Monday, May 26, 2014

The Fermi Paradox

Image Source Adam Altenderfer
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The Fermi paradox (or Fermi's paradox) is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity's lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations. The basic points of the argument, made by physicists Enrico Fermi and Michael H. Hart, are:

The Sun is a young star. There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older;
some of these stars probably have Earth-like planets which, if the Earth is typical, may develop intelligent life; presumably, some of these civilizations will develop interstellar travel, a technology Earth is investigating even now, such as that used in the proposed 100 Year Starship; at any practical pace of interstellar travel, the galaxy can be completely colonized in a few tens of millions of years.

According to this line of thinking, the Earth should already have been colonized, or at least visited. But no convincing evidence of this exists. Furthermore, no confirmed signs of intelligence (see Empirical resolution attempts) elsewhere have been spotted, either in our galaxy or in the more than 80 billion other galaxies of the observable universe. Hence Fermi's question, "Where is everybody?