Evidence of Aliens in Area 51 Is Elusive

We want to believe. We need to have proof.

Posted Sep 20, 2019

Alien seekers have begun to gather in southern Nevada, with two people detained on September 20 near the entrance of Area 51, a military base surrounded by myths of extraterrestrial visitors.

Since June 2019, two million people have responded to a Facebook invitation to “Storm Area 51.” Government officials have warned would-be trespassers against trying to enter, though stalwart travelers in smaller numbers have begun to arrive, hoping—if not to find evidence of ET—at least to partake in one of two “Alienstock” music festivals planned for this weekend.

RJA1988/Pixabay
Source: RJA1988/Pixabay

“People desire to be part of something, to be ahead of the curve,” said sociologist Michael Ian Borer. “Area 51 is a place where normal, ordinary citizens can’t go. When you tell people they can’t do something, they just want to do it more.”

Area 51 is an Air Force base used to test experimental aircraft, so we shouldn’t expect the Department of Defense to invite in the public to have a look around. The restrictions from entering Area 51 have only given conspiracy theorists more reason to question what’s inside. In turn, the lack of access provides a ready explanation for not being able to provide proof that extraterrestrials are already locked away in Area 51.

Scientists searching for signs of extraterrestrial life on planets orbiting distant stars need something concrete to scrutinize before they can make the astounding claim that Earth is being visited. They’re unimpressed by claims that extraterrestrials have already arrived.

_freakwave_/Pixabay
Source: _freakwave_/Pixabay

Are We Alone?

Is it plausible to imagine that life exists in the universe, and that it might even make its way to Earth? To decide, we need to consider three factors: the number of potentially habitable planets, the fraction of those planets that go on to host life that has evolved into intelligence, and the technological feasibility of traveling between the stars.

Our galaxy is filled with more planets than stars. About one out of five star systems has a planet orbiting within the star’s Goldilocks Zone, where it’s not too hot, and not too cold, but just right for liquid water. If life arose on only one out of a thousand of the potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way, there would still be millions of worlds in our galaxy alone that are teeming with life. On top of that, there are billions of other galaxies in the universe. 

On Earth, once life originated, it spread into every imaginable environment—from the frozen tundra of the Arctic, to acid hot springs, to deep sea hydrothermal vents, to the core of nuclear reactors. Once life takes hold, it morphs into a fantastic variety of shapes and sizes as it migrates from one location to another. Part of that variety includes bigger brains, which might eventually develop the technology to travel between the stars.

If only one in a thousand life-bearing planets in the Milky Way is inhabited by intelligence, that could still leave us with thousands of star systems with savvy engineers trying to develop interstellar propulsion.

There’s a lot of real estate in our galaxy. Wouldn’t it be freakish if no one is home, anywhere out there?

The distances between the stars are imposing. That’s the rationale for SETI—the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, which searches for distinctly artificial signals beamed from other star systems—signals that can’t be explained as manifestations of natural processes. Even if it’s conceivable to travel between the stars, it’s much faster and cheaper to send radio or laser signals, so this remains the choice search strategy for mainstream scientists.

But perhaps alien anthropologists want to get up close and personal, so they want to visit.

Delayed Gratification

For humans, it’s hard to wrap our minds around the timescales needed for interstellar travel. But a more mature extraterrestrial civilization might be up for the long-term investment required to move between the stars. The Milky Way is immense, measuring a hundred thousand light-years from one end to the other. But with enough time, an interstellar journey is conceivable.

I’m not holding my breath for warp drive, but that’s not needed for a credible propulsion system. An alien spacecraft traveling at only a tenth the speed of light could traverse the full distance of our galaxy in only a million years—a cosmic blink of the eye in the thirteen-billion-year history of the universe. Extraterrestrial visitors from anywhere in our galaxy could reach Earth even sooner, given our location, partway out on one arm of the Milky Way.

For modern-day humans who want immediate gratification, these timescales seem like a deal breaker. But if we imagine space missions that last much longer than a human lifetime, it’s within the realm of possibility that aliens could make the journey, especially if these extraterrestrials are a form of artificial intelligence, making them effectively immortal.

Martin Str/Pixabay
Source: Martin Str/Pixabay

Scientific Skepticism

To suggest that the aliens are already here is like something out of The X Files. It would be breathtaking news, but right now, it’s only science fiction. As we contemplate the possibility of life beyond Earth, we need to have a mindset that combines the natural tendencies of the two protagonists of that television series. Like Mulder, we want to believe, but like Scully, we need to see the evidence. Until someone introduces me to a large-eyed Grey, I’ll keep supporting the search for radio and laser signals from other star systems, rather than looking for the remains of crashed UFOs.

Evidence of alien life is elusive. SETI is designed to find evidence that will meet the rigors of scientific skepticism. If a promising radio transmission or laser signal is detected only once, from a single observatory, it has no credibility as a message from ET. SETI scientists won’t be convinced that they’ve found an extraterrestrial civilization until they come across a distinctly artificial signal that repeats and that can be observed by other astronomers using their own telescopes.

If SETI scientists announce they’ve finally made first contact, the news will be supported by data that can be studied by their colleagues and the public at large. It’s the opposite mindset from those who argue that the evidence of an alien presence on our home world is being kept under wraps. Conspiracy theorists claim that aliens have already made their way to Earth, but they can’t provide the evidence to back this up. Scientists need something concrete they can measure with their instruments.

As the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk prepare for humankind’s next journeys into space, our connection to the cosmos has become more central to understanding ourselves as a civilization. Not since a half century ago, when humans first stepped foot on the Moon, have we seen such a sense of anticipation that we are on the brink of a new stage of our evolution as a spacefaring species.

Scientific skepticism won’t stop people from gathering at Area 51 Basecamp this weekend, turning the Nevada desert into an alien-themed Burning Man. Dueling “Alienstocks” promise to give visitors some entertainment—perhaps easing the disappointment of not finding any extraterrestrials. But as we continue to understand our place in the universe, seeking to know whether our galaxy is teeming with life or whether we are alone, skepticism will remain essential to our quest.