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Milky Way Stuffed With an Estimated 50 Billion Alien Worlds

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the not-to-mention-nougat dept.

Space 331

astroengine writes "Using data extrapolated from the early Kepler observations of 1,235 candidate exoplanets, mission scientists have placed an estimate on the number of alien worlds there are in our galaxy. There are thought to be 50 billion exoplanets, 500 million of which are probably orbiting within their stars' habitable zones."

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Oblig. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258258)

Might as well get it out of the way in the first post: http://xkcd.com/605/ [xkcd.com]

Re:Oblig. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258278)

a hobby worthy of hyperbole. indeed

Re:Oblig. (3, Insightful)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258468)

Not to mention this whole "habitable zone" thing is a load of crap IMHO. I mean what are the odds that some alien race is gonna come out just like us and therefor need the exact same conditions as us? We have already detected the possibility of liquid water on Europa IIRC, and that is pretty damned far from the "habitable zone" so who is to say there aren't plenty of creatures living on worlds farther out?

We have no idea what kind of gravity or other conditions may exist there so until/unless we find a way to actually get out there and look their guesses are about as useful as throwing a dart at a dartboard. hell on our own planet we have things living in conditions that would kill us instantly, things that live in unbelievable depths, things that live on methane, etc, so any guesses right now will probably be as worthless as primitive man trying to guess how the world worked.

Re:Oblig. (1)

VanGarrett (1269030) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258654)

Planets orbiting in regions which we identify as a star's "habitable" zone are potential locations to establish colonies.

Beyond that, if we go there and find intelligent life, then it'll be much easier to establish a relationship with a species that breathes our air, has an overlapping thermal range of comfort, and lives under gravity and pressure conditions comparable to our own. Once we've made successful first contact a few times, and gotten the hang of intergalactic diplomacy, then we can worry about making friends with the damn Tholians [memory-alpha.org] .

Re:Oblig. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258706)

By the time we are able to traverse the stars (if we survive that long), we will have long gotten rid of our frail human bodies. If we discover life at that point, it had better be the same technological level or we will have no interest and vice versa.

Re:Oblig. (2)

kvezach (1199717) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258780)

Planets orbiting in regions which we identify as a star's "habitable" zone are potential locations to establish colonies.

I imagine it would be much easier to just build a Bernal sphere or O'Neill cylinder than to physically go to another world. For discovery purposes, nothing beats exoplanets, but for colonization, space stations are cheaper.

Re:Oblig. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258690)

What they specify as "habitable zone" is still quite broad... But it refers to having liquid water available on the surface... and as far as i know life cannot exist without water...

Also, liquid water is also not the only requirement, but an energy-source is also needed. They have found microorganisms far below the surface of the earth that use certain chemicals for energy, but don't think that would be enough to evolve into larger multi-cell organisms.

So sure they are probably life all over the universe, but i suspect that most larger creatures would be limited to evolve in the habitable zone.

Re:Oblig. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258300)

"Past returns are no guarantee of future performance"

Re:Oblig. (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258330)

"Let's go look."

5 x 10^19 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258276)

Taking the Milky Way as an average galaxy, and there are about 100 billion galaxies, that indicates that there are about 5 x 10^19 planets orbiting within their stars' habitable zones in the universe. Big place!

Re:5 x 10^19 (2, Insightful)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258308)

however, the number of known civilizations (planet wise) is still 1, out of the 1,235. This makes a rather large dent in the computational threshold potential for Drake's famous equasion.

While there might be lots of dirtballs, and even more planets in need of a collossally sized gas-x pill, the number of potentially habitable is small, and of those the number that would be reasonably extrapolated to contain life would be even smaller, and the number with active civilizations even smaller still.

   

The measure of a fool (2, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258328)

If presented with evidence he denies it, he is an idiot. If he only says "idunno", then he is only a fool.

Re:The measure of a fool (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258642)

A fool is someone whom lacks intelligence. The word you're looking for is "ignorant". For example, I'm knowledgeable of my work in IT. However, I'm ignorant in biology. It's not that I can't learn it, just that I've never had a need nor cared to educate myself on the topic.

Please don't confuse the two. There is a difference between the ability to learn and the breadth of knowledge.

The word you're looking for... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258708)

The word you're looking for is "ignorant".>

Is "skeptic".

At least when guesstimates such as "number of thingies in the galaxy" are concerned. Particularly, when such guesstimates are made from the above mentioned single known civilization.
Cause, that "Bs" in the end... it might actually be a divisor, and we may be using a wrong/bad equation to guesstimate. [xkcd.com]

Re:5 x 10^19 (3, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258396)

I must have missed when they probed those 1,235 planets for evidence of civilization and declared that they were able to rule it out.

Re:5 x 10^19 (2)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258470)

When did they show that there was intelligent life here on Earth? I'll point to Reality TV as an opposing opinion.

Re:5 x 10^19 (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258568)

Natch! Good point!

Overpopulated much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258286)

I guess L. Ron Hubbard was on to something after all

Re:Overpopulated much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258380)

Is that you, Miscavidge?

There's no intelligent life close by (5, Funny)

davidwr (791652) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258290)

Any truly intelligent life would've detected us and fled to another galaxy long ago.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258298)

No doubt. I'm fairly certain we've turned our arm of the galaxy into the cosmic equivalent of a Florida trailer park.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (2)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258424)

I'm fairly certain we've turned our arm of the galaxy into the cosmic equivalent of a Florida trailer park.

Not yet, but we've only just started.

And that's the key point in the "OMG where are the intelligent aliens?" type of thinking. Earth has existed for about 4.5 billion years, and acquired some sort of life early in its existence. It's only in the last century that it has emitted anything which could be recognized from a distance as a sign of quasi-intelligent life (50/60Hz AC beacon, radio, TV, etc.). So there is a radius of about a hundred light years where our existence could be just barely detected; that's about one thousanth of the diameter of the Galaxy we live in. And maybe we just happen to be one of the fast developers; it may take another few billion years for comparable development on other suitable planets. And then, we have no data on the longevity of such developed societies. Maybe we're a slow developer, and the others are already mostly radioactive ashes.

BTW, don't bother citing the stupid Drake equation - it applies only to probabilities at steady-state, not to those in an evolving universe.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258746)

Maybe the evolution of complex life is so rare that the chances of it happening twice in a single galaxy is practically zero.

Thing about maybes is that they are all equally "valid" and equally "wrong". There is no way at this point to say which way things go from the data.

Also note that the more habitable planets we find, the more of a paradox Fermi paradox becomes. Its the solutions that don't become clearer.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (1)

Bruha (412869) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258376)

There probably is, but apparently none of them have either invented FTL travel, or they have some prime directive crap going on. Then again ancient aliens is a pretty good show, makes you wonder if they really walked among us, why did they leave and never came back.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258522)

What's more apparent is that FTL travel is impossible. If it weren't, first race to invent it would've colonized everything long ago.

FTL is needed to escape nearby supernovas. Without it, all civilizations will inevitably die when their own or neighbour star explodes.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258578)

They could always build a ringworld.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258650)

Maybe that first race is very picky as to where and what to colonize. Just because the can doesn't have to mean they will.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (2)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258664)

Three points.

Point 1 is that FTL is looking possible but hard. There are valid solutions to general relativity where Star-Trek like FTL happens.

Point 2 is that FTL is unnecessary for interstellar travel. Project Orion showed that interstellar travel might likely be possible without FTL. Even if biological beings can't live forever (which I think they can), robots can. If we advance, say 50-100 years from now, our economic productivity will be such that an individual, or small group of individuals, could launch a self-replicating interstellar probe that would send back information. If we've scoured the Earth and made surveys, but we haven't found any probes or remnants.

Point 3 is that neighbouring supernova events appear survivable even without travel. Life would suck, but we could predict if say Sirius was going nova and take precautions such as living under lead shields. Supernova of the current solar system would be survivable because of point 2.

In sum, I see two scenarios for why aliens aren't here yet:

1. They are, but they don't want, can't or otherwise do not interact with us. Why I don't know, but it could be true. If the aliens were human, some alien idiot would have broken the rules and contacted us for some reason.
2. They for some reason do not exist or are not developed yet. This I doubt. I believe that the Dinosaurs were on the way to sapience before the asteroid hit, and if it hadn't have happened, we would be Velociraptors. We would have achieved our technology level many years earlier.
Notice that there is no no-FTL scenario. This is because of self-replication.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258532)

Or they've been around 5 million years ago, before we evolved...

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (1)

pakar (813627) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258696)

Ehm... "again ancient aliens" and "good show" in the same sentence... Don't get me started on all the factual errors in that show.... But it's always fun to watch for a BIG laugh..

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258386)

>There's no intelligent life close by
Sure there is, there's you.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (1)

alienzed (732782) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258452)

Not necessarily but we so rudely never answer the subspace messages they keep sending! All for the better they are probably trying to sell us something.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258670)

Even spam from the aliens might be very valuable. We might get a copy of Wikipedia Galaxy Edition included in the transmission to throw off spam filters.

Upon seeing your nickname, alienzed, I hope you can reveal this mystery to us.

Re:There's no intelligent life close by (1)

PingPongBoy (303994) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258620)

Any truly intelligent life would've detected us and fled

The tragic truth may take on a couple of possible forms:

- Intelligent life forms typically evolve to be just like us. The conditions favoring life and evolution in all likelihood culminates in intelligent primates. Out of the chaos of the second law of thermodynamics, societies of intelligentsia will wind up with all our shortcomings. We can't trust them, and they can't trust us. Hell, we can't trust us.

- When we finally get face time with alien intelligence, it might not be intelligent life. Get off my lawn.

Nah, Doug got it right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258636)

"Mostly harmless."

Only 50 billion? (1)

qmaqdk (522323) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258292)

Since there are between 200 and 400 billion stars [wikipedia.org] in the Milky Way that amounts to between 0.25 and 0.125 planets per star on average. Granted TFA states that there are at least this many, but I would have thought the number be much higher, considering the number of planets in our own solar system.

Re:Only 50 billion? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258334)

Having planet formation at all is the statistically meaningful event. Getting one or nine as the terminal result is just a matter of the initial distribution of the cloud.

And 500 million in the habitable zone is only 5*10^8, which is a really small number to be plugging into a modified Drake equation unless the likelihood of life occurring and continuing to exist is overwhelmingly high and unless the probability of life developing intelligence is similarly high. If each term is 1% (by many estimates, an extremely large value) you are already down to 50,000 planets before you get into terms relating to how detectable civilizations are from what distance and whether they exist over a period such that we're able to detect them at this time and from this distance. Millions and billions of planets may sound like a lot, but it's pretty small from a SETI standpoint.

Re:Only 50 billion? (4, Informative)

jgoemat (565882) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258478)

Kepler is only looking at Sun-like stars, which only account for 13% of the stars in our galaxy. Also the mission has only been going on for two years and they need at least two transits to say they might have found a planet, so this wouldn't count planets much further away from their star than Earth is from Sol.

My experience (4, Funny)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258296)

Based on my time in high school, I expect those 500 million habitable planets are all inviting each other to parties, picking each other for teams, and definitely getting laid. Earth is getting left out, and nobody has the heart to tell us.

Re:My experience (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258344)

Based on my time in high school, I expect those 500 million habitable planets are all inviting each other to parties, picking each other for teams, and definitely getting laid. Earth is getting left out, and nobody has the heart to tell us.

I think we should pass on getting laid for the time being thanks.

Re:My experience (5, Funny)

jcwayne (995747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258476)

I think we should pass on getting laid for the time being thanks.

And with that immortal phrase, Slashdot was born.

2001 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258304)

he thing's hollow—it goes on forever—and—oh my God—it's full of stars!

Re:2001 (5, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258364)

I watched 2001 again recently and noticed something new (for me). In the first scene which shows the space pod in the room at the end you see an internal display which alternates between "LIF" and something like "NONEXIST". We think we see this from Bowman's POV, but it seems the pod doesn't think Bowman is alive at all.

78 million (1)

jgoemat (565882) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258306)

Using the figures here I come up with 78 million in our galaxy: Kepler found 5 Earth sized planets in the habitable zone. They searched 156000 Sun-like stars. 13% of the stars in our galaxy are sun-like. There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Kepler would only find Earth if the axis of rotation of the system was within about 1/2 degree of the viewing angle. The relative angles are random. Sorry I only came up with 78 million, but if you take into account that there are 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, that means there are about as many Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone around sun-like stars in the observable universe as there are grains of sand in ALL the beaches on Earth...

Re:78 million (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258372)

So where are the aliens? With this many planets available we should be able to hear or see a few alien civilisations by now. Something is wrong with the assumption that aliens will "grow up like us". I don't think it will happen as often as we assume.

Re:78 million (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258416)

The aliens are somewhere along our path. The lucky ones are stuck in their respective solar systems by the lightspeed bareer and keep silent due to fears instilled by their respective Steven Hawkinses. The unlucky ones - on their rapidly warming planets, starved of useful resources and fighting each other for survival.

Re:78 million (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258420)

It's not that easy. Radio/TV transmissions leaking into space are very weak. There could be an alien civilization at 10 light years from us, and we could aim our arecibo dish straight at them, without picking up anything. Our only hope is that they'll point a very powerful transmitter straight in our direction, at exactly the same time as we point our most sensitive receiver in their direction. The chances of this happening are astronomically small.

And of course, most suitable alien planets are much further away, reducing the chances even more.

http://www.faqs.org/faqs/astronomy/faq/part6/section-12.html [faqs.org]

Re:78 million (2)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258562)

Not only that, but there are two further qualifiers: One is that possibly radio-waves aren't the best way of communicating. Maybe there's some fancy quantum-entanglement doo-dad that we're right around the corner from discovering and which civilisations almost always progress to once they pass radio waves. Granted, it seems unlikely to us, but how would we know from where we are. Second idea is that sufficiently advanced civilisations tend not to waste power by needlessly broadcasting massive amounts of radio waves into space. We bounce ours off satellites. Maybe they do the same only even more efficiently. Maybe they all use focused lasers with really good aim. Maybe their planets become super-wired with fibre-grids and satellite relay becomes the less efficient option. Again, there ought to be some leakage, but it could cut down on the amount of transmission considerably. The phase during which a civilisation broadcasts Hitler opening the Olympic games (reference to the film Contact), could be a very, very narrow window in the grand scheme of things.

Re:78 million (1)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258624)

Perhaps the thing to look for is some kind of spectral data? That might at least tell us if there's life (similar to ours). I'm not sure what the tell-tale lines for civilization are though.

Re:78 million (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258502)

Wouldn't it be funny if all the alien civilizations figured out some incredibly simple instant communications method, and have set up a giant network of communications bypasing the lousy radio waves, and we just missed it by that much.

Or, the Roman "Baths" were actually ancient communication booths, and their frequenting them was actually just getting the latest galactic sports scores. Then the goths lost a bet, and trashed all the "TVs". That's why no functional Roman bath exists today.

Re:78 million (1)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258632)

I hope we connect before intergalactic IPv6 runs out of addresses.

Re:78 million (1)

Penguinshit (591885) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258612)

It could be that we are the first to reach the level of spaceflight. It could also be that we are the first to reach any level of civilization.

Re:78 million (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258676)

"So where are the aliens?"

They destroyed themselves shortly after achieving broadcast technology, after 5-100 years of transmitting into space?

For all it even matters . . . (5, Insightful)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258318)

My mother was barely a high school girl when we landed on the moon and since the last time we stepped foot on something other than the earth, she had children who grew to be old enough to have children who were as old as she was, then. We keep cutting budgets, because "we don't need all that there space sci-fi mumbo-jumbo when they can't even fix the potholes in front of mah damn house durr durr durr!". We talk about grand attempts to Mars, which we then never fund or push forward after having fancy press conferences about it. Then we do the same with plans to . . . go back to the moon.

I suppose an optimistic way to look at it is that while we may see no advances in exploration in the near future, we do continue to increase technology which will in turn make future exploration even more successful. Sort of the way you could set a computer to cracking an encryption today that could do it in a few hours, while if you had started cracking that encryption in 1980 and let that computer keep running, it still wouldn't have completed the calculations, today. Still, that doesn't put one at ease over the general lack of ambition. Not to mention the amount that the last major space effort contributed to the technological advances that we have today and are now counting on continuing to advance at a rate so as to re-jumpstart the space exploration.

I think it's safe to resign ourselves to little more happening in our lives. Our best hope is that while the likes of Carmack are building low orbit space planes and the likes of Richard Branson are building low orbit space hotels (which, let's recognize, are going to be nothing more than crammed little pods for decades to come), they somehow stumble into a viable commercial reason to explore some space out there. Otherwise, we're generations away from much more than sending RC cars to the surface of Mars, again.

Re:For all it even matters . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258392)

The conservatives are just going to wait for the rapture.

Re:For all it even matters . . . (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258674)

The conservatives are just going to wait for the rapture.

Just think how disappointed they're going to be if the Rapture does actually come, and they find out Jesus actually _meant_ all that shit about peace and love thy neighbor, etc., and they don't qualify because they were so busy hating on everyone.

I'm not sure which I would wish for if the day comes - wanting to see them go so the rest of us can get on with things, or them NOT going, and then getting to see the looks on their faces.

A difficult choice...

Re:For all it even matters . . . (1)

worx101 (1799560) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258450)

Just wait, the Chinese will be creating "bootleg" versions of the current IPad on Mars before the US can even get a good moon colony started... at least that is the way it is seeming now

Re:For all it even matters . . . (2)

Traiano (1044954) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258534)

You need not worry about our temporary stall in space exploration. Once Starbuck's, McDonald's, AT&T and Comcast figure out how to make money from it, we'll have manned stations on every rock between here and the edge of the universe.

Re:For all it even matters . . . (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258678)

You need not worry about our temporary stall in space exploration. Once Starbuck's, McDonald's, AT&T and Comcast figure out how to make money from it, we'll have manned stations on every rock between here and the edge of the universe.

I think you're confusing Starbucks/McDonald's/AT&T/Comcast with the Hudson Bay Company. Very different business models. HBC, "Here Before Christ" :)

The year of X (2)

Troll-Under-D'Bridge (1782952) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258574)

I think the era of humans living in space (exploring space is a mere idle pastime if all you're going to do is to snap blurred photos or vicariously poke some pebble in some distant landscape) will turn out pretty much like the fabled Year of Linux on the Desktop. There won't be a year of Linux on the desktop. We're just going to find out one day we are using Linux on the desktop. Or we won't (because by that time we'll all be using wallpaper or holographically projected computers).

Right now all we have is a token presence in space. Maybe in a decade, there will be another "international" space station where another half a dozen people will live for weeks at a time. Then maybe in another decade down the line, there will be hundreds of people living in half a dozen stations independent of any national space agency. By then maybe we'll have a moonbase or two (one for the international community and the other for some lone wolf space superpower). Like the first humans out of Africa, the trickle to space continues until one day we cross the threshold (a 1000 or 10 x 1000?) when we can say humanity is truly a space faring species.

Then again, maybe, like the explosion of the tablet computer (2010?) or Android phones (2011?), there will be one breakout Year that future historians will point back as the true start of the Space Age, when even mere millionaires can hop on a junket to low Earth orbit.

Re:For all it even matters . . . (2)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258646)

Not trying to be too ideological here, but what you might hope for is that these early space tourism efforts become profitable. What we saw with Apollo and the cold war was the government putting a whole load of money into sending Air Force pilots to the moon, and it worked, and it was a great achievement. But once the political goals were reached, the program somewhat stalled. If we had a profitable and lively space tourism economy, perhaps the private sector would get the snowball rolling, and we'd be talking to the Vulcans soon.

Only a step on the evolutionary ladder (2)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258720)

I doubt that the entities we send to the stars would, today, even count as human - or have any sort of rights. However, those people/things will be able to prove a direct link to us - even if it's because we made them, rather than gave birth to them.

Humans are not designed for space travel. We don't live long enough. We're too fragile, need too much energy just to stay alive and can't eat electricity. Whether we overcome those design "mistakes" in biological or mechanical solutions will be an interesting turn of events. However in time, we will send stuff out there - though if history is a guide, it may be running away from us.

Re:For all it even matters . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258776)

Disclaimer: I watched the moon landing as a kid. Read the picture books telling us about the future some of us would have working in space. I fully expected the futurism of Clarke & Kubrick's 2001 would not be that far off the mark by the millennium.

Not to mention the amount that the last major space effort contributed to the technological advances that we have today

This again. Honestly, and respectfully, I think this well-worn argument is bankrupt. Yes we got 'spin-offs' from the space push, but No we do not need a space push to have tech advances at the same or greater rate.

There is _so_ much to do and learn here, in biology geology climatology medicine physics (oh my god the list goes on and not to mention Douglas Englebart's incredibly important pet project that we're really just getting started with), that I just don't understand how anyone can think it's a let down, or a display of lack of ambition, that we're not on Mars yet.

I don't know, it just seems incredibly shallow, and frankly ignorant of the huge scientific adventure we're in right now. And I totally hate saying it that way because it puts you and me off on the wrong foot -- I really want you to see the depth and variety to be dealt with, and being dealt with, 'locally'.

Clearly, I'm not the spokesman who can pull that off. But do me the favour of being open to the idea and look around a little more yourself. There's all sorts of incredibly cool shit going on. Putting meatsacks on Mars is a friggin sideshow by comparison. Don't worry it.

Finding a planet is easy, finding life may be hard (1)

get_your_guns (1380583) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258320)

Long distance observations are becoming more and more precise but the chances of finding evidence of intelligent life is very slim. We have been listening for radio waves from outer space for about 60 years when AT&T was experimenting with microwave technology. That is a very small amount of time compared to the billions of years the Earth has been in the habitable zone of our solar system.

We are expecting another world to be transmitting at a power level for us on Earth to hear it. As our own human species matures on Earth our actual transmitted radio waves have been getting less powerful as we both perfect radio transmission and move away from radio transmission to fiber optic and other terrestrial types of communicating. Probably our highest powered transmissions into outer space was when we exploded Atomic bombs above ground and this was for maybe 30 or 40 years total. The chances that some other planet was listening during that time would be more astronomical than there being life on other planets outside of our solar system. And, there was no intelligence in the explosions for another planet to believe it was from intelligent life. The white noise of our universe that AT&T first heard 60 years ago is from billions and billions of hugely powerful star events that would easily wipe out all life on earth if we were just a few light years away from the smallest of these events.

So thinking that we will be able to hear evidence of life outside our solar system by listening to radio waves that make it to earth is a little far fetched though not impossible. I don't think we should stop for there might be some form of galactic space travelers that are purposely transmitting to earth a welcome message or such though if they have the technology to do so I don't think the human species will be able to understand it yet.

But, I think we as a species needs to accept the fact that space travel is the only way we will preserve our human race. This earth is doomed as our star has a limited life span. I know it may be millions or billions of years before the sun eliminates life on earth but it will happen. The sooner we accept this the sooner we will be ready to make the leap into outer space, that or die off as the sun dies off.

Re:Finding a planet is easy, finding life may be h (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258394)

Even if there was only one species like us reaching maturity every million years and there had been 1000 of them over one billion years, we should have seen some sign of them. We should see the odd bit of hardware on the moon, or specular reflections from old bits of gear as they float by. The lunar surface is so clean yet its been acting as a filter for passing meteorites for the last four billion years. I take your point about us being more careful about power emission, but at the same time we still broadcast TV, set off nukes. We should stand out like a sore thumb.

I don't think anybody is going to be out there.

What is the human race? (1)

jgoemat (565882) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258514)

The Sun won't extinguish life on Earth for billions of years. 6 million years ago we had a common ancestor with chimpanzees. If you think the dominant life form on Earth in 2 billion years will be "human", you are mistaken.

Re:What is the human race? (1)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258564)

Actually, the earth will simply get too hot to support life in about another 40 million years. Given the amount of water vapor that the evaporating oceans would create and the fact that the Earth won't have run down its internal magnetic field, as happened to Mars(magnetic field collapsed - atmosphere got blown away), we're looking at another Venus type scenario. In fact, Venus probably had life itself several billion years ago(since it's about the same size and composition originally as the Earth, there's no reason not to assume life didn't also start there at one time), but as the Sun got hotter as it aged, well, we can see what happened.

In fact, the Sun will make life nearly unbearable in as few as 5 million years. We might have to live underground or under the sea to escape the intense UV radiation and summer heat that could easily top 140-150 degrees.

As for life, well, I suspect that there's "life" on every planet with water on it. Every single one. But considering that it took our planet 3-4 billion years to develop even basic life forms, well, there's a lot of luck involved with finding anything at our level or close to it. We could find 1000 worlds with life on them and not find anything remotely capable of communicating with us. And anything much more advanced than we are would simply use communication methods that didn't use radio waves. Just the implications and speed of research into quantum entanglement(among many other technologies being developed or researched) makes it pretty clear that instant (or effectively FTL) point to point communications are less than a century away. We're really looking for a bunch of weak signals in a 100-200 year window. Out of billions of years.

Re:What is the human race? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258824)

Yet again: quantum entanglement doesn't give you FTL. Without a classical side channel, quantum entanglement is worthless, and that classical signal can go no faster than c.

Re:What is the human race? (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258688)

The Sun won't extinguish life on Earth for billions of years. 6 million years ago we had a common ancestor with chimpanzees. If you think the dominant life form on Earth in 2 billion years will be "human", you are mistaken.

One unfortunately-timed solar eruption of a large enough magnitude could wipe out Earth any second. That's even aside from the threat of asteroid strikes, etc. There are no guarantees.

Aliens are statistically likely to exist (1)

Chaonici (1913646) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258368)

In a universe with as many stars and planets as ours, Earth couldn't possibly be the only planet whose orbit just happened to be in the right place to sustain life.

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (3, Insightful)

toejam13 (958243) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258398)

I've read in a few places that we may be one of the first around. Supposedly, heavy elements only came into abundant quantity around ten billion years ago. A much earlier universe couldn't have made our solar system. OTOH, it would be an utter mindfuck to confirm that there is other life out there. Even moreso if it was intelligent. But it would be equally amazing if it turns out that we're the only ones because we came first.

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (3, Insightful)

jcwayne (995747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258540)

In practical terms that's not really meaningful. Considering the timescale involved, you're probably dealing with a margin of error of +/- 1 billion years. Then consider that the speed of evolution, in all its forms (i.e. planetary, geological, biological, societal, and technological), is influenced by an incalculable number of interrelated factors. So, in reality, being "one of the first" could mean that we're several billion years behind some and ahead of others.

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258400)

In a universe with as many stars and planets as ours, Earth couldn't possibly be the only planet whose orbit just happened to be in the right place to sustain life.

Given that we only know of one planet that contains life, you can't possibly draw the conclusion (that aliens are statistically likely to exist). You're assuming the only requirement is that a planet be in a star's habitable zone - but you have nothing to base that assumption on.

You can't extrapolate a line from one point.

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (1)

AGMW (594303) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258456)

You can't extrapolate a line from one point.

Well, that's not true. And best of all you can chose which direction to extrapolate it! Obviously, this extrapolation then says more about the extrapolator than the data, but it can still be an interesting experiment.

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258768)

Obviously, this extrapolation then says more about the extrapolator than the data, but it can still be an interesting experiment.

He extrapolates a line going up and to the right - he is an optimist. He extrapolates a line going back and to the left - he is a conspiracy theorist.

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (1)

M8e (1008767) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258464)

But if we find life on mars we got two points!

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258694)

But if we find life on mars we got two points!

And if Mars is the Daily Double, we're golden!

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (1)

jgoemat (565882) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258566)

Given that we only know of one planet that contains life, you can't possibly draw the conclusion (that aliens are statistically likely to exist). You're assuming the only requirement is that a planet be in a star's habitable zone - but you have nothing to base that assumption on.

You can't extrapolate a line from one point.

From what we know, liquid water is required to sustain life. For observational purposes we have a sample size of (1) planet which resides in the habitable zone for life to exist, and that one planet contains life. The sample size is small, but it is at least as good a bet that life exists on one of the millions of other planets in the same situation as ours that exist in our galaxy as it is to bet against it.

The oldest undisputed evidence for bacterial life on Earth is 3 billion years ago, but other evidence points to life existing 3.5 or 3.8 billion years ago, not long after the Earth cooled enough for liquid water to exist on the surface. We've found water on Mars, the moon, in the atmosphere of Venus and on other moons in our solar system as well as in comets that visit the inner solar system from the Oort cloud. Since water is made up of two of the three most abundant elements in the universe that is hardly surprising. I think it would be a very safe bet that some of the 80+ million Earth-sized planets in the right orbits for water to exist as a liquid would have it on their surface.

As far as life coming into being, we don't know. But again, we have a sample size of 1 and 1 positive result. We have 80 million candidates to choose from in our galaxy and 100 billion other galaxies to look at. To assume that life wouldn't exist anywhere else would be a much less tenable position than the reverse.

What we need to to is find a way to take the spectrum of those planets' atmospheres as they pass in front of their star. If we can do that, and we find that their atmospheres contain a lot of Oxygen, that would be almost certain proof of life.

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258798)

Given that we only know of one planet that contains life, you can't possibly draw the conclusion (that aliens are statistically likely to exist).

But we know of many planets that do not have intelligent life. This knowledge can be used in the extrapolation.

Re:Aliens are statistically likely to exist (1)

siimv (680072) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258426)

Agreed, it's quite an arrogance from our side as always to presume, that alien lifeforms should flourish on the similar conditions that helped life to evolve on planet Earth. For all we know, there could be ultimate intelligence right here on our solar system living on Jupiter.

eh?.. This is like deja vous without the punchline (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258370)

An article that talks about how many planets are habitable in the milky way that doesn't mention the drake equation even once? 0.o

This line "So how many of these exoplanets have life? Unfortunately, there's no estimate for that question." strikes me as weird... There are thousands of estimates for that number.. what is he talking about?

Re:eh?.. This is like deja vous without the punchl (3, Insightful)

Palmsie (1550787) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258430)

It is my understanding that the drake equation wasn't meant to be a predictive tool for calculating the exact or even closely approximate amount of planets that harbor intelligent life. Rather, it was simply supposed to be a means to illuminate the incredibly likely event that intelligent life could possibly exist, given a big enough universe, under incredibly conservative and unstable estimates.

Mmmm... Milky way... (2)

boazarad (1252292) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258404)

Wow, 50 billion?
That candy bar must have a lot of calories...

The thing to consider (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258432)

500 million in the habitable zone not 500 million habitable. Venus is in the zone and it's pretty extreme. Mars is on the ragged edge so it could go either way. Mars could be colonized but not Venus. There's also a myth that the Earth system is fairly normal. It's actually not very normal since it's a single star system. Most have two or more. If the talk of a brown dwarf nearby is true then we came close to being a binary system. Odds are most of the Earth like stars have companion brown dwarfs. The ultimate truth is the whole dynamic is far more complex than it's made out to be. Actual Earth like planets could be extremely rare given all the conditions needed. Not that it means life is rare. Mars and Venus type planets are probably fairly common and Mars could have life and Venus came close to being friendly it just went greenhouse and has a dense atmosphere. The bulk of life is chances are simple organism with complex ones occupying the more Earthlike planets. Complex life requires time to evolve and extreme planets will tend to have short windows for complex life to form. That's why there are no plants on Mars. At best it had a few hundred million pleasant years before it went cold. It could have single celled organisms but nothing much more complex. A wild guess would be that you need a billion to 3 billion years of non hostile climate for intelligent life. It's not all that long in the life of a solar system so there could still be a lot of intelligent life out there. The trick is making contact during it's technical period which could be brief. We've got maybe a hundred years under our belt when we could potentially receive signals. So far we've only really listened and not all that hard for a couple of decades. If our technical period lasts another hundred years then we're only looking at maybe a 150 year window when we were halfheartedly listening. At the rate we are burning resources we could collapse in the next hundred years so a 200 year tech window could be fairly normal. That means if in the last million years there were a thousand civilizations within a thousand light years each lasting 200 years, as in broadcasting years, we could easily see hundreds of years in dead air between each and that's a lot of civilizations. I'm confident there's intelligent life in our galaxy right now but the odds of receiving a signal from one is like winning the lottery.

hazard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258474)

http://vega.org.uk/video/programme/156

Keep looking. (1)

dmomo (256005) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258480)

We're gonna need more than that.. population growth. If when we die, we get our own planet, we're gonna run out!

Re:Keep looking. (1)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258684)

This got me thinking that perhaps we should aim a few containers with microbial life at some nearby "Earth-candidates". That way we can at least ensure that something from here lives on, somewhere. (Hope there isn't already something there, that could mess up their ecosystem, hehe)

Re:Keep looking. (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258734)

We cannot really send containers anywhere useful except Mars, Venus, and Europa. Neither of those are particularly good hopes for sustaining intelligent life one day. Except Venus perhaps, but that is going to take more than some microbes.

Re:Keep looking. (1)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258804)

I don't see why not? Surely we could develop a delivery method that can take its time to get to nearby star systems?

Error: 50 billion, but not in Milky Way (0)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258506)

The articles headline doesn't make sense "Milky Way Stuffed with 50 Billion Alien Worlds" when the article says less, 500 million.

Do they 'borrow' Slashdot editors?

Re:Error: 50 billion, but not in Milky Way (2)

Adambomb (118938) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258536)

It's not an error, it states 50 billion likely worlds in total based on current sample statistics. 500 million of those 50 billion are probable to be within what we currently consider to be potentially habitable orbits.

the numbers are referring to two different concepts. in other words, they're positing that 49.5 billion of those expected worlds aren't likely to be within a potentially habitable orbit and that just considers distance from their suns, who knows about all the other possible variables that may be required for life as we know it at least.

Re:Error: 50 billion, but not in Milky Way (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258598)

who knows about all the other possible variables that may be required for life as we know it at least.

One of the silly things is that we keep having to redefine our ideas of what is required for life to exist.
See: Extremophiles [wikipedia.org]

For instance: Take the ecosystem under the glacier that's responsible for the "Blood Falls". [wikipedia.org]

Chemical and microbial analyses both indicate that a rare subglacial ecosystem of autotrophic bacteria developed that metabolizes sulfate and ferric ions. According to geomicrobiologist Jill Mikucki at Dartmouth College, water samples from Blood Falls contained at least 17 different types of microbes, and almost no oxygen. An explanation may be that the microbes use sulfate as a catalyst to respire with ferric ions and metabolize the trace levels of organic matter trapped with them. Such a metabolic process had never before been observed in nature.

A puzzling observation is the coexistence of Fe2+ and SO42– ions under anoxic conditions. No sulfide anions (HS–) are found in the system. This suggests an intricate and poorly-understood interaction between the sulfur and the iron biochemical cycles.

The other silly thing is that whole "life as we know it" thing. I'm not so sure that other intelligent life-forms must resemble "life as we know it". Finding exoplanets is neat, but we really don't even know where to begin when setting the parameters for the equation to compute existence of life...

Re:Error: 50 billion, but not in Milky Way (4, Funny)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258702)

I started to read your comment, but then gave up when I realized you're really just meat that talks. Disgusting.

Re:Error: 50 billion, but not in Milky Way (1)

nzap (1985014) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258554)

Try reading that again. "There are thought to be 50 billion exoplanets, 500 million of which are probably orbiting within their stars' habitable zones."

Points taken (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258594)

Points taken.

My error in expecting 'worlds' to be 'inhabitable'.

Time to pack, then? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258558)

I'm dusting off my suitcases right now.

NOT.

I really didn't need to know this. It's way too big an always-out-of-reach carrot for a guy who's always thought the pasture he couldn't see must surely be greener.

Re:Time to pack, then? (2)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258704)

I really didn't need to know this. It's way too big an always-out-of-reach carrot for a guy who's always thought the pasture he couldn't see must surely be greener.

Be careful - that pasture may BE greener, but that green might also be a toxic slime mold.

Cratonism proof. (1)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258634)

Its a nice round number. See? God did that.

Re: Creatonism proof. (1)

kanweg (771128) | more than 3 years ago | (#35258822)

Yes, Yagolah must have done that. The article specifically said "exoplanets" so as not to include our sun's planets, which would have muddled the figure.

Bert

So that's what that taste is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35258658)

stars

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