Some physicists were having lunch one day when the talk turned to life beyond our own planet. The scientists understood that there’s been plenty of time for civilizations to arise and fill the galaxy, yet we haven’t seen them. So Enrico Fermi asked the question that all of the scientists were pondering: “Where are they?”
It’s something that many others have asked in the six decades since Fermi posed the question, which today is known as Fermi’s Paradox.
It starts with the premise that Earth isn’t unique. There should be many other planets like it, including many that host intelligent life. And since our home galaxy was already billions of years old when Earth was born, there was plenty of time for life on one or more of those planets to spread out.
In fact, if a civilization develops the ability to travel to other stars, it should be able to populate an entire galaxy in a few million years — almost nothing on the cosmic time scale. But tabloids and blogs aside, there’s no evidence of any other civilization anywhere in this or any other galaxy.
There are lots of possible solutions to Fermi’s Paradox. It could be that ET is all around us but we just haven’t looked hard enough. Or perhaps cultures don’t last long enough to reach the stars, or interstellar travel isn’t possible.
Or just perhaps our planet is unique after all — a lonely abode in the vastness of the universe.
We’ll talk about our own quest to reach the stars tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014
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