Entering the Total Perspective Vortex

(note: this is essentially a re-post of something I wrote on Flickr this morning, but hey, my blog, I get to do that once in a while)

Exoplanets.  Lots of them.

Every one of the green spots in this most-of-the-sky view is an exoplanet, as downloaded by a plugin for Stellarium this morning; I don’t know how complete it is, but two things are crystal clear: everywhere we look, we find planets, and everywhere we look closely we find lots of planets — the two clusters are the Kepler and OGLE projects.

I take away two lessons from this.

One: we, humanity, are not the point of creation. We are incidental to it. We are not the center of the universe. The universe doesn’t care about us. So we need to grow the hell up as a species and start taking care of ourselves, because ain’t nothing out there going to do it for us. We are insignificant; the universe will not notice if we wipe ourselves out by war, disease, or environmental stupidity, and it will not step in to make sure we don’t. It has plenty of other planetary experiments going on, and it won’t notice if our little test tube flames out. That’s the bad news.

Now the good news.

Lesson Two: if we’ve found this much in less than two decades of looking, think how rich the diversity of planets must really be out there. As sure as I can be without any data to back it up, I am convinced that there’s other intelligent life out there. I don’t know where. I don’t know when or whether we’ll ever contact them. But just on the basis of statistics (and modesty), one almost has to assume there are other inhabited planets with intelligent beings on them.

I mean, there are estimated to be anywhere from eleven to forty billion potential habitable planets–planets in their star’s habitable zone–just in our own galaxy… and there are an estimated half a trillion galaxies in the universe.

Using the Milky Way and the lower estimate of eleven billion Earth-like planets, just taking the odds of hitting the MegaMillions jackpot (1:2.59×108) as the chance of intelligent life would mean somewhere around 40-44 inhabited planets. Powerball odds are even better–1:1.75×108 or around 60-65 inhabited planets. If the odds are like winning my local state lottery, about 1:1.4×107, it’s the jackpot all right — over 780 inhabited worlds. And everyone’s favorite guess for long odds (“Oh, that’s gotta be one in a million!”) gives eleven thousand inhabited worlds.

Eleven thousand.

Just in our own galaxy.

Now multiply any of those by five hundred billion.

If that doesn’t make you go ‘wow’, do the math again until it does.


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