The “No Aliens” Problem
THE ALIENS WHO NEVER CAME
Aliens were somewhere. Not on the moon but probably Mars.
Maybe Jupiter and Saturn too.
Astounding Science Fiction wasn’t the greatest place to get your science but in high school, we relied on it. Astounding told us about the caves that aliens lived in, the mean things they did, and the methods of transport they would use to land on Earth.
Myself, I was very pro alien. I had high confidence that they weren’t going to eat us. And – more important – that they wouldn’t get all the girls.
By college, Earth was still alien free. I had Dr. Medicus for physics. Aliens were the least of my worries.
Ten years later, there was still nothing .This was a surprise. Not a single visit from a single planet. The first American had landed on the moon but no extraterrestrials had returned the favor. We were headed for space but space wasn’t headed for us.
By now, we were launching probes to the planets. The more we saw of the planets, the more obvious it was that there weren’t any cities up there. Venus was hot and shrouded in vaporous clouds of sulphuric acid. Mars was colder than Antarctica and its surface was full of craters. And Saturn was gaseous with rings of rocks and ice.
Scientists were fascinated, of course.
Me? I couldn’t BELIEVE it! Where were the damn cities? Alien life wasn’t as common as my generation had thought it would be or as Astounding Science Fiction had (more-or-less) promised.
For quite some time – since 1960 – radio astronomers on earth have been looking for signals. By 1977, we thought we might have heard from our first alien. That signal is now called the “WOW” signal because of the exclamation scribbled across the stripchart.
We never heard it again nor have we received any other credible signals since. If we do hope to find some form of intelligence, we are going to have to look harder. And further.
In the late 80s, we learned about “exoplanets.” An exoplanet was a planet that was going around some star other than our own sun; maybe we would find evidence of life by analyzing the atmosphere of an exoplanet. The first of these things was discovered in 1988 circling Gamma Cephei. We have found hundreds of them by now. They’re very common. There are hundreds of billions in our galaxy. Many, many trillions across the universe.
If you’re a fan of aliens, this makes you happy.
GIVING IT UP
I am in my seventies. I have spent almost an entire lifetime waiting. Nothing has turned up and I don’t think anything will. The horrible fact? We are completely alone in the solar system and aren’t hearing from anybody in the “neighborhood”.
Will we ever find life?
Some day we will find microbes . The hunt for “bugs” is more intense than ever but, as far as locating our “co-equals” out there is concerned? We really haven’t heard from any other technical civilizations. Not when I was a kid. Not when I was an adolescent. And not during my ridiculously long life.
If there are alien civilizations, radio isn’t a handy way to prove it. The nearest “civs” are probably too far away for radio round trips. It takes too long to get an answer back and the signals would probably be hopelessly drowned out by noise.
It seems the “broadcasting era” is a short one for a technical civilization. We’ve been switching to buried optical fiber cables. The “other guys” would have done the same things too after a very short time so there are b-i-g problems capturing a signal that’s probably not even “out there”.
No signal, no contact.
Even if, by some miracle of cosmology, we did get ourselves a signal, many experts say we would “never in a million years” be able to extract the meaning. This is because of the problems of how the signal would have been modulated, because of digitization schemes, and, of course, figuring out a (very) foreign language from a (very) foreign culture.
Here’s what it comes down to. For my generation, big eyed aliens are off the menu. If they’re out there, they’re way out there.
They might as well not exist all.
There won’t be any warm embraces with un-Earthians. No White House tours. No revelation of the wisdom of the ages.
Maybe bugs though.
Is this fair?
Doesn’t my generation deserve better?
I think so.
On behalf of my generation, this is MISTER ScienceAintSoBad bidding goodbye to the aliens who never showed up.
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The drawing is mine.