If intelligent alien life exists somewhere in space it’s abundantly clear that we haven’t made meaningful contact with it yet. Various scientific bodies have devoted themselves to searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and come up totally blank, but why?
The famous Fermi paradox, named for physicist Enrico Fermi, asks if life is indeed common or even not-super-rare in the universe, why haven’t we seen evidence of it yet? After all, we’ve been gazing into space for a while now, listening with high-powered radio telescopes and sending out our own signals in a feeble attempt at alerting ET to our existence, right?
A new research effort attempts to put all this in perspective and arrives at a simple answer: We haven’t found life because we’re just not looking hard enough.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University decided to attempt to quantify the amount of searching humans have actually done, comparing that effort with what we think we know about the size of the universe. Ultimately, the team arrived at the conclusion that efforts like SETI — the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — are tiny drops in an absolutely massive bucket.
The researchers explain that mankind can only realistically search for alien communications out to a distance of around 30,000 light years with modern technology. That’s a mere stone’s throw in astronomical terms, and when you consider that the Milky Way — just one of countless galaxies that we can see — is 100,000 light years across, it’s clear that we’re really only just scratching the surface.
For added perspective, the team calculated how much of space we’ve actually taken the time to explore, comparing that to the area that we haven’t even begun to search. As MIT Technology Review explains, if the entire search area is the size of Earth’s oceans, humans have sporadically searched an area about the size of a hot tub.
Put simply, we may think we’re doing a good job of keeping our eyes on the skies for evidence of alien civilizations, but in truth we’re barely doing anything at all.