By Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education
We live in a very large universe. By all accounts, it’s over 14 billion light-years to the edge from here. That’s nearly 10,000 billion billion miles. Our galaxy contains billions of stars. Our universe contains billions of galaxies. Somewhere out in those vast spaces, there must be, or have been, or will be another advanced civilization.
Unfortunately for those yearning to communicate with aliens and fortunately for those who fear alien contact, we are very unlikely — in the extreme — ever to communicate with an alien civilization. Our only real hope lies in violating Einstein’s laws of relativity, and so far they’re as solid as granite.
The vastness of space that makes the existence of aliens, at some time, likely also means that they will be too far away for any meaningful communication. If any are in our galactic neighborhood, they may have broadcast pictures of themselves just as we are doing every day with television, and we may intercept them if we can tease them out of the background noise of quasars, exploding stars, and so on.
Even an image of an intelligent, technologically advanced alien would add enormously to our knowledge of science. Speculation about what an alien would look like may seem like a waste of time, but it can help us if we ever do see one to recognize it.
The topic of what an alien, one with technology, with whom we could, in theory, someday communicate, will look like, act like, and so on has been in science fiction books and movies for many decades. Hollywood tends to reach for the extreme and depict aliens as very frightening. The movie, Alien, is a good example of that trend. Going back very far, there’s It Came from Outer Space.
The science suggests otherwise. Not that real aliens wouldn’t be, well, alien. The likelihood of them passing for one of us is rather remote. If you are teaching science, this concept can begin an excellent and engaging project investigating the possible parameters of alien beings capable of broadcasting images of the themselves. Before heading into the appearance of aliens, consider two separate issues that bear on this topic. Continue reading