Searching the Sky: Is anyone out there?

Baumgartner typically sets his own topics in his Searching the Sky series, but in this case, this subject was a special new year request made by BenitoLink Executive Director, Leslie David

This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy. 

Since the beginning of time when humans first walked the earth and looked up into the night sky they must have wondered, “What are all these bright lights all about? Where did they come from?” 

Not having the answers, they would turn to one of their gods for explanations. Sometimes it would be because the gods were pleased with the people, or upset with something they had done. When that problem was satisfied, they would go on to the next adventure hoping their god would be pleased. 

As time went by our ancestors learned more answers. They became more aware of their surroundings. They learned to read and write, which helped them remember their findings and pass the information on to their children, and their children’s children, and finally on to us. 

I just wish their writings would have been a little more specific on some of the accomplishments they made, such as the Egyptian pyramids, and many other great structures around the world, which were built with primitive tools.

Many of these places we couldn’t even build today with our more advanced tools. Did they have help? And if so, who was it? Was it a super race with super intelligence and sophisticated equipment living just over the hill? And where did they go? Or did they come from outside our Earth’s envelope? And if so, then where? And why don’t we have any evidence of them being here, apart from these fantastic buildings?

These are just some of the questions I had as a young lad that are still unanswered today by me or by anyone else. See, we aren’t much different today than our ancestors were so many years ago. The more we learn, the more questions we have that are unanswered. 

I’m sure some of us today still turn to God for the credit or the reason for the unknowns. So how about aliens for the answer? We can’t leave them out of this equation. Either way, all it does is provide us with more questions.

Many people believe some form of aliens exist somewhere. But that is where our knowledge of aliens comes to a halt. Does our government know more than it lets on? I believe so. Have aliens lived among us from the beginning of our existence? I’m not sure. Genetically are we the offspring of some ancient traveling aliens, not unlike sailors’ docking at ports around the world spreading their DNA? And are we some kind of experiment by our great-great grandfathers from other worlds? So many unanswered questions. Will we ever know the answers? 

I want to believe these intelligent aliens with good intentions are out there ready to visit and share all their universal knowledge with us. With this in mind, perhaps we could shorten our learning timetable and keep world hunger, diseases and war from ending all life as we know it. 

We always hear stories about aliens, with smiles on their light green faces, coming to our front door and asking to take them to our leader. Not so fast! Do you think these aliens, with their unbelievable knowledge and power, are here for the benefit of mankind? I don’t think so. 

If it turns out we are related to them in any way, then we had better be careful. Maybe it would be a good idea, for now, to back off looking for them. We might get more than we bargained for.

There are many people out there that don’t believe any of this, that it’s all “fake news.” I’m sorry, I had to put that in there, but there is so much information out there that is hard to disprove, such as all the unbelievable construction that went on thousands of years ago. Give me solid proof that aliens do exist, something that could persuade someone like me, who is on the fence, to become a believer.

Why don’t we just ask these aliens all of our questions and get the answers we need to know right now?  Oh, that’s right; we don’t know if they really exist or not, or do we? 

We have been sending information out into space for over a hundred years now in the form of radio and television signals, and today searching with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, we are letting anyone who has the ability to tune in, learn all about our civilization and get in touch with us. 

So why haven’t they? Listening to big band music and watching “I Love Lucy” should tell them everything they need to know about us. Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard from them yet. But traveling the speed of light for over a hundred years would only get you out around 100 light years from Earth, only covering a small area of our Milky Way which is about 100 million light years across. So it might be a long time before anyone gets back to us.

What are the chances there is anyone out there? Are we so special and unique that we believe we are the only ones, all alone? 

It would be naive of us, to say the least, to think that we are the only ones that exist in this vast universe we live in.  

Do you suppose there is a scientific formula to figure out if there is life in the Milky Way as we know it? In 1961 Astronomer Frank Drake came up with an equation to estimate how many detectable extraterrestrial civilizations might exist in our galaxy. Each variable is a crucial factor for the development of alien life. By changing just one figure in Drake’s formula could give us a dramatic change in the outcome. Let’s see what you come up with: 


  • N: The number of civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.
  • R* : The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life (number per year).
  • Fp: The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
  • Ne: The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
  • Fl: The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.
  • Fi: The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
  • Fc: The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that produces detectable signs of their existence.
  • L : The average length of time such civilizations produce such signs (years).

Later on Astronomer Seager revised Drake’s formula to: N=N*·Fq·Fhz·Fo·Fl·Fs 

  • N = the number of planets with detectable signs of life
  • N* = the number of stars observed
  • FQ = the fraction of stars that are quiet
  • FHZ = the fraction of stars with rocky planets in the habitable zone
  • FO = the fraction of those planets that can be observed
  • FL = the fraction that have life
  • FS = the fraction on which life produces a detectable signature gas

OK, what is your answer? Oh, you need more time? That’s understandable. Mr. Drake, using his formula, came up with 10 communicating civilizations in our galaxy and 1,500 billion in the entire universe. 

Is that what you came up with? I came up with the same number you did. 

Based on today’s estimates, from what we know now, the number was something less than 924,000 for the universe. Still an awful lot of aliens to think may come and visit us someday. Or, again, have they already?

But wait, I look back and think of all the forks in the road life had to take on its journey here on Earth to get us to where we are today. Quite an incredible journey we’ve made. 

Maybe we are special and are all alone in this very lonely dark universe. How sad. 

To support this special theory of us being alone, all I have to do is replace any one of those numbers in Drake’s or Seager’s formula with a zero and the ending number would be zero. 

Oh wait. Wouldn’t that eliminate Earth as well? Maybe I should rethink this.

So what did we learn here? I’m not sure we learned anything. We already knew that there could be life out there somewhere. We already knew that they could be somewhat intelligent as we are. Has this intelligent life ever visited us in the past, or are they among us today? Again, where is the proof? I’m ready to believe. 

I do know one thing we learned. And that is in the form of another question: Is life in the cosmos easily begun and as ubiquitous as it has been on Earth, or is life incredibly rare? 

I guess we can file that with the rest of our questions.

We keep learning more about this puzzling universe as we venture out into the unknown. Most of what we learn turns out to be very strange to us. One of the strangest things in the cosmos might be us. And maybe that’s all we can expect to learn for now. But I guarantee you one thing: there’s more to come, a lot more.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Years. And let’s hope 2022 is somewhat better than 2021. It has to be, doesn’t it? Great, another unanswered question.  


Up and coming events

Jan. 1: Moon is perigee (222,471 miles from Earth)

Jan. 2: New Moon

Jan. 3: Quadrantid meteor shower peeks

Jan. 3: Moon passes 3 degrees south of Mercury

Jan. 4: Earth is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the sun)

Jan. 4: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Saturn

Jan. 5: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Jupiter

Jan. 7: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Neptune

Jan. 9: First Quarter Moon

Jan. 11: Moon passes 1.5 degrees south of Uranus

Jan. 14: Moon is at apogee (252,155 miles from Earth)

David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. College (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Questa, Colleges, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonville, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate License in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. In December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. None the less, I am retired and I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.