According to a recent study, we are not the first intelligent lifeform to reside in our galaxy, nor will we be the last. The Milky Way is teeming with dead civilizations who over the course of time destroyed themselves. They carelessly self-annihilated.
The arXiv database uses state-of-the-art astronomy coupled with statistical modeling to track the beginning and end of intelligent life across the Milky Way over time. In 1961, Frank Drake developed the original concept in a research report entitled “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” Physicist Carl Sagan popularized Drake’s equation in his miniseries “Cosmos.”
The new report was authored by three Caltech physicists with the assistance of a high school student, and it presents a much more practical approach to what Drake had concluded. The report pinpoints where and when the Milky Way most likely hosted life, but more importantly, it presents a clear reflection of intelligent life’s unpreventable habit of self-destruction.
One of the new reports co-authors, Jonathan H. Jiang, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech said, “Since Carl Sagan’s time, there’s been lots of research. Especially since the Hubble Space Telescope and Kepler Space Telescope, we have lots of knowledge about the densities [of gas and stars] in the Milky Way galaxy and star formation rates and exoplanet formation … and the occurrence rate of supernova explosions. We actually know some of the numbers that were mysteries at the time of the famous ‘Cosmos’ episode.”
The team reviewed a range of factors thought to influence the development of intelligent life. They looked at planets with sun-like stars, the frequency of deadly explosive supernovas, and the presumed length of time it would take for a new civilization to completely evolve under the proper conditions.
They then determined how long it would take a new civilization to run the course of time before obliterating itself.
By modeling the evolution of the Milky Way over time, the team determined that the probability of life springing forth elsewhere in space in all likelihood peaked somewhere around eight billion years after the formation of the galaxy. The planets that may have hosted life were roughly 13,000 light-years away from the center of the galaxy.
Earth is around 25,000 light-years from the galactic center and the planet was late in showing up to the party. It took another 5.5 billion years, or 13.5 billion total, for human civilization to show up, though simple life in the form of plants and such began shortly after the formation of our planet.
Here’s where things get good.
Based on the report’s assumption that life throughout our known galaxy arises reasonably often and over time develops intelligence, there are more than likely other civilizations out there. Because of the numerous sun-like stars prevailing in the 13,000-light-year distance from the galaxy’s center, this is where that life would be found.
Because intelligent life eradicates itself over time, the civilizations existing in the galaxy today are thought to be young. If the galaxy did support intelligent life during its over 5-billion years ago civilization peak, they would have killed themselves off by now, meaning those planets are in the current process of rebuilding simple lifeforms.
But there is one thing that cannot be determined as of yet, and that is the frequency in which intelligent civilizations kill themselves. This is important to know in terms of how widespread civilization might actually be.
Since other civilizations developed billions of years before ours came around, the same issues facing us today could have very well have been their downfall. Climate change, pollution, nuclear capabilities, and all other destructive mechanisms created by humankind could have been responsible.
The same things that are getting us, got them. It’s called Deja Vu. We can stop the destructive trend, but will we, or is Earth destined to meet an identical fate?