Before we ask the question ‘Has alien intelligence been discovered?’, we need to consider the sheer vastness of the universe.
The short answer is no, we have yet to discover alien beings. Some top astronomers have given educated guesses for when we might discover simple life forms, with possible evidence coming from Mars, and so far, the closest predictions still place us a few decades away from potential alien intelligence discoveries.
Given this, advanced civilisations are an even more distant prospect.
Will we ever discover alien intelligence?
You might argue that humans have already been looking for aliens for a long time. If we were going to find anything, surely it would have happened by now?
To understand the reason, you must try to grasp how enormous the universe is, and the huge expanse of empty space lying between the Earth and other objects.
We live on one of eight planets orbiting the Sun. Our star is one among hundreds of billions in the Milky Way. And even our galaxy is just one of a hundred billion.
If the numbers seem too large to comprehend, then the spaces in between are utterly unimaginable.
If we picture the universe being the size of our planet’s oceans, then so far, only one jacuzzi-sized area has been searched for alien intelligence.
With that context, it is misinformed to ask ‘has alien intelligence been discovered’ and claim that if it hasn’t been by now, it will never be. That’s akin to paddling at Brighton beach, not seeing any great white sharks and jumping to the conclusion that they don’t exist.
Beyond mainstream science
Until recently, searching for alien intelligence has not been a top priority of mainstream research. NASA would search for ‘biosignatures’ – clues of habitable planets containing signs of life. Plans are in place for four of the largest telescopes ever, which would dwarf the Hubble Space Telescope.
But established public institutions rarely mention looking for hints of advanced civilisation, known as ‘technosignatures’.
NASA’s strategy appears to involve not spending any taxpayer money hunting for intelligent lifeforms until the supposedly simpler goal is achieved – discovering any extraterrestrial life at all.
Private investment boosting the alien intelligence discovery effort
Back in 2015, billionaire Yuri Milner, together with the late Stephen Hawking, launched Breakthrough Initiatives. Privately funded, the organisation wants to shed light on the big questions, including: “Are we alone? Are there habitable worlds in our galactic neighbourhood? And can we make the great leap to the stars?”
Part of this is Breakthrough Listen, described as “by far the most comprehensive, intensive and sensitive search ever undertaken for artificial radio and optical signals.”
Five years in, we are halfway through a 10 year, $100m investment. By 2025, Milner wants to have successfully completed a “survey of the 1,000,000 nearest stars, the plane and center of our galaxy, and the 100 nearest galaxies.”
Wider benefits discovered
Since this private financing started, the number of telescope hours devoted to searching for technosignatures has increased from mere dozens of hours up to thousands.
This type of scientific endeavour can cause friction in academic circles. Breakthrough Listen projects might not go through the same channels of approval as traditional research. However, with some telescopes struggling for money, the private boost can only be positively viewed.
Other benefits include all the Breakthrough Listen data being made publicly available. Offshoot research has involved trawling the data for better understanding of the elusive dark matter.
And with NASA even holding their own technosignatures workshop in 2018, it might not be too long until the hunt for alien intelligence is part of mainstream astrobiology.