Nautilus

Maybe We Haven’t Seen Any Aliens Because They’re All Dead

If astronomers fail to detect any other civilizations, whether extant or extinct, they may be forced to conclude that we are alone.Photograph by U.S. Department of Energy / Wikicommons

The aliens may have found their grave. As we sweep the radio frequencies, we hear only noise; as we slew our telescopes, we see barren pixel after pixel. Is that because our fellow inhabitants of the galaxy have done themselves in, reducing their home planets to cinders? Is the night sky a charnel house hidden under a veil of tranquility?

Last year Jack O’Malley-James, an astrobiologist at Cornell University, and his colleagues Adam Stevens and Duncan Forgan published their analysis of this macabre possibility. Just as astrobiologists have started to look for possible biosignatures—evidence of life, such as

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