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The Milky Way is potentially full of extinct cultures

Any of the alien civilizations which have ever characterized our galaxy have already destroyed themselves. That would be the takeaway of recent research compiled in the arXiv database on December 14 that used current astronomy and mathematical simulation to trace the emergence as well as the death of intelligent life through the Milky Way in time and space. Their observations lead to a more reliable 2020 version of a famous equation written in 1961 by Quest for Extraterrestrial Intelligence creator Frank Drake. The Drake equation, championed in his “Cosmos” miniseries by scientist Carl Sagan, relied on various uncertainty factors, such as the abundance of planets, and then an unanswered query.

This latest paper is even more realistic, written by several Caltech physicists as well as one student in high school. It notes when and where life in the Milky Way is likely to exist and recognizes the most significant factor driving its prevalence: intelligent beings’ propensity to self-annihilation. “Since Carl Sagan’s period, there has been extensive research,” stated report co-author Jonathan H. Jiang, who works at Caltech’s NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an astrophysicist. “Particularly since the Kepler Space Telescope and Hubble Space Telescope, we have great knowledge about both the densities [of gas as well as stars] throughout the Milky Way galaxy as well as star formation rates and the exoplanet formation … and the incidence frequency of the supernova explosions. We know exactly a few of the details [which were puzzles at the period of the popular ‘Cosmos’ episode].”

The authors focused on several factors assumed to affect the evolution of intelligent life, like the existence of sun-like stars that host Earth-like planets; the occurrence of lethal, radiation-blasting supernovae; the chance and time taken for intelligent life to arise if circumstances are right; and the potential propensity of advanced societies to kill themselves. They found that the possibility of life evolving based on known conditions peaked around 13,000 light-years from the galactic center as well as 8 billion years just after the galaxy evolved, modeling the development of the Milky Way over the years with all of those factors into account. In contrast, the Earth is approximately 25,000 light-years from both the galactic core, as well as human culture emerged on the surface of the universe approximately 13.5 billion years just after the origin of the Milky Way (however, simple life came to be soon after the planet developed). 

In terms of interstellar geography as well as relative late arrivals to the self-aware Milky Way inhabitant stage, we’re probably a frontier society. But there are undoubtedly other cultures out there, often scattered in the 13,000light-year band, mainly due to the rise of sun-like stars there, suggesting life happens relatively regularly and ultimately becomes intelligent.

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