Space has been a little disappointing for the last few decades. Since the moon, everything has turned out kind of barren. Every SETI-related result of the past 30 years has been disheartening — “there was once water on Mars” doesn’t really do it for me. There are two big exceptions. One is Jupiter and Saturn’s moons, which are still cool and could do with more checking out.

The other is the search for other solar systems. Starting in 1995, we’ve been finding craploads of planets around every star we look at. The better we build our telescopes, the more planets we see. It seems more and more likely that a lot of stars have solar systems like ours. And if Mars could’ve had water, and we have water, water probably isn’t uncommon. Things are looking up for life in the universe, even if they’re looking down for our neighborhood.

I think we haven’t made contact with aliens by radio yet because we’re looking in a very limited set of places, not because they’re not there. I think it’s more likely that ET is using tight-beam lasers to communicate between star systems; it’s silly to expect them to dump powerful uncompressed signals toward us on the few frequencies we’re searching at the times we happen to look toward them. I think it’s very likely that there’s a lot of life out there; we’ve barely started searching.

In the next decade or so, we’re gonna get a lot better at seeing other solar systems. We’ll be getting new planet-finding telescopes built — there’s immediate-future stuff like Kepler, and there’s also the possibility of giant optical arrays in orbit or on the moon that can directly image earth-like planets around other stars. The data will start pouring in soon, and space will be exciting once more.

All that said, most applications of the Drake Equation are pretty shoddy. You can’t extrapolate from one damn data point no matter how much you want to. But this isn’t really Dr. Drake’s fault. He’s doing the best he can.

Edit: Regarding today’s comic: Dr. Drake’s first name is Frank, not Francis. He is an astrophysicist, not a 16th-century British Vice-Admiral. Thank you to the several readers who wrote in to correct me — I had always thought Francis Drake was just one long-lived and supremely-accomplished person.

194 thoughts on “Aliens?

  1. hm, If I were observing earth in ultra high definition from 1000, maybe even 100, or perhaps 5 light years away…. would I want to even think about coming here anytime soon?

    I mean really, we’re not that attractive a species, personality-wise I mean (I happen to think human females are the shit); I wouldn’t make first contact with us with a remote AI drone, or a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.

  2. (this is gonna be one of those comments that disregards the rest of the comments, and rather disrupts the flow of conversation. Oh well.)

    Of course there is life somewhere else in the universe. It’s dead certain, in fact. And considering how limitless the universe is, the impossible could probably happen somewhere.

    However, I doubt we’re ever going to meet another intelligent life form. Then again, the future always surprises the past, so maybe not. But I’m still banking on the future where we don’t meet anyone and we’re stuck alone with ourselves. The distant future is almost always regarded with the idea that we’re going to have intergalactic harmony, and that aliens come in and change everything. I don’t believe that is possible, and I think that we should never hope that someone will rescue the human race. Eventually, we’ll kill ourselves.

    And radio transmission to other aliens will never work, because radio waves die before they go a very far distance.

  3. The best novel I’ve ever read about alien first contact is “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The book is not religious; the title refers to the name of the constellation that the aliens came from.

    The book covers some very interesting concepts of societal differences, inter-species interaction, how different fractions within society will respond and how do you define a threat.

    Which is scarier? A species that is a predator and the earth responds appropriately to the threat? Or a docile species like a zebra that is embraced then reproduces out of control until you all are extinct?

    How can people even bring up the movie ‘Contact’????

  4. Wouldn’t the scariest be a species that pretends to be docile that breeds until it’s a common sight on earth then shows it’s true colors as the perfect predator? Or would the scariest species be one like us?

    My hobby: Answering rhetoric questions, rhetorically.

    The one thing we do know about the Drake equation is that we will at least get one because we have us to put in the equation, the problem is eliminating enough of the variables to see if we get more than one in the course of infinity.

  5. It may be far scarier to find out after centuries of search that we are completely and utterly alone in this universe.

    Also, the people who say”our culture sucks–why would aliens want to visit earth” are so full of themselves. I get so tired of, “I am a cynic therefore I am cool.”

  6. I have been reading into many mysteries such as the Bermuda Triangle and Crystal Skulls. I have a question , or maybe a theory. But if we really evolved from the apes as said we are. Notice the longer we go on the smarter we become and our brains get bigger, which means our heads get bigger. Well out of all the alien sitings their heads are quite big, which means they are obviously extremely smart. Are these aliens real, or are they possibly us. Are they images of what we will evolve into? Maybe we are their ancestors. Maybe we are haunting them. As we would be haunted of our earlier history. Like haunted Battle Fields. etc. Am I making sense. Can anyone go off of my theory here?

  7. But if we were just ghosts wouldn’t we hold on to ancient hatred or follow primitive cycles of perception… Oh, yeah we do. (ancient hatreds, i.e. hatred between religions; primitive cycles of perception, i.e. the way racism seems to be a pendulum). But ghosts don’t stay around that long the oldest ones now are about 1500 years old, and we haven’t changed much phisically since then.

    On another note, just in case you might be referring to me, Joe I was a cynic before it was cool and what I said is kind of a complement to humans.
    Imagine another race that’s extremely resourceful, that has proven again and again that it can do anything given a strong enough leader, shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the one who stands up against something will gain a following, has shown a huge ability to turn a blind eye toward the suffering of others, and above all one that’s senslesly violent and is determined to turn so much of their brain power into weapons for that sole purpose. We’re like roaches, in a good way, not to hard to kill at first, but we keep coming back stronger than before.

  8. Hi, have produced a video about an Exhibition studying Alien life-forms. It looks at the forms that alien life may take and compares it with whatwe see in the media.

    You can check the video out here:

    Pretty interesting.

  9. I just feel like nitpicking here. The term you’re looking for is planetary system. It’s not the solar system unless the sun is sol.

  10. Perhaps humans are not intelligent life? Like the adage “If you want to look skinny hang out with fat people.” Humans just happen to be the smartest on this planet. Therefore, if there are beings that can use thought processes beyond our basic symbolic syntax and rationalization through cause and effect–to them we may appear as goldfish. Instead of looking for civilizations outside of our planet–let’s create one here. Because as it stands we are not civilized, by our primitive standards. Imagine what civilized may mean to a truly higher life form.

  11. The main issue that is always missed here is the fact that light reaching us from other planets will already be rather old, therefore not only will we be unable to see what is really going on with said earth-like planets, but the solar systems we see will be long gone and the ones that currently exist will not be visible yet. The only way to see the current day earth like planets is to travel faster than light, take photos, and come back.

    The second issue is that we don’t really want to find aliens. Historically, whenever an advanced culture came into contact with a less advanced one, the less advanced one died out. Its a better idea, therefore, to avoid contacting our intergalactic neighbours and hope that by the time they find us, we are advanced enough to trade with them on an equal standing.

  12. [i]I just feel like nitpicking here. The term you’re looking for is planetary system. It’s not the solar system unless the sun is sol.[/i]

    That’s really not a very useful distinction, and it’s a pretty artificial one. We haven’t been talking about different star systems for very long, so there’s no real tradition here. And any nomenclatural system that sorts between thousands of Xs by calling the first X you find one thing and all the rest something else is pretty silly.

    It only makes sense in a scifi, “we consider our home system a holy place of pilgrimage” way. It’s like calling everyone you know ‘the people’. Makes sense when you hang out by yourself, but gets embarrassing once you meet lots of other folk, especially if you insist on keeping the terminology.

  13. Ok, I have this theory about Aliens. I think they are out there. But there is a conspiracy so we wont find out. Bear with me (ought to work).

    Said conspiracy is not planned by our governments, it is a conspiracy of The whole Alien intergallactic society To keep us out of their social circle. When they know we are gonna start searching their neighborhood, they get make preparations to so their planets look barren and alone. That way, we continue to believe there is no other life in the universe, eventually get disheartened and stop, and they get to laugh at us.

  14. Yeah but there would still be intergalactic hill-billies that are sitting on their porch with shotguns muttering to themselves about what they’re gonna do to the first human who steps on their property.

  15. Thinking us humans are the most advanced species in the universe, kinda makes me sad :(

    It would be boring eh.

  16. Alien God
    By Kazz Falcon

    I don’t believe there is a God
    I had a feeling that the aliens put us on earth
    I was sure about my theory
    Some things doesn’t add up like the dinosaurs
    What time did they roam the earth?
    They were never mention in the bible
    It took God six days to make everything
    On the seven day, he rested
    Then he made Adam & Eve as the first humans
    Since then, there were no dinosaurs
    Another thing, did man evolve from an ape?
    Lots of theories, not enough facts
    I stuck to my alien theory
    I really believed God is an alien
    That does make sense to me
    God came from outer space, he made the universe
    And, yet, no one ever seen him in the flesh
    He put Adam & Eve on earth for an human race
    He knew we couldn’t survive on another planet
    Therefore, God is an alien
    There must be life on other planets
    We do have UFO flying around our skies
    Roswell is living proof
    God couldn’t be human; we must be aliens
    We came from the Alien God

  17. Hi.

    Well I wouldn’t mind if Aliens come to planet Earth and take us up there with them and change the system from what we have to pay out towards Bills and Bank Charges more than we can afford cause they use our own money we didn’t even borrow from them to pay back. That is a positive way to decrease us all from living and will cost us dearly to other problems we may face and already have in the world. Something needs to be done about that someone somewhere from anywhere we’re always waiting until someone comes along and by then it’s too always to late.

    Reality is merely an illusion too to control and manipulate imposed up on all of us and even those that don’t believe it has to be devoted to the evil masters of the lands that accuse you of doing drugs from the way you talk knieve on you when haven’t then they don’t know why you talk like that.

    Then when you try to stand up to them in self defence for that they say that’s nasty they don’t know nasty when they see it.

    Your family doesn’t know that their using them to destroy you cause they say something else to a member of your family say when an inncodent at say your School has happened and the Teacher always blames the easy one to pick on first after not able to accuse another.

    Their brutal and the enemies and nasty to me.

    The first Doctor Who William Hartnell in The Five Doctors when it use to be on Television in the year 1983 once said “Fear It Self Is Merely An Illusion”.

  18. one time, or so my friend says, and a bunch of my other friends say, they were playing doom 3, and they think they saw some light under the bed, and they got up on the top bunk (it was a bunk bed) and some creature that looked like an alien form alien vs. predator crawled out and stood in front of the door, looking at the door, idk what to think of it, cept that its a 99% chance they are BSin me, but what if not!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

  19. hey scarycat, it took 6 days for God to make the earth, how long is a day to God? He has been alive since the beginning of time. a day could be 1 billion yrs for example, it said he made animals and such before humans, so all the pre-human beings could of been made 1 day according to God (aka 1 billion yrs to man) the Bible is a metaphor, because it is impossible to understand what God says to you exactly.

    God came in flesh, called Jesus Christ, who existed no matter what religion you are. called the holy trinity, God as a father in Old Testament, God as Son in the Gospel, and God as the Holy spirit which lives inside the hearts of believers in the rest of the New Testament and the rest of the universe.

  20. I’m sure if there Is Something out there Looking down on Us from Somewhere else in the Universe, They’re wise enough to Stay away from Us – Gil Grissom

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  22. I think the surest signs that there’s intelligent life somewhere is that none have tried to contact us.

  23. What if aliens were beside us but we would not know it?
    What if this world would be just illusion?
    What will happen after death?
    What is exactly God? (actually I don’t believe in God, I have own reasons)
    What if there is aliens and we actually could meet them, what would happen?

    There are lots of questions but no answers.

    There are lots of things I want to happen before my death, like human could fly without any help and enternal life would be nice too.

  24. I know this is an older thread, but the subject is still the most important facing our species.
    Humans are not intelligent. All we are is a species of very smart primates that can talk.
    One morning, I saw a tree full of birds, just chattering away at each other. I wondered why they must make suuch stupid noise? Well, it’s no different than humans chattering away at each other. To those birds, we would seem just as stupid, standing there looking at each other, making our monkey sounds. It wouldn’t make any sense to the birds, but we can understand it.
    The word \Intelligence\ is just one of our words that we made up, and agreed about. In-TEL-uh-juns; Just another sound we make with our little monkey mouths. It has nothing to do with the reality that exists outside our monkey skulls. Just because we can imagine an idea doesn’t mean it really exists.
    So, when we wonder about \intelligent life\, we really mean \life like us\. We can’t even know what \intelligent\ means, since we have never encountered anything else capable of SAYING to us that it, too, is \intelligent\.
    We are just little fuzzy monkeys that talk too much. Our cities full of chattering humans no different than a tree full of chirping birds, or an ant bed. Humans scurry around like ants, chasing after our \Monopoly money\, Doritos, drugs, sex, etc. And it’s fair to note that, any time humans are talking, it’s to get something they want.
    Our \thoughts\ are just words; try thinking without words…. it’s not easy, is it?
    Humans just do what they do, and none of it matters, because our tools have not yet become advanced enough to free us from dependence on the earth which spawned us, feeds us while alive, and then reclaims us.
    The good news is, we may be on the cusp of true \intelligence\, real awareness, which starts with seeing beyond ourselves.

  25. I’ve just attended a SETI workshop at Green Bank, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Project Ozma.

    You’ll be interested to know that on Monday morning, Professor Chris Impey of the University of Arizona gave a talk on “Perspective on Life in the Universe.” He wrapped it up by saying:

    “So this is an incredible journey, and yes, fifty years does seem like a long time…”

    [Flashes up xkcd #384]

    “…but as Frank knows and would tell us, it’s just getting started, and I think the excitement is all ahead.”

    Frank Drake was in the room.

    He seemed to take it in good humor. I’m sure he’s heard worse.

    (See for more about the workshop.)

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  31. Considering what we know about space and life and the world as God sees it, we already have an explanation for so-called alien activity on Earth. Reports of “close encounters” describe the ethereal, transient, deceptive, and malevolent. Accounts also record that encounters with supposed aliens can be stopped by a real, authentic call to Jesus. Everything points to the activity of demons, not extraterrestrials.

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