Space is big. Very big. Big enough that, if you printed out all the memes in the universe out and laid them side by side, there’d still be a fuckton of space left over. Heck, in our solar system alone, like 90% of it is nothing but empty space, punctuated by the odd asteroid.
My point is, space is mindbogglingly big.
But because it’s so big, that means there’s aliens in it, right? There’s gotta be tons of aliens, all looking for intelligent life. Loads of aliens looking up to the sky, just like we do, wondering whether there is more in this universe than just them.
Well, there’s probably other sentient beings out there, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever meet for a long time. Why? Probably because space is just so damn big.
Okay, let’s put things into perspective. It takes 8 minutes from light to come from the sun and hit our eyes. Light, traveling mostly through the vacuum of space, travels at 299,792,458 meters per second, or about 1,079,252,848.8 kilometers per hour (Wikipedia). That’s the maximum speed of the universe. That seems insanely fast, I mean, in an hour, a ray of light can travel over a billion kilometers. But here’s the thing, the distance from the sun to Uranus is, on average (because orbits are not perfect circles) about 2.8 billion kilometers (according to Universe Today). Uranus is the 7th planet in our solar system and it still takes over 2 hours from light to get from the sun to Uranus.
Outside of our solar system, distances become too big to properly measure in normal distances, so we start talking about Astronomical Units (AU) and light years. An Astronomical Unit is simple. It’s the distance from the sun to Earth, about 93 million miles. A light year is the distance that light can travel in one year. There are 31,557,600 seconds in a year, so let’s multiply those 299,792,458 meters by 31,557,600 to see how far a light year is.
9,460,730,472,580,800 meters. Or 9,460,730,472,580.8 kilometers.
Those numbers are stupidly big, but that’s the thing, the distances between everything ARE stupidly big. The nearest star to us is about 4 light years away. 37,842,921,890,323.2 kilometers if the default Windows calculator has anything to say about it.
We’re talking about light. Which comes in many forms. If there was an alien race on Proxima Centauri and said race sent us a message as a signal made of light right now, it would still take that message 4 years to get here. We’d receive a message in 4 years, probably sending condolences about the recently deceased Opportunity Mars rover.
That’s assuming that there’s an Earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri anyway. There’s apparently an exoplanet around Proxima Centauri B (the second closest star to our solar system) but again, that’s 4 years away. Wikipedia has an (incomplete) list of nearest exoplanets here but the distances in light years quickly begin to expand. Gliese 832 c, an exoplanet with Earth-like temperatures, is 16 light years away, meaning a single message and reply would take 32 years to get to the planet then return to Earth.
Right now though, all we’re talking about is light. Light travels very fast. Space ships travel very fast but nowhere near as fast as the speed of light. If there were alien lifeforms out there, the chances of meeting in person disappear as it simply takes far too long to travel. Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977, is only about 21,700,000,000 kilometers away and has only recently hit interstellar space, and Voyager 1 and 2 don’t have to worry about people in any way.
Simply put, while there is probably life out there, the challenges in simply COMMUNICATING with another world are so extreme that both humans and other races won’t ever receive answers for a very long time. Any alien races wishing to communicate with us in a timely manner would have to be able to travel close to the speed of light or have the ability to create wormholes, things that require more energy than us measly humans can produce in a convenient manner.
Still, none of that has stopped conspiracy theories and the like. There’s a billion theories about how governments cover up aliens or how Area 52 houses aliens or whatever. The thing is though, logic has nothing against the power of a conspiracy theory. It doesn’t matter how many facts you through out, it doesn’t matter how many times you slowly explain every little detail, people will continue to believe. Beliefs are far more stubborn than simple facts and ideas, because a belief is essentially a part of who you are.
There is one last argument you can use though. Humans are shit at keeping secrets. And there are a lot of people out there. If there was some insane conspiracy theory, surely someone would have had loose lips, someone would have said something. In fact, lots of people would have said something, especially in our current digital era. You really think you can keep the 20 thousand or so people working at Nasa or the 21 million people working in the US government in general, quiet forever? Probably not.
So there’s probably no alien life that we know of yet. There’s probably alien life, but we haven’t found it and the distances between everything are too large to comprehend.
Do these tiny chances, these massive barriers, mean we should stop searching? Of course not. We just have to be very, very patient.