Are we all alone? – part 2

This is the second part of a post discussing the possibility of intelligent life on other planets. Read part 1 first, if you haven’t already.

In my previous post I focused mainly on the possibility of finding life on other planets, the biggest issue being the enormous distances involved.

Scientists have estimated that there are some 40 billion planets capable of supporting life in the Milky Way galaxy alone, which seems like a big number until you consider how far away we are from any possibly intelligent neighbours. The closest sun-like star is Alpha Centauri, and even if we figured out how to travel at light speed, it would still take over 4 years to get there.

There is some hope though, with planned unmanned missions like Breakthrough Starshot hoping to launch a fleet of tiny spacecraft and propel them towards Alpha Centauri at 15-20% of light speed. If they can make this happen by the planned launch date of 2036, then somewhere between 2060-2070 we may well be getting our first glimpses of life on another planet.

The Canadarm2 robotic arm grapples the SpaceX Dragon CRS-6 cargo spacecraft before attaching it to the International Space Station. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I believe that the process of abiogenesis — where non-living matter eventually evolves into organic life – has occurred not just on Earth but on millions, perhaps even billions, of other worlds in our galaxy. But what are the chances of intelligent life evolving, surviving any number of catastrophes, and ultimately becoming a space-faring civilisation? The odds of that occurring are arguably much slimmer, and according to astrophysicist Ethan Siegel, we would just be guessing anyway, since we don’t really have any data. All we know is that it’s better than zero, since life evolved on Earth that way.

So where are they?

Since this isn’t meant to be a scientific blog based on what we know for sure, let’s assume that there are other races out there who, like us, are searching for intelligent life, and developed interstellar travel hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

The Fermi paradox, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi, refers to the apparent contradiction between the high probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilisations and the apparent lack of scientifically accepted convincing evidence that they do exist.

Whether or not there is convincing evidence that extraterrestrials are visiting us here on planet Earth, there is a significant fraction of the population who believe that UFO’s (Unidentified Flying Objects) are spacecraft piloted by aliens. Most of these phenomena can be explained, but some remain a mystery even after extensive investigation.

One of the more interesting UFO reports is a video of a 2015 encounter between a US military FA-18 Hornet and an unidentified flying vehicle along the USA east coast, referred to as the ‘Go Fast video’. The pilots tracked the object at 25,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean as it flew away and simultaneously rotated on its axis. No explanation ever emerged.

The ‘Go Fast’ video was one of three pieces of footage released by the US Defense Department’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The first video released, referred to as ‘Gimbal’ (below) shows a number of craft executing manoeuvres that defy physics. A detailed analysis of the footage concludes that it ‘demonstrates flight characteristics unlike anything we know, understand, or can duplicate’.


Apart from UFO’s, there are also the more direct encounters reported as ‘abductions’, where people are essentially kidnapped and subjected to all manner of investigative medical procedures at the hands of aliens. One of the best known of these is the alleged 1975 abduction of Travis Walton, a forestry worker in Snowflake, Arizona.

Walton claims that on November 5, 1975, while riding in a truck with six of his co-workers, they all saw a large saucer shaped object hover above the ground only 35 metres away. After leaving the truck to investigate, Walton was knocked unconscious by a beam of light from the craft, and woke up in hospital-like room being observed by short, bald creatures. He then fought with them until being led away to another room and blacked out again as a clear plastic mask was put over his face. He claims he remembers nothing else until he found himself walking along a highway with the saucer departing above him.

Walton wrote a book about his abduction in 1978 called The Walton Experience, which was then adapted into one of my all-time favourite movies – Fire In The Sky.

The best-known alien abductee would have to be the writer Whitley Strieber, who contends that he was abducted from his cabin in upstate New York on the evening of December 26, 1985 by non-human beings. He wrote about this and related experiences in the book Communion: A True Story, first published in 1987, which was then adapted to make the 1989 film Communion.

Strieber published four additional autobiographies detailing his encounters with the ‘Visitors’ over the next 24 years, and many of the details were revealed only after he underwent regression hypnosis.

There’s no doubt in my mind that alien abductions are a real phenomena, and the first widely publicised case was that of Barney and Betty Hill, who claim they were abducted by extraterrestrials in a rural portion of the state of New Hampshire from September 19 to September 20, 1961.

The Hill’s witnessed a 80-100 feet wide pancake shaped aircraft descend near their car as they were driving along an isolated road. Barney got out to take a closer look, and the craft then moved directly above their car. The Hill’s drove away at high speed but subsequently lost consciousness, waking to find they had travelled 35 miles with only vague memories of the road, arriving home 3 hours later than they should have.

After the incident Betty experienced five nights of vivid dreams where the Hill’s were led on to the spacecraft and subjected to various medical examinations by grey aliens. Further details of the encounter were revealed through hypnosis sessions, and although they were each hypnotised separately, Barney and Betty’s recollections are remarkably similar.

Are these abductions evidence that we are being routinely visited by extraterrestrial beings, and the memories of the encounters repressed by some means? I think it’s a distinct possibility, and perhaps in time, as technology advances, we may be able to capture convincing enough evidence to conclude that we are not alone after all.