Searching for Extraterrestrial Civilizations

# Searching for Extraterrestrial Civilizations

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## Searching for Extraterrestrial Civilizations

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1. Searching for Extraterrestrial Civilizations

2. The Drake Equation In 1961, Frank Drake synthesized an equation to estimate the number of civilizations currently communicating in our Galaxy. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL where N* = the number of stars in the Milky Way fp = the fraction of stars that have “habitable planets” np = the number of habitable planets per system fl = the fraction of habitable planets where life evolves fi = the fraction of life-planets that evolve intelligence fc = the fraction of civilizations that communicate fL = the fraction of the star’s life that the civilization exists

3. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL The number of stars in the Milky Way is relatively well known. We can measure the density of stars in the vicinity of the Sun and we can estimate how the light from stars changes with galactic radius. The Milky Way contains roughly 200,000,000,000 stars.

4. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL In the past few years, we have detected planets around many stars. But stable orbits about binary stars are almost impossible. (Over time, the planet would either be ejected into space, crash into one of the stars, or be thrown into a very eccentric orbit.) Unless the two stars are very far apart, binary stars cannot have planets. This eliminates perhaps half the stars in the sky.

5. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL During the first billion years of the Solar System, all the planets were constantly being bombarded from space by debris left over from the protostellar disk. Such planets are not habitable.

6. Main Sequence Lifetimes O, B, and A stars don’t live long enough for life to develop. Also, M stars are so faint that their habitable zones are negligibly small.

7. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL Finally, most metal-poor stars don’t have planets (or, at least, Jovian planets). This excludes most stars with metallicities less than the Sun. 1/3 1/2 1 1.8 3 Metallicity (compared to Sun) After you eliminate binary stars, O,B,A, and M stars, and metal-poor stars, only about ~ 10% of stars are left!

8. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL If Jupiter-size planets spiral in from the outer solar system, they will destroy all the habitable planets in their path. But this doesn’t mean that planets can’t form after the in-spiral. Also, their moons might be habitable!

9. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL A star may have many planets orbiting it, but in order to support life, it must have planets in the habitable zone. If the planet is too far from the Sun, there is no energy to support life. If too close to the Sun, the planet will not have any liquid water (or similar compound) to move nutrients around.

10. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL In the Solar System, np 1, since Mars borders the habitable zone. But the size of this zone depends on the luminosity of the star: the brighter the star, the larger the zone. Note that this assumes solar heating. As we have seen, there are other ways of heating a planet. (For example, Europa is heated by tides, and perhaps could have life in its oceans.)

11. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL There may other factors that limit the development of life. For example • Planets without large moons may have the direction of their spin axis shift over time. This may produce long term climatic shifts. • Planets with very large moons may have unstable crusts due to tides. Mars 0 2 4 6 8 10 Million Years ago

12. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL This is out of the range of astronomy. Take a guess.

13. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL • Not all intelligent life can or wants to communicate • Maybe they’re dolphins • Maybe they have a Congress

14. Ncivil = N* fp  np  fl  fi  fc  fL Our Sun spent the first 4.5 billion years of its life without hosting a civilization capable of communication. We only achieved this capability ~ 50 years ago. How long will we keep it?? • Extreme Optimistic Case: we continue as a civilization for the rest of the lifetime of the Sun: fL = 1/2 • Extreme Pessimistic Case: we destroy ourselves in the next 50 years: fL = 100 / 10,000,000,000 = 0.00000001 Now multiply the numbers together. What do you get???

15. Distance to the Nearest Civilization Let’s approximate the Milky Way as a large disk 2000 light years 50,000 light years The volume of the Galaxy V = 1.5  1013 cubic light years The density of communicating civilizations is Ncivil / V The distance between civilizations is

16. How Long to Say Hello?

17. Extraterrestrial Communication Radio waves are least effected by interstellar extinction. They also require the least energy to transmit (each photon has very low energy) and are easy to detect. We’ve been transmitting them for some time. The atmosphere is transparent to radio waves. Light at these wavelengths can not only enter the Earth from space, but it can also depart the Earth for space.

18. SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Rather than transmit (and wait for a reply), we can listen for other civilizations. (But what frequency? Will it sound like noise?)

19. The Von Neumann Machine Before we start, consider: • The age of the universe = 13,700,000,000 yrs • The age of our solar system = 4,500,000,000 yrs • The age of our written history = 5,000 yrs • The age of our technology = 100 yrs Where will our technology be in another 100 (or 200 or 1000) years?

20. N = 1? Suppose there is at least 1 extra-terrestrial civilization out there that is more advanced than us by at least a few hundred years. Suppose at least one person in that civilization wants to be famous. He/She/It could … • Build a spaceship that could go to another star. In 1977, NASA did this. They built two Voyager spacecrafts, which flew by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. In the 1990’s, these satellites passed the orbit of Pluto, and both will eventually reach nearby stars (in ~ 25,000 years).

21. N = 1? Suppose there is at least 1 extra-terrestrial civilization out there that is more advanced than us by at least a few hundred years. Suppose at least one person in that civilization wants to be famous. He/She/It could … • Build a spaceship that could go to another star. • Program the spaceship/robots to look for a planet or an asteroid around that star Voyager did this as well. While passing by the outer planets, it found many new moons.

22. N = 1? Suppose there is at least 1 extra-terrestrial civilization out there that is more advanced than us by at least a few hundred years. Suppose at least one person in that civilization wants to be famous. He/She/It could … • Build a spaceship that could go to another star. • Program the spaceship/robots to look for a planet or an asteroid around that star • Program the spaceship/robots to land and explore the object We’ve been doing this for the past ~ 40 years

23. N = 1? Suppose there is at least 1 extra-terrestrial civilization out there that is more advanced than us by at least a few hundred years. Suppose at least one person in that civilization wants to be famous. He/She/It could … • Build a spaceship that could go to another star. • Program the spaceship/robots to look for a planet or an asteroid around that star • Program the spaceship/robots to land and explore the object • Program the spaceship/robots to build an unmistakable sign, indicating the existence of the person • Program the spaceship/robots to use the materials on the planet to duplicate itself twice. The duplicates would then fly off to other stars and repeat the process.