Liftoff (Part 3)

Posted on Wed 08/20/2008 by


In the previous post I mentioned that with current technology for space travel, it would take more 161,000 years to get to closest Star, Alpha Centauri. Let’s then assume that we can actually get there. We have to then hope that there might be a planet rotating around that star in the perfect position for us to actually set foot on it. Keep in mind just where the Earth is in relation to our Sun. If it was a million miles closer in or further out, then life as we know it would not have even developed. Our Planet is in the perfect position for us and over the thousands of years we have adapted to these conditions. Even settling on our closest neighbour the Moon is problematic. Venus will be too hot, being so much closer to the Sun, and the first information back from Mars as encouraging as it might sound means that even settling there, if ever, would also be problematic. So, finding another Planet rotating around a Star in a perfect position with the perfect environment is most probably something that will never be accomplished.

So, now, what I want to do is to step out on a limb, and I hope that as readers, you won’t just saw it off behind me.
I’m a pretty logical type of guy. I like to have things proven to me, and once I can see it, then I’ll believe it.
As yet, there is no incontrovertible proof that there is any form of life that we know about other than us here on Planet Earth. There is rumour, conjecture, theory, but no hard facts. People would like to believe it, and with all the sightings, there actually must be people who do believe it. However, the hard truth is that there really is nothing, and conspiracy theories notwithstanding, I will continue to believe that we are in fact alone.

In the late 80’s I was teaching new Air Force Trainees the electrical trade. There was a large staff room where each instructor had a desk where he could work on his next teaching phase, between face to face subjects with the students. This was where the 25 or so Instructors all gathered during any breaks in classes, during lunch, and at all other times when not actually teaching. At any one time, there would be four or five instructors in that room working between subjects, and relaxing away from the students.

Once, a discussion arose about life in other regions of the Universe, and the discussion was animated as those people tried to argue their own beliefs. It was never heated, and as more instructors came into the room, they also joined the discussion. Midway through the second day, one of the senior guys, a Warrant Officer came into the room and quietly sat down, listening to the to and fro. We were a group of Sergeants, some Corporals, and a couple of Flight Sergeants, and I suppose he wanted to keep a weather eye on us, as our mid level ‘boss’, in case the discussion became a little heated, something it never did. He listened for a while and then walked up to the white board.
He wrote a formula on the board, and we thought he may be trying to change the subject, because Math was a large part of electrical theory.
I always liked Math because there was always an answer, or that was my perception, because if someone actually worked it out first, then there was the possibility that I could work it out to. I was just one notch higher than average, and at recruiting, the guy there told me that it was my Math result that got me accepted as a trades trainee in the first place.

The talk was still back and forth, but as he wrote the formula down on the white board, eyes turned to watch. The formula was a long one, and looked to be quite involved. When there was all but complete quiet, he explained the formula, and then gave the formula values so it could be worked out. Once he did this, we were fascinated with it, and the discussion then ensued in that direction. We asked him where he actually got the formula, and he couldn’t explain where he had seen it. It wasn’t something he could explain as to the origin, only saying that he hadn’t made it up. That formula stayed on the white board for weeks, and every facet of it was discussed in depth, and at length. Most of us wrote the formula down, as I did, but that discussion stayed with me to this day.
I have not seen the formula in any other place or at any other time, and I have never come across anybody who has ever seen it or even heard about it.
So, if you think this is something of mine, you are sadly mistaken, because I can take no credit at all for it, and I cannot even guess as to who to attribute it to. Also, what you need to keep in mind is that this is of a purely theoretical nature. It is not a mathematical certainty, but a theory.

The formula is as follows.

Click on image to open in a larger window.

It looks complicated and needs to be very carefully explained.

The first element is N1 and this is what we are looking for, the resultant answer to the equation. This is the number of planets actually able to support life as we know it in just this, our own Galaxy.

The second element is N2, this is an approximate guess as to the number of Stars there are in our Galaxy alone. The best guess is around 400 billion stars, and remember, this is just in our Galaxy alone.

For the next elements, they are all fractions, hence the letter ‘f’ for fraction. What is under the line is the part that needs to be explained.

The first element is the letter P. This stands for Planets that might be actually revolving around that Star, and for this we will use a fairly conservative fraction of maybe one star in four actually having a planetary system as part of the Star. This is something we cannot find for sure, as both optical and radio telescopes of any sort are just not that accurate enough to find something that tiny. We can see the actual Stars themselves, well some of them anyway, but to actually refine that further is not yet able to be done. Some may have actually been located, but the number is so relatively few, so this part of the equation is at best guess, just a conservative guess.

The second fraction has the letter E under it. This stands for Ecology, and that is an ecology able to support any life form at all, and not just something of an ecology that would support our life, but able to support any form of life at all. The best guess here would be half, and again, that is a conservative best case guess

The next fraction has the letter L1 under it. This stands for Life, the ability to sustain any form of life at all, and that doesn’t mean life as we know it, but any form of life at all. If there is a form of ecology, then reason would have it that the ecology could actually support life. The best guess here might be as high as 75%, and as with all the others, this also is a conservative best guess.

The next fraction has the letter I under it and this stands for Intelligence, that the existing life form has any intelligence at all. This is contentious as some might say that even here on Earth, all life forms have some sort of intelligence, but here the thinking is for a higher form of intelligence. Therefore this fraction is low, and could be guessed at around one tenth.

The next element has the letter C under it and this stands for Communication, the ability of that life form to be able to communicate, not one with another but outside of the World they inhabit. A conservative best guess here is one third.

The next element takes some understanding. It has the letter L2 under it, and this stands for Longevity of that life form. Having all of the above, this fraction is for the ability to communicate outside their World, and then divide that by the period that the World is known to have existed. For this fraction, the only thing we can go by is for here on Earth. We have been communicating, not with outside Worlds, but for long range communication just here on the Earth. Why this might seem contentious is that we are placing a value here not for that other place, but for here on our Earth, and this fraction could probably be higher, but it is the only thing we can go on. For this fraction, this can be calculated as starting from the end of the Second World War. We did have radio communication before that, but that in the main was just local transmission. So here, the calculation is for the 63 years since the Second World War, and then divide that for the best understood age of Planet Earth itself which is approximately 4.5 billion years.

Now, having read this, you’ll see that there’s a lot of guesswork involved, and I’ll concede that, but in every case, the fractions used have been conservative by their very nature. Some might say that the fractions are outrageously high, but for the purpose of the original exercise, they were left that high.

Now extrapolating all that out, we have this.
The number of planets in our Galaxy that might sustain intelligent life that could actually identify themselves to us are this.

400 Billion Stars multiplied by one fourth (planetary systems) multiplied by one half (ecological possibility) multiplied by 75% (sustaining life) multiplied by one tenth (intelligent life) multiplied by one third (communication ability) multiplied by 63 years of communication divided by life of that planet, a number of 4.5 billion. (Age of the Earth)

The resultant number is 17.5, so let’s call that 18.
That’s 18 places in our small Galaxy of 400 billion Stars that could possibly support a life form that might be able to actually find a way to either communicate with us or to travel to this Earth. This is not for life as we know it here on our Earth, but a life form actually able to do these things. If you were to even consider the numbers I have used here as too conservative on the upper side, then that final number would be considerably lower.

We are so far out on the extreme rim of our Galaxy, that there is the distinct probability that no one is even looking for us, let alone even wanting to come here and ‘check us out’. If by the most complete and utter fluke someone actually does stumble across us, then there is every possibility that they would not want to even come here at all, because our Planet would most certainly not support life as they know it. No one will ever find us, because no one is even looking, especially way out here on the edge of our Galaxy. They don’t even know that we even exist.

For a small test probably equivalent to the above formula, and to support the argument that no one is looking for us, or will only find us by fluke, I want you to try this little test.

The next time you go to the beach, as you step onto the sand, I want you to zero in on one grain of sand, and go to that. Not somewhere to place your towel, but on one grain of sand.

We can watch some pretty special effects in some good movies, or better yet, read about it in some of the better Science Fiction novels, but that’s all it ever will be. Fiction.