The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is one of the most intriguing and at the same time vague and ambitious research projects that mankind has set out on, and whether you find it important and substantial, or a figment of imagination that serves no better purpose that stoke sci-fi scriptwriters will depend on which side of the debate are you on. However, there is no denying that there is at least a persistent intrigue in finding out whether mankind is really the only intelligent life form around. Over time, debates and research papers have claimed many plausible theories as to why might we have not stumbled across life. Now, a new research paper has raised a new question – what if it’s us that are the real “aliens”, and are being watched in the same way as we’re trying to find life outside earth?
It’s not exactly quite as dramatic, but that is pretty much the gist of the new research paper that Lisa Kaltenegger and Jackie Faherty had published in the Nature Astronomy journal, recently. According to the findings of the study, Kaltenegger and Faherty have noted a total of 1,715 star systems that have been within the Earth Transit Zone (ETZ) – the band of visibility between an exoplanet and Earth, in the past 5,000 years. The study claims that the duration of time is substantial enough for any potentially intelligent life form peering into their skies to have spotted Earth as an interesting enough planet, and discovered the signs of life on our planet.
According to their findings, about 1,400 of them can see us right now, as well. The reverse calculation that Kaltenegger, an associate professor of astronomy at Cornell and Faherty, astrophysicist and senior scientist at the AMNH have found is based on the logic that we presently deploy to find potentially habitable exoplanets. From Earth, we peer out of telescopes towards distant stars, and look for tiny blips in their luminance. This blip typically denotes the transition of an orbiting planet around that star, and this change in light is then used by us to get an idea of the atmospheric composition of the planet in question. This, then, is extrapolated and compared with the conditions that favour life as we know it, to identify if it is a candidate for being a potentially habitable world.
The logic here is that, the closer the world is to us, the shorter is the period of time that a planet spends in the aforementioned ETZ. However, each of these time spans range from hundreds to over many thousands of years, all of which, the researchers believe, should be enough time for life to flourish on a planet and develop in intelligence the way mankind has, and then spot us from there. The rationale of the study is that by comparing how many planets might we have been visible to, we may be able to improve the science and technologies that we apply to detecting potential life supporting planets in distant outer space, and therefore narrow down our search to better and more targeted areas to observe habitable planets.
It’s not all that black or white, though. For one, the study is based on the assumption that any idea of intelligent life that we hold is based on how we perceive life could (and maybe even should) be like. It is also based on life supporting factors that are existent on Earth, and whether it could be entirely possible for intelligent life forms to develop in conditions totally alien to us is a wild, wild guess. It is also possible that it is we who are the aliens, and may have even been watched for years now.
Nevertheless, there are still plenty of explanations for why, even after all this time, we have failed to make any contact with any potential alien species. For one, it is entirely probable that the radio waves sent out by Earth are illegible to sentient life forms that are presently invisible to us. Even we may have received communication from space, but simply failed to decipher it. The strongest theory claims that the universe is simply too vast for us to have explored in just a few decades’ time, and we are just looking at the wrong places.
While all of this does raise the intrigue, the latest study from Kaltenegger and Faherty hope that by trying to understand how visible we ourselves are and considering ourselves to be the aliens, we’d be able to better streamline our extraterrestrial hunt.