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Weekend Feature: "Humans May be One of the First Advanced Species in the Universe"



Intelligent life may be in it's "very young" stage in the observable Universe. Its 200 billion galaxies show a clear potential to continue on as we see them today for hundreds of billions of years, if not much longer. Because planets and life are so young in our Universe, says Harvard's Dimitar Sasselov, perhaps "the human species are not late comers to the party. We may be among the early ones."

That may explain why we see no evidence of "them" and may go a long way to explaining the famous Fermi Paradox, which asks if there's advanced intelligent life in the Universe, where are they? Why haven't we discovered any evidence of their existence?The story of the Universe according to Sasselov in is new study, The Life of Super-Earths, looks like this: generations of stars made enough iron and oxygen, silicon and carbon, and all the other elements from the original hydrogen and helium about 13 billion years ago to be able to form the Earth we live on and the planets the Kepler Mission is discovering today.

Stable environments in galaxies that were enriched enough to have planets only became available some nine billion years ago and rocky Earth-like planets and larger super-Earths, only some 7 to 8 billion years ago. And Life had to wait until that time if not later to begin its emergence throughout the Universe. Between 7 and 9 billion years ago, enough heavy elements were available for the complex chemistry needed for life to emerge were in place along with the terrestrial planets with stable environments necessary for chemical concentration.

Enrico Fermi argued that given the old age of the Universe and given the large number of stars and planetary systems and the incredibly short timescale it took humans to develop technology that other origins of life and civilizations in the Milky Way could have had a significant head start and should be significantly more advanced than we are.

Sasselov concludes that the statistical argument for Fermi's Paradox "holds true only if the timescale for the emergence of life is much shorter than the age of the universe, but not so if the two are comparable." The future for life in the Universe looks excellent, says Sasselov.

Planets may be just a tiny fraction of the Universe because of their small size, but there are so many of them that the probability of life grows exponentially. The Universe is passing through the stelliferous era --its peak of star formation--but appears to be still peaking in its formation of planets. There are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand on Earth and there are an equal number of planets.

There are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way and 90% are small enough and old enough to have planets in orbit. And only 10% of these stars were formed with enough heavy elements to have Earth-like planets with 2% of these --or 100 million super-Earths and Earths-- will orbit within their star's habitable zone.
Sasselov's argument in The Life of Super-Earths is compelling.

But one has to wonder, however, that if another planet out there in the Milky Way (and billions of galaxies beyond) is only a million years older than Earth, how much more advanced and detectable would their technology be? As Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote, any advanced alien technology would be indistinguishable from magic.

The image at the top of the page shows Hydra A, a galaxy cluster that is 840 million light years from Earth. The cluster gets its name from the powerful radio source, Hydra A, that originates in a galaxy near the center of the cluster. Optical observations show a few hundred galaxies in the cluster

Originaly posted on the Daily Galaxy in February, 2012.

The Daily Galaxy via The Life of the Super-Earths, Dimitar Sasselov (2012)

Image credit: http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/1999/0087/

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This is just "a theory" a guess at best.
There is no way for a proper guess. billions and billions of stars and billions of years of time. It would be arrogant to say what or what is not out there. Humans may be at the top of the food chain here on Eath but past the moon, there will be much more life. and prob. more humane as well.

This is typical of the new scientific community!! They are so arrogant that "what they think" should be considered fact. Also, they love making crude little models that, they believe, prove their theories because they sort of resemble what they are investigating. How about they obtain data (significant amount) to develop a theory and then create a model to verify ones understanding of the facts!! Most (not all) modern scientist (so called) are too lazy to do the fundamental work. It's too easy to stay in their labs / offices and think their way through the scientific process.

It is unacceptable to question their opinions: "The science has been proven so there is no need to debate the issue" This is like the behavior of the church in the middle ages!!

Bottom line: Most (not all) scientist are lazy, arrogant, political (the new religion and fame / money hungry!

This is my opinion.

We see possible evidence of "them" all the time, despite efforts in the USA to make it appear otherwise. Fortunately, similar campaigns in other parts of the world, like Latin America, are starting to be suspended as their governments get increasingly tired of waiting on the USA. This fashionable disbelief among scientists is beginning to wane as well.

@lacontrabasse: LOL, perfect! Much better than I could've done. :D

How tragic, if this is true, that so many high up members of the environmentalist movement think that global population should be reduced by 90%.

What is known about the "Dynamic chaos" reigning in our universe, points to the uniqueness of the human race. If we have proved to be unable to understand each other (the Obama entity)
what is the point of dreaming of, eventually, contacting an extraterrestrial race?

And God made man in his own image. Stupid God.
Why does universe exist for billions of years and
the creation of God, is nothing more than a speck
dust, here today, gone tomorrow. If God had wanted
humans to conquer the planets, he would have given
us a longer lifespan. God also created the stars and
they live for billions of years. Is there life within a star?

Not so sure about this, as the Universe is at least 13 billion years old and our solar system is merely 5 billion years old. If a habitable solar system formed merely a billion years before ours, that could mean intelligent life there got a billion year head start, in which time who knows what heights they may have reached (in a billion years they could easily colonize a whole galaxy.) If intelligent life even had just a million years head start, it could easily colonize a significant part of the galaxy, even at sub light speeds. Though I believe any such advanced species would likely have developed a warp drive.

I shall, personally, become incredibly depressed if we find intelligent life all over the universe, but we are the most advanced.

I think this is true there is a reason for everything a reason all those empty planets are there we are suppose to turn them into habitable places but no one seems to see that they just want to waste money and I bet god real or not could not of made us live forever that's impossible and if we did we would loose information and become stupid over time death is part of the evolution of everything we have learned and wrote down in books if earth is ever destroyed bacteria will survive and probably re create life else where

I don't understand why search for life instead of spread life they need to just get a move on it and start terraforming every planet they can and send people to them forget this waste of money on a endless search its like finding a needle in a haystack except with billions of peoples money

Spread life! God forbid!! We still haven't learned how to live on our own planet and in our own tiny corner of the galaxy without spitting out tons of rubbish on the planet and into space. Do you really think we should be hopping from planet to planet leaving a trail of pollution and violence behind us? Whatever intelligent life is out there is either too smart to make itself known to us, or is watching already, aghast at our stupidity. Scientists might like to promote that old notion of us being the highest forms of life, but there is absolutely no reasonable basis for such a hypothesis.

The "We" who sees no evidence of "Them" must be one of the most studied and educated group of ignoramuses of all time.
The previous commenter's "..aghast at our stupidity" about nails it.
But there is another "we" for whom the question of ET's reality has long been unmistakably settled, and yes, they are more advanced, of course.

If it is true that we are one of the first advanced species in the universe, then we are truly fortunate but we may also bear an awesome responsibility.


Jesus was an alien. He had superior technologies that primitive humans thought was magic. Clarke's 3rd law at work.

@Dwight Schrute

Seems legit to me.

To even theorize that there might NOT be life out there is scientifically irresponsible, even if you say "Well, science needs evidence". Sorry, we are way too young a species. Even if alien life relies on radio signals, we would be hard pressed to find them. Our own radio and tv signals have gone less than a hundred light years, and any planet within range of picking them up would be hard pressed to do so as the signals are so weak they would need a HUGE antenna to pick them out of the background radiation. It's a fact; life is out there. We may never find it, we may never communicate, but it's out there.

ya, ok. So we....US....The same people that cant even get a political system to function properly, are the smartest or most advanced in the universe ? ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW ? WOW, I guess the universe really does orbit around us. Oh, and if this is true... The universe as we know it, is completely f|_|KT

Skipping past the odds of life and starting with intelligent life with opposable thumbs ...
It may be super rare for anything more advanced than agrarian cultures to develop.

A total of 8 or 9 planets in this solar planets and 763 extrasolar planets have been discovered at this time. These are all in the near proximity of our own solar system.

Of these planets, we have only visited one in a manner in which we could make an assertion whether or not there is life.

There are 300,000,000,000 or so planets in this Milky Way galaxy. To be able to make an assertion concerning the approximate number of planets with life on them or intelligent life, at a confidence level of 95%, with a confidence interval of 3, we would need a sample of 1,067 planets at random from all parts of the galaxy.

Let me reiterate that we have sent instruments to 1/1,067th of the required planets and only in the immediate vicinity of our own planet, which is a sampling bias. We are centuries from being able to assert whether or not there is advanced life on other planets.

Sometimes I imagine that things in the universe are like fruit on trees... Life that is. Or berries. Maybe we are in bloom.

To a few commenter, you are making the incredibly common mistake of switching the correct term, 'hypothesis,' with the incorrect, 'theory.'

hypothesis - A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
A proposition made as a basis for reasoning, without any assumption of its truth

theory - A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be...: "Darwin's theory of evolution"
A set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based: "a theory of education"; "music theory".

And this article never once stated that it is a 'fact' that human beings are the most advanced species in the galaxy, only that it's a possibility worth considering.
as well they posed the notion that the universe is going to last for quite a long time hundreds of billions if not trillions of years, and humanity has come into existence in the first 13-14 billion years of the universe's incredibly long life span.

if you consider it in broader terms, we ARE one of the first advanced race's because there will be an unknown number, likely in the trillions-to-quadrillions, of advanced species in the future.

looking at the perceivable universe one can make the hypothesis, 'there are other forms of life in the universe' with some level of confidence. until proper empirical evidence is presented, we are the most advanced species that we know of. obviously the possibility of of more advanced forms of life exists, but it would be equally foolish to dispose of the possibility that we ARE the most advanced form.

until extra terrestrial life reveals it's self in a way that cannot be reasonably denied, the possibility of us being all their is in the universe still exists.

try to keep an open mind and realize that everything that isn't proven has a chance of not existing, even if it's a very low chance.

This is a horrible article. It is, however, a great example of how journalists who don't know what they are talking about make a legitimate scientist look bad and misrepresent their work.

This piece of utter trash should be thrown in the dumpster where it belongs.

I have a right mind to write this Harvard professor whose book you reference and let him know how you are slandering his good name with this piece of filth. Editor's Note: Heather, perhaps you should read Sasselov's book before you make uninformed comments.

Lots of people here who have an understanding of physics but no understanding of evolutionary biology. Unfortunately there's bad news for people who like to fantasise about intelligent life in the Universe.

Evolution is not driven towards intelligence. It is merely a natural phenomenon that occurs in response to changing and challenging environments. The number of random steps and events that had to occur in order for us to reach intelligence are almost unfathomable. Certainly higher than the number of planets in the Universe.

Human intelligence, or intelligence capable of producing 'technology' has only existed for around a million years out of 2 billion years of the Earths total biological evolutionary period.

Of that 1 million years where our mental physiology has allowed us to produce technology we have only been able to do it for a few thousand years. Of those several thousand years, only significant gain has occurred in 350 years. And completely relied on almost uncountable chance 'cultural events'.

Have there ever been other intelligent species in the Universe? Maybe, but not as many as we think. Are there intelligent species in the universe right now? Maybe, but definitely no where as many as we think. Will there be other intelligent species in the Universe in the future?

Also aware of the misguided view that alien intelligence will somehow be more 'humane' than ours. Well I've got something to tell you about evolution, it isn't driven by being nice to each other. It's driven by survival of the fittest, so if there is intelligence out there it's much more likely to be driven by greed, hate and violence than it is by peace.

The idea that evolution is driven towards 'us' is a horrifically self-righteous human-centric view point that's been cultivated by millennia of religious indoctrination, that's told us we are the chosen ones, made in Gods own image.

Simple not true.

@ Beverly
There's a very good reason why these environmentalists think that the human population should be dramatically reduced. Humans are a wretched, destructive species whose population has gone way beyond sustainable levels, not just sustainable for humans ourselves ie having the ability to feed and house everyone but sustainable on an environmental level. There have been several extinction level events in Earth's history, humanity is the next catastrophe to strike this planet and it will result in the extinction of over 90% of all species, both plant and animal. But the Earth will recover like it has done every other time.

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