“Where is everybody?”
Physicist Enrico Fermi’s question in 1950 has become one of the defining questions of the modern era.
Scientifically, there’s a high probability that extraterrestrial life exists – with so many planets, solar systems, and galaxies out there.
And yet there’s no concrete evidence of their existence, despite all of our efforts.
Some scientists may have an answer.
A needle in a “cosmic haystack”
According to a study from The Astronomical Journal, our search efforts can be compared to the proverbial notion of finding a needle in a “cosmic haystack.”
In particular, we’ve just searched about 0.00000000000000058% of the haystack.
While that number sounds minute, there’s no need to be cynical just yet.
In fact, scientists believe that intelligent life might be trying to talk to us right now. Somewhere out there they might be saying “Hello, we’re here.”
The researchers wrote:
“Bright and obvious radio beacons might be quite common in the sky, but we would not know it yet because our search completeness to date is so low, akin to having searched a drinking glass’ worth of seawater for evidence of fish in all of Earth’s oceans.”
There are a variety of reasons why humans haven’t found alien life yet. The Fermi paradox reasons that there are billions of stars in the galaxy similar to our Sun. In the Milky Way alone, there are over 100 billion. Many of these solar systems have earth-life planets that could cultivate life perfectly.
It’s even speculated that some of these civilizations may be advanced enough to develop interstellar travel.
But enough speculation. Since we now know that we’ve barely looked at much, how and where do we cast our net?
“Suppose I tell you there’s a cool thing happening in Houston right now. I do not tell you where it is. I do not tell you when it is happening, I do not tell you what it is. Is it in a book store? Is it a music concert? I give you absolutely no priors. It would be a difficult thing to try and find it.”
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“Houston, we have a problem. We do not know what we’re looking for … and we don’t know where to start.”
The “Cosmic Haystack”
So Kanodia and his team went to work.
In order to improve the hunt for the alien needle, the researchers have developed a mathematical model, a sphere they call the “cosmic haystack.”
The model is nearly 33,000 light-years in diameter, or 10 kiloparsecs, with the earth at its center. Within this region of the universe, Kanodia and his team believe that we can finally come in contact with intelligent extraterrestrial beings.
The Cosmic Haystack captures a part of Milky Way’s core and some giant globular star clusters above and below it.
The team also selected an 8-dimensional space in search for alien life, saying:
“We develop the metaphor of the multidimensional ‘Cosmic Haystack’ … into a quantitative, eight-dimensional model and perform an analytic integral to compute the fraction of this haystack that several large radio SETI programs have collectively examined.”
The vast parameter space include the 3 dimensions of space, frequency range of potential signals, repetition rate, modulation, polarization, bandwidth of transmission, and sensitivity of the searches.
Then researchers add:
“The volume of the haystack is then a definite volume integral in this 8D space, and the fraction searched can be calculated given the sensitivity function for a given survey.”
All of this, “lead to a total 8D haystack volume of 6.4 × 10116 m5Hz2 s/W.”
It’s an understatement to say that it’s a huge chunk of space to explore, but the researchers say:
“Even our larger estimate underscores how little searching has actually occurred.”
All in all, it’s a useful development for our long quest to find the “others.”
And it’s good to know that we haven’t actually failed. Only that we have barely begun.
It’s clear we have our work cut out for us. But there’s still reason to be hopeful.
As the researchers say:
“One hopes that the Cosmic Haystack is rich with needles.”