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100 Billion Planets – But Have Any Passed The Test?

by edlu | on Jan 16, 2012 | No Comments

Last week it was announced that our Milky Way Galaxy likely has more than 100 Billion Earth-like rocky planets.  Many, if not most, stars in our neighborhood are likely to have at least one planet capable of supporting life.  With so many habitable planets, why is it that we haven’t found any signs of intelligent life despite decades of searching?  One possibility is that life is indeed out there, but there isn’t enough time between asteroid impacts for civilizations to become advanced enough to prevent being wiped out.  Our planet is struck by an asteroid large enough to wipe out advanced civilization (roughly 1km or larger) about once per million years.  This is not to be confused with the rarer and larger asteroids capable of causing most life to go extinct (10km or larger), but here we are talking only about those capable of “just” knocking out civilization.  As civilizations become more advanced, they become in many ways more interconnected and fragile, like a complicated piece of machinery.  Witness the global effects of such relatively minor events as the recent tsunami in Japan and the 2008 financial crisis.  Any civilization must eventually develop the technology to predict and prevent asteroid impacts (and the foresight to use it), or it will eventually be ctl-alt-deleted back to a much more primitive state.  Perhaps life does exist elsewhere, but hasn’t managed to pass this test.  Human civilization is about 10 thousand years old, and we have just recently reached the stage of building rockets and space telescopes (the essential ingredients in finding and deflecting asteroids).  Will we deploy the technology to find threatening asteroids and pass the test?  Or will we continue to play the odds?

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