There is renewed chatter among physicists about a long-awaited discovery that may come some time this year: the observation of gravity waves. The anticipation is like the lead up to the release of The Force Awakens, but for high energy physicists rather than Star Wars fans. What might happen and what will it mean? And the stakes are high. If we can detect gravity waves, we can open the door to new theories about the fundamental nature of the Universe.
In a casual conversation in 1950, among a number of eminent physicists of the time, Enrico Fermi asked why we haven’t found evidence of extraterrestrial life. After all, with so many billions of stars out there in the vastness of space, and an even greater number of planets, even if the chances of a planet producing intelligent life that is capable of interstellar communication and travel are absolutely minuscule, there should still be at least some signs of other civilizations in the universe. This disconnect between the idea that we should be seeing signs of life in the universe, and the fact that we are not, has been called The Fermi Paradox.
In 1961, astronomer Frank Drake formalized this idea into an equation, known as the Drake equation: