Why Bother Searching For E.T.?

This letter is about the futility of  searching for extra terrestrial intelligent species, and  planning to visit other stars.

The following is an essay by reader George Mawer: I feel that the public is being hoodwinked by the media, Sci-Fi writers and possibly some scientists about the prospects of making contact with extra terrestrials, and the (future) possibility of visiting other star systems.  I think we can come to some sensible conclusions about ET by considering what we know about our home ‘star system’, our home planet Earth, life as we know it and how our galaxy operates. When I ask myself if we will ever make contact and communicate with ET the short answer is a resounding NO!

Let’s consider the possibilities of contacting and communicating with ET. First, to find them and communicate with them they have to be there. But are they? Well it seems that they must be and that’s a plus. The chance of us being the only technically advanced species in our galaxy is so low as to be virtually impossible. I think it’s safe to say they are out there. But being able to find them and then communicate with them is a different story.

No commonalities

There is a lot to be learned about the chances of making intelligent contact with ET by studying complexities of our own solar system and the life on earth. The first important relative fact that emerges when we closely study our solar system and life on Earth is that there are no two ‘absolutely identical’ forms of anything. Of Earths 7 billion+ humans no two are identical. The same applies for all other life. No two of any are identical. Of all the dogs and cats and fish and sheep and penguins and birds etc. etc. each is a unique individual. Even fruit flies are all uniquely different. All of the trees and all vegetation are each unique. All seeds are different, No two eggs or sperm are the same.

We’ve been searching the heavens for almost 50 years now for E.T.

Let’s move to ‘non-life’. All of the planets and their moons and the thousands of asteroids are each unique. Even the billions of billions of snowflakes are different; there are no two snowflakes exactly the same. There are no two of anything exactly the same. Every star is different. Every planet orbiting any star will be different. Every star ‘nursery cloud’ will be a different mix of material gas and solids and accordingly every star system that forms within them will be uniquely different. There may be similarities in first appearance of some things but dig a bit deeper and the differences come to light. Once we get above the basic subatomic building blocks of matter everything is unique.

Goldilocks planets

That no two of anything anywhere is identical seems to be a law of the universe. So, what does this uniqueness translate to when it comes to ET? Let’s look a bit further. There simply can’t be another planet in any another star system even closely similar to our Earth. There can’t be. However –

There is little doubt that the mechanism for the first spark of life that initiated on Earth will be universal and will initiate on any ‘Goldilocks’ planet, subject to certain conditions. A planet with a somewhat similar mix of elements to Earth plus plenty of water plus being within the habitable zone of its star and, most important, plenty of time.


The Kepler Space Observatory is designed to discover Earth-like planets orbiting within the habitable zones of other stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

Given sufficient time that will be enough for that first spark of life to initiate. But what then? What next? On Earth it took millions if not billions of years to find the next step to a persistent formula for what is our unique planetary life. Life evolves and persists to suit existing and changing planetary conditions and on every ‘Goldilocks planet’ a very unique life form will continuously evolve whilst ever conditions permit life to exist.

Every planet will be different from Earth. Even if at first inspection it is seemingly very similar to Earth it will be endlessly different. It will be a little bigger or smaller. Its surface gravity will be a little or a lot stronger or weaker. It will be a little closer or further from its star. It will have a slightly different mix of elements. It will have a different axial tilt so its seasons will be different. It will have more or less water. Its day will be longer or shorter. Its year will be longer or shorter. Its moon or moons will be different and thus will have a different effect to ours. It will have a different size iron core and so its magnet field will be different. The list of difference will be endless.

Recent arrivals

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, if it qualifies as a goldilocks planet, given enough time and relatively stable conditions life will surely evolve and again, given enough time a technology savvy species will surely appear. That much seems inevitable based on the Earth evidence. We humans tend to link ‘intelligence’ with ‘technical ability’ but there are and have been a great number of Earth species more intelligent than us that do not or did not need technology to survive very well.

Life as we know it was around for more than three billion years before hominids appeared and as for us Homo sapiens, we only arrived on the scene roughly one hundred thousand years ago

What all this means is that the intelligent technology savvy species that surely inhabit some other goldilocks planet in our galaxy will all be uniquely different from each other. We have been trying for a long time to communicate with many of the other intelligent species on our own planet without any real level of success, (other than my wife who assures me she and her budgie communicate at a high level). What chance that we will be able to communicate with a totally alien life form? Though intelligent and technically advanced, they may possibly be reptilian or avian or some other type that we cant imagine.

To communicate with them we’ll need to find them, so will we be able to find them? Again the short answer is a resounding NO!

OK, let’s assume that they are out there – but out there where?

If we are to find them by searching for their radio transmissions they will need to be at least to our level of technology or perhaps just a little more advanced. Too far ahead of us and they may be using communications technologies we won’t identify. We have been using radio for about one hundred years, so by now our transmissions radiate out around us for 100 light years in all directions. If they were within 100 light years and had matching technologies we would have found their transmissions already. But what if they are one thousand light years away? We’ll probably be extinct by the time their signals get here. What if they are only 20 light years away? Imagine trying to communicate with a twenty year lapse response time. “Hello, can you hear me?” 20 years later “Yes I hear you, who are you?” 20 years later “I’m a human on planet earth” 20 years later ????? why bother.

What Then Is The Next Question?


If we do manage to find them and communicate with them, will we be able to visit them? Again a resounding NO! Let’s say we’ve managed to master ‘instant communication at distance’ and there are good reasons to visit our newfound neighbors. If we could build a ship that would attain light speed the round trip would only take 40 years plus. But light speed travel is impossible, and faster than light travel is the stuff of science fiction

However some dreamers believe we will eventually be able to attain say 10% light speed. Light travels at about 1080 million kilometers an hour. 10% would be 108 million KPH. Our present maximum attainable is less than 100 thousand KPH. But even if we do manage 10% light speed, the round trip would take 400 years minimum.

Are you getting the picture? What is the life expectancy of the crew? Ok say we master cryogenic hibernation for the crew, what is the life expectancy of our very best manufactured equipment? Another major problem is energy loss, which is impossible to stop. Over time all of the ships energy would simply evaporate away into space.  The problems are endless, and would apply equally to ET on his home planet in our galaxy.


1 They probably are out there.

2 But we’ll never be able to communicate with them.

3 And we’ll never be able to visit each other.

Sorry about that.

Written and supplied by George Mawer for ‘Astro Space News’

* Well, what do you think? Do you agree with George? Let’s have YOUR feedback on this story below. [Ed.]


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