New Research on Intelligent Life Within Our Own Galaxy – 30 Active Communicating Civilizations in Milky Way?

One of the biggest and longest-standing questions in the history of human thought is whether there are other intelligent life forms within our Universe. Obtaining good estimates of the number of possible extraterrestrial civilizations has however been very challenging.

A new study led by the University of Nottingham and published today (June 15, 2020) in The Astrophysical Journal has taken a new approach to this problem. Using the assumption that intelligent life forms on other planets in a similar way as it does on Earth, researchers have obtained an estimate for the number of intelligent communicating civilizations within our own galaxy — the Milky Way. They calculate that there could be over 30 active communicating intelligent civilizations in our home Galaxy.

Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham, Christopher Conselice who led the research, explains: “There should be at least a few dozen active civilizations in our Galaxy under the assumption that it takes 5 billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as on Earth.” Conselice also explains that “The idea is looking at evolution, but on a cosmic scale. We call this calculation the Astrobiological Copernican Limit.”

First author Tom Westby explains: “The classic method for estimating the number of intelligent civilizations relies on making guesses of values relating to life, whereby opinions about such matters vary quite substantially. Our new study simplifies these assumptions using new data, giving us a solid estimate of the number of civilizations in our Galaxy.

The two Astrobiological Copernican limits are that intelligent life forms in less than 5 billion years, or after about 5 billion years — similar to on Earth where a communicating civilization formed after 4.5 billion years. In the strong criteria, whereby a metal content equal to that of the Sun is needed (the Sun is relatively speaking quite metal-rich), we calculate that there should be around 36 active civilizations in our Galaxy.”

The research shows that the number of civilizations depends strongly on how long they are actively sending out signals of their existence into space, such as radio transmissions from satellites, television, etc. If other technological civilizations last as long as ours which is currently 100 years old, then there will be about 36 ongoing intelligent technical civilizations throughout our Galaxy.

However, the average distance to these civilizations would be 17,000 light-years away, making detection and communication very difficult with our present technology. It is also possible that we are the only civilization within our Galaxy unless the survival times of civilizations like our own are long.

Professor Conselice continues: “Our new research suggests that searches for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations not only reveals the existence of how life forms, but also gives us clues for how long our own civilization will last. If we find that intelligent life is common then this would reveal that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years, alternatively if we find that there are no active civilizations in our Galaxy it is a bad sign for our own long-term existence. By searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life — even if we find nothing — we are discovering our own future and fate.”

Reference: “The Astrobiological Copernican Weak and Strong Limits for Intelligent Life” by Tom Westby and Christopher J. Conselice, 15 June 2020,  Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ab8225


View Comments

  • In the days of the rootnomicon, Rick and Morty nomicon and the violet rabbit space shuttle who generated Anne Frank parallelverses.

    Think true, think associative, think against massmanipulation, think multiversian.

  • The headline could read: Incels look for love in all the wrong places... No?

    I like to believe Earth holds the only intelligent life in the universe (despite all the goldilocks planets and science to the contrary) they still haven't found much that points to yes there are other civilizations, but that's more the fault of our lack of technology I know. Still feeling like maybe we're just completely alone in the universe actually makes me feel more significant as opposed to more insignificant. It makes me appreciate the rarity and absolute beauty of this planet and how we could maybe learn to stop exploiting and destroying it in all manner of ways, maybe by appreciating all lives on earth more just everything about it... And it makes me think of how many of us don't... But hey it's cool that we can estimate how many alien civilizations there might be in the galaxy, keep up the good work fellow Earthlings.

  • I think it's stupid to think we are the only ones out of trillions of planets. It shows human kinds utter conceit of how important we are in the universe. Maybe those people who feel this can't get their head around the size of the universe and how insignificant we are at this early point in our history. 100 years of our technology is no comparison to 5 billion years of history and development of other civilizations. Unfortunately for the moment we can only watch Star Trek and dream.

  • I think I will go lay on a blanket out in the north pasture. I will watch the clouds go by and wait for the cows to discover me and wonder why I have no treats. They will get bored and leave me alone with the clouds. It is a very good day to think about the far away "maybe" and the contrast with the here and now. I am less the scientist and more the engineer. I need to get to work and do something that will bring visible results within my lifetime. Feeding the cows works.

  • This is beyond the traditional Fermi's paradox in its level of absurdity. The idea of 5 billion years to evolve into 100 years of communicating is bizarre. With all the specific variations of conditions constantly leading to mass extinctions, sure it took us 4 billion years. And with the dominance of predation as a key mechanism for evolution, sure our reign will be ephemeral. The possibility of a truly goldilocks planet where micro evolution without huge shocks is likely and also impossible to quantify. A single living planet along the lines of Gaia fantasies forming in a much shorter time than 4 billion years, or surviving to form over a much longer time span is totally realistic. Every place in the galaxy following our template is preposterous.

  • If only we looked for the planet/ planets are ancestors came from, we would find them much faster. Its enbeded within are dna memory. Just try it and see. Still think are ancestors originated on earth. Think again. Neandartol where the ones that called them gods. Not god but gods. They where are ancestors coming to live on earth. we all should no this by now.

  • All the new theoretical assumptions are starting to sound like unsupported guesses. Very imaginative,also sometimes possible, but made up nonetheless. I used to read theories with interest and hopefulness, now they make me feel a bit tired. I hope someone can come up with how we can help improve the planet we're on, and study the faults of our own communication systems, instead of spending so much effort discussing far away, unreachable and unproveable civilizations. I guess I needed to vent a bit, haha. Thank you for the article.

  • Clearly there is a real problem with the assumptions. The number of civilizations is OBVIOUSLY 42.

  • I hope the society's will realise, that the blue grade, the grades of lies and the conspiracy of Jewish and Italian criminal organisations of America and the bluegrades of Scientology,5eye Military, Quthulu and the Red Grades of HellsAngels etc. and the Russian and Chinese organisated people's and so on, with there criminal yellow fasho, terror and "STASI crime" networks, with abstract extramultiversial and parallelmutliversialclusters attacks on the freespeak, Scientists, Politicans and people's of a fair and transparent judicative, executive, legislative and publicational system.

  • There is much more than one expansion moment of our universes and multiverses, from this way, think scientific and don't believe people's wo say they control the hole Universe, there is the Mandebaumexpression, Carl Sagen and Max Plank and the science behind.

University of Nottingham

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