I get several interesting questions repeatedly asked on my Periscope broadcast “Let’s Talk Astronomy.” The first note I have from my first broadcast on December 28, 2015 reads “intelligent life outside our Solar System?”
Periscope is a social media that allows users to broadcast live to other viewers around the world. Most broadcasts, or “‘scopes” as insiders call them, are of a strictly social nature, while some are business oriented, and a few are about science.
While I tend to have an agenda for my ‘scopes, almost always there’s opportunity for viewer driven discussion. “What kind of telescope would you recommend for a beginner?” or “Do you believe in God?” are two popular questions I get.
Inevitably I’ll be asked “Do you believe in aliens?” similar to that first question on my very first ‘scope.
It’s interesting the way many viewers word their questions, and this format is especially appreciated. “Do you BELIEVE…?”
I try to be very careful with the word “believe.” I try to restrict it’s use to concepts I hold for which I have little, if any, convincing evidence. I believe in God, and yet I have little convincing evidence that would sway a skeptic. I do not have the inclination to try to sway someone to hold the same religious belief as I have.
So, for the question “Do you believe in aliens I say “No, I do not believe in aliens. I think there is a pretty good probability that they are out there, though.” Did you notice the word “THINK”? Then you are catching on.
Many years ago, Frank Drake put together an equation that was meant to encourage discussion about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. I was visiting the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenbank, West Virginia a while back, and between
observing runs, visited the very room in which Drake supposedly wrote his equation. There’s a plaque on the wall above the fireplace commemorating the event.
His equation combined seven variables that might be important in the possibility of the appearance of life, among them, average rate of star formation (R*), average fraction of Earth-like planets (ne), and the average time a civilization remains technologically active before dying out (L).
Taking these variables together, one might calculate N, the likely number of advanced civilizations in our galaxy. The first variables, like the rate of stellar formation, are pretty well known thanks to observation. But the further you go down the list, the more uncertain we become and choosing a number becomes more a more guesswork.
You can enter your own numbers into the interactive Drake equation at:
Since we humans are obviously here in the Milky Way Galaxy, none of the multipliers can be zero, because even a single zero would yield an answer of zero, yet here we are. With the absolute lowest numbers plugged into the equation, it may be possible to arrive at an answer of N=1. But remember, there are billions of galaxies, so 1 times a billion gives us pretty good odds that somewhere out there are aliens.
So no, I don’t BELIEVE in aliens, but I THINK there’s a high probability they are out there. If there are none others, to paraphrase Dr. Ellie Arroway from “Contact” an absence of alien civilizations would seem to be an awful waste of space.
P.S. God Speed, John Glenn