Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy: The Sequel

January 8, 2022, 17:37 GMT (-5 EST) Update: The unfolding of the primary mirror should be completed, soon. The down-link telemetry from the telescope within the hour will transfer from Canberra, Australia to Madrid, Spain as the Earth rotates the latter into view of the telescope. Full telescope telemetry reception will resume by 18:30 GMT. You can follow this on NASA TV).

January 4, 2022 Update: The heat shield is successfully deployed, reported by space.com. See the animation.

Listen to the audio.

During the last eleven years on this blog I’ve limited my discussions about the natural environment to Earth. This is certainly understandable as this is where we live. But wait! There’s more! There’s a universe in which we reside also, and we have one more space telescope to help us learn more about it.

The James Webb telescope, launched Christmas day, will not only enable us to see back to the first 1,000,000 years after the big bang, it will also help us better study those already identified rocky exoplanets orbiting within the Goldilocks zone of their stars (not up-to-date on your exoplanets? Check out the catalogue, and watch the launch here).

Given that we’ve identified about 4,884 exoplanets and that we have estimated the number of galaxies at about 100 billion, each containing about one to two hundred billion stars, we can conclude that less than one percent of these planets (which could be millions) would likely have advanced, intelligent civilizations. We could nail this down statistically if we had information on all the variables for the Drake equation. This equation was first presented in 1961 for estimating the number of advanced, intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, but if you plug in the numbers, above, for the universe you can calculate the total number of stars, not just those in our galaxy. Although the math is not too complicated you would have to be able to give values for all the variables. If you can do this you will likely win a Nobel Prize.

However, just as we learned in A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy that the ultimate meaning of the universe is 42, I used my VERITAS Hal 9000-2 computer to calculate the number of advanced, civilizations by imputing random values into the unknown Drake equation variables. After several years of computations it came up with 9,678,442 advanced, civilizations in the universe. I think this lends credibility to the results previously computed by Deep Thought. Unfortunately, this won’t get me the Nobel.

Of course, two-way communication would be impossible with any of these civilizations since the nearest such planets are light years away, most would be hundreds of light years away or more. But given that probability theory says we’re not likely alone, this new understanding raises the issues of where our planet stands in relation to the rest. Just like everything else in the physical world, there is a distribution of characteristics among all the worlds. Take leaves falling off the trees in the fall, for example. At first there are just a few falling, then later the number increases, and after that the number of leaves falling decreases. That is, unless high winds cause most to fall at about the same time (wind would be a biasing factor). So, unless there is a biasing factor at work, this means there would be the typical type of worlds as well as the less common worlds.

This raises some interesting questions:

  • Are our world and its civilizations typical?
  • How long do civilizations last? Do they self-annihilate as we seem likely to do?
  • How do their religions compare with the hundreds on Earth?
  • How do Earth humans compare with other such beings on the intelligence scale?
  • How variable is evolutionary and social change?
  • What was there before the big bang? Meaningless question since there was no space/time before the big bang.
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