James leaned over the car door. “Where’re you from?”
“Lemon-5.” Her black orb eyes glistened.
“I could drive away and leave you be.” He took a drag off his cigarette. “But where would that leave me in the pursuit of knowledge?”
He chuckled and turned his key in the ignition.
A lot of people wonder, at one time or another, about whether we’re the only sentient life in our cosmic neighbourhood. Whether we’re alone in our little corner of the known universe.
Statistically, there is bound to be other sentient life around us. Physics and math pretty much point to it. Several planets have been found potentially favourable to hosting life. Sure, mostly for basic life—microbial and probably not much more. And these planets are general in what’s called the Goldilocks zone, the area around a star where planets in orbit within are far enough away from the star but not too far, depending on the type of star.
So if there is such a possibility, and not a small one at that, why have we not yet encountered any other life—sentient or basic? Obviously, at this point, our technology is not yet advanced enough to confirm the existence of basic life even in our own solar system. Then what of sentient life? Surely there would be something sent out to space by alien lifeforms trying to communicate, to find out if they’re not alone?
That’s a good point and it’s logical. It’s what we would do, within our thinking conventions. And that, right there, is the snag. It’s what humans would do. Not necessarily what other lifeforms would. But that doesn’t really answer the question, only broadens our ability to consider.
Officially, no one knows why we haven't made contact or observed life. We can’t know until we actually do. It’s a catch-22 situation. But we can speculate—theorise.
Consider, for a moment, the vast distance between the Earth and the sun—Sol. 149,6 million kilometres. Now, the distance between Sol and the Kuiper Belt surrounding the edge of our solar system, in where Pluto orbits, ends at 50 AU (astronomical units, where 1 AU is the distance from Sol to Earth). For further perspective, Sol’s closest solar neighbour is Proxima Centauri which is 4.24 light-years (LY) away—where 1 LY is about 63 239 AU.
That’s pretty far away.
Consider, then, that perhaps—if a sentient civilisation has been trying to contact us—they’re too far for their signals to reach us. And by the time they do—if they do—they would be long dead. Not to mention that, in this case, any contact to us would be one-way. There probably won’t be anyone around to hear our response by the time it reaches the origin location.
Or perhaps, just maybe, they have made contact already but our human tendency to discard consideration for the Other has been the reason we still wonder if we’re alone and why the universe is so quiet?
This little thought experiment (and not-so-little critique on humanity) was inspired by @jayna's Fifty Word Challenge where the prompt this week was “lemon”. I encourage every writer—starting out or professional—to join in this fun but challenging initiative.