“The truth is out there”, any idiot knows that, the trouble is finding it. This is exactly what the SETI Institute is attempting to do. While scoffed at by some this is a legitimate line of inquiry. Unfortunately even if life is out there the chances of finding it are vanishingly small. We regularly run into two concepts when we talk about SETI projects, 1. The Fermi Paradox and 2. The Drake Equation. The Fermi paradox merely states that if life is common (or at least not rare) then we should see it all around us. Fair point and the answers are many (too many to list and respond to all here), ranging from “We are the aliens” to “There’s no-one else”. The Drake Equation is an attempt to estimate the number of intelligences in the galaxy. The equation can be stated:

N = N* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x fL

Where: N* is the number of stars, fp is the fraction if stars with planets, ne is the number of “earth like” planets, fl is the number of planets with life, fi is the number of planets with intelligent life, fc is the fraction of those that communicate and fL is the longevity of of the communicating aliens. There are a lot of question marks for these terms, we really only have good estimates of the first and maybe the second. This means the answer could be anywhere from thousands to 1. This does not mean however that the attempt to look should not be made. The cost of running the SETI project is tiny compared to the amount spent on almost any large scale endeavor and while the odds of a payoff may be small the implications of realising that payoff would be profound and far reaching.

So we may be alone but advances in any area do not come about by accepting defeat but by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Contact with an alien civilisation would arguably be the greatest event in human history, it seems petty to deprive ourselves of the chance to make that discovery. That said, we could be in for a long wait.

Resources

http://www.seti.org

http://zebu.uoregon.edu/~js/cosmo/lectures/lec28.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation