Science fiction was my reading of choice for more than a decade – during college & thereafter until the kiddies happened into our lives. Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, William Gibson, Ursula Le Guin, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov…I thought there was no way we were alone in the universe. There had to be other humans out there. I grocked it might be difficult to find them, or for them to find us, but it just didn’t seem possible that we were ‘alone’ with so many billions of suns & planets available for otherworld versions of us. I loved to imagine the day they contacted us (which I imagined would occur in an E.T. rather than Invasion of the Body Snatchers mode), & I fervently hoped that it would be in my lifetime. I still do. Although I’m not sure any more that contact will be as benign as E.T…& human? Wouldn’t that be a shock.
I didn’t know much about asteroids & black holes & MIB back then, except for the notion that shooting stars weren’t really stars at all but rather small space detritus burning up upon entry into the earth’s atmosphere (aka meteors, thank you, Neil Armstrong & NASA). What we know now, generally confirmed by the scientific community only in the past couple of years – like 2010 – is that large asteroids have played a key role in how life on our planet evolved. Asteroid impacts apparently provided a great deal of the water that covers 70% of our earth & makes life’s abundance possible, & the asteroid which formed the Chicxulub crater in central America caused a mass extinction 65 million years ago which killed off the dinosaurs (& most other species too) & drastically altered earth’s climate for a long time. This most recent mass extinction (there have been five – some argue that we’re entering the 6th) set the stage for birds (direct dinosaur descendants!) & mammals (no more dinosaurs around to eat them) to thrive & eventually evolve into, among others, family favorites such as cats, dogs, elephants, (rats), whales, giraffes, bonobos, & – us!
So what’s the likelihood that other ‘intelligent’ (I use the term loosely) life evolved out there? Local University of California, Santa Cruz, astronomer Frank Drake devised a formula for estimating the possibility of civilizations on other planets in our own Milky Way galaxy – the initial calculation came in at about 10,000. Other estimates range from 1 million (Carl Sagan) to less than 3 (Michael Shermer). Of course, there are billions of galaxies out there, so even using low-ball assumptions, there’re bound to be billions of planets where life evolved over billions of years; sentient beings likely evolved right along with other forms of life on some of those planets. As self-centered as we humans still are at this stage of our evolution, I have to agree (you’re not surprised, are you?) with those who assert that the odds are heavily in favor of us having lots of at-least-slightly-self-aware company in the Big Universe, though probably not with our 2-eyes-2-ears-4-limbs-5-fingers Star Trek brain & physiology. (Maybe some of them are even here on earth – I’m betting on the octopus, myself.)
And getting in touch with them, or vice versa, is another problem altogether. It nearly always comes down to communication & timing, doesn’t it? Even though no doubt they wouldn’t think just like we do, I like to imagine they could have helpful ideas about how we might save ourselves & our fellow earthly inhabitants from the current rapid climate change era (RCCE) unfolding before our very eyes. Maybe they had to abandon their own planet because their planet’s culture & evolution led to similar consequences!? Or maybe their star was dying. Or maybe…well, so many scenarios to conjure up. As likely as it seems that they’re out there, how unlikely it seems, at the moment, that we’ll ever know anything about them, or they about us.
So E.T., please get back in touch. We earthlings could use some of your otherworldly wisdom right now.