Friday 2 December 2022 The Fermi Paradox, or “Where is Everybody?”

Friday 2 December 2022 7.30 pm BRLSI in-person and Zoom lecture

Michael Perryman
Adjunct Professor, University College Dublin

This talk examines the question of whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the Universe. The simple answer is that we do not know. But by looking at the huge numbers of stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy and beyond, the vast numbers of planets now known to exist around them, and the immense age of the Universe throughout which life might have developed, we can formulate the question in a different way: if alien civilisations have developed elsewhere, surely we might see some sorts of evidence for their existence? In 1950, the distinguished physicist Enrico Fermi famously formulated the paradox as ‘Where is everybody?’. Others have referred to it as the ‘Great Silence’ problem. It turns out to be a deceptively simple question that presents a challenge for theories assuming a naturalistic origin of life and intelligence, and possibly one with some alarming conclusions.  I will look at the problem in a number of ways, including:  What is life? Do we have any ideas of how common life, or intelligent life might be? Is the Earth special in the conditions under which life on our planet formed?  What sorts of searches for life are being carried out today?  And if we find nothing, what are the implications of one possible conclusion: that we are alone in the Universe…

Michael Perryman obtained a degree in physics, and a PhD in radio astronomy, at Cambridge University. During a 30-year career with the European Space Agency, he was the scientific leader of the Hipparcos space astrometry mission between 1981-1997, and of the follow-on Gaia space astrometry mission between 1995-2008. He was Professor of Astronomy at Leiden University, The Netherlands, between 1993-2009, and has received various awards for his leadership of space astrometry, including the Gold Medal of the French Astronomical Society, the Academy Medal of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Tycho Brahe Prize of the European Astronomical Society, and the international Shaw Prize in Astronomy 2022. He has held a position as Adjunct Professor, University College Dublin since 2013.

This lecture was not recorded.