by J. Richard Jacobs
WE’VE ALL SEEN MOVIES WITH ALIENS of all kinds. They cover the spectrum from benign to vicious killers. From incredibly intelligent to mindless brutes. However they have been portrayed, they have been the product of human imagination with all its limitations and the ever present anthropomorphic input. What will real aliens from far off worlds be like? How will they think? Most importantly, what…will they want? We can hope that all they want is to invite us to join the Galactic Federation and their arrival is like an interstellar welcome wagon replete with cleaning products from far flung exotic spots in the growing Federation.
I was recently accosted by a slavering individual flailing the Fermi Paradox and grumbling, “Oh yeah, smart ass, if aliens exist, where the hell are they?” The reason for this attack was that I had posted an article about NASA’s progress on their Alcubierre warp drive device for interstellar travel on a popular social media site. I had the unmitigated gall to suggest that we might one day venture forth and shake an alien tentacle—or whatever, and he was having none of that. According to his reckoning, if warp drive were even slightly possible, certainly the aliens would have figured that out long before we could. In his view, aliens must predate us by thousands, if not gazillions of years. Everybody, he averred, knows this to be true and immutable. With that logic, he knew that we should be hosting state dinners for various alien visitors every week or so and…well, we’re not, so it’s obvious it doesn’t work. Fermi was right. He was sure of that. There are no aliens. We are all there is. End of conversation. I will give him credit for one thing; he was at least not one of those UFO nuts telling me that the lizards are walking among us in human guise and controlling the Illuminati. So, in spite of his skepticism, he was at least tolerable.
Forced into a corner by this minute minded maniac, I had but one option; whip out one of those famous Jacobs logical arguments to destroy his assault and reduce him to quivering biological muck. I had to think fast because I didn’t have one available right off the top. This was a potentially embarrassing situation. To say he had taken exception to my presentation is being polite—too polite, and if I didn’t come up with something quick, he would be at the advantage. Anyway, as thoughts began percolating to the surface and organizing themselves into useful order, I crouched into my well trained ninja Science Fiction writer’s attack stance and prepared myself for bloody conflict.
“Friend,” said I, “it is first important that you understand Fermi never said that there are no aliens, nor is he the source of that paper you’re waving in my face. You can thank Michael Hart for that. Now, let us approach this in a more civilized manner, okay?”
He grunted something that sounded like agreement, so I began.
“We can agree that our local neighborhood is rather large, right?”
“So, in 1898, Marconi sent the first radio signal over a distance of 18 miles. That was when Earth first became radio-active. It was a feeble signal that probably couldn’t have been detected by a super sensitive receiver on the lunar surface, let alone outside our solar system. Another 40 years would have to pass before we would be spewing out radio waves that could be conceivably detected over distances of light years.” From the look on his face, it was obvious I hadn’t made much of an impression. Yet. I was just getting warmed up.
“What’s that got to do with nonexistent aliens?” he countered.
“A lot,” I said. “Now, remember that I said our neck of the woods is a pretty big place. That means that there are a lot of stars, many of them with planets, and some of those planets are within the habitable zones of their stars. You with me so far?”
“Of course I am. I’m no idiot, ya know.”
“Right,” I said, “you’re no idiot. Anyway, we have to make some assumptions in order to discuss this. Is that all right with you?”
“Assumptions? I thought you knew something about this. Why assumptions?”
“Look, we’re talking about things that have no precedent here. We have to make some assumptions. Hell, Fermi had to make some assumptions to propose his paradox, and that was aimed at refuting Drake’s equation for which Drake had made a number of assumptions as well. In spite of the assumptions regarding Drake’s equation, it is a viable posit, unlike the Fermi thing. It’s obvious to me that those Hart assumptions were okay with you, so why not mine? Shall I continue?”
“Yeah yeah, assume away, but hurry up, I got stuff to do.”
“I’m sure you do. All right, now, our first assumption is that there is an alien intelligence in our neighborhood, and they have existed long enough without killing themselves off to have arrived at the coveted Type I civilization. Something, I should add, that we may not manage to do if we keep on with our tribal, superstitious nonsense and don’t come to realize we are all glued to a fragile space ship careening through space. Dangerous space.
“Having said that, the next assumption is that this intelligent life has been fortunate enough to evolve into a species capable of manipulating their environment and is something like us. Oh, not human, but their world has provided similar conditions to those of Earth that allowed a similar biology to flourish. That means their world and their sun should be a close analog. The most recent discovery of a reasonable match is Kepler 452b that is roughly 1400 light years away.”
My guest fidgeted uncomfortably. “Aw, man, why so far away?”
“Because that’s what we’ve found that fits the bill — at least so far. Remember, anything with greater gravity is going to make it more difficult to get into space, but the range of error says it could be as low as a couple of points greater all the way up to double that of Earth. For our hypothetical, we are going to assume the lower end of the range so our critters can get off the ground. So far, most of what we’ve found that might harbor life are large, massive planets. Kepler 452b is larger than Earth and its mass may be as much as five times greater, meaning its gravity may be twice that of Earth. Still workable at that gravity, but barely. At this stage, Kepler 452b is the best we have. Okay?”
“I guess. Still doesn’t prove there’s aliens out there. Go on.”
“No one can prove there is alien intelligence out there without evidence, just as no one can prove there is not. I’m just making a case for the possibility against Fermi’s assumption to the contrary. That all right with you?”
“Okay. It is thought that Kepler 452b may have been in existence 1.5 billion years longer than Earth. That means that there is a potential that any life there has had that much longer to evolve. We have to now assume they have had enough time to become space faring. Let’s say that these folks have already inhabited all the inhabitable and marginally inhabitable places available in their system and that they are looking around their neighborhood for other possible locations where life might exist. This is something of a stretch because it is an anthropomorphic point of view, which could easily be way off base. This is what the old Fermi paradox thing did, but being aliens, who knows how and what they think; what their motivations are? It is conceivable that they have no interest in anything outside their system or even their own planet. However, for this discussion, we’ll go ahead and make this assumption. They are explorer types. Alien Magellans. That it is reasonable to expect the Pinta, the Niña, and the Santa Maria to loom on the horizon at any moment.
also assume they have had
their own counterpart to Alcubierre and have perfected a warp
drive—meaning they are well on their way to being a Type II
civilization. Their searches of the heavens have revealed several
possible targets for investigation and we will assume that Sol/Earth
happens to be among them, but it’s not the closest. Because
that, the only thing that would draw their attention to our planet
would be signals. Signs of intelligence. So, what that means is
that they would perk up their ears, or whatever it is they use for
their auditory senses, in about 1300+ years when the Bob
Hope Christmas Show with Dagwood and Blondie tickled their
antennas. That is to say, they won’t be hearing from us for a
goodly long time.
J. Richard Jacobs has lectured on NEOs (Near Earth Objects), PHAs (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids), Mars, the possibility of life in the Universe, and other observational astronomy topics. He also writes science fiction stories and novels.