Frank Drake’s Legacy, Or: Are We All Alone In The Universe?

When Frank Drake began his astronomy career in the late 1950s, this was an incredibly exciting time for the field. Humanity was beginning to unlock the secrets of the Universe using ever more powerful radio frequency and optical telescopes, including the tantalizing prospect of space-based telescopes. Amidst the ramping up Space Race between the US and USSR, there was an ever-growing excitement about humankind’s future among the stars.

As concrete plans for landings and colonies on the Moon, Venus and Mars were proposed and put into action, it also brought to the forefront many existing and new questions about humanity’s place in the Universe. During Frank Drake’s 92 years on planet Earth – until his passing on September 2nd of this year – he was one of the driving forces behind the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), along with other legends like Carl Sagan.

Although to the average person the acronym SETI is most likely to bring to mind popcorn movies about little grey – or green – men, Drake’s Project Ozma, as well as the SETI Institution and the ongoing Breakthrough Listen project are just some of the attempts made by Drake and his colleagues over the decades to answer that one question that may affect the very course of humankind’s future: are we alone in the Universe?

Intelligent Life As A Fluke

In a Universe that contains billions upon billions of stars and planets, what is the chance that life will form on any of these planets? Of this life, what percentage will possess a level of intelligence that enables complex societies in which scientific inquiry and technological development can be sustained? Out of these societies, how many will acquire the means to reach out beyond the limits of their planet?

Although the speculation about extraterrestrial life has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, it hasn’t been until the development of more advanced means of observation that humanity has gained the ability to put these speculations to the test. As commonplace as we consider lifeforms – whether intelligent or not – to exist within the Earth’s biosphere, we know at this point in time that of all planets and moons in our Solar System, only the Earth is capable of supporting life, never mind an advanced society.

In the 1930s, rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky mentioned his doubts about alien intelligent life in an unpublished work, with physicist Enrico Fermi becoming associated in the 1950s with a formal definition of these doubts, commonly referred to as Fermi’s Paradox. Essentially this paradox entails the conflict between the likelihood of a significant number of alien civilizations, and the clear absence of these civilizations.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence thus seeks to resolve this paradox. Are we wrong about the likelihood of intelligent life forming, or are there other factors that we may be missing? In 1961 Drake would formalize these factors in what is called the Drake Equation, which is:

N = R* · fp · ne · fl · fi · fc · L

Here N is the number of civilizations within our galaxy with whom communication may be possible.

  • R* is the average rate of star formation.
  • fp is the fraction of stars with planets.
  • ne is the fraction of these planets that can support life.
  • f1 is the fraction of planets that actually develop life at some point.
  • fi is is the fraction of planets with life that develop intelligent life (civilizations).
  • fc is the fraction of these civilizations with technology that allows them to be detected through e.g. radio transmissions.
  • L is the length of time during which these detectable signals will be emitted.

Unsurprisingly, the values one can assign these factors will range wildly, making N to be of questionable use, but it is a useful aid in showing the many underlying questions to be answered before the larger question of whether Earth life in general and human civilization in particular is a cosmic fluke, somewhat rare or actually commonplace.

In Carl Sagan’s Cosmos PBS television series – as well as the book with the same title – these same questions are also asked and considered from many angles. In science fiction works such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, etc. the uncomfortable questions are avoided as these feature a Galaxy brimming with thousands upon thousands of civilizations. Based on the available scientific evidence one might ask the question of whether we are perhaps afraid of being all alone in the Galaxy.

What if we do travel out there in faster-than-light spaceships, but find a Galaxy utterly devoid of life and habitable planets?

The Wow! Signal

The Wow! signal represented as "6EQUJ5" with Jerry R. Ehman's handwritten comment.
The Wow! signal represented as “6EQUJ5” with Jerry R. Ehman’s handwritten comment.

Would we recognize another civilization if we came across it? This is one of the questions posed in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, as he describes a hypothetical scenario in which a probe like the Voyager 1 & 2 approaches Earth, and its operators try to determine whether Earth has an active biosphere, and maybe a civilization. Based on the atmospheric levels of organic molecules like methane and photosynthesis indications the former seems likely, while the Earth’s surface shows signs of structures, but would they be signs of an intelligence?

A significant amount of attention with SETI has been directed towards radio frequency (RF) communication, as RF signals can travel significant distances through space, and are at least for human civilization a common communication method that also liberally gets broadcast into space. If Earth has been lit up like a proverbial RF beacon for about a hundred years, surely this would be the case for other inhabited planets too.

This assumption was one of the reasons why in 1977 a narrowband RF signal received by the Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope got a surge of attention, as it seemed to be the surest sign of extraterrestrial intelligence. This so-called ‘Wow! signal‘ came from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation and lasted beyond the 72 second observation window by Big Ear. Unfortunately no modulation was detected in the 1420 MHz signal, and so far the signal has not been repeated, making it likely that it was an astronomical phenomenon.

On the 35th anniversary of the Wow! signal, the National Geographic Channel sponsored a promotion for one of its shows by transmitting a digital stream encoding thousands of Twitter messages to the presumed origin of the 1977 signal via the Arecibo Observatory’s radio telescope dish. To this day we have either received no response, missed the response, or our message ended up in someone’s spam folder.

A Matter Of Time

What is perhaps one of the most humbling aspects of astronomy is the sheer, mind-boggling scale of the Cosmos. Not just in terms of space and distances, but also in terms of time. Much of the electromagnetic radiation that is now being captured by the newly launched James Webb Space Telescope was sent out by their sources millions to billions of years ago. Our own Milky Way Galaxy is approximately 87,000 light years in diameter, with an estimated 100 – 400 billion stars. The light from the furthest stars in the Milky Way relative to Earth’s position originate from a time when humanity was still living as hunter-gatherers on a wild Earth.

Map of the Milky Way Galaxy with the constellations that cross the galactic plane in each direction and the known most prominent components annotated including main arms, spurs, bar, nucleus/bulge, and notable nebulae. (Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)
Map of the Milky Way Galaxy with the constellations that cross the galactic plane in each direction and the known most prominent components annotated including main arms, spurs, bar, nucleus/bulge, and notable nebulae. (Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

This notion is perhaps the most difficult one that Frank Drake and his colleagues had to contest with when it comes to SETI projects. It feels that all we can do is keep listening, even if the likelihood is vanishingly small that there is anything to receive. This did however not prevent the SETI@home project from attracting over a million users who dedicated part of their computer resources to running a distributed super computer that processed data from the Arecibo and Green Bank radio telescopes.

Even though the SETI@home project is currently dormant after no conclusive findings, the Berkeley SETI Research Center behind the project still has other ongoing projects, of which the most notable one is the Breakthrough Listen project. With $100 million in funding, the project began in 2016 and is expected to run for 10 years, providing the most comprehensive search to date using both radio and visible light telescopes.

Differentiating Intelligence

The plaque attached to Pioneer 10.
The plaque attached to Pioneer 10.

The most vexing aspect of SETI projects is that although there are plenty of signals coming in that bear a closer look, who is to say what signal ‘definitely’ comes from an advanced civilization, and which ones are from natural phenomena? The Cosmos is after all a rather noisy place in the electromagnetic spectrum, which significantly increases the burden of proof.

Over the past decades, humankind has sent out messages directed at potential alien civilizations. These have ranged from RF transmissions to physical items, such as the Pioneer plaque attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft that was designed by Drake and Sagan. A few years later the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft would be launched, each with a Voyager Golden Record attached to it.

At this point in time, Pioneer 10 and 11, as well as Voyager 1 and 2 have left the reach of Earth’s star system and are travelling through interstellar space. Even though only Voyager 1 and 2 are still actively gathering sensor data and communicating with Earth, the messages these spacecraft carry should last long enough for another civilization to find them and perhaps manage to decode them.

Barring faster-than-light travel or another means of transport which humanity has not yet conceived of, such an event would take place many thousands to millions of years into the future of Earth. Even the radio and television broadcasts we have sent out for decades now will take thousands of years to reach the more distant parts of the Milky Way, and possibly vice versa, making SETI one of the longest endurance games imaginable.

Lightspeed, Mr. Drake

Regardless of what humankind’s future will look like, Frank Drake’s legacy along with that of Carl Sagan and other great minds of the recent past, should endure for many more decades and centuries to come. Perhaps the most impactful aspect of their teachings is that how they taught us to take the time now and then to find ourselves outside at night. To find a spot without any artificial light and to look up, so that we can take in the enormity and beauty of the Milky Way and the countless stars which we can perceive even with the naked eye.

By allowing us to see even just a bit more of this one small Galaxy and to allow our minds to wander on the question what – and who – we may find among all those stars, humanity is better prepared to deal with the challenges and possible discoveries than before, regardless of what the final Drake Equation ends up looking like. May you find peace among the stars, Mr. Drake.

85 thoughts on “Frank Drake’s Legacy, Or: Are We All Alone In The Universe?

  1. It’s funny because we tend to think of the galaxy as huge, but… it’s really not. That’s part of the problem with the Fermi paradox and the biggest problem with science fiction shows: out where the Earth is, the biggest “distance jump” you ever need to make is from your star to the next star. If you can travel between stars like people travel between cities (in hours) you can travel across the entire galaxy in a few decades, and even spreading across galaxies isn’t that bad. It’s only twice as far to the LMC as it is across the galaxy. The idea that the Federation from Star Trek wouldn’t have had probes that had fully mapped out the entire galaxy (or at least a heck of a lot of it) in the 200+ years of its existence just strains credulity.

    At least in Teller’s retelling of the Fermi paradox story, it started out with “will we see FTL in the next 10 years,” and Fermi gave the standard “Fermi miracle” number of 10%. And yeah, if you think FTL travel is possible at all, the Fermi paradox just immediately means we’re alone. It’d only take one civilization to get there and the entire galaxy is just done on a cosmological timescale, immediately. You can, of course, reverse the argument and say the Fermi paradox immediately implies FTL travel (at least on a non universe-size scale) is not possible.

    Still doesn’t escape it entirely because even without FTL travel colonizing the galaxy just isn’t that bad cosmologically, it’s just bad on a “current human lifespan” timescale, and there’s no fundamental upper limit to that. I mean, screw it, just use the entire Solar System as a spaceship and be patient. But at least without FTL travel you could make the paradox not insane with small numbers of civilizations per galaxy.

      1. Colonization and resource harvesting are impossible to hide.
        To know you need to hide, you need to be aware of what the danger is. We don’t see any visible acts of destruction to know there is danger to hide from. Not even any warnings. Other life looking into space will see what we see, so they too would have no reason to know to hide.

        This doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. Nor means hiding isn’t an option. but it would require “everyone” to choose to hide for no real reason, and we know that isn’t the case, as we aren’t trying to hide. (We’re only hidden by consequence of being young)

        The dark forest option, while certainly an option, doesn’t seem like a good solution to the paradox.

        1. We’re not young. Our *species* is young. But the planets been habitable for billions of years. If life were easy, civilizations common, and FTL possible, we would’ve been colonized long ago.

          Which is a much stronger argument against a “dark forest” answer: civilization takes too long.

          There is a weird counter to this in a book by Kim Stanley Robinson (Aurora, I think) which is “we’re so tied to our planet colonizing elsewhere we’d just die even if it appears to be empty.” So no one colonizes because it’s too dangerous.

          The problem with that, in my mind, is that our planet already has psychotic colonizers: life on our own planet is crazy advanced and it would just *rapidly* take over from primitive, less adaptable life. Our genomes are waaay bigger than life from a billion years ago. We’re just working from a bigger library.

    1. If you reorder the drake equation to assume L=1, N=1, and solving for Fc (number of civilizations with technology that can be detected) you reach an interesting conclusion.
      The answer is only a known 1 for less than 1000 stars.
      At roughly 200 light years out, the answer changes from 1 to 0 and we no longer exist according to the formula.

      1. I used to wonder about that too, but the problem is that the rest of the Universe would just fill up too quickly for it not to be obvious. Terraforming just isn’t really that difficult on millennia scale: you can migrate planets to the right orbits pretty easily if you’re patient. So if there are megacivilizations out there, why do we see all these crappy useless planets in perfectly good real estate?

        1. But the question is what are the signs of a mega civilization? We can make assumptions but we can’t be sure, would a paleolithic caveman looking at a planted field of wheat realize it was “artificial” or just unusual?

          1. That’s always going to be an issue, sure. At least at the moment you can say there’s no evidence that star systems out there look altered. I mean, we’ve already had “aliens” proposed as explanations before for things (Tabby’s Star, for example) so it’s not like you don’t think about these things.

            But I tend to take the view that civilizations aren’t very good at hiding.

    2. And the thing about exponential growth is you don’t even need FTL travel to colonose the galaxy in a relatively short time (compared to the age of the universe).

      At current speeds we could reach the nearest star in 75,000 years. Even if each colony ship takes 100,000 years to reach its destination, build up a civilization and send out its own colony ship, the entire galaxy is colonized in 3.5 million years. If 90% of colonies fail, that number still only goes up to 25 million years.

      The galaxy is 13,610 million years old. If intelligent life was common, seems like some species would have done it by now.

      1. You can hedge your way around it a little by making life require a galaxy to age a bit: it’s a bit weird life uses so much phosphorus, for example, and it’s hard to know how long our galactic black hole was quiet.

        But yeah, it’s hard to argue against it. It’s even harder once you realize that you don’t really need to send meat to colonize stars.

      1. Maybe they already do. Earth (and our solar system) is an organic free-range ranch.

        Or maybe an ecological preserve. Or a student’s science project.

        Or perhaps, many years ago, the Squeegle family was on a summer vacation ‘road’ trip and Little Billy really had to go. They pulled in at a desolate proto-planet, Billy took a dump behind a rock, then they continued on. Millions of years of evolution later, here we are…

        1. Then you dive down the rabbit hole of mythology possibly being mistaken by ancient civilizations as gods and demons. That is beyond my comfy sector of the nerd forest, however.

          My hope is that maybe we’re just too boring for aliens to want to talk to us. I mean do you want to talk to a bunch of apes plugged into screens all day?

    1. The problem with that is it’s a bit like finding out you survived the apocalypse. Upside: you inherit the Earth. Downside: it’s a desolate hellscape.

      Most people would probably be like: eh, this place sucks, not worth it, and go watch YouTube recordings or play video games. Which… might actually explain the Fermi paradox.

  2. Why? Why isn’t assuming there *are* other intelligent races in the universe arrogant? Suppose we are the only one: that it took miracle upon miracle upon miracle to generate us. How is it not arrogant to say “eh, this crap must’ve been easy, gotta be others”?

    Having statistics of one sucks. It’s literally the worst number to observe in any discovery experiment.

    1. It sounds like fake news what you say. .
      There is a universe with billions of planets to have life.
      Only ours has life?
      What an arrogance and waste of energy. Nature is not that silly.

  3. Powerful detectable man made RF emissions from earth started approximately 100 years ago, so the furthest planet that has the potential to detect our unintentional “hello universe” signal is at most 100 light-years away (or ~30.66 parsecs). The nearest star (Proxima Centauri), is about 4.2 light-years (~1.3 parsecs) away.

    Within 100 light-years of our solar system there are approximately 60 thousand stars are visible with a telescope . Of those, 471 are bright enough (magnitude 6.0 or more) , to be visible to the naked eye under a dark sky.

    Of course if there was life on one of the planets orbiting one of those stars and they did manage to detected our RF emissions (and replied), we do not have the ability (yet) to detect a signal that weak. The earliest powerful RF transmissions were were probably at most about 300 kilocycles per second (the terminology used, before it was renamed Hertz), which over a distance of 100 light years (~ 9.461e+17 meters), would be attenuated by about 321.5 dB. I do not even want to think about how much larger than the solar system the antenna would need to be to be able to detect a reply attenuated that much at 300 kHz. Even a path length of 4.2 light years (3.974e+16 meters) would attenuate a signal at 300 kHz by about 294 dB.

    So even if one or more of those 60 thousand planets did have life, that detected out signals, and replied with a similar signal, we do not have an antenna large enough to detect that reply.

    1. If a civilization had FTL travel, it’s safe to assume they also have FTL coms (even if the coms are message carrying ships).

      At which point they would stop looking for distant radio. Maybe send probes, but not likely. The resources needed to scan every system within relatively small distances are significant.

      In any case the formula needs to be modified for range of detection.

      Personally, I think we’re quarantined. Won’t be let free until the very idea of gun control is eliminated. Every person should own a nuke. Then we’ll get a spot at the table. Hopefully not on a plate.

      1. Your reply made sense until the last paragraph. Guns don’t keep people safe, and the US is a way-out-there outlier in terms of gun ownership and guns deaths: Brits are literally 50x safer from being shot dead than US citizens (other forms of death and murder are no more likely).

        It’s far more likely, if weapons ownership was a factor, that gun ownership (or worse still nuke ownership) keeps us off the table. If I was part of a pan galactic civilisation, I’d make sure any planet which arms its citizens had no chance of joining the community.

        1. “If I was part of a pan galactic civilisation, I’d make sure any planet which arms its citizens had no chance of joining the community.” That is why you would find yourself working for any random creature with weapons.

      2. The formula doesn’t need anything. It is meaningless. Anyone can add parameters that are zero or close to it. Or wild guesses. As far as all evidence says, we are alone. So far, the evidence of intelligent life not on Earth is zero. Finding planets that can support life doesn’t really help because we don’t know the conditions under which life began. And then there were a series of catastrophes that forced resets.

        The question I find most interesting is, what kind of intelligent life might evolve in a much harsher environment or one that changes much more quickly? Will they have a very different moral code when it comes to even remotely possible threats? What if a brain as complex as the human brain ran on electrical instead of electro-chemical processes? It would “run” 2.5 million times faster. They will win all the trivia contests!

    2. If I’m an alien civilization why would I wait until seeing technology to come investigate? Life shouts its existence to the universe practically right away: oxygen in the atmosphere, “hello, world!”

  4. Regardless of whether there is extraterrestrial intelligence, traveling to other star systems is a necessary goal for humans since a killer asteroid is likely to hit within the next 100 million years, or else the sun’s expansion will make the earth uninhabitable within 500 million years, long before the Earth may be engulfed by the sun becoming a red giant.

    Even if an exoplanet could be reached by humans (or eventually by their progeny), and were found to be the size of Earth and orbiting at 1 AU from a sun-like star, it would be unlikely to have an oxygen atmosphere like Earth. It would take hundreds, if not thousands, of millennia to convert it into a habitable planet with breathable atmosphere, assuming the planet had oceans, a geomagnetic field, tectonic plates, and a large enough moon at a suitable distance to stabilize planet rotational wobble. Also required is a stable orbit, meaning that large gas planets have to be far enough away, but still useful in shielding the exoplanet from asteroids coming from the outer areas of the star system.

    Such a star system must not be too close to many stars, some of which might go supernova while humans are setting up civilizations on such a planet. This means that the areas near the center of the galaxy and inside the galactic arms would not be ideal places to live, even if future space travel to them were possible. Other areas that have not had enough time to have star systems with rocky planets can also be dropped from the itinerary.

    1. What you call “humans” did not even exist a few million years ago. Similarly, a few million years from now, our descendants will no longer be “human”.

      Why should it be our goal to worry about far away descendants that we have less in common with than orangutans ?

      1. Evolution has given you a very simple method to “care about” those descendants. One that applies to monkeys just as much as humans. You want to have sex, and when you end up with babies, you love them and want them to be healthy and have children of their own. Humans also have an innate desire to explore the unknown. You combine those things, and the future takes care of itself. Each of us just has to push one little eyelash forward; and even if you don’t want to, you’re in the minority. It won’t take a totalitarian overlord to force humans to colonize the starts as soon as the technology is sufficient. It would take an overlord to stop us (from trying at least).

      2. There are numerous animal species that are still around after tens of million of years. Humans could just as well be around tens of millions of years from now. And until there is evidence otherwise, the goal of traveling to other planets over the next million years is a reasonable goal.

  5. There a lot of Fox Mulders here. Y’all want to believe.

    “The idea that the Federation from Star Trek wouldn’t have had probes that had fully mapped out the entire galaxy (or at least a heck of a lot of it) in the 200+ years of its existence just strains credulity.”

    i. Star Trek is not real.
    ii. “The Federation” in its imaginary universe not only has FTL travel but FTL communication.
    iii. A large part of the imaginary mission of the imaginary starships in the imaginary universe is … wait for it … MAPPING. So, no. You’re saying the imaginary show got the imaginary show wrong.

    “Even though only Voyager 1 and 2 are still actively gathering sensor data and communicating with Earth, the messages these spacecraft carry should last long enough for another civilization to find them[.]”

    ‘Splain to me Lucy how this hypothetical civilization would find either of these rather small probes.

    There’s a saying, “Nature bats last” and it certainly applies to the Inverse Square Law.

    1. Sorry for trying to use an example people might recognize!

      My entire point is this: first civilization to be able to travel a light year in an hour owns the galaxy, and probably the Universe. Things just aren’t that big. If you can go that fast, you win. So either we’re first, or it’s not possible. This is part of what sparked the Fermi paradox discussion.

      Star Trek is far, far from the only sci-fi setup that makes this mistake. For the TV/movie ones it’s forgiveable, slow space expansion is boring.

      1. But you got it wrong Blanche. Are you even aware that there’s an entire Star Trek franchise whose premise is how much of the galaxy is unmapped and unexplored?

        I think your understanding of how big our galaxy is is not all it can be. Here’s an exercise: go out and own 100 billion stars and report back to us on how it went. No FTL drive? Go out and “own” 100 billion of any physically separate objects.

        I’m not even going to get started on the conception of the distance between ours and much much much much much […] larger galaxies, but you DID say “the Universe”.

        1. Of course I said the Universe. Because if you can travel between star systems in hours, you’re travelling like 100,000 times faster than light. Which means you can cover the observable Universe (from Earth) in like a million years. Which is *nothing* cosmologically.

          Yes, you might think “wait, but that’s linear, the Universe is bigger since it’s 3D.” Sure. But life expands exponentially, since life makes more life. It’d be more than a million years, but it wouldn’t be a billion. For a galaxy it wouldn’t be more than a few hundred.

          Once you can jump star systems in hours, the remaining distance scales don’t matter, at least on a civilization timescale. If FTL travel at *that* scale were possible, the discoverers would be everywhere.

          1. Again and hopefully for the last time, you don’t have the tiniest clue about the numbers and scales involved. Wrong about Star Trek, wrong about the real world.

          2. Dear God, this is basically the JPL simulation, just with the speeds ramped up. Are you going to call them clueless too?

            At maximum speeds of around 500 km/s, you colonize the galaxy in ~100M years. That’s not me, that’s simulated.

            Speed of light is 600x faster. A light year an hour is roughly 100,000 times faster. So this is 60 million times faster.

            Again: at around 500 km/s, it’s 100Myr. Or: within a factor of 2 of the amount of time it would take to cross the galaxy. 60M times faster, it’d be 60M times quicker. Exponential growth wins.

            Seriously, I do understand the distances. It’s part of my friggin job. And if you don’t want to believe me, just go look up the 10th GTOC X results.

          3. Edit: light year an hour is around 10k faster than light, obviously: I previously said between star systems in hours, and figured habitable systems would be tens of light years apart, which is the 100k faster part. But a factor of 10 here really doesn’t change much.

          4. You are accelerating everything by that hours per lightyear number. It won’t affect many steps in the process, including our reproductive rate, the speed at which we can fully explore any star, failures that require re dos (ok this one it does affect a good bit), the implications of the phrase OBSERVABLE universe (what is outside our horizon), the decreasing incentive to explore as more is found (a company will stop searching for new things to exploit when they do not have the ability to exploit what they have already found or at least severely slow down, and a government will cut budgets when nobody is pushing them) and im sure alot more.

            If you disagree on the scanning because of some assumption that a new ship gets sent out as soon as they reach one star, which I may vaguely remember is the case in the Jpl sim you mention, that is just ridiculous to call that exploring. Do you count Lewis and Clark as having explored the entire western USA (current borders)?

            Finally, if the number we use is (100 million per galaxy/10000 for the light speed)*200 billion galaxies estimated in the known observable universe=2E15 years or approx 150000 times the estimated age of the universe. Take off whatever exponential growth you want from that and ignore the realities of logistics, eg having the supplies and willing participants where you need them not to mention actual habitable planets, and you definitely have alot of room for multiple space faring races to start their colonization efforts.

            The numbers are mind bogglingly large and the extra details that can’t be easily simulated only add to the spread.

          5. Yes my number uses colonizing galaxies 1 after the other, because that is likely to be the way it happens at minimum for the earlier times. Why would a new galaxy be targeted, where no resources are confirmed and no aid is available when you likely have the same thing available to you much closer.

            I think I understand where you are coming from if you worked on that gtoc x competition, but you forgot to see the forest through the trees. That is an optimization problem to see how fast it could be done, not how it might happen in reality. So assuming every system had a habitable planet (it seems at least), and the goal was to get some amount of humans on all of them, yes 100 million might work. In reality that is not the goal and likely not the situation (habitable planets). There needs to be motivation as well as resources to make it happen

          6. “That is an optimization problem to see how fast it could be done,”

            Yes! And that’s the point here! It’s not to see how fast humans *will* do it. It’s to see how fast it *can* be done. Because if it *can* be done fast, and life is common, it will be done. Once a system is colonized, it doesn’t become un-colonized. Well, I mean, it could be, but it’s easy enough for the original system and its progenitors to probe for failures and repeat.

            All the problems you can think of: politics, organizational issues, whatever: they’re all transient. Once you have hyperfast travel, you only need to solve the logistics of self-replication and accelerate that, and it’s game over. And the Universe is *old*. If hyperfast travel is possible and life is common and we’re not first, we wouldn’t be here. It would’ve happened already.

            I will admit my first example of bringing Star Trek into this is a bit off topic (serves me right for using pop culture) because OK, if you want to claim humans are so incompetent that they’re capable of expanding throughout the galaxy but don’t because of politics… I mean, OK, I can’t argue with that one. (Although that doesn’t fix the problem for the other species, and of course Star Trek’s Big Bad blows that one open).

            Now, that being said: I will say there is one caveat that does break all this apart, and that’s if there’s a resource that *allows* hyperfast travel and it’s rare and consumed. Because that’s what would break exponential growth, and would also break intergalactic travel. So, for instance, if you needed to like, consume a Sun or something, yeah obviously that’d kill that.

            But really my entire point here is just that easy, cheap, hyperfast interstellar travel is almost certainly impossible unless you believe we’re alone. The galaxy, and indeed the Universe, just isn’t that big.

          7. I should point out that this argument, as I’ve said, definitely isn’t mine. It basically comes right from Teller, Konopinski, York, and Fermi’s original discussion.

            As Teller puts it, the discussion *began* about the likelihood of exceeding light speed, and how “exceeding light velocity would make interstellar travel one degree more real.”

            It wasn’t until afterwards that Fermi realized that the fact that the galaxy isn’t already colonized is a problem *even without* faster than light travel. Hence the JPL contest. But with FTL travel (again, with the caveat that it’s not resource-constrained) it’s unexplainable unless we’re alone or first.

            I think you can work around the Fermi paradox with three factors: late life, rare life, and no faster than light travel. In which case it’s still a bit of a race that we might not even know has started.

          8. I can see where you are coming from, I guess where Fermi et al are coming from, and I don’t claim to be smarter than them, but I also don’t just accept an idea because smart people said it. This feels like an argument I read recently about jwst putting a dagger in the back of the big bang. It went, if the universe has existed for an infinite amount of time, everything would have already happened an infinite number of times. Including a universe where we exist and then of course where we don’t exist, which is obviously absurd. This is suggests infinity does not really exist in “reality” due to its habit of contradicting itself.

            Well it feels like you and Fermi ( is that a phrase you ever though you would hear?) Are assigning an infinity to the potential capabilities of the possibly massive number of alien species out there, but there are so many options that could lead to limited colonization of the galaxy, at least enough that we appear alone so far. Ftl travel could be difficult enough that only a handful of species have achieved it, or dangerous enough that most that attempt it end up destroying their solar systems (fast radio burst candidate maybe?) and any survivors in another system they colonized decide never to pursue it again due to the risks or they just all die anyway. Maybe it will happen like you say, it just hasn’t yet, check back next week… my point is that just because it is possible does NOT mean it would have happened already because in reality there are discrete events that have some sort of time related aspect. They happen at some time, even if that time is different to different people. Just because it is possible for one of the countless high energy particles in the universe to hit some place in my brain and make me forget my name, I still know my name. (not sure this is possible but I am going for effect, pick some other event with countless potential participants and such low probibility that it hasnt occurred). Very enjoyable discussion though, thank you.

          9. “This feels like an argument I read recently about jwst putting a dagger in the back of the big bang.”

            Dear God, please don’t read arguments from internet nutjobs. ‘Infinite’ arguments screw up all the time because they’re not well constructed – “set of all sets is not a set,” etc. There’s a good article on explaining that fiasco.

            “Are assigning an infinity to the potential capabilities”

            No, not really. Arguments like this are actually *minimal* assumption arguments. As in, we assume other civilizations will be like humans. This is an assumption, absolutely, but it’s a *minimal* assumption since we have no other civilizations to compare with. Humans expanded extremely rapidly: as soon as technology was available to expand, we did, and we expanded exponentially, only slowing once we hit resource limits. Look at the number of satellites in orbit over time. Again, exponential growth. The same thing’s likely to happen across the Solar System. The only reason we think humanity’s expansion into space is slow is because people were expecting it to happen on the *1900s* timescale, which is insane.

            My entire point, straight from the beginning, is that people have scale issues with the Universe. Getting to other continents was stupidly difficult compared to getting around inside one. Getting to space was stupidly difficult compared to getting around the planet. Getting to other planets is stupidly difficult compared to getting to space. Getting to another star is stupidly difficult compared to getting to other planets.

            But that’s the last “stupidly difficult.” Once getting to another star is easy, getting to *all* the stars is not significantly harder. This is just an issue of scales! Keep in mind what I just said: *once getting to another star is easy*.

            Think about the important bits of our Solar System: it’s about 10 AU in radius. That’s an expansion over distances on the Earth of maybe 50-100,000. It’s a *huge* jump. The outer planets are mostly useless in that they’re so far away and have less resources anyway. In that distance we get a handful of planets, probably 10-100 bodies big enough to colonize. It’s far and away empty space. Now expand out to our local stellar neighborhood, say, 10 ly. That’s an expansion of 65,000, and gets us maybe 10-100 stars. Still far and away empty space. But another huge jump.

            But then things get *easier*. The *entire galaxy* is only a leap of between 10^3 and 10^4 after that. And the resources aren’t sparse anymore – they jump dramatically, because we’re on the outer edge. And then if you want to go from the Milky Way to the Local Group? That’s only another scale of 10^3-10^4. Larger scales are basically the same as well.

            The hardest jump a civilization has to make is to another star. The only reasonable way you can explain space being empty is if it’s impossible for that jump to ever be easy, or we’re first or alone. You don’t need an infinity of possibilities. We already know it’s conceivable for humans to colonize the Universe with technology we already have, it’s just a huge timescale.

          10. “Dear God, please don’t read arguments from internet nutjobs.” Hmm.

            “My entire point, straight from the beginning, is that people have scale issues with the Universe.” Yes, you do.

          11. ““My entire point, straight from the beginning, is that people have scale issues with the Universe.” Yes, you do.”

            Literally all of my friggin’ numbers here are documented. 10 AU to 10 ly to 50k ly to 3 Mpc. Plug ’em in on Google if you want.

            And, again. This isn’t my argument. It’s been made over and over by many others. Specifically the fact that even the *Universe* isn’t that big was brought up in Armstrong & Sandberg ’13. And that’s using conventional travel!

            You’re welcome to think I’m a nutjob. It’s not my argument. I’ve now just given you direct pointers to do the research yourself.

  6. I’m both pretty sure there’s advanced life out there and completely unsurprised that they haven’t reached out to us.

    Why would they?

    Here’s a thought experiment.

    Imagine a distant island, uninhabited but for some ant colonies.

    Ants have, to some degree, a society, or at least a social structure. Hell, being social animals used to dealing with colonies and groups, maybe they even have a rudimentary sense that there could be “others”.

    But really, do you care? Are you going to expend any energy to reach out?

    And you’re going to have to be the one that does the reaching here, they don’t have the technology to find you, and, though there are probably signs of a bigger world available to them, they don’t have the ability to look at, say, a tennis shoe washed up on the beach and extrapolate that into “incredibly advanced civilizations with bigger technology just over the horizon”.

    Hell, forget ants, if an australopithecus came across a running shoe, a coke bottle and a pocketwatch on a beach they would have no way to conceptualize “yeah, these are artifacts of my descendants”.

    I will bet you a LOT of money that you aren’t going to rent a boat and start exploring little islands just for the sake of letting the ants know you’re there.

    Unless you’re an anthropologist you’re probably not even going to do it if you think there are australopithecus out there – after all, we all KNOW that orangutans and bonobos exist in the jungles of the world right now, but nobody outside of doctoral students ever expends any effort to go say hello – and to belabor the point, we are only separated from orangutans, bonobos and even australopithecus by a tiny slice of evolution.

    The same thing is probably true of advanced civilizations.

    Sure, if you’re a society that can harness the power of fusion and has mastered galactic-level travel you *could* have a policy of reaching out to all the slime molds of the universe, just to let them know they’re not alone… but why? They’re just slime molds and that’s a lot of work.

    1. “But really, do you care? Are you going to expend any energy to reach out?”

      Yes. Humanity likes to know such things. We spent great amounts of energy sailing the oceans back when it wasn’t at all easy. That’s how we even know that island existed.
      Today we spent a great deal of energy launching satellites into space to map the earth, including that island, which gives us more information about it we don’t really need but we want.
      Someone no doubt spent a great deal of energy traveling to that island, if for no other reason than to be the first person to see it with their own eyes. (and maybe found those ant colonies!)

      Sure, few people do such things compare to how many people exist. But that too applies to advanced civilizations out there. They don’t all need to reach out, only a few. Technically only one, something we rarely do only for lacking in the ‘advanced’ part.

      As to “but why?”, I can’t even answer that for all of humanity, let alone anyone else. Yet we still do.

      1. Yeah, everybody always says that, but *do* you actually expend any energy trying to communicate with every specific anthill out there? Or are you content to know, in a general sense, that there are a lot of different kinds of ants and some entomologist has probably given the area a once-over and if there was a particularly interesting kind of ant found we’d probably have a documentary on it, or at least a Wikipedia page?

        After all, here on Earth, we know there ARE islands. We know these islands HAVE ants on them. These facts are not in dispute, but unless you are an ant expert I’m going to to assume you have never actually sought them out to offer them your technology for altruism’s sake. I know I haven’t (though, in fairness, I did push an ant raft to shore once, but it was right in front of me)

        Hell, there are probably entire tribes of actual _humans_ that got one brief visit in the 60’s and the only footnote is “some people apparently lived in the valley, but there were no natural resources” and nobody ever went back.

        Posit for a moment that you are a member of a species that has technology which allows them to navigate the galaxy at will. Take Moores law and add several of orders of magnitude. The fruits of that are on your wrist/tentacle/actuator/branch/pseudopod right now.

        You might be surfing Galactopedia one day and and fall down the rabbit hole reading about some planets out on the south arm that have these creatures made of protein that can count. That might be an interesting footnote, but we probably won’t offer anything to make you _care_ enough to actually make the trip and visit us.

    2. I think the aliens may take a “North Sentinel Island” approach, set up blinds and watch if you can but whatever you do don’t freak out the natives. Also considering the distribution of resources in the galaxy the only thing on Earth worth an alien’s attention is human society (sentient beings probably being the rarest resource), and contacting us would ruin the “scientific value” of observing us, so they don’t.

      1. “Also considering the distribution of resources in the galaxy the only thing on Earth worth an alien’s attention”

        No, we don’t know that yet! Our solar system doesn’t appear to be particularly common: Jupiter, specifically, is weird, at least at the percent level (it’s an open question as to how rare it is), and Jupiter is hugely important for the Solar System’s evolution. We don’t know how rare the other planets are yet because the technology’s not there.

        It’s easily possible that our Solar System is extremely rare, at least rare enough that if life/civilization/interstellar travel like ours was easy (and we’re not first), someone would’ve claimed it way before we took over.

  7. Judging by this article and all these comments, someone could come to the conclusion that no intelligent life exists on earth. *sigh*

    Seriously, though. You miss the point, maybe. FTL isn’t absolutely necessarily for cosmic traveling for one, due to alternatives – sleeper ships, the effect of time dilation (crew arrives in its lifetime), short cuts like in B5 etc., and second, the statistics and formula each contradict the truth. If it was right, statistically, our civilization wouldn’t exist in first place. Which it obviously does.

    I wonder whether or not this whole concept is creative nonsense made up by bored mathematicians that seemingly lack wisdom, enlightenment and empiric information. Or have mental health issues of some sort. So they create these weird thought experiments. Maybe it’s also just a PR stunt, not sure. Some people just love reading their names in the specialised press. :)

    1. “If it was right, statistically, our civilization wouldn’t exist in first place.”

      The problem is that Earth is a total pain in the ass. Everything about us is not obviously rare, but not obviously common.

      Our Sun isn’t super rare, but definitely not common. Our Solar System isn’t crazy rare, but definitely not common (Jupiter is weird). Our Galaxy, location in our Galaxy, our emergence time on the planet, our planet’s spin rate, size, the Moon’s size and distance, the chemistry of life (thanks phosphorus): all not crazy rare, not crazy common. All of these could be important. All of them could multiply to give some ludicrously unlikely number.

      Astronomically there are goofball coincidences that are a pain. Why is the Moon so very nearly identical in apparent size to the Sun? Why did we show up *right* when dark energy’s taking over?

      The problem is you don’t have a counterexample. Anything and everything could be important. There are arguments that the Universe might not have been habitable significantly before now. You can try to argue whatever but since we just don’t know and can’t even estimate certain things, you’re basically screwed.

      1. Statistically, none of us should exist.

        Think about how many sperm the average male spreads about in his life and how many offspring he has. We’re all statistical flukes.

        Absurd to think we’ve all beaten those odds. Therefor hookers and blow.

        1. That’s nothing! Think about the number of atoms on the planet. You’re made of an infinitesimally small number of them. No way that combination could come together to make you!

          Except: other combinations of those atoms could still be you, and you wouldn’t know the difference. Other combinations of your parents could be you, and you wouldn’t know the difference. Small changes in genetics don’t have that large an effect. You’re not that unique: I could flip bunches of your DNA and you’d never know. Happens all the time!

          The problem is that Earth *is* unique. We have no idea what bits you can twiddle and end up with “nothin'”.

    2. Sleeper ships and time dilation are just not practical ways to travel. Please do some back of the envelope calculations using the rocket equation to calculate the size of the ship that could travel to closest star in a reasonable time, slow down to get into orbit there, and send a picture back home.

      1. Time dilation’s not even remotely reasonable because you need absurd energies for it to have even the slightest effect.

        Sleeper ships are just a biology question. Getting *an object* to another star in like 20-40 years is completely practical, it’s just a bit of an insane engineering problem. Whether or not you can fit “a human” in that object in some sense depends on what you define as “a human” and is more of a biology question. Can you reduce a human to pure data or a solid-state system that’s more resilient than current “giant bag of mostly water”? Who knows. Slowing down, for instance, is mostly a problem of the fact that we’re currently really, really fragile.

        Most of the issues with human interstellar travel that people think of are biology issues, not physics issues. It’s kindof hilarious that everyone thinks the answer is “break the laws of physics” not “make better humans.” I mean, think about it. Some guy comes up to you and says “getting to Star X will take 100 times your lifespan, you can’t make it” and people think the solution is “let’s take the entirety of Jupiter and convert it into energy and use it that!” rather than “increase lifespan”? Future humans are going to think we were immensely silly when they look at science fiction.

        1. I recall a Sci-fi story (Asimov’s? Fountains of Paridise?)
          Where machines were sent out looking for inhabital planets, and (if) finding one would land and start building plants/animals/humans from the DNA programmed into its memory banks. And then raise the humans, teaching them what they needed to know to continue their existence. Upon successful completion of its mission, would shut itself down.

          1. Fountains of Paradise is the space elevator story of Clarke’s. You’re thinking of Songs of Distant Earth. Generally, the idea of self-replicating seeder ships are von Neumann probes, with “Berserkers” being the ones who just take over existing systems (from the Saberhagen stories).

        2. The quote is “ugly bags of mostly water”, but the dancing bear…

          “Slowing down” is no more a problem than speeding up is. Speed up for half the trip, slow down for half the trip.

        3. “Time dilation’s not even remotely reasonable because you need absurd energies for it to have even the slightest effect.”

          You are aware that GPS satellites have to correct for time dilation, right?

          1. Yes. Because they’re stupidly stable clocks. It’s at the parts per billion-ish level.

            The original poster was suggesting using time dilation to shorten an interstellar trip. Any serious reduction would take on the order of the mass-energy of the ship itself.

          2. “…even the slightest effect.” Just another red wagon in the “the wrong stuff I said isn’t wrong because…” cavalcade. You’re postulating all kinds of whacky technologies that don’t exist (minds on chips, terraforming by moving planets…) but somehow getting a lot of energy is a bridge too far?

            Did you know there’s demonstrable time dilation on the surface of the earth…due to altitude?

          3. “but somehow getting a lot of energy is a bridge too far?”

            Yes!! Minds on chips is a joke. We have minds on meat already, putting them on a different substrate is just engineering. I mean, we *have* minds on chips already, just really dumb ones.

            Terraforming by moving planets just requires time and math. Little nudge from appropriate asteroids, you’re fine. You might even be able to just do it with like albedo effects. Humans could do it now if they lived millions of years.

            Why is all of this easy? Because of *time*. Big huge problems like this only seem big because we live crazy short lives. And there is no reason, whatsoever, to think that there is any true upper limit to that.

            Energy is just entirely different when you start thinking about the momentum problem. Realistically you could maybe get to 0.2-0.4c, but that’s a negligible Lorentz factor. It’s like finding out you arrived 5 minutes early on a 12 hour flight. Whoop de doo. Getting relativistic means relativistic rockets, which means *absurd* energies. Making humans live longer is just an easier problem.

            Oh, and by the way: your “time dilation due to altitude?” Clocks run slower as you go *down*. Going up, not dilation, it’s *contraction*, because you’re climbing out of a gravity well. GPS satellites *gain* time, they don’t lose it, because the general relativity effect is *larger* than time dilation due to motion (by a small factor). And yes, I knew that. It’s a standard graduate school homework problem.

          4. Wikipedia’s welcome to have sloppy grammar. I don’t have to.

            Deceleration is a reduction in speed rather than a change in velocity: it’s a specific kind of acceleration (opposite current velocity).

            I’ll give you that altitude doesn’t refer to a direction.

      2. Wait a second, I didn’t assume conventional rocket technology in first place. Using flying cigars isn’t practical.
        There are other types of acceleration that are worth considering.
        There’s the ion/plasma drive, obviously, to name a popular example.
        Or solar sails, which need to provide a huge surface and little mass.
        They also could assist in decelerating when entering another star system.
        Then there’s gravity assist/fly by maneuver. Flying a few times around bodies may give a fine boost.
        Lastly, it’s not needed to come close to lightspeed for adequate time dilation.
        A fraction of it will do suffice for a start, to shorten the travel time.
        Also note that it isn’t linear. The farther the distant star is you’re traveling too, the more the effects comes into play.
        And if that doesn’t work good enough, just use nearest worm hole.. Maybe the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mentions one. :)

        Sleeper ships.. Considering that the Voyager sisters lasted 45 years, it might be doable with 70s tech, at least. If the RTGs do last. ;)
        Seriously, though, we don’t need cryostasis per se. An adequately slowed-down metabolism will indirectly help slowing down the aging process, so that the original crew arrives alive.
        It does not need to be hibernation, per se.
        Although, there are reports of humans that did fell into hibernation. So there’s a genetic switch in our mammalian legacy that could perhaps be reactivated, if necessary.
        A long (medium long) sleep will also help against psychological trauma on such a long and lonely odyssey. Those comparatively small sleeping chambers could be shielded very well against radiation, also. Instead of thick lead plates, a system of pipes with circulating water could be used, for example. Or an eletrostatic field. There are so many possibilities, of which none have been tried yet. These hypothetical ideas seen in those science fiction series could be modified for real use, if carefully studied. Never stop dreaming! LLAP!

        1. “There’s the ion/plasma drive,”

          Ion drives are rockets. They chuck mass out the back. Rocket.

          “Then there’s gravity assist/fly by maneuver. Flying a few times around bodies may give a fine boost.”

          Flying a few times around bodies will do exactly nothing more than flying around once does, and you’ll never get significantly beyond solar system escape velocity. This is how Voyager 1 and 2 worked.

          “Lastly, it’s not needed to come close to lightspeed for adequate time dilation. Also note that it isn’t linear. The farther the distant star is you’re traveling too, the more the effects comes into play.”

          To cut the travel time by a factor of 2 you need to go 86% the speed of light. And it *absolutely* is linear.

          For reasonable maximum velocities (20-40% of the speed of light, reachable by antimatter/fusion type drives or crazy driven solar sails) it’s utterly negligible, a 2-8% reduction. It’s like arriving 30 minutes early on a 12 hour flight. Nice bonus, but doesn’t make the trip feel shorter.

          Solar sails are interesting cases.

  8. Ok , for all those that think revealing ourselves is bad. Any entity which can traverse the cosmos would most likely not be interested in harvesting anything from this planet. Our asteroid belt alone has much more to give and would be easier to harvest minerals and such. WHAT exactly do think WE have that they could not acquire on the way , Or would be valuable to them to make the trip. Try to overcome an unknown force Billions of miles away. Why would they destroy us when they would have it easier on uninhabited planets .

    1. As a mighty human you are essentially omnipotent compared to a mold colony; and yet the mold colony can be a threat if left to spread.

      It’s also more sensible if you stop thinking about all civilizations as existing on the same physical and time scales. Why should a plankton feel threatened by a whale? The plankton is so small it couldn’t possibly matter to something so massive…

    2. Considering what happened and is happening to the closest relatives to homo sapiens, I waged that a perceived threat is more than enough motivation for an aggressive enough species to play it safe and just eliminate the competition. Homo sapiens does it, why wouldnt something else ? Dominant lifeforms tend to be expansive and jealous of competition.

  9. Subject: Ethics on Cosmic Scale, Directed Panspermia, Forwards-Contamination, Outer Space Treaty, Technology Assessment, Planetary Protection, (and Fermi’s Paradox)

    Dear Hackaday,

    I’m well aware there already is another major crisis currently. Nonetheless – due to my only recent realization on this message’s subject matter – I’d like to use this contact opportunity in an attempt to raise awareness of what I’m by science convinced of being the ethically most important subject for all of humanity’s future, due to its inherent immense risk for the future of sentient beings in general: Natural & especially Directed Panspermia. And I think this topic deserves far more serious care and attention, especially from the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA). Further insightful elaboration & scientific sources on the topic can be found here: . In particular, the stark concerns which Brian Tomasik from the Effective Altruism group expressed (already) in 2014 should be taken to heart: .

    Claim: The existence of past & recent projects alike the Venera 7, Pioneer 10 & Huygens spacecraft missions, 21 Mars lander or rover (including Curiosity & Perseverance rover) missions like InSight & Tianwen-1 as well as the Enceladus Explorer, Europa Lander, Gan De, Uranus Orbiter & Probe, Laplace-P, Enceladus Orbilander, and Neptune Odyssey missions and BioSentinel, Project Starlight, Breakthrough Starshot & Prof. Claudius Gros’ Genesis Project strongly indicate that there is no prohibition of Directed Panspermia currently in the United Nation’s Outer Space Treaty, which I think – at least until sufficient research and ethical evaluations are done, which admittedly may take decades or centuries even – is desperately needed & of imperative importance. However, a fast development of a global, international, emotionally intelligent consensus on voluntary self-restraint in regards to Directed Panspermia type projects, out of respect & care for how riskfully consequential such projects can be, may be even safer and hence preferable.

    To be questioned & investigated rationale for this claim: The topic is too vast & complex for me to concisely elaborate on all potentially relevant aspects (that I’m aware of) of it in here, so I’d like to summarize the main points of my & others’ concerns: If we take earth’s historical evolution of life as reference point for orientation & if there is plausible reason to assume that the majority of prehistoric life – by means of the widespread presence of pain-receptors & some forms of sentience – was not only, but also filled with suffering of therein involved many millions of species’ populations at any given time across a few hundred millions of years, and to the extent to which this may all in all amount to unutterable extents of misery, then even if it is the case for earth that humanity is for the foreseeable future the only – and thereby critically important – species capable of finally turning this otherwise possibly almost endless misery into an overall pleasant existence e.g. using lab-grown meat and technological breakthroughs alike it, it still remains to be uncovered if even just locally this misery can in any form be compensated for, and there’s no guarantee. Now, if there is reason to believe that one can generalize or extrapolate from earth’s case to a sufficient variety of exoplanets (or celestial bodies in general), especially if it cannot even ever be ensured that colonies on exoplanets would treat the topic of Directed Panspermia carefully themselves or that their own presence as caretakers is ensured to hold sufficiently long compared to any introduced already primitive life forms (rather than starting with RNA, DNA, or single cells only) so that the dramatic consequences for wildlife animals can then last for billions of years even, then this constitutes an extremely strong argument against rushing developments towards such projects.

    As reminder: The climate, biological and nuclear and chemical threats, autonomous A.I., microplastics, and other topics – in our history, humanity had to learn after mistakes were already made, which often times turned into burdens that later generations had to carry. While for these cases the – still devastating – consequences may be more limited in scope, I think when it’s about the cosmos, it’d be wiser to approach this matter in a more reluctant, mindful manner, with long-term foresight, and without forgetting about ethics. Power & knowledge demands responsibility in its use, and it cannot be allowed for anyone to play god with exoplanets by kick-starting evolution of life there. And just because the universe contains so far uninhabited but habitable hells, this doesn’t mean we should even just infinitesimally risk populating them, especially in those instances in which they are so far away that it is utterly impossible to control what happens there. Contamination of celestial bodies with rapidly exponentially in numbers growing multi-cellular microbes would constitute a forever irreversible point of no return, especially for those several near-future missions aiming at those moons estimated to be most capable of allowing life on them & therefore carrying the highest contamination risks: Enceladus, Europa, Titan, Ganymede, Callisto, Triton. As reference, even the microbes on the ISS eventually started to for their metabolism consume the cleaning substances meant for sterilization. And according to John Grunsfeld, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Mars already has been contaminated with microbes by accident.

    Also, on the topic of Fermi’s Paradox, it might be worthwhile considering the plausibility of the following hypothetical explanation:

    === Ethical explanation ===

    It is possible that ethical assessment of general forms of evolution of life in the universe constitutes the central issue which intelligent alien species’ macroscopic decision-making, such as for the topic of natural [[panspermia]], [[directed panspermia]], [[space colonization]], [[megastructures]], or [[self-replicating spacecraft]], revolves around. If the result of [[utility]] evaluations of enough and sufficiently in time extended initial or lasting portions of expected or prospective cases of evolution is among all other ethically relevant factors the dominant ethical concern of intelligent alien species, and if furthermore a large enough negative expected utility is assigned to sufficiently common forms of expected or prospective cases of evolution, then foregoing directed panspermia, space colonization, the construction of megastructures, sending out self-replicating spacecraft, but also active attempts to mitigate the consequences of interplanetary and interstellar forms of natural panspermia may follow. While in the case of [[space colonization]] it might ultimately stay too uncontrollable to – by technical or educational means – ensure [[settlers]] or emerging [[space colonies]] themselves consistently keep acting in accordance to the awareness of by [[colonizer]] considered major ethical dangers accompanying physical interstellar [[space exploration]], and for the case of interstellar self-replicating spacecraft, due to potential prebiotic substances in [[interstellar clouds]] and exoplanets’ atmospheres and soils, it may forever stay impossible to ensure their [[Sterilization (microbiology)|sterility]] to avoid contamination of celestial bodies which may kick-start uncontrollable evolution processes, reasons to forego the creation of a megastructure, even if such may be beneficial to an intelligent alien species and also to some other intelligent alien species imitators, may mainly have psychological origin. Since certain megastructures may be identifiable to be of unnatural, intelligent design requiring origin by foreign intelligent alien species, for as long as the by an intelligent alien species expected number of (especially less experienced or less far developed) from them foreign intelligent alien species capable of identifying their megastructure as such is large enough, the by them rather uncontrollable spectrum of interstellar space endeavor related influences this may have on those foreign intelligent alien species might constitute a too strong ethical deterrence from creating megastructures that are from outer space identifiable as such, until eventually a lasting state of cosmic privacy may be attained by natural or technological means.

    On the topic of space expansionism, I think there would be books to fill with considerations about it, and I have many (what I think would be) noteworthy informally documented points on the topic, but for now, some of the most important ones that I’d like to forward would be the following. I hope my slight intellectual dishonesty (used as maybe psychologically manipulative means to press on the matter) in using mathematical nomenclature that alludes to the following statements to appear as if they were in a mathematical, absolute sense proven when that isn’t quite true can be forgiven, but I genuinely am of the opinion that for the time being, it would be safer, better if humanity were to think of it as proven:

    1. Axiom: The ethical importance of an issue increases alongside the number of therein involved sentient lifeforms, the time duration during which they are affected by it, and the vastness of the affected space to the extent to which changes of it affect the lifeforms.

    2. Extremal case: By the above statement set abstract general standard, according to the current body of humanity’s knowledge, general forms of evolution of life (if on earth or on exoplanets) forever constitute the most ethically important issue to exist in the universe: With billions of species – each with numerous individual lifeforms – together with durations on the scale of billions of years, and spacial extension of at least a whole planet, it dwarfs any other conceivable ethical issue’s level of importance.

    3. Valuation Axiom for the extremal case: According to many scientific studies, such as by Richard Dawkins, Brian Tomasik, Alejandro Villamor Iglesias, Oscar Horta, pain and suffering dominates over joy for animal wildlife in general forms of Darwinian evolution of life, and therefore – when accumulated across all logically entangled parameters such as duration and count of involved individuals – instances of such forms of evolution of life has to be kept at a minimum in the universe, as there never was and never will be anything that could be more important, to change the conclusion of this Anti-Panspermia-implying directive.

    1. Special Cosmos Ethics Theorem: Exoplanet-Wildlife-Development-Control-dependent Anti-Panspermia Directive for Humanity
    The current state of the art of scientific evidence and ethics without exception imperatively demands that humanity does NOT engage in outer space activities of kinds that could even just infinitesimally likely risk introducing life to for any kind of lifeforms habitable worlds, for at least as long as humanity’s practical capability of controlling the up to astronomically vast consequences of interstellar space projects doesn’t sufficiently improve in a for interstellar space endeavors safety guaranteeing, critical manner.

    Proof (by contradiction):
    This conclusion deductively follows from the concerningly plausible, by many scientific studies supported, Axiom that general animal wildlife – not only as it has been throughout evolution on earth, but on a more general level that would apply to exoplanet life of our biological kind, too – for the vast majority of it is dominated by pain and suffering rather than joy (reference: Center for Long-Term Risk).

    Assume the existence of a counter-example:
    It could be argued that IF overall worthwhile to exist life on a larger scale were to rely on previous evolutionary animal wildlife’s existence and that the former were to safely come from the latter, that THEN it could possibly be better for evolutionary animal wildlife to come into existence than not.

    Proof (by Ethical Dominance Principle) of the impossibility of the existence of counter-examples:
    However, given that aforementioned, dominant wildlife animal pain and suffering in its amount and hence importance and priority for macro-scale decision-making increases by the duration throughout which such a miserable, in itself unwantable state persists, and that in the case of general forms of evolution of life, we have to expect that it can last for extraordinary long times of what essentially is involuntary, if avoidable unnecessary torture by the banal means of nature’s own ruthlessness, namely that it can last for billions of years, and furthermore that these time-spans are unavoidable if it shall lead to intelligent species, we can therefore conclude that the severity of this issue dominates every other to this date conceivable, plausible ethical issue, since all other ethical issues absolutely pale in comparison to the magnitudes of magnitudes by which this central ethical issue overshadows them all, in such a uniquely outstanding way that risking billion years full of suffering for thousands of individuals of at any time billions of wildlife exoplanet animals each can for nothing in the world be a by any standards reasonable sacrifice to make.

    Therefore, by humanity’s current full body of knowledge, what happens to wildlife animals part of any actual, prospective, or potentially risked to exist instances of evolution of life constitutes the single most dominating, for ethical macro-scale decision-making behavior sole determinant factor of consideration.

    Corollary 1.1: Time-Global Anti-Panspermia Directive for Humanity
    If humanity is never able or can never be able to safely control exoplanet wildlife’s entire development for the purpose of guaranteeing its & all by its own activities potentially emerging foreign exoplanet wildlife’s pain-less flourishing, for any exoplanet wildlife risked to emerge or exist as consequence of humanity’s outer space activities, then it follows that humanity shall NEVER engage in activities that risk causing such.

    2. Central Cosmos Ethics Theorem: General Anti-Panspermia Prime Directive
    If the result of wildlife well-being evaluations of enough and sufficiently in time extended initial or lasting portions of expected or prospective cases of evolution of life is generally among all other ethically relevant factors the dominant ethical concern, and if furthermore a large enough unavoidable negative expected wildlife well-being has to be assumed of sufficiently common forms of expected or prospective cases of evolution of life, then imperative necessity of complete prevention of all preventable forms of contamination or panspermia follows.

    Corollary 2.1: Anti-Panspermia Directive on local Star System Contamination
    Any at least infinitesimally contamination or panspermia risking contamination of a celestial body within the local star system with (not necessarily extremophile) micro-organisms is to be prevented. This includes causing the emergence and spread of micro-organisms on a celestial body of the local star system, potentially followed by eventual interstellar transportation of by it emerging (extremophile) micro-organisms on the celestial body via natural panspermia, such as meteorites entering such celestial body’s atmosphere to pick the organisms up and continue towards interstellar space via sling-shot.

    Corollary 2.2: Anti-Panspermia Directive on Space-Faring
    Any at least infinitesimally contamination or panspermia risking space-faring activities are to be prevented. This includes not only space probes, satellites, solar sails, and light sails but also von-Neumann-Probes (self-replicating Spacecraft), (replicating) seeder ships, and space-faring of individuals where the Anti-Panspermia abiding behavior of them and later generations after them cannot be ensured.

    Corollary 2.3: Natural Anti-Panspermia Directive
    Any at least infinitesimally contamination or panspermia risking, preventable natural litho-panspermia processes are to be prevented. This includes (extremophile) micro-organism transportation methods via space dust, meteorites, asteroids, comets, planetoids, planets, and debris ejected into space upon celestial body collisions.

    Corollary 2.4: Anti-Panspermia Directive on Mega-Structures
    Any construction of a mega-structure that at least infinitesimally – due to literally far reaching psychological influences – risks contamination or panspermia being risked or pursued via outer space activities from any other – for the
    detection of such mega-structure in astronomy engaging – alien civilization is to be prevented.

    Corollary 2.5: Anti-Panspermia Directive on Super Volcano Eruptions
    Any at least infinitesimally contamination or panspermia risking, preventable natural super volcano eruptions on a by life inhabited planet that can reach beyond its exosphere are to be prevented, or altered so they safely don’t risk contamination or panspermia anymore.

    Corollary 2.6: Anti-Panspermia Directive on Space-Flight Infrastructure
    Any at least infinitesimally contamination or panspermia risking, preventable space-flight infrastructure construction or use is to be prevented, or at least sufficiently restricted, controlled, and regulated.

    Corollary 2.7: Anti-Panspermia Directive on Science, Technology, and Knowledge
    Any at least infinitesimally contamination or panspermia risking, preventable scientific or technological activities or knowledge is to be prevented or irreversibly deleted, or at least sufficiently restricted, controlled, and regulated. This includes solar sail and light sail related technology, science, and knowledge. This may at first glance seem to be excessive, but for comparison, by magnitudes far less in their potential damage severe dual-use technologies are classified & are subject of strict continual control, too.

    Corollary 2.8: Anti-Panspermia Directive on (Mass) Psychology
    Any at least infinitesimally contamination or panspermia risking, preventable psychological influence is to be prevented, or at least sufficiently restricted. This includes the propagation of news of any astronomical discovery of a bio-signature or techno-signature or celestial body of special interest such as habitable exoplanets.

    Remark: The importance of prevention measures for types of panspermia (according to the above general line of reasoning) depends on the level of (lack of) controllability of the potential long-term consequences (in terms of kick-started evolution of life) that may emerge as result from such, and for the purpose of differentiating in a reasonable manner that has this control-related parameter in mind, it makes sense to differentiate between interstellar and interplanetary panspermia, as at least it seems more plausible that interplanetary panspermia – if it were to happen – would be easier and more timely to control (although not necessarily sufficiently controllable).

    This would be all. Thank you for reading, and especially in case of interest & understanding.

    With highest regards,

    M.Sc. (TUM) Bernd Clemens Huber

    1. Wait wait wait… are you saying (It’s a bit hard to parse as I think sentence structure is completely abandoned, at a minimum, apologies if you are ESL but maybe run things through grammarly) but are you saying that because some studies (richard dawkins has no credibility to run any studies btw, and i am a huge atheist) have shown that pain and suffering is basically more noticeable than pleasure, therefore we must ensure that we do not accidentally introduce life on a barren planet or affect a non barren planet, because creating a bunch of life (empty space plus a little life and lots of resources-> alot of life) is unethical simply due to the fact that you believe life is suffering, so creating more life means more suffering so creating a new planet full of life is creating a planet full of pain and suffering? I am just blown away. Have you really never enjoyed your life? If so, shouldnt you change things about your life to either enjoy it or at least stop suffering? Because I can promise you almost all people and basically all animals that we interact with prefer life to death. Most to an extreme amount, and many people are willing to go through more suffering in the hopes of obtaining more happiness later on. We don’t want to contaminate other planets currently for 2 reasons, 1 to ensure that if we find life, we can be sure that it’s indigenous and not from us and 2. To stop invasive species scenarios that would kill off extraordinarily interesting native life.

      You sound like you might be a fan of PETA. Do you think a tiger “humanely” or tiganely kills its prey. No it is suffering and pain for the animal and complete indifference by the tiger. And yet the animal getting eaten will still escape if given the chance because it wants to live.

      1. Probably anti-PETA. As most/many/some animals die a horrible death, logically we should put them all down humanely now, to prevent suffering.

        I think a similar arguemnt is being extended to anti-panspermia as a directive.

        And then by extension to extraterrestrials (if they exist) which might come to the same argument and conclusions. So every civilisation would self-censor.

  10. You don’t know what you don’t know. Once a civilisation realises that the entire quantum foam is capable of acting as a substrate for a virtualized and turing complete automata embodied in the cascade of particle pair interactions they would be on the path to realising artificial intelligence manifest in that domain, and once that is realised the pattern that constitutes the AI would explode outward in all direction across the quantum foam, at the speed of light. Given that the patterns are in the interaction of particle pairs over time and that the energy of the system is entirely balanced there may be no way of detecting such a rapidly expanding sphere of virtual computation, even if it passed right through the space that you were occupying, unless you were doing the same thing, operating as a pattern on the quantum foam.

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