Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” V: What is the Aestivation Hypothesis?

An illustration of cosmic expansion. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Welcome back to our Fermi Paradox series, where we take a look at possible resolutions to Enrico Fermi’s famous question, “Where Is Everybody?” Today, we examine the possibility that the reason we’re not hearing from aliens is that they’re asleep and waiting for the Universe to get better.

In 1950, Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi sat down to lunch with some of his colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he had worked five years prior as part of the Manhattan Project. According to various accounts, the conversation turned to aliens and the recent spate of UFOs. Into this, Fermi issued a statement that would go down in the annals of history: “Where is everybody?

This became the basis of the Fermi Paradox, which refers to the high probability estimates for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) and the apparent lack of evidence. But despite seventy years of looking, we still haven’t been able to answer Fermi’s question, leading to multiple proposals as to why this is. Today, we look at the “Aestivation Hypothesis,” which argues that aliens are not dead (or non-existent), they’re just resting!

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Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” III: What is the Great Filter?

The Karl Jansky Very Large Array at night, with the Milky Way visible in the sky. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF; J. Hellerman

Welcome back to our Fermi Paradox series, where we take a look at possible resolutions to Enrico Fermi’s famous question, “Where Is Everybody?” Today, we examine the possibility that there is something in the Universe that prevents life from reaching the point where we would be able to hear from it.

In 1950, Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi sat down to lunch with some of his colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he had worked five years prior as part of the Manhattan Project. According to various accounts, the conversation turned to aliens and the recent spate of UFOs. Into this, Fermi issued a statement that would go down in the annals of history: “Where is everybody?

This became the basis of the Fermi Paradox, which refers to the high probability estimates for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) and the apparent lack of evidence. Seventy years later, we still haven’t answered that question, which has led to many theories as to why the “Great Silence” endures. A popular one is that there must be “Great Filter” that prevents life from reaching an advanced stage of development.

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Fraser and John Michael Godier Debate the Fermi Paradox

Photo of the central region of the Milky Way Credit: UCLA SETI Group/Yuri Beletsky, Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory

As many of you are no doubt aware, our noble publisher, Fraser Cain, occasionally has the opportunity to sit down with some fellow great minds and discussion/debate issues that are relevant to space, exploration, and astronomy today. Most recently, this included an extended debate with noted author, futurists and Youtube sensation John Michael Godier.

The subject of this debate was the unresolved mystery that keeps more than a few astrophysicists awake at night. This is none other than the Fermi Paradox, the question that asks “Where are they?”

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Maybe Self-Replicating Robot Probes are Destroying Each Other. That’s Why We Don’t See Them

SETI's Allen Telescope Array monitor the stars for signs of intelligent life (SETI.org)

During the 1940s, Hungarian-American scientist John von Neumann developed a mathematical theory for how machines could endlessly reproduce themselves. This work gave rise to the idea of “von Neumann probes“, a class of self-replicating interstellar probes (SRPs) that could be used to do everything from exploring the Universe to seeding it with life and intervening in species evolution.

Some have naturally suggested that this be a focus of SETI research, which would entail looking for signs of self-replicating spacecraft in our galaxy. But as is always the case with proposals like these, the Fermi Paradox eventually reasserts itself by asking the age-old question – “Where is everybody?” If there are alien civilizations out there, why haven’t we found any evidence of their SRPs?

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New Model Predicts That We’re Probably the Only Advanced Civilization in the Observable Universe

Using information from Gaia's second data release, a team of scientists have made refined estimates of the Milky Way's mass. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC

The Fermi Paradox remains a stumbling block when it comes to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). Named in honor of the famed physicist Enrico Fermi who first proposed it, this paradox addresses the apparent disparity between the expected probability that intelligent life is plentiful in the Universe, and the apparent lack of evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI).

In the decades since Enrico Fermi first posed the question that encapsulates this paradox (“Where is everybody?”), scientists have attempted to explain this disparity one way or another. But in a new study conducted by three famed scholars from the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford University, the paradox is reevaluated in such a way that it makes it seem likely that humanity is alone in the observable Universe.

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If We Do Hear Signals From Aliens, They’re Probably Long Gone

The Drake Equation, a mathematical formula for the probability of finding life or advanced civilizations in the universe. Credit: University of Rochester

In 1961, famed astrophysics Frank Drake proposed a formula that came to be known as the Drake Equation. Based on a series of factors, this equation sought to estimate the number of extraterrestrial intelligences (ETIs) that would exist within our galaxy at any given time. Since that time, multiple efforts have been launched to find evidence of alien civilizations, which are collectively known as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

The most well-known of these is the SETI Institute, which has spent the past few decades searching the cosmos for signs of extraterrestrial radio communications. But according to a new study that seeks to update the Drake Equation, a team of international astronomers indicates that even if we did find signals of alien origin, those who sent them would be long dead.

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Advanced Civilizations Could Build a Galactic Internet with Planetary Transits

In a series of papers, Professor Loeb and Michael Hippke indicate that conventional rockets would have a hard time escaping from certain kinds of extra-solar planets. Credit: NASA/Tim Pyle
In a series of papers, Professor Loeb and Michael Hippke indicate that conventional rockets would have a hard time escaping from certain kinds of extra-solar planets. Credit: NASA/Tim Pyle

Decades after Enrico Fermi’s uttered his famous words – “Where is everybody?” – the Paradox that bears his name still haunts us. Despite repeated attempts to locate radio signals coming from space and our ongoing efforts to find visible indications of alien civilizations in distant star systems, the search extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) has yet to produce anything substantive.

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What is the Drake Equation?

The Drake Equation, a mathematical formula for the probability of finding life or advanced civilizations in the universe. Credit: University of Rochester

Is there life out there in the Universe? That is a question that has plagued humanity long before we knew just how vast the Universe was – i.e. before the advent of modern astronomy. Within the 20th century – thanks to the development of modern telescopes, radio astronomy, and space observatories – multiple efforts have been made in the hopes of finding extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).

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Maybe the Aliens Aren’t Hiding, they’re Sleeping, Waiting for the Universe to Get Better

A new study has offered a new take on the Fermi Paradox - alien civilizations are not visible to us because they are sleeping. Credit and Copyright: Kevin M. Gill

When you consider that age of the Universe – 13.8 billion years by our most recent counts –  and that which is “observable” to us measures about 93 billion light-years in diameter, you begin to wonder why we haven’t found signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) beyond our Solar System. To paraphrase Enrico Fermi, the 20th-century physicists who advanced the famous Fermi Paradox – “where the heck are all the aliens?”

Naturally, Fermi’s Paradox has attracted a lot of theoretical explanations over the years – which include ETI being very rare, humanity being early to the Universe, and the aliens being extinct! But a new study by a team of scientists from the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) offers a different take on this age-old paradox. According to their study, the key to answering this question is to consider the possibility that the aliens are engaged in “aestivation”.

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Finding Alien Megastructures Around Nearby Pulsars

Artist's representation of a Dyson ring, orbiting a star at a distance of 1 AU. Credit: WIkipedia Commons/Falcorian

During the 1960s, Freeman Dyson and Nikolai Kardashev captured the imaginations of people everywhere by making some radical proposals. Whereas Dyson proposed that intelligent species could eventually create megastructures to harness the energy of their stars, Kardashev offered a three-tiered classification system for intelligent species based on their ability to harness the energy of their planet, solar system and galaxy, respectively.

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