“Magnificent Desolation” was Buzz Aldrin’s first impression of the moon. Now, 45 years later, he could equally have been describing the entirety of space.
Long before the Apollo 11 mission landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon, people like Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Enrico Fermi were wondering, given the infinite universe, why haven’t we already been visited by intelligent life…multiple times.
This paradox is most popularly called the Fermi Paradox. The central ideas (from Wikipedia) are:
- The Sun is a normal star and is in many respects typical, and there are billions of stars in the galaxy, including many billions of years older than Earth.
- With high probability, some of these stars will have Earth-like planets, and if the Earth is typical, some might develop intelligent life.
- Some of these civilizations might develop interstellar travel, a step the Earth is investigating now.
- Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in about a million years.
While it’s enticing and captivating to imagine what other life might be like there’s also the unfathomable, nihilistic possibility that in the vastness of space, it is, and will always be, just us.
Arthur C. Clarke said it best:
“Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”