could be the ghosts of highly energetic events that occurred millions of years ago, such as gamma ray bursts, fast radio bursts, or plasma jets emitted by active galactic cores.
“We also acknowledge the possibility that the ORCs may represent more than one phenomenon,” the team noted, adding that they may have been “discovered simultaneously because they match the spatial frequency characteristics of the ASKAP observations, which occupy a part of the observational parameter space which has hitherto been poorly studied.”
Norris and his colleagues plan to continue examining the ORCS to see if they can tease out some of these tantalizing mysteries. One thing’s clear, however: discoveries like this are likely to become more common as radio astronomy matures in the coming years.
Within the next decade or so, ASKAP will join the Square Kilometre Array, a massive intercontinental observatory currently in construction, which will be by far the most sensitive radio instrument on Earth once it’s operational. The discovery of the ORCs is fascinating by itself, but it also foreshadows a new era of astronomy that is already sharpening our view of space.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.
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