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Extraterrestrial

Could gamma-ray bursts explain the apparent lack of alien civilizations ?

By T.K. Randall
May 2, 2024 · Comment icon 26 comments
Gamma-ray burst.
Image Credit: CC BY 4.0 International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva
A type of rare, though extremely energetic and deadly cosmic event is able to wipe out whole planets.
The question of whether we are alone in the universe remains one of the biggest philosophical conundrums of our time. While it seems almost inconceivable that our civilization is alone in the cosmos, the fact still remains that we have yet to see any evidence to the contrary.

The Fermi paradox, which highlights the contradiction between the likely existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the fact that we have still never encountered any, seems to suggest that either there are no aliens out there, or they are so rare that it is unlikely we would ever come across them.

Now astronomy professor Dr. Frederick Walter has put forward one possible explanation for why we haven't come into contact with any alien civilizations: perhaps most of them have been wiped out by a cataclysmic galactic event before they even got the chance to venture into space.

The event in question is known as a gamma-ray burst - an extreme, energetic explosion that occurs when a particularly high-mass star implodes, forming either a neutron star or a black hole.

According to NASA, such bursts are "the most powerful class of explosions in the universe".

This means that any civilizations in the path of such a burst are likely to be wiped out almost immediately - a fate that may have already befallen countless alien races across the cosmos.
Fortunately, gamma-ray bursts are very rare (especially in our own galaxy), but they do still happen.

"It's a tightly focused beam and if it's directed through the plane of the galaxy, it could basically sterilize about 10 percent of the planets in the galaxy," Dr Walter told Mail Online.

"It's estimated that there is a gamma-ray burst every 100 million years or so, in any galaxy. Over a billion years, on average, you might expect a significant number of civilizations to be eradicated."

"It's just one of many possible explanations, sort of morbid, I suppose."

It has even been theorized that some of the mass extinctions that occurred on our own planet in the distant past may have happened due to gamma-ray bursts.

Thankfully, though, the odds of another one hitting us at any given time are infinitesimally small.

Source: Mail Online | Comments (26)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #17 Posted by the13bats 12 days ago
It's perception p, Whales and dolphins are "smart" but not much interested in the pursuits humans are. There could be planets with creatures that are content.   I do understand the pessimism, I took doubt life is common and then what kind of life we talking about, so to sound snide there might be lots of life out there but is it life we care about ?
Comment icon #18 Posted by Hazzard 12 days ago
I believe that the most common life out there would be simple, up to in very rare cases semi smart. Celular up to some small crab like creatures around hot vents (Europa). Maybe insects and reptiles on some far away goldilocks planet? But smart mamals like dogs and dolphins are probably extremely rare. Star travelers? ... We could very well be alone?
Comment icon #19 Posted by Hazzard 12 days ago
I mean space explorers as in moonwalkers and beyond here...
Comment icon #20 Posted by Antigonos 12 days ago
It’s also within the goldilocks zone.
Comment icon #21 Posted by Trelane 12 days ago
Exactly! Same with Mars, and yet one of the three was lucky enough to develop into what we have. In my opinion, that's not helping the maths for the overinflated statements of "billions of habitable planets". 
Comment icon #22 Posted by the13bats 12 days ago
I was trying to babble about the same thing you just summed it up way better.
Comment icon #23 Posted by astrobeing 12 days ago
My guess is that life is most commonly something that happens on a planet for a period and then dies out. Life tends to consume all resources and alter the environment that supports it until it can't support it anymore. This happened on Earth when anaerobic life filled the atmosphere with useless oxygen and species began to die off. Fortunately some organisms were able to adapt to using this waste product and a cycle formed but that was just pure luck. There's no reason that cycles have to form.
Comment icon #24 Posted by the13bats 12 days ago
That's a rather glaring point now isn't it, we are the only life in our system ( that we know of ) yet other planets could have life.
Comment icon #25 Posted by Hazzard 12 days ago
It feels like we are close, but not quite there yet... https://www.livescience.com/space/extraterrestrial-life/no-the-james-webb-space-telescope-probably-didnt-detect-signs-of-alien-life-but-it-soon-could   In October 2023 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, that detected hints of an ocean on a planet called K2-18 b, located more than 100 light-years away. Their data also suggested "potential signs" of dimethyl sulfide, a chemical that, as far as we know, is produced only by life on Earth. https://www.livescience.com/space/extraterrestrial-life/whats-the-best-evidence-weve-found-for-alien-l... [More]
Comment icon #26 Posted by Trelane 11 days ago
It's parent star is a M-type red dwarf, I'm not getting my hopes up. I also would love to be wrong.   I would rather see the focus on finding Sun like systems. G type, main sequence stars that we have proof right here that can support life for any planets it's goldilocks zone.


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