At this point, it appears all but assured that we are not alone. I mean, the evidence is overwhelming: a quintet of cows, mysteriously sapped of all blood and surgically separated from their genitals? Sounds like aliens, according to the Cut and also the local sheriff’s deputy. All those strange, apparently physics-defying flight machines Navy pilots have reported encountering for years? Even the Pentagon now feels comfortable confirming that these are UFOs, wobbling spookily across our skies. And while we cannot assume that these are, for sure, captained by space invaders, consider this: A new, somewhat hypothetical census of our potential extraterrestrial neighbors has determined that the Milky Way Galaxy hosts 36 intelligent alien civilizations — at a minimum.
“I think it is extremely important and exciting because for the first time we really have an estimate for this number of active intelligent, communicating civilizations that we potentially could contact and find out there is other life in the universe,” Christopher Conselice, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Nottingham and a co-author of research published Monday in the Astrophysical Journal, told the Guardian.
The current go-to calculation for ballparking Milky Way residents is the Drake equation, which identifies seven factors allegedly necessary to make an educated alien count. Yet the Drake equation provides no firm answers, so Conselice and colleagues tweaked it to account for certain ingredients crucial to the development of life on Earth — things like the presence of a metal-rich environment, and the likelihood that other stars may have Earth-like planets in their orbits. It also introduced an assumption that intelligent life would form in about 5 billion years, as it did here. According to the Guardian, all of this worked out to between four and 211 intelligent, communication-ready alien civilizations in our galaxy, although Conselice believes there are most likely 36.
It’s just one theory, and even if it did prove correct, we’d still be looking at a thousands-of-years wait (at least 6,120 years, per the research) before we can engage in a game of intragalactic telephone; Conselice suspects the closest aliens could live about 17,000 light-years away. Unfortunately, the way things are going, we probably don’t have that kind of time.