A new day, a new thing

My goal to learn something new every day

Day 82: Fermi Paradox

One of my favourite YouTube channels at the moment is Kurz Gesagt, which has been going for about a year or so. The channel means ‘in a nutshell’ in German, and that’s what the channel tries to do—explains things in a nutshell. About once a month the creators upload an animation explaining things. Most of the topics that they cover are science, space and the like (although there have been other topics, like banking recently).

Anyway, the other day, I was watching Twitter and saw a tweet from the channel asking for followers’ opinions about what to do for an upcoming video. The choices were for Dark Matter and Energy or the Fermi Paradox.

When I saw the tweet, I thought about what my preference would be, and since I’d never heard of the Fermi Paradox, thought that Dark Matter and Energy would be interesting. I’m not sure why I didn’t want to find out more about Fermi Paradox at the time. It might have something to do with sounding Fermat’s Last Theorem, which I’d tried to read about previously, but gotten confused with.

Anyway, a few days passed, and I was on the bus on Sunday, listening to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. It had been a while since I’d listened to the podcast, and as I scrolled down to see who recent guests had been, I came across an episode with Brian Cox. Cox is an English physicist and professor at the University of Manchester, and a celebrity in his own right in the UK, and possibly beyond. He’s interested in particle physics, and regularly works at CERN. He talks a lot about space and the origin of the universe and the like.

During the podcast, Rogan and Cox were talking about the possibility of life outside of our solar system, when Cox mentioned the Fermi Paradox, which I took as a sign to learn more about.

As with many of the topics in this field of study, it is hugely complex and the aim of my post here is not to go into any detail, but just to present the very basic idea of what the Fermi Paradox is.

It’s named after physicist Enrico Fermi, who, along with Michael Hart, proposed the idea. The theory is concerned with the prediction that considering the size of the galaxy, it’s highly likely that we are not the only intelligent life in it. It’s one of those questions that has been pondered by many of are we alone in the universe. My personal opinion is that I find the idea we are highly unlikely. However, Fermi and Hart questioned the prediction. They asked if we are not the only civilization in the galaxy, how come we haven’t been visited by other civilizations yet?

Their argument is that there are billions of stars in the galaxy much older than our sun. If there are indeed planets orbiting these stars that do harbour intelligent life, whose civilizations are greatly ahead of ours, then they should have visited us by now. While space travel is very (very) slow for us humans, it is estimated by some that at some point in our future, we may be able to develop the technology to travel between stars within our own galaxy. Even if we don’t, at the current speed, it would still be possible to colonize the galaxy within a few million years (or tens of millions). Not all that long when you consider the age of the universe. So if there is intelligent life, on a planet, orbiting a star that’s 50 million years older than our star, why have we had no contact. Fermi and Hart believed that the lack of contact could be because there is no intelligent life beyond our own planet.

You can find out more about the Fermi Paradox here on the SETI website, this Huffington Post article, or by going to Google and searching for Fermi Paradox. As well as lots of explanations, there is also a lot of information out there with possible answers for the paradox, such as this one from Bill Nye.

Of course, it might just be that the aliens have visited us, but are just keeping themselves hidden until we discover interstellar space flight. You know, just so that they don’t violate the Prime Directive.

Featured Image courtesy of Nasa Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr.

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This entry was posted on March 23, 2015 by in Science and tagged , .

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