After all of This Time Searching for Aliens, is it The Zoo Hypothesis or Nothing?

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

In 1950, during a lunchtime conversation with colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, famed physicist Enrico Fermi asked the question that launched a hundred (or more) proposed resolutions. “Where is Everybody?” In short, given the age of the Universe (13.8 billion years), the fact that the Solar System has only existed for the past 4.5 billion years, and the fact that the ingredients for life are everywhere in abundance, why haven’t we found evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence by now? This came to be the basis of Fermi’s Paradox, which remains unresolved to this day.

Interest in Fermi’s question has been piqued in recent years thanks to the sheer number of “potentially habitable” exoplanets discovered in distant star systems. Despite that, all attempts to find signs of technological activity (“technosignatures”) have come up empty. In a recent study, a team of astrobiologists considered the possible resolutions and concluded that only two possibilities exist. Either extraterrestrial civilizations (ETCs) are incredibly rare (or non-existent), or they are deliberately avoiding contact with us (aka. the “Zoo Hypothesis“).

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Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” VII: What it the Planetarium Hypothesis

A new study considers what life could be like for civilizations 1 trillion years from now, when every star in the Universe will expand beyond the cosmic horizon. Credit: ESO/S. Brunier

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 we can’t see them because they have us all inside a massive simulation!

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 disparity between high probability estimates for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) and the apparent lack of evidence. Seventy years later, we are still trying to answer that question, which has led to some interesting theories about why we haven’t. A particularly mind-bending suggestion comes in the form of the Planetarium Hypothesis!

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