find aliens with this one weird trick
Looking for aliens is hard, we all know that. Considering just how much space we need to scan while knowing full well that we’re looking for the equivalent of a needle in all the hay on Earth, a lot of proposals have been put forward to try and narrow down the slice of the sky on which we need to focus to make the task a little more manageable. We’ve tried looking for a planet-sized semaphore and think we might have found one, evidence of asteroid mining, and even gravity waves from relativistic rockets, but the amount of effort is still immense. Now, two researchers from a Canadian university say they have a much better plan to find aliens. Simply assume that distant alien species is looking for us in much the same way we are looking for them and would want to contact us with lasers and radio broadcasts when they detect Earth. This means we will only need to focus on planets from which we know extraterrestrial astronomers could spot us in the middle of a transit event, much like Kepler spots exoplanets transiting their stars. Seems to be fairly straightforward, right? Yes, it does. Actually, it seems way, way too straightforward.
First and foremost, this approach limits us to a sliver of the sky and pins its hopes on a curious, intelligent species interested in its place in the cosmos and looking for other intelligent life. It’s a huge leap which involves so many coincidences and good luck to pan out in our favor that we’d have to raise at least a few heckles on the subject. After all, even if intelligent life is plentiful and there are countless aliens that want to explore space and talk to other alien life forms, there’s a matter of when these species evolve and develop the technology to act on their curiosity as well as when other species will evolve and develop theirs. A thousand year mismatch seems virtually inevitable because on cosmic and evolutionary time scales, it’s a blink of an eye, and that’s the amount of time in which an entire civilization can rise and fall to be replaced by another. There are societies that lasted far longer than that, true, but they’re the exception rather than the rule and as civilizations rise and fall, their priorities change. There may be a long window for a guild of alien astronomers to scan the skies and a very short one for another species to respond.
Another big problem with this assumption is the idea that aliens would be curious, or care that another intelligent species is out there. We often project our aspirations to hypothetical species and picture them as hyper-literate space-faring explorers seeking out other life. In reality, quick surveys right here on Earth will show you that even a supposedly curious species like us places an extremely low priority on SETI research. In fact, countless people think it’s just a huge waste of time and money, and to assume that there will be no aliens who could find us and contact us but choose not to because they honestly don’t give a damn, would be a big mistake. Hell, they may be religious zealots who believe that looking for other intelligent life is a mortal sin. Waiting for them to send a signal to us from a narrow patch of the cosmos would be a fruitless exercise in wishful thinking. And that’s kind of what this proposal really is. Wishful thinking when it comes to alien life, hoping that they’re out there, watching, listening, and trying to reach us because it’s what we’d really like them to do. As nice as it would be if that was truly the case, the universe is not known for coddling our personal desires. If we want to find alien life, it’ll take a while…