(ORDO NEWS) — In 1950, Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi sat down to dine with some of his colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he had worked five years earlier as part of the Manhattan Project.
According to various sources, the conversation turned to aliens and the recent UFO wave. On this occasion, Fermi made a statement that will go down in the annals of history: “Where is everyone?”
This became the basis of the Fermi paradox, which points to a discrepancy between estimates of the high probability of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence and the apparent lack of evidence.
Since Fermi, several solutions to his question have been proposed, which include the very real possibility that interstellar colonization follows the basic rule of percolation theory.
One of the key assumptions underlying the Fermi Paradox is that, given the abundance of planets and the age of the universe, advanced exocivilization should have colonized a significant portion of our galaxy by now.
This is certainly not without merit, given that the Milky Way galaxy alone (which is more than 13.5 billion years old) has an estimated 100 to 400 billion stars.
Another key assumption is that intelligent species will be interested in colonizing other stellar systems as part of their natural drive to explore and expand the boundaries of their civilization.
Last but not least, it is assumed that interstellar space travel will be possible and even practical for advanced exocivilization.
But that, in turn, boils down to the assumption that technological advances will provide solutions to the greatest problem of interstellar travel.
In short, the amount of energy it takes for a spacecraft to travel from one star to another is unacceptably high, especially when it comes to large spacecraft with a crew.
Relativity is a harsh mistress.
In 1905, Einstein published his seminal paper developing his special theory of relativity. It was Einstein’s attempt to reconcile Newton’s laws of motion with Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism to explain the behavior of light.
The theory essentially states that the speed of light (besides being constant) is an absolute limit, objects cannot move faster.
This is summarized by the famous equation E = mc 2 , which is otherwise known as “the equivalence of mass and energy.” Simply put, this formula describes the energy ( E ) of a particle in the rest frame as the product of mass ( m ) by the square of the speed of light ( c 2 ) – approximately 300,000 km / s. The consequence of this is that as an object approaches the speed of light, its mass invariably increases.
Therefore, for an object to reach the speed of light, an infinite amount of energy must be spent on its acceleration. Once the speed of light is reached, the mass of the object will also become infinite.
In short, it is impossible to reach the speed of light, let alone exceed it. Thus, except for some colossal revolution in our understanding of physics, a propulsion system that works faster than light cannot exist.
These are the consequences of life in a relativistic universe, where travel, even at a speed that is part of the speed of light, requires an enormous amount of energy.
And while some very interesting and innovative ideas have been put forward over the years by physicists and engineers who want to make interstellar travel a reality, none of the spacecraft concepts are what you might call “cost-effective.”
If we assume that it takes an intelligent species 4.5 billion years to emerge (the time between the formation of the Earth and modern humans), and consider that our galaxy has been around for 13.5 billion years, there is a window of 9 billion years.
Over the course of 9 billion years, many civilizations could have appeared and disappeared, and although no species could colonize the entire galaxy, it is difficult to imagine that this activity would go unnoticed.
Under these circumstances, it can be concluded that other limiting factors are at work.
However, it is important to remind ourselves that no proposed solution to the Fermi Paradox is complete without certain gaps.
In addition, expecting a theory to have all the answers to such a complex (but lacking in data) subject like the existence of alien civilizations is about as unrealistic as expecting consistency in the behavior of extraterrestrial intelligence itself!
This statement also provides a perfectly logical starting point for answering a fundamental question. Why haven’t we heard anything from extraterrestrial intelligence? Because it’s unrealistic to conclude that they should have colonized most of the galaxy by now, especially when the laws of physics (as we know them) rule out that.
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