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60 years of cosmic silence: Should humanity continue its quest for extraterrestrial life?

Extraterrestrial life has been getting considerable attention in recent news, mainly driven by congressional discussions surrounding Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs), also called UFOs. Despite the captivating prospect of extraterrestrial visits to Earth, a more plausible scenario remains centered on the potential existence of alien life on far-flung planets.

The prevalence of potentially habitable exoplanets is well-established, and we’ve witnessed the emergence of intelligent life on at least one celestial body. Could this phenomenon extend to numerous worlds? Nevertheless, despite an exhaustive 60-year quest for indications of extraterrestrial presence “out there,” our efforts have yielded no concrete results. What insights can we glean from this apparent absence of evidence?

A deep study into humanity’s quest for search ET

It might seem a bit strange, but not having any proof can actually teach us stuff about the universe. So, even though we haven’t stumbled upon any concrete alien radio signals yet, we can’t just jump to the conclusion that they’re nowhere to be found. However, the fact that we’ve been hearing crickets for decades despite all our searching does give us some hints about the odds of aliens, or at least our odds of spotting them. A fresh study published in Acta Astronautica dives into these statistics about the whole alien civilization hunt so far.

The study gets all statistical with Bayesian stuff to figure out the chances of spotting an alien tech signal. The deal with Bayesian stats is that it’s all about how likely stuff is to happen, not how certain it is. It’s like looking at the universe from a gambler’s perspective. So, here’s the scoop: There are two main guesses here. First, we’re assuming that smart life can pop up somewhere in the universe (I mean, look at humans, right?), and second, we’ve got nothing in the form of signals after 60 years of searching.

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Will we be able to decode signals from aliens (if any)?

The author throws in a couple more guesses on top of that. First off, they’re thinking that clever civilizations pop up whenever and wherever, randomly. Basically, Earth isn’t the universe’s VIP spot – we’re just as likely to spot aliens as anywhere else. Second, if an alien crew sends out signals into space, those signals could either go in all directions (like how our radio signals spread out) or just be sent randomly.

Imagine if most of these civilizations decided to shoot their signals toward the middle of the galaxy; we’d have a tough time picking them up from 30,000 light-years away from the galactic center.

These guesses actually make sense, considering what we’ve got in the bank of knowledge. Well, they’re not any wilder than other suppositions, at least. So, considering all of this, the author went on to figure out the most signals we might get from alien tech. The best scenario paints a picture where there’s a 95% chance that, in a century, there won’t be more than five massive alien signals zipping around the galaxy.

This boils down to a coin toss – a 50/50 shot – that we here on Earth will catch a signal in the next 1,800 years. So unless some smart alien crew decides to send a signal our way on purpose, our chances of finding something cool anytime soon aren’t all that high. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. So, if you’re after some proof of aliens showing up soon, perhaps it’s worth tuning in to those congressional hearings about UAPs after all.

Also Read: Variable stars might be the answer to our search for extraterrestrials

Are humans responsible for this?

There’s a chance that us humans might have crossed a point where it’s too late, but we’re still in the dark about it. Alternatively, we might be heading towards cracking the code on how to live in harmony with our planet. A massive question for our species’ survival in the long run is how societies deal with the changes they bring about as they get all high-tech. And guess what? This question could also give us a clue about whether there’s other smart life out there in the universe.

Back in 2018, some brainy folks published a study in the journal Astrobiology. They laid out four different paths a civilization can take as it evolves. Turns out, only one of these paths leads to a sustainable future. The other three? Well, they involve civilizations going all out on resources and eventually hitting a dead-end, either collapsing or just fading away as a result.

So, where are we headed? As we humans keep coming up with fancy new tech, our society is guzzling up more and more energy. Back in the industrial age, our go-to move was burning fossil fuels for energy. But guess what? This is turning our Earth into something quite different and causing it to warm up – so much that we’re currently scratching our heads over just how much climate change is going to rock our world and how to handle this new twist in the plot.

Are aliens hiding from humans?

The folks who did this study got down to business with some math. They cooked up these fancy math models to see what would go down if you started snagging energy from a planet. Then, they used those models to figure out how this energy-grabbing could mess with the survival of a high-tech society.

The researchers didn’t stop at math – they also dug into info from past civilizations that went extinct on Earth, like Easter Island. They used this data to cook up their models. What they found pointed to four possible paths for how civilizations evolve. In each of these storylines, snagging energy and tapping resources end up causing major climate shifts that rock the world of any intelligent society on a planet (like us humans on Earth).

Scientists have thrown out all sorts of guesses in response to why we haven’t made any contact. They’ve even said that maybe aliens are just taking a nap or purposefully playing hide and seek with us. Some smart folks have even proposed the idea that super-advanced societies end up wiping themselves out before they can even reach out to other clever beings in the universe.

Vishal Kawadkar
About author

With over 8 years of experience in tech journalism, Vishal is someone with an innate passion for exploring and delivering fresh takes. Embracing curiosity and innovation, he strives to provide an informed and unique outlook on the ever-evolving world of technology.