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Jul 27, 2020

There May Be 36 “Intelligent Civilizations” in Our Galaxy. Probably Not Us

A new study indicates we’re not alone

By Ed Goldman

Researchers think there may be 36 intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way. And while they mention ours, they haven’t worked up much enthusiasm about it.

In “The Astrophysical Journal,” a study credits “scientists at the University of Nottingham” with surmising there are at least “36 communicating intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy”—adding that there may even be more.

First, let’s answer the questions that immediately occur to me:

  1. There really is a Nottingham?
  2. Does it have a sheriff, like the one who waged war on Robin Hood and his Merrie Men a few centuries ago?
  3. Is it a few miles from Sherwood Forest and is there an inn along the way where Good King Richard, who’d been off to fight in the Crusades, stopped with his troops on the way home and learned that his brother, Prince John, was prepping to have Richard declared dead and thereafter claim the throne of England as his?
  4.  Do you suppose the inn served a hearty lamb stew and bottomless goblets of mead on a cold night? (*Answers appear upside-down below, provided you stand on your head to read them.)

Okay, back to the cosmos (and wouldn’t one of those taste terrific right about now?).

“There should be at least a few dozen active civilizations in our galaxy under the assumption that it takes five billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as on Earth,” says Christopher Conselice, who headed up the research for the article in “The Astrophysical Journal.”

According to that calculation, this would probably make Earth only four billion years old. Oh, intelligent life has formed here, all right. But it has yet to stick.

More discouraging news about the department of Earth: “The researchers assume that Earth is not special—if an Earth-like planet forms in an Earth-like orbit around a Sun-like star, hosting a civilization that develops technologically in a similar way to humans, there would be approximately 36 Earth-like civilizations in our galaxy,” the article says. 

“In this case,” it continues, “other technological civilizations would be sending out signals, such as radio transmissions from satellites and televisions, on a similar timeline as humans, also attempting to find other lifeforms.”

This means a very popular play on a number of other worlds would be, as it was here, Jane Wagner’s “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” the one-woman starring the brilliant Lily Tomlin, her longtime partner.

Since they haven’t communicated with us as yet, this may indicate that the other planets aren’t as technologically advanced as ours, and are still trying to make contact via faxes, telegrams and rotary phones. Then again, other planets may have been watching us the past couple of years and collectively rejected the notion of getting in touch.

They may also be hoping that Elon Musk’s Space-X isn’t successful. The last thing they want to welcome to their worlds are tourists from our not-special one. This is why these are called intelligent civilizations. 

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  1. Yep. But it’s a part of Nottinghamshire. In the United Kingdom, a shire is a county, a few of those can be combined under a unitary authority and a kiss is just kiss.
  2. According to Wikipedia, which is 87 percent accurate 13 percent of the time, “the current sheriff of Nottingham is Councillor Patience Uloma Ifediora,” who looks much friendlier than the late Robert Shaw (who played the sheriff in “Robin and Marian), or Melville Cooper (who played him in ”The Adventures of Robin Hood”). She’s also a woman. And she’s also Black. I sense a re-boot of the movies could be in the offing.
  3. There is a Sherwood Forest and there are plenty of inns there. The one I’d be cautious about staying in if you’re allergic to mohair or cashmere is called The Goat House At Ivy Cottage.
  4. What am I, Zagat?

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).