Playing Lotto with E.T.

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Call me a party pooper, but I can’t join in the enthusiasm that we have a reasonable chance of discovering radio signals of technological aliens coming from the newly discovered super-Earths of Kepler-62. I’m not suggesting we don’t try. Go ahead. Try. And while you’re at it, buy a couple of lottery tickets. In fact, the odds are probably better for winning the lottery. It’s all about the odds, after all.

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So here are the odds I give the Kepler-62 system. First, I’ll be very optimistic and go along with idea that there may be life in on one of the planets of the Kepler-62 system. That might not be much of a risky prediction, given what seems to be the readiness of the cosmos to make life when conditions are right — which could be the case on one of Kepler-62′s worlds. But we need a lot more than life. We need technological life broadcasting radio waves.

I’m sure there are some very clever experts putting odds on how many planets with life will develop technology (taking cues from the infamous Drake Equation, no doubt). Here are my not-so-expert odds: one in whatever. I mean no disrespect to the exobiologists, but with only one technological planet to judge by, and with only some spotty notions on how we managed to evolve into the technological species we are today, we haven’t the foggiest idea how rare or common technologies might be out there.

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Okay, okay: let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that techno species are pretty common and that humans are a pretty good analogue for most technological aliens out there. There is still the problem of time. The universe is not only spacious, but it’s awash in oceans of time against which a century or two of radio transmissions — or a few decades of listening to radio transmissions — are a tiny fraction of the blink of a cosmic eye. What would be the chances that two technological species on distant worlds will blink at exactly the same moment (adjusted for the speed of light, of course) so they detect each other?

I’m no bookmaker, but I’d guess the odds are something like a five billion to one, or worse. Meanwhile, the lottery is merely millions, or tens of millions to one — way better odds (although still terrible).

Then again, against all odds and rationality, SETI might report back in a few months that they have detected a hilarious alien television sitcom from Kepler-62. I sure hope so, because that would be the biggest event in all of human history. But I’m not betting on it.

Further Discovery News coverage of Kepler-62:

Image: Relative sizes of all of the habitable-zone planets discovered to date alongside Earth. Left to right: Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f and Earth (except for Earth, these are artists’ renditions). Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech.

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