Fermi, Sagan and Ender

Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote an interesting column in the National Review Online that ran in yesterday’s Star Tribune.

With a title like “Are We Alone In The Universe,” it was an editorial people who know me well enough might have predicted I’d comment upon. Some of my past posts, like this one on Goldilocks Planets, should have been hint enough.

The central premise of @Krauthammer’s piece is, much like Carl Sagan’s own comments from the Cosmos series in 1980, that humanity has yet to encounter other intelligent civilizations not because none have ever existed, but because the ones that have end up destroying themselves.

I find @Klauthammer’s–and Sagan’s before him–premise plausible. But ever since I started Orson Scott Card’s Ender Series, there’s another potential explanation I’ve been mulling.

If we find exoplanets potentially ripe for life that are orbiting stars hundreds or thousands of light years away, what we are seeing of those planets is actually traveling on waves of light (or particles of light, as some would argue) that left those planets hundreds or thousands of years ago. However many light years away the exoplanet, that’s how many years old the images are.

Now imagine civilizations on those exoplanets–today–are looking at us with their own machinery. Like our technology, they are limited to imagery that travels no faster than the speed of light. So what they are “seeing,” is our planet anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years ago.

Since we were building, at best, pitch pine ships or, at worst, pyramids within that frame of time here on Earth, we simply wouldn’t be emitting any signals viable for the exoplanetians to be picking up.

As a result, those exoplanet civilizations might be just as likely as @Krauthammer to consider themselves to be flying solo.

It’s a mind game that I find fascinating. Just as much as the thought of there being another planet–or more–out there harboring warm beaches on water-based oceans, vibrant flora, diverse fauna, etc.

Here’s to learning more about other planets, our own and ourselves in 2012.

Happy New Year!


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