@jeffhargarten

a blog of data, dystopia and despair

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  • Vague Prediction #1: Extraterrestrial Life

    I think predictions are rubbish for the very short term. Whether trying to call elections before they happen, how political tides turn or even how much it will rain, the future can be a violatile venture to bet on.

    But we can make vague, more longterm predictions with greater success. Broadening the expectations and removing the pressure of absolute precision can turn anyone into a thinksational prophet. Just ask Nostradamus.

    To say I make predictions is kind of a misnomer. It’s more like an educated guess based on current trends that’s by no means empirical.

    One of those little future thoughts is that within the next 20 years we’ll have positively identified evidence of extraterrestrial life.

    I don’t know where, what form it will take, whether it will be a lifeform, a fossil or some gaseous particle trace that can only be explained by the presence of a non-terran creature. But within the next couple decades, we will know for absolute certain that life formed somewhere beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

    While there are exciting exoplanetary targets1 for the hunt, odds are we’ll find something either on Mars2 or the oceanic moons of Europa or Enceladus3 well before we discover evidence beyond our own solar system.

    There seems to be a lesser chance of picking up an unmistakeably alien signal4, but it’s not completely impossible. Neither is First Contact for that matter, though the odds seem remote nonetheless.

    Regardless of the details, the search is ongoing in earnest and it shouldn’t take more than 20 years to produce results. It could be far, far less.

    This probably isn’t a very risky prediction. SETI has predicted finding intelligent extraterrestrials by 20405, putting this 20-year prediction within the same ballpark. This prediction has the added advantage of not needing the life to be intelligent. Any moving sludge or microbe that we can label with a fancy name will do.

    Whether there’s any other life out there depends upon which side of the Fermi Paradox’s Great Filter6 one thinks we’re on. But the odds are extremely tiny that we’re alone. There could be 100,000 or more intelligent civilizations just in the Milky Way, according to maths, and that doesn’t account for all the non-intelligent stuff like space ferns and space bugs. It’s just a matter of finding them.

    The implications for such a discovery would be vast for Earth’s cultures as a whole, unmooring public consciousness from intellectual institutions built upon the assumption of a human-centered universe.

    And aliens in whatever form are probably at least just a little bit cool.

    1. Drake, Nadia. “New Super-Earth May Be Best Yet for Finding Signs of Life” National Geographic. April 19, 2017. Link 

    2. NASA. “Mars Exploration” Link 

    3. Strickland, Ashley. “New Super-Earth May Be Best Yet for Finding Signs of Life” CNN. April 14, 2017. Link 

    4. Strickland, Ashley. “Mysterious Star Pulses May Be Alien Signals, Study Claims” Space.com. October 28, 2016. Link 

    5. Wall, Mike. “Bold Prediction: Intelligent Alien Life Could Be Found by 2040” Space.com. February 10, 2014. Link 

    6. Urban, Tim. “The Fermi Paradox” Wait But Why. May 21, 2014. Link 

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