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What’s Wrong With The Fermi Paradox

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In a 1950 discussion with colleagues on the subject of the potential existence of extraterrestrial life, famed physicist Enrico Fermi asked, “Where are they?” Uttering those three words, Fermi forever tied his name to the issue as it came to be known as the Fermi Paradox.

fermi paradoxHis question is reasonable.

The Fermi Paradox lies in the contradiction between high estimates of the potential numbers of extraterrestrial civilizations, and the lack of evidence for or contact with said civilizations.

Considering the billions of years of galactic history predating humanity’s arrival and taking Earth’s life-development timeline as average, the age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggests extraterrestrial life should be common. Even using conservative numbers for the percentage of stars with planets and the percentage of those that will host life and so on, the number of technological galactic civilizations could easily be in the millions.

So, withstanding the multitude of UFO sightings, where’s the hard evidence that would surely be visible in the form of spacecraft or probes if the galaxy teamed with life.

There are several gaps in this logic, one being that all UFO sightings are either hoaxes or misidentified natural phenomenon. The US Air Force’s Project Blue Book found a small percentage “inexplicable by contemporary technology.” If even one sighting were real, the paradox evaporates.

However, for argument’s sake, let’s say every UFO sighting in history has been terrestrial in origin. What are the other holes in the argument?

One is the Zoo Hypothesis. Essentially it postulates that earth-space is a sanctuary. Much like a wildlife refuge, it is to be left unmolested and unaltered by external cultures and technologies, allowed to develop on its own course and of its own volition. Under this hypothesis, alien ships could be observing us now. As long as they remain undetected, they could pursue their anthropologic aspirations utilizing their advanced technology.

Fermi’s paradox evaporates at the very idea that aliens could inhabit local space undetected by our current technology.

Undetectable spaceships? Sounds like paranoid conspiracy theorist fodder. Maybe not when you consider how close we are to realizing that ability.

Humans, barely a century from our first forays into the air and mere decades since first breaching our atmosphere into local space, are already pondering invisibility cloaks rendered through the employment of metamaterials. While that century’s hundred years seems like a long time on a human timescale, it is less than a blink of the eye on a geologic timescale, even less on an astronomic timescale.

Another paradoxical hole arises when we review the assumption that we would see an uncloaked ship.

Most of us grew up in the space and information ages. We believe we know what’s out there and surely must know what is in our solar system. In this time-lapse computer animation produced by Scott Manley, we humans look like cavemen shining our light of discovery upon our solar neighborhood. Watch the video. You’ll be amazed at how little we knew about our solar neighborhood a few years ago, much less in Fermi’s time.


The rendered asteroids are mostly 100 meters or larger. By the end of the animation, there are roughly half a million asteroids. Current scientific estimates place the number of asteroids 100 meters or larger at half a billion. That’s billion with a B. Meaning there are a thousand times more football-field-sized asteroids than have been found to date.

In other words, in 2014 scientists believe roughly 499.5 million sports-arena-sized asteroids remain undiscovered in our neck of the solar system. 

In that light, how much water does Fermi’s 1950 assertion hold. Even 64 years later, we can’t say there aren’t (potentially cloaked and potentially smaller than a football field) alien ships visiting.

All things considered, it doesn’t seem like much of a paradox.

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SECTOR 64: Writing Progress Update

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Click to Visit The Book's Smashwords.com Page

Many of you have asked when the next part of Sector 64 will arrive, so here’s a quick writing progress report.

The first and second drafts of book two’s beginning, middle, and ending are complete, but there’s a hitch. I am working with a professional editor recommended to me by my Facebook friend, and very successful author, Scott Nicholson. Based on my editor’s inputs, I am wrapping up an extensive rewrite of book one, SECTOR 64: Coup de Main, which has more than doubled its length. Coup de Main’s outcome remains unchanged. However, I created a separate storyline for Captain Sandra Fitzpatrick. While she is a major character in book two, she played a minimal role in book one. To balance her side of the tale, and to give the reader another perspective on the story’s other characters, I’ve thrown one of the attacking alien ships at Sandy and the West Coast.

While the addition of Captain Fitzpatrick’s storyline has allowed me to seamlessly tie book one in with the events of book two, it also afforded me the opportunity to give the story’s other characters more depth. Sandy’s experiences also give the reader a clearer picture of the apocalypse the aliens visit upon us. While these changes do give the story more depth, I haven’t added fluff. The additions are full of raw action, intense scenery, and heart wrenching emotions.

At fifty-two thousand words, the original SECTOR 64: Coup de Main was more novella than novel. The new story’s beefy hundred ten thousand words bring it to the industry’s standard length for a science fiction novel. Considering this, I will publish the revised story as an epic new novel based on the novella, Sector 64: Coup de Main. Since many of you already purchased book one, and waited a significant amount of time for part two, I plan to announce a twenty-four hour period in which the yet to be named book one will be available for free on Amazon. For those of you who’d rather only read the added parts of the story, I will release a free novella that splits Sandy’s experiences out from the main tale.

All that having been said, I’m still at least a couple of months away from completion of book one. Much depends on my editor’s timetable as well as my own work schedule.

Thanks for your patience. In my ever so humble opinion, it’ll be worth the wait.

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Will We Find ET in the Next 20 Years?

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In a Popular Science article, SETI director Seth Shostak said he believes we’ll detect alien life in the next twenty years. He listed a few ways in which this may come about. Primarily, he believes that SETI’s improving technology and its anticipated ability to search a million star systems over the next twenty years provides the most likely avenue for success.

He also touched on the idea that an alien race might detect the radio signals we’ve been emitting for decades and send a reply. Minimizing the possibility, he pointed out that only a few tens of thousands of stars have been exposed to our transmissions.

If one employs conservative/pessimistic numbers in the Drake Equation, then life is probably too rare and scattered to expect a reply anytime in the next several thousand years. However, if you plug slightly more optimistic values into the equation, you see a galaxy teaming with life.

This later scenario presents exciting possibilities and is an area that warrants further consideration.

Given the relatively slow speed of light (relative to the size of the galaxy) only a tiny fraction of the Milky Way may know we exist. Arguably the most powerful unnatural radio signals humanity ever sent out were our above ground nuclear detonations. Restricted to 186,000 miles per second, that energy has blazed across the galaxy and covered a whopping 66 light-year radius in the intervening 66 years. That’s a bubble of information roughly 122 light-years across.

Big huh?

Not really, it’s only 3/100,000 of 1 % (0.000003%) of the galaxy.

Difficult to visualize? Imagine you shrunk the galaxy down to the volume of the Superdome. Now imagine you’re up in the nosebleed section. At that scale, picture a four-foot-wide beach ball at mid-field. That sphere, a few centimeters over a meter, would represent the 122 light-year bubble of stars exposed to the energy waves emitted from the planet in 1945. It’s unlikely anything outside of that beach ball even knows we exist.

Our galaxy is not as boxy as a stadium. The Superdome’s interior volume is roughly as tall as it is wide. At 100,000 light-years across and only 1,000 light-years thick, the width-to-height ratio of our galaxy is 100:1  Now picture that four-foot sphere from a mile away instead of the upper-deck. And remember that if you’re not in that bubble, all you hear from its center point is cosmic white noise.

Knowing how small the portion of the galaxy is that may know of our existence, consider this: every day that sphere’s radius grows, its surface grows exponentially. In other words, the potential pool of star systems learning of our existence is growing daily, and at an ever-increasing rate.

Complicating the issue is the time a reply would take to reach us. If a civilization decides to beam an instant reply, it will take just as long for us to receive it as our signal took to get to them.

What if 33 years ago—back when that bubble was the size of a basketball—a relatively advanced civilization in our galactic backyard received the signal and blasted a return message our way? We’ll receive it thirty-three years later (today). Therefore, any instant replies beamed in the last 32+ years are still en route.

And that is only if they decide to reply immediately. Considering the signal they received was a nuclear detonation, they may want to listen for a while. After a few decades of I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Cheers, Seinfeld, and Lost, they decide, ‘what-the-hell let’s say hello to our wacky neighbors.’

Side note: I often muse over the idea that somewhere there’s an alien race agonizing over who shot JR as they painfully wait for the next season of Dallas to reach their planet. Who knows, there may even be a cultural niche of Elvis Presley fans on some remote rock (there’s some bad news heading their way circa 1976).

People and politicians often ask, ‘Why should we spend money listening for aliens? It’s not like they’ll balance the federal budget for us.’ That’s tantamount to a five-year-old saying, ‘Why should I go to school? There’s nothing they can teach me.’ Setting aside man’s innate curiosity and our desire to answer the burning questions—Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?—there are more practical reasons to search.

In regards to social and scientific development, we are assuredly babes in the galactic woods. Any data gathered from alien contact would probably be more enlightening than Pythagoras’ Theorem. Spanning decades, it would be an inefficient discussion, but likely, we would be the prime beneficiary of that interaction. Thus, a tiny-tiny-tiny-minuscule investment (relative to GDP) lands us invaluable knowledge.

In Carl Sagan’s Contact, aliens send us blueprints for a wormhole generator. But saving that, what if they merely said, ‘Hello, here’s the perfect mouse trap’ or ‘free energy and the cure to world hunger’?

 

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A SoHo Grand Experience

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Recent travels found me in Morristown, New Jersey, for a week of flight simulator training. While there I always make a point to visit ‘The City.’ With my return flight not scheduled to depart until Saturday afternoon I had a night to burn and the money to light it with. So when I finished my training on Friday I caught a New Jersey Transit train to New York’s Penn Station (for the uninitiated it’s under Madison Square Garden).

Not being the biggest proponent of pre-travel planning I whipped out my iPhone somewhere between Morristown and Manhattan. Using the map feature I searched my favorite little town in America (SoHo) for a good hotel. Finding the SoHo Grand I booked a room.

If you’ve never been to SoHo you’re probably wondering why I’d call a Lower Manhattan neighborhood a ‘little town.’ SoHo is named after Houston Street (pronounced house-ton). SOuth of HOuston, it encompasses a chunk of Manhattan from Houston Street south to Tribeca’s Canal Street (a title generated from the same naming convention: TriBeCa – TRIangle BElow CAnal). While there are plenty of Manhattan skyscrapers they’re best known for their artists’ lofts and galleries, pocket restaurants and basement clubs.

The gentrified community’s 150-year-old cast iron decorative facades render an old-town-square feel that coupled with its culture gives it a surreal small town air and character.

At Penn Station I work my way to the surface and take the obligatory self-portrait under Madison Square Garden’s marquee. Back underground I board the A-Train, the express that takes me straight to SoHo without all the stops (the damn thing bites me later in the story).

Emerging from Canal station into the light of day I walk north. Passing Maserati of Manhattan (I want one) and the Tribeca Film Festival headquarters/theater (and now you know how it got its name), I step across Canal into SoHo and start looking for my hotel. After ten seconds I figure out I’m standing right in front of it.

What a cool place! An iconic hotel whose recently redesigned interior pays homage to SoHo’s cast iron lineage. The mix of old and new, iron and glass, dark and light is an eye pleasing work of art.

After checking in I work my way up to my room on the fourteenth floor. Opening the door I freeze, Holy shit! What a view! Dropping my bag I walk to the window, unable to believe my luck. Having booked late I never expected to get  … this.

Facing south my room affords me a view of the new World Trade Center! Not off to the side at an oblique angel. Front and center! After studying the view for a few moments I silently considered what horrors these windows must have witnessed that fateful day in September…

After a power nap (give me a break, I’m not old, I’ve been up since 5:30am and I want to stay up till … almost that late) I clean up and head to the outdoor bar on the Hotel’s south side. It’s a cool late summer afternoon. The sky is blue, there’s a cool breeze that has everyone smiling. The after-work crowd is rolling in to kick off the weekend.

Birds are chirping, leaves are rustling, and the sun chases the cool air deposits from your skin, leaving only goose bumps in its wake. It’s a sensation I’ve always associated with spring’s first warm day and fall’s first cool one. It’s early this year, but then again I’m in New York not Texas … go figure.

I chat with the bartenders. When I’m alone I almost always sit at the bar, it’s a social thing. They’re a wealth of local info and usually don’t mind the company. Plus, not being one that enjoys looking pitiful (even when I might be) I try not to sit solo in a busy social environment. The bartenders come through and suggest a couple of live music venues.

The sun has set. En route to Allen Street I find a little hole-in-the-wall Mom & Pop restaurant; the atmosphere uniquely SoHo, the food excellent. Afterwards I continue north and east. Softly chatting arm-in-arm couples, dashing cabs with flashing blinkers, and residential windows open to let in the breeze and let out the sounds of life dot my path.

At the north end of SoHo I hit Houston Street and proceed east. Ahead I see crowds on a busy, bar and restaurant lined cross street.

I’ve reached my destination.

Stepping into Rockwood Music Hall I’m immersed in incredible sound and a warm atmosphere. There’s a live local band on stage. Playing folksy-bluesy rock the whole place is swaying to their rhythm.

Over the hours a parade of talent crossed the stage, each as good as or better than the last. In the dark, would be smoky (in another era) atmosphere I chat with other patrons, swap stories, laugh, and drink.

2:00am … that nap didn’t help as much as I’d hoped; I’m running out of gas. It might be the culmination of an evening and night’s worth of cocktails (either that or I am getting old … nah). Bidding farewell I head for the exit. I’m at SoHo’s northeast corner and need to get to its southwest corner.

It’s subway time!

Along the way to the station I grab a slice of pizza. Culinary crack, it always taste great after a night of drinking.

2:30am I take a subway west to intercept the A-Train south. At the intersecting station I discover the subways are on a construction schedule. The A-Train either isn’t running or it’s moved to a different track. Paper signs are taped up all over the place. (Paper signs? Can’t New York afford a proper passenger notification system?) I read the one at the A-Train’s normal track. It sends me to another level. I go to that level. Another piece of paper tells me to go back to where I started. After a few more diversions (and firmly aware I look like a lost drunk tourist … screw it) I jump on a train I’m relatively certain is going south to Canal.

It’s not…

I end up completely lost. When I finally realize the train isn’t going the right way I get off in an unknown area of the city. Climbing the stairs it occurs to me I have no idea what kind of neighborhood I might be walking into. Stepping from the stairwell onto the sidewalk I did my best impression of someone who knows where the hell he’s going (show no weakness grasshopper). Turning right I stumbled (figuratively) into a busy bar.

I reasoned, ‘How lost can I be if I can find a place like this?’ Thus temporarily un-lost I settled in for a cocktail to collect myself.

4:00am One or three self-collecting cocktails later I said to myself, ‘Self, let’s give it a go again.’ In search of a cab I wander back into the night. It seems there is only one to be had in the entire city. Unfortunately its occupants (drunken coeds) are busy arguing with the cabbie over a five-dollar overage on their bill.

I gallantly whip out a five spot and offer it … if they will just get out of the cab … please.

They decline on a matter of principle, steadfastly refusing to vacate said cab, and suggesting I find another. Through a drunken lisp, one declares, ‘We’re going to sit in this cab until the cabbie (who spoke virtually no English) refunds our five dollars!’

I commented that there wasn’t exactly a plethora of f#*king cabs.

They remained unrepentantly drunk.

4:20am New York births another cab. I jump in. With the still-cackling drunken coeds fading to rear the cab rushs away. Ten minutes later I finally make it back to the SoHo Grand.

4:40am Collapsing into my bed, the Big Apple’s lights staring in on me, I think…

‘What an adventure!’

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Underground Hangar Entrance

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Today’s volume of totally useless trivia: As many of you who read my book already know an underground hangar entrance at Southern Nevada’s Area 51 is the setting for two key scenes in my Amazon Top Rated novel SECTOR 64: Coup de Main.

What you may not know is I based that hangar’s location and description on a feature I saw on Google Earth’s images of the secretive Air Force facility adjacent to Groom Lake.  While researching the novel I did an in depth visual scan of the airfield. If you look at the base’s layout you’ll notice a not inconsequential distance lies between the hangar facilities and the runway complex. I reasoned that if you had a vehicle who’s very appearance would stand out you’d want a shorter path to the runway complex.

During my search I found the feature pictured above. While it may only be a jet-blast shield, its position seemed out of place and inconvenient for that purpose. Usually jet-blast shields are positioned to protect roads and structures from said jet blast. Also, the dirt behind/above it appears groomed as though work had been done there. Look closely and you’ll see parallel dark lines leading into the feature’s center.

I created a Google Earth Placemark for it. Click here to open a Google Map centered on the feature.

What do you think?

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