Scientists Say There Could Be 36 Intelligent Alien Civilizations in Our Galaxy

While University of Nottingham researchers believe there may be other life in the galaxy, they say it's still possible we are all alone

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Have Earthlings been getting on your nerves lately? Well, you may be in luck.

According to researchers at the University of Nottingham, the Milky Way may have at least 36 active intelligent alien civilizations within the galaxy's limits. But, it may also have hundreds more than that, the researchers said in a paper published Monday in The Astrophysical Journal.

Nottingham astrophysics professor Christopher Conselice and the study's other authors based their numbers on the assumption that intelligent life would form on other planets similar to how it developed on Earth.

"There should be at least a few dozen active civilizations in our Galaxy under the assumption that it takes 5 billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as on Earth," Conselice said in a press release. "The idea is looking at evolution, but on a cosmic scale. We call this calculation the Astrobiological Copernican Limit."

The researchers also took into consideration the number of Earth-like planets in the galaxy that orbit stars similar to our own.

“The classic method for estimating the number of intelligent civilizations relies on making guesses of values relating to life, whereby opinions about such matters vary quite substantially. Our new study simplifies these assumptions using new data, giving us a solid estimate of the number of civilizations in our Galaxy," co-author Tom Westby said in the statement.

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"The two Astrobiological Copernican limits are that intelligent life forms in less than 5 billion years, or after about 5 billion years – similar to on Earth," Westby continued, adding that intelligent life on our planet formed after 4.5 billion years.

After researchers looked at stars with similar metal content to the sun (the Sun is relatively speaking quite metal-rich, Westby said), they concluded there theoretically should be around 36 active civilizations in the galaxy.

Even if there is intelligent life out there, we likely won't be knocking on their door anytime soon. The researchers estimated the average distance to these intelligent civilizations is about 17,000 light-years away.

If intelligent life forms on distant planets scare people, the researchers have an equally terrifying alternative — there is still a chance we are alone in the galaxy.

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"If we find that intelligent life is common, then this would reveal that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years," Conselice said.

"Alternatively, if we find that there are no active civilizations in our galaxy, it is a bad sign for our own long-term existence," he continued. "By searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life — even if we find nothing — we are discovering our own future and fate."

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