Thursday, November 14, 2013

Life in Our Galaxy?

Thrilling news for SF fans: How many Earth-like planets does our galaxy contain? In recent reports, some astronomers speculate there may be 40 billion:

Galaxy Quest

Of course, the existence of worlds that can support our kind of life doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll meet humanoid aliens we can socialize and maybe even interbreed with. Consider the millions of species on our own planet. As Heinlein’s narrator in HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL remarks, spiders don’t look anything like us, yet they enjoy living in our houses.

So where is everybody? No doubt you’ve all heard of the Fermi paradox:

Fermi Paradox

If Earth-like planets are so common in the universe, shouldn’t enough of them have developed the capability of interstellar travel or at least communication that we should have been visited or contacted by now?

I prefer the hypotheses of “they choose not to interact with us” and “Earth has purposely not been contacted” over the more pessimistic beliefs that intelligent life is rare, usually doesn’t develop a technological civilization, inevitably destroys itself before inventing interstellar travel, is too widely separated in time and space to overlap with our civilization, or is typically so alien it wouldn’t want to contact us or we wouldn’t recognize it if it did.

Maybe there really is a Prime Directive: Maybe the Galactic Federation has imposed a quarantine on us until we’re mature enough to join the civilized universe. Or possibly our location on the edge of the galaxy means they just haven’t gotten around to us yet. Given the scrappy history of intercultural exchanges in our own history, I like to speculate that our first alien contact may not involve official explorers or diplomats. Our first visitors might be merchants looking for new trading partners, pirates in search of loot, refugees like the former slaves in the series ALIEN NATION, or maybe even lost tourists. I once read a story in which a flying saucer landed in a suburban family’s back yard—and the “pilot” was an alien kid who’d accidentally driven off with his parents’ vehicle.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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