It Came From Outer Space
No, you may laugh, but according to Stephen it's the most important question there is. Are we alone, the only sentient life form in a universe composed of billions of galaxies with billions of stars and trillions of planets orbiting them? Well, are we?
This can be summed up by the "Where are they?" question raised by Enrico Fermi, inventor of the Fermidom and part inventor the first nuclear reactor. It was he, and others in the 1950's who wondered why, if the universe is so large and populated with so many stars, it isn't as noisy as the main drag in Las Vegas. Instead, silence: not an inkling of intelligent life - ever.
My more mature readers will recall the huge excitement generated in the mid 1960's when "Little Green Men" were detected sending out signals across the immense void of space. I can still see Patrick Moore's eyebrows becoming physically detached such was his excitement at the news from Jodrell Bank. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, then a post grad student when not listening to Tony Blackburn on Radio Caroline - the radio telescope at JB facilitated ace reception - was scouring the night skies for
On her little cathode ray oscilloscope was a pulse of such regularity that it could only be artificially created - by alien boffins or deep space pirate radio stations. Except it wasn't - it was just a bloody neutron star. A star with the mass of the sun but the dimensions of the city of London spinning so fast and furious that its magnetic field is bound so incredibly tight that it blasts a beam of super focused, high energy particles into space. It so happens that the star is in the earth's line of sight and hence this incredibly precise pulse of radio energy was picked up by a large radio telescope just outside Manchester.
Now I'm not too sure whether we ought to find out if we're the sole inhabitants of this rather large piece of real estate called the Universe ( let's ignore the myriads of possible multiverses for the moment and concentrate on the one we're in). Should we discover (how?) that we're well and truly on our lonesome, a lot of religious type bods will be climbing into their pulpits and saying "I told you so."
I think I could get used to the shock of discovering that there wasn't somewhere 3 billion light years away another me having the same thoughts I was having, driving the same car and complaining about the same lack of rubbish collection. I could even live with the self satisfied believers singing in unison "We're all going to Heaven 'cause we're the only ones in this here Universe".
But could I get used to discovering that out there there was not just one or two advanced civilisations but millions of billions of them all getting ready, once they'd discovered warp drive, to pitch up on my front lawn and start partying like there's no tomorrow - I'm not so sure.
We wouldn't need to find the millions of billions. All we'd need is one.
There we are casually scanning the night sky with our supra doper alien spotter financed by a Russian oligarch; when zap, zing and tingalingaling the sensors go haywire. We're picking up intelligible signals from a distant star formation 300 light years away. I say intelligible - it turns out to be their version of "Surprise, Surprise", but the ads are very good; especially the one with the penguin and the little boy; had me in tears.
Just one, just one intelligent life form on our radar. Game over, if we've found one that means there are billions of the bastards out there. I know what you're thinking. "What an opportunity - franchising Jeremy Kyle to a billion galaxies - we'd clean up. 300 light year high MacDonald's signs, whole Galaxies blinking with "Coke: It's the Real Thing"...and Microsoft still trying to sell its mobile phones to a Universe plugged into the i(Infinity)Cloud.
I pause, do we really want to happen upon an alien civilisation. "Independence Day" scared the shit out of me and they could be even nastier. "The Clangers" even. No, let's be content with this little patch of space that we know. There may be friendly aliens on Titan or Europa: let's get to know them first. They'd be stuck under miles of frozen seas.
We don't need to advertise our presence to all and sundry. If they're interested let them find us. They haven't so far.
....Except maybe they have and we've been here for quite some time.