Ben McGee - Galactic Deep Time, Xenoarchaeology, and the Case for Physical Artifacts as “First Contact”
With respect to the age of the galaxy and the probability of the evolution of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), Enrico Fermi famously asked the question, “Where are they?”—referring to the apparent lack of ETI activity in the galaxy, which the sciences have come to call the Fermi Paradox. In response, some speculate that the overt lack of evidence of ETI implies that Earth is subject to a sort of cosmic quarantine, known as the “galactic zoo” hypothesis, which is akin to the famed “Prime Directive” of Star Trek fame. However, we now know that the galaxy is a very threatening place, with regular gammaray bursts, bolide impacts, and orbital perturbations, all serving as potential extinction-level events. With this in mind, it is entirely possible that the Fermi Paradox exists not by design but because natural or self-inflicted extinctions are far more common than we optimistically speculate. In this case, the concept of xenoarchaeology, the scientific study of artifacts of potential alien life and culture, takes on a role of centralized importance—as it is argued that humanity’s definitive “first contact” moment will involve evidence of alien life long since perished.
Ben McGee is the Founder and Principal Research Scientist of Astrowright Spaceflight Consulting LLC and the resident scientist on the National Geographic Channel’s reality series, Chasing UFOs.