For the first time, astronomers have detected the presence of complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young star, suggesting that the conditions that spawned our Earth and Sun are not unique in the universe. In fact, it probably means that the building blocks of life are very widely spread. This, combined with the recent discovery that planets are commonplace, raises the likelihood that life may be abundant. Just how abundant cannot be known, but it is now all but certain that there is life out there. But is it intelligent? If intelligent life was commonplace, then we would have seen more obvious signs, probably in the radio background noise. However, given the sheer size of the cosmos, it is all but inevitable that ET exists.

It is worth contemplating the incredible size of the universe. It contains over a hundred billion galaxies, and the average galaxy contains in excess of 300 billion stars. And that’s just this universe. There are increasing indications that there are more, and even that our universe has on a number of occasions collided with others.

So why hasn’t ET landed? Unless, of course, he has. If we were a spacefaring species and encountered another intelligent species that was far behind us in development, the first thing our social scientists would do would be to caution us not to reveal ourselves lest we lose our chance to study them and their culture in its independent condition.

In a research paper published in Science in 1977, T. B. H. Kuiper and Mark Morris hypothesized that aliens would keep themselves hidden because they would have a primary motive of discovering novel ideas and experiences, and if they revealed themselves to a less advanced civilization, it would at once direct its entire attention to them and its native culture would become too distorted to be of interest.

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