What are the Odds? Extraterrestrial Civilizations of the Cosmos (Holiday Feature)
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December 29, 2011

What are the Odds? Extraterrestrial Civilizations of the Cosmos (Holiday Feature)


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"What does it mean for a civilization to be a million years old? We have had radio telescopes and spaceships for a few decades; our technical civilization is a few hundred years old ... an advanced civilization millions of years old is as much beyond us as we are beyond a bushbaby or a macaque."

Carl Sagan

Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at City University of New York believes that Sagan's question is no longer just a matter of idle speculation. Kaku writes that that "one day, many of us could gaze at the encyclopadia that contains the coordinates of perhaps hundreds of Earth-like planets in our sector of the galaxy. Then we will ponder with wonder, as Sagan did, what an intelligent civilization a millions years ahead of ours will look like."

oon, humanity may face an existential shock as we discover Earth-sized twins of our planet orbiting nearby solar systems. This may usher in a new era in our relationship with the universe, so that we will never see the night sky in the same way. Realizing that scientists may eventually compile an encyclopedia identifying the precise coordinates of perhaps hundreds of Earth-like planets, gazing at the night sky, we will forever after wonder if someone is gazing back at us.

Kaku takes up where some/one of the world's pioneer astronomers left off with a definition of civilizations in the universe that mimics the work of Russian astrophysicist Kardashev. Inspired at the age of five by a Moscow Planetariumshow about Giordano Bruno,  Kardashev definined three levels of advanced civilizations based on how they harness energy to fuel their societies.

All three categories of civilizations, even the most advanced Type 111, would still be bound by the laws of physics thatallow us to predict the behavior of the universe from the subatomic world to the large-scale structure of the universe, through a staggering 43 orders of magnitude (a factor of 10 million billion billion billion billion).

Type 1 civilizations would have a technological level similar to ours at present, as measured by total energy consumption. Carl Sagan estimated that Earth qualifies as a Type 0.7 civilisation.

Type 11 civilizations would be capable of harnessing the energy of their own star -constructing, for example, a Dyson Sphere. And Type 111 civilizations would be able to utilize energy on the scale of their own galaxies. Kardeschev and Kaku believe there is an extremely low probability of detecting 
Type 1 civilizations and suggests that type 11 or 111 civilizations would make better targets.Kardeschev calculated that the energy consumption of these three types of civilizations would be separated by a factor of about 10 billion. 

In 1963 Kardeschev searched for traces of the more advanced type 11 and 111 at the 920 MHz wavelength creating an uproar of excitement thinking he had discover signals from a Type 11 civilization that later proved to be an ordinary quasar with a large redshift. A similar uproar occurred in 1967 when regular signals were detected by radio telescopes at Cambridge, England, which turned out to be the first discovery of neutron stars.

The Kepler telescope, launched in 2008, is able to identify terrestrial planets – rocky worlds rather than gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. Until late 2012, it will scan as many as 100,000 Sun-like stars up to 2,000 light years away, and perhaps identify hundreds of Earth-like worlds by detecting the slight loss of light they cause as they pass in front of their mother star. Kepler will hopefully identify 185 such planets with less than 1.3 times the radius of Earth, and as many as 640 terrestrial planets less than 2.2 times."

All this, Kaku predicts "will stimulate an active effort to discover if any of them harbor life, perhaps some with civilizations more advanced than ours. According to the laws of planetary evolution, any advanced civilization must grow in energy consumption faster than the frequency of life-threatening catastrophes, such as meteor impacts, ice ages, or supernova explosions. If their growth rate stays any slower, they are doomed to extinction. Thus, this places mathematical lower limits on the growth rates of these civilizations.

Kaku believes along Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson, that although human civilization has only recently begun to master planetary energies -fossil fuels, passive solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear fission, and may one day soon crack nuclear fusion-hat, within a century or two, we should attain Type I status. In fact, growing at a modest rate of 1 per cent per year, Kardashev estimated that it would take only 3,200 years to reach Type II status, and 5,800 years to reach Type III status.

By definition, Kaku proposes that an advanced civilization must grow faster than the frequency of life-threatening catastrophes. Since large meteor and comet impacts take place once every few thousand to million years, a Type I civilization must master space travel to deflect space debris within that time, which should not be much of a problem. Ice ages may take place on a time scale of tens of thousands of years, and so a Type I civilization must learn to modify the weather within that period.

Artificial and internal catastrophes must also be negotiated. Global pollution is a mortal threat for a Type 0 civilization, but not a Type I civilization, which has lived for several millennia as a global force and necessarily achieved ecological balance with its home planet. Internal problems such as wars do present a serious recurring threat, but emerging civilizations have thousands of years in which to solve their racial, national, and sectarian conflicts. Since it would take centuries or even millennia for a Type I civilization to terraform nearby planets, its peoples will have plenty of time to work out their internal differences on the same planet before they finally leave the mother planet in any significant numbers.

The only serious threat to a Type II civilization would be a nearby supernova explosion, whose sudden eruption could scorch their planet in a withering blast of life-destroying gamma-rays. The most potentially interesting civilization is a Type III civilization, "for it is truly immortal. It has exhausted the power of a single star, and has reached out to other star systems. No natural catastrophe known to science has the capacity to destroy a Type III civilization."

Faced with an exploding supernova, a Type 111 would have several alternatives, for example altering the evolution of a dying red giant star which is about to explode, or leaving this particular star system and terraforming a nearby planetary system. Kaka continues: However, there are roadblocks to an emerging Type III civilization. Eventually, it bumps into Einstein's theory of relativity. Nothing can travel faster than light, which is about 300,000km a second (for a possible loophole, see the end of this article).

Since the universe is so vast and space is so empty, this absolute speed limit tends to hold back a civilization's successful expansion. Dyson estimates that this roadblock may delay the transition from a Type II to a Type III civilization by perhaps a million years or more.

So what is the most efficient way of exploring the hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy?
Kaku writes that the solution is to to send fleets of 'von Neumann probes' throughout the galaxy (named after John von Neumann, the Hungarian-born mathematician who defined the mathematical laws of self-replicating systems).

A von Neumann probe is a robot designed to reach distant star systems and create factories that will reproduce copies of themselves by the thousands. For von Neumann probes, a planet is a less ideal destination than a dead moon; these have no atmosphere and no erosion, which means the probes can easily land and take off and can 'live off the land', using naturally occurring deposits of iron, nickel and other minerals to build replicants for dispersal in search for other star systems.

Arizona State University physicist Paul Davies, has even raised the possibility that a von Neumann probe could be resting on our own Moon, left over from a previous visitation in our system aeons ago -the plot foundation of the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Originally, apparently, Stanley Kubrick began the film with a series of scientists explaining how von Neumann-like probes would be the most efficient method of exploring space. Unfortunately, at the last minute, Kubrick cut the opening segment from his film, and the famous monoliths – von Neumann probes – became mystical entities that triggered human evolution.

The irony of a search for a Type III civilization is that they probably wouldn't resemble anything we'd be able to recognize immediately. 

Image at the top of the page shows the temperature of gas in and around the two merging galaxy clusters, based directly on X-ray data. The galaxies themselves are difficult to identify; the image highlights the hot ‘invisible’ gas between the clusters heated by shock waves. The white colour corresponds to regions of the highest temperature - million of degrees, hotter than the surface of the Sun - followed by red, orange, yellow and blue.

Read Kaku's brilliant essay in its entirety at Cosmos Magazine. 


The Daily Galaxy via Cosmosmag.com and The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies

Comments

What does it mean for a civilization to be xxxxxx billion or million years old? Typical cliche of the dailygalaxy

Great article... keep up the great work!

Oh, by the way, sorry about all the repeated information in my previous comment. That was a mistake.

will the cosmos allow advanced civilization to venture into the universe after all will the universe give them the time required could the universe happend to be a giant brain the type we have yet to understand within certain parameters perhaps it will be realized and they will come back and tell us.

If our "civilization" can not let alone milenary nations, like Egypt, for instance, and decides to forcibly impose totally foreign concepts on same...

The experience gathered from a long time of observing and studying the visible universe has shown that nature, or the dynamic chaos of existence, does not tolerate exact repetition of patterns on the visible scale. Consequently there can´t exist "civilizations" that humankind should be remotely capable of understanding.

what we can do when we will control the universe and limits?
what you can do when you are immortal? probably to have some mortal consciousness, to live thru beings like humans?

Hey Sam:

If you're going to whinge about something, it's best to be watertight in your delivery.

Clearly, and ironically, you weren't.

@alin ... The article isn't referring to individual immortality, but rather immortality as in the entire race not being wiped out by a single or simultaneous events. It's saying that a type three race has spread out so much that the probability of everyone being obliterated at the same time is so low that its nearly impossible. You can look at earth now to see it on a much smaller scale. Pompei for example or The Plague during the middle ages... Both were catastrophic events, but because man kind was spread out over a large distance and had grown in such great numbers that we survived.

The type three civilisations referred to above work the same way but on a galactic scale.rather than a planetary scale.

I think a million years may seem like a piker. I suspect we are more likely to encounter multi-billion year old civilizations. (The reasoning is simple - if they live for 1 million years, they are likely to last much longer, and it is highly unlikely that the oldest civilizations in the galaxy came into being as recently as 1 million years ago.)

BTW, copyedit your articles. It's Kardashev Type III, not Type 111.

This site is what it is. It is not geared up to be a hard core science depository for researchers, it is a "headline - news flash" site where people can go to fine science news topics with out having to read through pages of technical rhetoric to determine what the real topic is. It the type of literature one would read sitting on the toilet. If you're finding too many errors, so what, go to another site and get your real information and thank your host for the inspiration. If the writing isn't up to your standards - ask for your money back. =)

There are plenty of pay-sites out there that are guaranteed to have well paid editors to keep you happy. Yes, this is a free, comic book level science site that is not meant for the scientific community, I'm just not sure why you think your assumed authority should dictate the content. It's a big time saver for me, I like it free and fast here - then if I have a need, I'll go somewhere for the real substance. I do get somewhat sick of seeing all the speculative articles here, but then "I don't waste my time reading them or I'll use them as teachable moments.

Lighten up ... control freaks get old before their time.


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