I caught Attenborough at 90 on BBC1 the other night. (A good advert for the strength of the BBC and a need for it to be preserved from the greedy philistines.) There is a series I’d like Sir David Attenborough to present. He has the right gravitas and expertise for it. Basically, Life on Other Earths. Think Life on Earth and Walking With Dinosaurs in spaaace!!!
A proper examination of SETI is long overdue and we’ve come a long way form left to right across the Drake Equation since it was first formulated in 1959 (around the time David Attenborough was first presenting Natural History). The estimates back then were hand-waving guesses.
To paraphrase the equation somewhat, the number of stars in this galaxy is about 300 billion stars and all of them have planets. The ‘all of them’ is really me sticking my neck out, because it seems that we are discovering them all the time. You just need to look at all the complexity of the Saturnian system to realise that stuff naturally goes around other stuff. Newton, as he rubbed his apple bruised head, could have predicted rings, gaps, shepherd moons, braids, spokes, etc, etc. So, every star system has planets, I say. However, a more sober analysis of the Kepler mission data reckoned about 40 billion planets in the habitable zone.
(There are about 200 billion galaxies, so… er, I make that 8 septillion. We do need words that are orders of magnitude larger than ‘astronomical’. ‘Astro’ means ‘star’, so it’s appropriate for the huge numbers associated with those stars we can see with the naked eye. Above that, it all becomes ‘galactonomical’, ‘clusternomical’, ‘superclusternomical’ and ‘observanomical’ all the way to ‘universonomical’.)
However, let’s ignore those too far away to chat properly by radio telescope.
So, 40 billion rolls of the dice for life developing, then intelligence, civilisation, communications and then that their window of survival is open now. (Given the climate deniers and greedy capitalists, it doesn’t look like our window will be open long.)
So, episode 1: stars, planets, large numbers… all narrated by David Attenborough.