This article is an evaluation of the number of technological civilisations presently in our milky way galaxy. The current estimate of the present number of Earth-like planets (± 25% of Earth’s radius) in the habitable region of Sunlike stars is about 6.6 billion. Using a modified Drake Equation, “optimistic”, “pessimistic” and “unlikely” estimates of six constraints indicate that about 40,000 technological civilisations are presently in our galaxy for a “pessimistic evaluation”. Even “unlikely” values that are half the “pessimistic” values give over 600 technological civilisations in the galaxy. It would take a completely unrealistic value of 2.5% for each constraint to get just 1 technology (us). “Therefore, we are almost surely not alone in our Milky Way galaxy”. Furthermore, almost all of the extra-solar system technologies are probably much further advanced than ours, i.e., they probably began thousands to millions of years before our Industrial Revolution. It is possible, I personally believe, that we have been visited by one or more of these civilisations.

The recent finding [1] that our Milky Way galaxy contains about 8.8 billion Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars in their habitable zones has surprised and perhaps shocked the science community. Discoveries of exoplanets in our galaxy continue to increase on almost a daily basis. To date (2014) over 4000 planets have been discovered, and for the first time a planet almost the same size as the Earth has been discovered orbiting a red dwarf in its habitable zone. These findings have raised the question of how many technological civilisations there are in our galaxy, much less in the universe and beyond. This paper discusses the possible current number of technological civilisations in our Milky Way galaxy and our chances of communicating with them.

The Milky Way galaxy is the home of our Solar System. It is a barred spiral galaxy about 100,000-120,000 light-years in diameter containing about 300 ± 100 billion stars. It may contain at least as many planets. Its thickness is about 1,000 light-years. The age of our galaxy is about 13.2 billion years.

There is a good possibility that some of the icy outer planet satellites, including Jupiter’s Europa and Ganymede, and Saturn’s Enceladus, have subsurface water layers. It is also possible that life could have originated in these subsurface “oceans” by chemoautotrophism where energy is obtained by oxidation of inorganic substances such as ferrous iron, ammonia, molecular hydrogen, hydrogen sulphide and others. In this case photosynthesis, where energy is acquired from light, is not required. “However, it is highly unlikely that life in these circumstances would evolve into intelligent technological beings able to communicate with other worlds”. This type of life will not be discussed in this article.

A technological society consists of intelligent beings that have developed machinery or complex devices that facilitate productivity. Our technological society began with the Industrial Revolution in about 1760. It included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of waterpower, the increasing use of steam power and the development of machine tools. It began in Great Britain and within a few decades had spread to Western Europe and the US. However, this beginning of technology did not produce any communications that could be detected by other beings in some other part of the galaxy. That began in 1922 when the BBC began broadcasting radio programs to a wide audience. On a geologic time scale relative to 1 year , it would have happened only 0.6 seconds ago. Therefore, we have only been a technological society able to make ourselves known to another extra-terrestrial society for the past 92 years with radio waves. Consequently, our presence could only be detected by radio waves within a radius of 92 LY of our Sun or less than 99.9% of the galaxy. However, if they could detect street lighting on our planet they may have detected us 135 years ago.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)

The SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project has for the past three decades been conducting a search for signals being transmitted by extraterrestrial life located outside the Solar System, primarily in the radio frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. These searches are directed at specific stars and to date the project has not detected any signal. Some of the most well-known projects are run by Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the SETI Institute.

SETI searches for electromagnetic radiation emitted by advanced technologies. Many radio frequencies penetrate our atmosphere, and this led to radio telescopes that investigate the cosmos using large radio antennas. Human activities emit considerable electromagnetic radiation as a byproduct of communications such as television and radio. These signals would be easy to recognise as artificial due to their narrow bandwidths.

There should be at least several technologies that are emitting electromagnetic radiation similar to ours. Astronomers are puzzled by the apparent absence of technological detectable signals when there are so many Earth-like planets. If we are representative, it may be that other technological beings also have very short lifetimes. Maybe we have missed signals because they have become extinct before we had the ability to detect such signals. The other question that needs to be considered is the possibility of the development of a technological society on a given Earth-like planet. It is possible that the evolution of intelligent beings is rare and that we may be the exception to the rule. Maybe these factors are at least possible reasons for the lack of detection of other technological civilisations.

Dr. Frank Drake devised an equation to determine the number of technological civilizations trying to communicate with us at the present time. It is called the Drake Equation:

Where N is the present number of technological civilisations trying to communicate with us, R is the rate of star formation, fp is the probability that the new stars have planets, ne is the number of those planets capable of supporting life, fl is the probability that those planets will actually develop life, fi is the probability that life will develop intelligence, fc is the probability that intelligent life will develop the technology capable of interstellar communication, and L is length of time that communication, once started, will continue. Although these are important probabilities, there are others that should be considered.

From the extra-terrestrial planet study discussed previously, there may be ~ 6.6 billion Earth-like planets similar in size to Earth in the habitable zone of Sun-like stars. This number could replace the ne that is the present number of Earth-like planets in the habitable zone, but there are other important considerations (some the same as in the Drake equation) that need to be taken into account before we could say that they actually develop technological life. These are discussed below.

Other questions to answer

There are several other questions that must be answered in order to estimate the number of technological beings that may be in our galaxy:

  • How many Earth-like planets have standing bodies of water on their surface?
  • On how many of these planets did life originate?
  • On how many of these planets did life migrate and adapt to land? This assumes that life started in a water environment.
  • On how many of these planets did “intelligent” life evolve?
  • On how many of these planets did technological life develop?
  • If technological life developed, how many are present today?

The Drake Equation could be rewritten as follows:


Where N is the present number of technological civilisations, nh is the number of Earth-like planets in habitable zones, fw is the percentage of planets that have surface water, fl is the percentage that have life, fld is the percentage where life migrated to a land area, fi is the percentage where intelligent life evolved, ft is the percentage where technological life developed, and fc is the percentage of technological life that is currently present. Of the seven factors in the above equation only the first one (nh) is based on extrapolated observations from Kepler mission data.

These questions cannot be answered with any certainty, because Earth is the only habitable planet we know. Even Earth itself may be very unusual and not typical of other Earth-like planets. Furthermore, there are still many things we do not fully understand about our own Solar System and the history of the terrestrial planets. However, it is possible to make some educated guesses based on our current understanding of the Solar System and the occurrence and history of life on Earth.

Just because intelligent life evolves on a planet does not necessarily mean that intelligent life will automatically evolve a technology. It has taken 4.56 billion years for technological life to develop on Earth, and it still may not be developed on other planets that are younger or even older than Earth. It depends on whether the intelligent life develops appendages that can manipulate complex mechanisms. Although chimpanzees are intelligent, have hands and can manipulated objects in a crude way, they have not developed a technology. These uncertainties make it very difficult to estimate the percentage of planets with intelligent life that has technology. A very optimistic number may be 75%, and a pessimistic value may be only10%. Certainly an unrealistic value is 5%.

Aliens from other planets may have very different life expectancies. Our evolution has taken place on a planet that rotates with a period of 1 day. We experience day and night about every 12 hrs. We rest at night and are active during the day. This may contribute to our life expectancy although other factors surely contribute. If aliens evolved on a planet that has a rotation and orbital period that produces very long days and nights then it may result in a life expectancy much longer than ours. Also it is possible that they could produce body parts and replace body organs and tissue so that they could live thousands of years or even forever.

Aliens from other planets may have very different life expectancies. Our evolution has taken place on a planet that rotates with a period of 1 day. We experience day and night about every 12 hrs. We rest at night and are active during the day. This may contribute to our life expectancy although other factors surely contribute. If aliens evolved on a planet that has a rotation and orbital period that produces very long days and nights then it may result in a life expectancy much longer than ours. Also it is possible that they could produce body parts and replace body organs and tissue so that they could live thousands of years or even forever.

It is very possible that several of these very advanced technologies have developed spacecraft capable of achieving interstellar travel at near light speed, or maybe ever greater. They may have learned how to use “Dark Energy” and/or “Dark Matter” to attain speeds greater than the speed of light. Today we do not understand these entities although Dark Matter comprises over 95% of the Universe. Table 6 is an attempt to estimate the number of civilisations that have attained interstellar travel at the present time. Even the “pessimistic” estimate of 1% suggests a minimum of over 400, and that is probably too low.

As the space travellers approached the speed of light their time would slow so they would not age as much as on their home planet. They could visit solar systems many light years away. For instance, they could travel to a solar system 500 LY away and only age maybe about 5 or 10 years depending on how close they came to the speed of light. If they travelled to a solar system 500 LY away and returned to their home planet, they would have only aged about 10 or 20 years. However, because the round-trip time between the planets is 1,000 LY, their planet would have aged about 1,000 years. If they sent a message to their home planet from the one they were visiting it would arrive only a few years before they did. This is one of the tight constraints about communication and travel in our galaxy. However, if they were very far advanced they may have discovered a way of travelling faster than the speed of light. Even if we could travel at the speed of light and time would slow to a crawl for the crew, by the time we returned to our home planet it would have aged hundreds to thousands of years depending on the distance of the planet we were visiting. Therefore, the civilisation we left behind would have changed greatly or become extinct.

It is also possible that they have spaceships that are self-sufficient and no longer require supplies from, or communication with, their home planet. If civilisation lasted to the end of their sun’s life, then they would have to abandon their planet and find somewhere else to live; that could be another planet or space itself.

This all may sound like science–fiction, but we just cannot imagine what kind of technology very advanced technologies would have developed over a period of thousands of years or more. Imagine you are living at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when the main form of transportation was by horse. Suppose someone predicted that in 250 years (~2015) we would have machines that would drive us along roadways spanning our continent. We could drive the equivalent distance from Tucson to Phoenix in about an hour. Two hundred and fifty years ago it would have taken over a day on horseback or stagecoach to travel that distance. The person also predicted that we would have machines that would fly like the birds but at very great speeds, and that we could travel from New York to London in one of these machines in just a few hours. The person would not predict electronic technology that includes computers, radio, TV, and the Internet because he would not have the foggiest idea what they were. The people in those days would think he was insane and probably send him to an asylum or worse.

Is it possible that we have been visited by one of the technological societies in our galaxy? This is a highly uncertain and controversial possibility. However, there are a number of UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects) sighting that have never been adequately explained.

One sighting occurred on Oct. 27, 1954 at a soccer game in Florence, Italy when 10,000 people viewed two oval objects in the sky. Even the players stopped the game to look at the objects. Also that day in Tuscany, and several days thereafter, similar objects were observed.

Another sighting occurred in November 1986 when a cargo flight of Japan Airlines (flight 1628) observed a bright object “larger than an aircraft carrier” near them on their approach to Anchorage, Alaska. The Anchorage airport reported to the JAL flight that there were no commercial airline flights in the area. They requested the flight to make a circle to see if the object would follow them. They made the circle and the object did follow them. The object was also observed by both airport and military radar at the same locations and motions described by the aircraft crew.

There have been many other unexplained sightings, but these two are particularly hard to explain. If we have been visited by one or more alien technologies then there are several possibilities concerning their civilisation. If they are here because they detected our light or radio- wave radiation, then their home planet must be within a maximum of 200 LY, and probably more likely 100 LY from Earth. This would suggest that technological civilisations are more frequent than those estimated from the 600 and 41,000 planets. If the UFO sighting in Italy 60 years ago is correct then their home planet is within about 40 LY suggesting technological life is very common and the optimistic value of about 300 million is more likely. However, technological life within a few light years may be a possibility.

It is possible that the aliens are just exploring planets that are similar to theirs and they happened to discover ours, just as the marine explorations in 14th and 15th centuries were discovering new lands. In this case they could come from anywhere in our galaxy. They also may have evolved to the point where they no longer need a home planet and just exist in a fleet of extremely advanced spacecraft. If this is the case then maybe they are originally from one of the Sun-like stars that were formed near the time of origin of our galaxy (13.2 billion years) and are now extinct.

The main question is why they have not contacted us by either communication or direct contact. Probably the first thing they would do before direct contact is to observe us for some time to learn our characteristics and behaviour. We would probably do the same thing. If they were peaceful beings, they would probably be horrified by the behaviour of humans; violence (including World Wars), destruction of our environment, pollution of our water and atmosphere, and the massive emission of greenhouse gases that are changing our planet. They would be able to view our television programs, translate our languages, and directly observe our many wars that killed millions including the Holocaust where one group of people systematically exterminated millions of others. They would learn that our history is one of war. They would witness the ongoing fighting in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, and the hideous atrocities that have occurred in those countries. They would also see the personal crimes and violence among ourselves that occur daily. Their only conclusion must be that we are a very violent and dangerous species. The one thing that may favourably impress them is our artistic ability.

Of course, discussion of aliens visiting the Earth is complete speculation, but it should at least be discussed when dealing with technological life in the galaxy. If it is not happening now, it could happen in the future.

                                     U.I.P SUMMARRY

The past few years have seen a surge of whistleblowers come out and say some pretty remarkable things. Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange have received the most attention, but the reality is that hundreds of whistleblowers with verified credentials and backgrounds have come forward. Mass surveillance and the security state are not the only things shocking people around the world; it’s also the fact that many of these whistleblowers claim we are not alone in the universe. They wouldn’t be so hard to ignore if it wasn’t for the backgrounds these people have in their respected fields.

The first one that comes to mind is former Canadian Defence Minister Paul Hellyer, the man responsible for combining the Canadian Air Force, Army, and Navy into one united force, now known as the Canadian Forces. Someone with such a background coming out and making these extraordinary claims is definitely going to have the attention of many people


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