Thinking over my hypothesis about why there are no extraterrestrial civilizations around, at least none within several hundred million light-years, I realized a small loophole. I assumed that the alien civilization would be trying to survive as long as possible. But what if there isn’t that much longer to live? That is, what if the universe won’t be capable of supporting life or intelligence of any kind at some point in the future?
It may sound strange but there is a hypothesis being kicked around called the Big Rip. Basically, the universe is expanding, and it is accelerating. So, what if the acceleration itself is increasing as well? In technical kinematic terms, the jerk is non-zero (yes, that really is the term for change of acceleration. Change in position is velocity. Change in velocity is acceleration. Change in acceleration is called jerk. I didn’t just make that up. Jerk). Anyway, it postulates that if this is the case eventually galaxies and solar systems, all the way down to planets, life-forms, even atoms will get ripped apart by the rushing expansion of space. If true, the scientists that developed this concept estimate that around 50 billion years from now this would happen.
50 billion years is a long time, but is actually quite small compared to the length of time I estimated an advanced civilization could survive. In short, there may be alien civilizations out there that don’t convert the entire universe into energy stores because they just don’t need to. A single star would supply all their energy needs until the end. They might even encourage the development of other intelligent species since, hey, we’re all doomed anyway, and there’s more than enough room in the meantime. They might as well have some company.
The Big Rip is still just a hypothesis. There’s no evidence that it’s actually going to happen. But if we do ever discover alien civilizations, it might be a big tip-off that maybe the universe doesn’t have as long to go as we think it does (though it would do to confirm it independently, as they probably would have).
Next Post: Black Hole Power