How Advanced Could They Possibly Be?
Today, every few weeks brings news of a new Jupiter-sized extra-solar planet being discovered, the latest being about 15 light years away orbiting around the star Gliese 876. But the best is yet to come.
The most spectacular of these findings was photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope, which captured breathtaking photos of a planet 450 light years away being sling-shot into space by a double-star system. Early in the next decade, scientists will launch a new kind of telescope, the interferometry space telescope, which uses the interference of light beams to enhance the resolving power of telescopes.
In a brilliant essay, Michio Kaku (Theoretical physicist and host of BBC series Visions of the Future) observes that although conjecture about advanced civilizations a matter of sheer speculation, we can still use the laws of quantum field theory, general relativity, thermodynamics, to place upper and lower limits on these civilizations.
Although it is impossible to predict the precise features of such advanced civilizations, their broad outlines can be analyzed using the laws of physics. No matter how many millions of years separate us from them, they still must obey the iron laws of physics, which are now advanced enough to explain everything from sub-atomic particles to the large-scale structure of the universe, through a staggering 43 orders of magnitude.
Soon, humanity may face an existential shock as the current list of a dozen Jupiter-sized extra-solar planets swells to hundreds of earth-sized planets, almost identical twins of Earth. This may usher in a new era in our relationship with the universe: we will never see the night sky in the same way ever again, realizing that scientists may eventually compile an encyclopedia identifying the precise co-ordinates of perhaps hundreds of earth-like planets.
"The Space Interferometry Mission (SIM)," Kaku writes, "to be launched early in the next decade, consists of multiple telescopes placed along a 30 foot structure. With an unprecedented resolution approaching the physical limits of optics, the SIM is so sensitive that it almost defies belief: orbiting the earth, it can detect the motion of a lantern being waved by an astronaut on Mars!
"The SIM, in turn, will pave the way for the Terrestrial Planet Finder, to be launched late in the next decade, which should identify even more earth-like planets. It will scan the brightest 1,000 stars within 50 light years of the earth and will focus on the 50 to 100 brightest planetary systems. "All this, in turn, will stimulate an active effort to determine if any of them harbor life, perhaps some with civilizations more advanced than ours."
Kaku cites Berkeley astronomer Don Goldsmith who reminds us that the earth receives about one billionth of the suns energy, and that humans utilize about one millionth of that, consuming about one million billionth of the suns total energy.
"Look how far we have come in energy uses once we figured out how to manipulate energy, how to get fossil fuels really going, and how to create electrical power from hydropower, and so forth." Goldsmith syas, "We've come up in energy uses in a remarkable amount in just a couple of centuries compared to billions of years our planet has been here ... and this same sort of thing may apply to other civilizations."
Physicist Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study estimates that, within 200 years or so, we should attain Type I status -a truly planetary one, which has mastered most forms of planetary energy. Type 1 energy output may be on the order of thousands to millions of times our current planetary output.
They also have enough energy to alter the course of earthquakes, volcanoes, and build cities on their oceans. In fact, growing at a modest rate of 1% per year, it would take only 3,200 years to reach Type II status, and 5,800 years to reach Type III status.
Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)
Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)