From dark-matter life to billion-year old technological civilizations: In 2019, several leading astrophysicists from NASA to Harvard and Columbia universities have publicly announced their view that aliens are not science fiction: that advanced and ancient technological civilizations may exist but be beyond our comprehension or ability to detect. As early as the NASA Contact Conference in 2002, which focused on serious speculation about advanced extraterrestrial life, an attendee loudly interrupted the keynote speech with the observation that “We have absolutely no idea what is out there!”
In 2019, Harvard astronomers Avi Loeb wrote in his blog that aliens are not science fiction: “I don’t see extraterrestrials as more speculative than dark matter or extra dimensions. I think it’s the other way around.”
Law of Large Numbers
Enter Silvano P. Colombano at NASA’s Ames Research Center: “Our form of life and intelligence may just be a tiny first step in a continuing evolution that may well produce forms of intelligence that are far superior to ours and no longer based on carbon “machinery.” Exoplanet discoveries made by the Kepler Mission (image above) have identified planetary system as old as 10.4 billion years (Kepler-10) and 11.2 billion (Kepler-444) providing a solid foundation for Columbano’s speculations.
On average, every star in the Milky Way has two planets orbiting it. According to NASA, one-fifth of those stars have a planet that could be conducive to life as we imagine it. That translates into 50 billion potentially habitable planets just in the Milky Way – one of two trillion galaxies in the observable universe.
“If you’re going to say that there’s no chance we’re going to find any life elsewhere, you must think there’s something really miraculous about Earth,” says Seth Shostak at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. “And that’s a suspicious point of view, that we’re just miraculously better than all the other planets.”
“Considering that the age of our solar system is about 4.5 billion years, earth-like planets could exist that are six billion years older than our own. Considering further that technological development in our civilization started only about 10,000 years ago and has seen the rise of science only in the past 500 years, Columbano observes that we might difficulty in predicting technological evolution even for the next thousand years, let alone six million times that amount.
Our form of life and intelligence, says Columbano, “may just be a tiny first step in a continuing evolution that may well produce forms of intelligence that are far superior to ours and no longer based on carbon “machinery”. After a mere 50 years of computer evolution the human species is already talking about “super-intelligence” and we are quickly becoming symbiotic with computer power.”
In other words, technological civilizations may exist but be beyond our comprehension or ability to detect, says Colombano who proposes that we may have missed signals when it comes to looking for UFOs. “While it is still reasonable and conservative to assume that life is most likely to have originated in conditions similar to ours, the vast time differences in potential evolution renders the likelihood of “matching” technologies very slim,” underscoring the obstacles to a “quick” discovery of signs of an advanced civilization in the Milky Way.
Visitors from the Dark Sector?
“If you dropped in on a bunch of Paleolithic farmers with your iPhone and a pair of sneakers,” says Columbia University astrophysicist, Caleb Scharf in Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence? pointing out that Arthur C. Clarke suggested that any sufficiently advanced technology is going to be indistinguishable from magic, “you’d undoubtedly seem pretty magical. But the contrast is only middling: The farmers would still recognize you as basically like them, and before long they’d be taking selfies. But what if life has moved so far on that it doesn’t just appear magical, but appears like physics?”
Scharf makes an even more exquisite leap, suggesting that “dark matter may be hiding life. That its could contain real complexity, and “perhaps it is where all technologically advanced life ends up or where most life has always been. What better way to escape the nasty vagaries of supernova and gamma-ray bursts than to adopt a form that is immune to electromagnetic radiation?”
But not resting on his speculative laurels, Scharf’s beautifully not-politically correct mind does a double-twist swan dive off the high board and suggests that perhaps “the behavior of normal cosmic matter that we attribute to dark matter is brought on by something else altogether: a living state that manipulates luminous matter for its own purposes. Consider that at present we have neither identified the dark-matter particles nor come up with a compelling alternative to our laws of physics that would account for the behavior of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Would an explanation in terms of life be any less plausible than a failure of established laws?”
Visitors from the Milky Way?
“It’s possible that the Milky Way is partially settled, or intermittently so; maybe explorers visited us in the past, but we don’t remember, and they died out,” says Jonathan Carroll-Nellenback, an astronomer at the University of Rochester and his collaborators in a 2019 study that suggests it wouldn’t take as long as thought for a space-faring civilization to planet-hop across the galaxy, because the orbits of stars can help distribute life, offering a new solution to the Fermi paradox. “The solar system may well be amid other settled systems; it’s just been unvisited for millions of years.”
Life in Infinite Space
“If space is truly infinite,” observes Dan Hooper, head of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, in At the Edge of Time, “the implications are staggering. Within an infinite expanse of space, it would be hard to see any reason why there would not be an infinite number of galaxies, stars, and planets, and even an infinite number of intelligent or conscious beings, scattered throughout this limitless volume. That is the thing about infinity: it takes things that are otherwise very unlikely and makes them all inevitable.”