Storming Area 51 to find aliens? Here's some science to consider

Internet jokesters call for people to storm Area 51 to find aliens – here's some science to consider
Credit: Pixabay

Millions of people have signed up to a tongue-in-cheek Facebook event to storm the US military base "Area 51" on 20 September to discover whether aliens are inside. While the organisers said it was a joke, the US military wasn't amused, responding it would "discourage anyone from trying to enter the area".

It's no wonder. Despite the humorous nature of the event (there are some amusing comments on the page), there will be those who take this seriously and could get themselves arrested or injured. So to help further discourage anyone who is seriously pondering whether there are aliens hidden in the base, let's take a look at the chances that there could be, according to science.

Area 51 is a military training range at Groom Lake, Nevada, and for decades has been at the centre of a conspiracy theory that the US government is hiding evidence of extraterrestrials visiting the Earth.

The idea that aliens exist has been around as long as people have understood that the Earth is not the centre of the universe. As a child I remember reading "real stories" of people claiming they had been abducted by aliens, and my main question was, "why are nearly all these abductees American?" While it is highly likely that something traumatic happened to these claimants, there is absolutely no evidence of any of them being abducted by extraterrestrial beings.

Instead, the popularity of UFO sightings, and sci-fi TV shows likely contributed to the rise in such claims in the 1960s, before they started declining in the late 1990s. That said, the odd entertaining story to do with aliens does still appear today.

Area 51 conspiracy

The idea of Area 51 storing an alien vessel has its roots in Roswell, New Mexico. In 1947, a farmer there found unidentified material in his fields. The US military claimed this to be from a weather balloon, although many years later admitted that this was actually from a top secret military project to detect sound waves from an atomic blast.

Only a few years later, the then-secret Area 51 began testing its first spy planes. Local residents noticed these high altitude flyovers and attributed them to UFOs. Then in 1989, a man called Robert Lazar claimed that he worked on alien technology at Area 51, which is at the heart of the modern conspiracy theory. It should be noted that, although Lazar claims to have a Masters degree in physics, his stated institutions do not list him as a former student. This latest Facebook event comes only six months after the release of a Netflix documentary about Lazar.

Like those of other prominent conspiracy theorists, Lazar's statements have led to an enduring false belief that has the potential to cause harm. As such theories go, this is at least more probable than the idea of the Earth being flat, lizards wearing people suits to take government positions, or space pirates.

Internet jokesters call for people to storm Area 51 to find aliens – here's some science to consider
Back gate area 51. Credit: wikipedia

The odds

So what are the chances of alien life being present elsewhere in the universe? And how likely is it that they could visit us here? Most scientists agree that, given the vast size of the universe, there must be other life out there somewhere.

When astro-biologists look for signs of life in the solar system, they are looking for the traces left behind by basic organisms. Methane could be one such trace, which explains the excitement over the detection of methane plumes on Mars. If emitted regularly, methane could indicate carbon-based microbial life.

When assessing the chances that we will encounter advanced aliens, the most common approach is the Drake equation. Presented in 1961, it provides an estimate of the number of technologically advanced civilisations we could communicate with in our galaxy. The equation relies on seven variables multiplied together.

One of these—the average rate of star formation in our galaxy – can be estimated reasonably well. Another—the fraction of stars with planetary systems – we are working on. However, the five other variables, which include the average number of planets that can support life per star, the proportion of planets where life can become a civilisation and the fraction of civilisations that have the technology to transit the universe are all completely unknown.

Attempting to estimate any of these is in fact impossible, as we know of no other planets with life on that we can compare to our own. Do we only consider Earth-like planets, or do we also consider planets where silicon-based life (rather than our carbon-based) could thrive?

Investigators have come up with answers to the Drake equation, ranging from us being alone in the universe to there being several thousand other civilisations out there. However, the lack of knowledge about the parameters makes the equation pretty useless at present, in my opinion.

Searches for advanced extra-terrestrial life have mainly focused on looking for noise in radio or microwave signals which could indicate transmitted messages. These longer wavelengths of light are dispersed less when passing through interstellar gas and dust than visible or infrared light would be. So they are a good medium for transmitting such messages. But, to date, we haven't found any.

Scientists are also considering using active radio telescopes for sending messages to space, something the late physicist Stephen Hawking stated could be dangerous as alien civilisations may respond with hostility.

But while we can't rule out other life in the universe, it is virtually impossible that there could be alien visitors already on Earth. For them to visit us, they would have to detect us first. And we can assume that they would do this in the same way that we are looking for them, using radio noise.

As a planet, we have only been emitting man-made radio waves for the last 100 years. As radio waves travel at the speed of light, only aliens within 100 light years of us could even know we are here. Considering the diameter of the Milky Way is 105,000 , we haven't even begun to be detectable to most of our local galaxy, let alone the universe.

Ultimately the idea of storming Area 51 is a foolhardy one, as there will not be anything to see except a military response. Although it is likely there are aliens out there somewhere in the universe, they definitely aren't here on Earth.


Explore further

Yes, I'm searching for aliens—and no, I won't be going to Area 51 to look for them

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Jul 25, 2019
"But while we can't rule out other life in the universe, it is virtually impossible that there could be alien visitors already on Earth. "

Depends. If at least one ET has sent out Von Neuman probes the solar system is likely to host one or more. They would be very high level AI. And Earth must have been a prime target for such probes over the past 300 million years or so.
Most likely places to look? The moon and asteroids.

Jul 25, 2019
"But while we can't rule out other life in the universe, it is virtually impossible that there could be alien visitors already on Earth. For them to visit us, they would have to detect us first. And we can assume that they would do this in the same way that we are looking for them, using radio noise."

How arrogant. No, nothing is impossible, we can't assume they'd use the same radio waves as us. Really? Lol. This is why I honestly can't stand sheep "scientists" like you. You can't think outside the box and that causes you to not make any brilliant discoveries. You're so self-centered you think aliens must look exactly like us, go through all the inventions we went through like TV, radio, Super Nintendo... Which is really ridiculous, nonsense. Why would they use the same radio communications we use? That makes no sense. But you assume they do... Lol. It's highly probable they must be completely different from us and use a different way to communicate. Not the same radio signals we use.

Jul 25, 2019
And Earth must have been a prime target for such probes over the past 300 million years or so.
A gazillion Earth-like planets and they gotta pick this one, and more than 300 million years ago, heck, they're just now getting here. That must be one at the door now.

Jul 25, 2019
Easy peasy. Given the age of the universe, if faster than light travel is possible, then they are already here. If not, then not. But then, I have too many personal friends who have witnessed UFO's. And now the navy admits a new protocol for reporting sightings by pilots. But the thought that we are living in a planetary zoo is too disturbing to consider, right?? Better to continue self-imposed ignorance. The aliens know this. They are smart. We are dumb, as this board proves day after day.

Jul 25, 2019
@AlienRadioLmao

First you quote: " For them to visit us, they would have to detect us first. And we can assume that they would do this in the same way that we are looking for them, using radio noise."

And from this, you draw this conclusion: "Which is really ridiculous, nonsense. Why would they use the same radio communications we use? That makes no sense. But you assume they do... Lol. It's highly probable they must be completely different from us and use a different way to communicate. Not the same radio signals we use."

It was clear to me that the article wasn't saying aliens would communicate in the same way as we do, but that aliens might well look for the same types of signals - the electromagnetic spectrum predominantly (we sure as hell aren't going to smell, taste, touch, or hear them from here and vice versa) - as we are as an indication of intelligent life out there.

Jul 25, 2019
Easy peasy. [ ... ] We are dumb, as this board proves day after day.
Speak for yourself, datum.

Jul 26, 2019
jeebus, you saucernuts are spectacularly ignorant
"radio-waves"from Earth?
siriusly?
i am going out unto the proverbial limbo here
& assume you mean artificially broadcasted radio-waves?
instead of the flood of radio-waves naturally produced by our Sun & Jupiter?
as occurs in most other stellar systems?
all umpteen gazzilion of them

do any of you have any training in the technology?
besides pushing the on/off button?
do you know the history of the Human invention & development of radio?
what year the first experiments?
can you name the researchers since Maxwell?
the inventors since Marconi?
can you explain the difference between AM & FM radio
& why the difference is
important for radio signals to be able to push out into outer space?
can you sum the math to figure the energy needed to get a signal into space?
what year that was achieved?

do you really delude yourself that "Kukla, Fran & Ollie" broadcasts would motivate intelligent aliens to expend their resources to travel to Earth?

Jul 26, 2019
LOL Sounds like fun coming up in September. Only problem is that it is a military outpost with warning signs everywhere. And armed men stationed at lookout posts.
There are quite possibly some extraterrestrials somewhere on the compound whose spacecraft was shot down by a lucky US military pilot. It is also possible that those extraterrestrials are held as 'insurance' so that no further aerial 'dogfights' will occur between E.T.'s and human military pilots.
I have not been to visit Area 51 yet, but if several thousand souls are brave enough to attend this foolish action for a lark, then who am I to not attend also? Although I would have no intention of freeing any E.T.'s that might be holed up in Area 51. They could be some pretty mean hombres.

Jul 26, 2019
& it's also possible that the sillyegghead has been dipping into the cult's stash of hallucinogenic mushrooms a tad too often!

Jul 26, 2019
Easy peasy. Given the age of the universe, if faster than light travel is possible, then they are already here. If not, then not. But then, I have too many personal friends who have witnessed UFO's. And now the navy admits a new protocol for reporting sightings by pilots. But the thought that we are living in a planetary zoo is too disturbing to consider, right?? Better to continue self-imposed ignorance. The aliens know this. They are smart. We are dumb, as this board proves day after day.
says Tuxford

Humans, for all their bravado and aggressiveness, are actually frightened half to death at the thought that "We are not alone" in the Universe, or in this galaxy for that matter.
If they encountered real extraterrestrials, they would for certain try to think up ways that they could incarcerate these E.T.s and keep them off the streets. Especially if the E.T.s were of a different colour - such as green or gray.

Jul 26, 2019
@Tuxford
I also see extraterrestrial spacecraft every so often. Their ships resemble the ones that you see in sci fi movies. In fact, it is very likely that the authors of such sci fi books and the movie director/producers are themselves extraterrestrials in human skin. They would have the means to do it after billions of years planet-hopping. There is no reason not to expect that extraterrestrials have infiltrated into human society. I have long suspected it and have good evidence for that infiltration.
Personally, I love the idea. More diversity.
LOL

Jul 26, 2019
Remember the automated machine gun in the extended version of "Aliens?" Use that on the interlopers.

Jul 26, 2019
@Ophelia ignorant sheep will white knight other sheep. You spew out such negativity, sad, for a forum resident hater, you should have learned how to quote by now lol. Do you even know how to read? The original paragraph I commented talks about aliens DETECTING us "they would have to detect us first." using the same radio noise we do. Yeah right they have their Marconi too who invented the same radio we did. Yet you contradicted me. What part of DETECT you don't get?

(we sure as hell aren't going to smell, taste, touch, or hear them from here and vice versa) - as we are as an indication of intelligent life out there.

Why are we an indication? Why must they be like us? Why are humans the center of the universe? Even with so many species on Earth you don't get it. Here you show you're as arrogant, selfish and self-centered as the author. You assume they have the same noses we have, same mouths, same senses or hands (touch). Sad how you sheep can't think outside the box.

Jul 26, 2019
Why Earthlings persist with this myth we are alone

For SEU,
SEU> Humans, for all their bravado and aggressiveness, are actually frightened half to death at the thought that "We are not alone" in the Universe, or in this galaxy for that matter

You have hit the proverbial nail on the head
For all these theories constantly deny any existence but our own
We are actually frightened half to death
Because
Any civilisation that crosses billions of light years
To drop in for tea cakes
Can destroy this earth like a speck of dust
For
We have only travelled 250,000miles at 750mph to our Moonchine

Jul 27, 2019
They've had a head start, granville. Far older civilizations than human sentiency, and far more advanced in most, if not every way.

https://www.foxne...y-pilots

For many humans, it is too uncomfortable to even countenance the possibility of a specie that can wipe out humanity easily. And yet, they are here and, as yet, haven't harmed humans - only cattle. But that's a different situation, and it is already well known that humans harm cattle by slaughtering millions of steer each year. It is yet unknown how extraterrestrials view the killing of cattle and other farm animals for food. It is possible that, in the dead of night, they also come to take a few steers for their own use. But none of that has been determined yet.
Many of them have made the transition to the appearance of the human form. It is not known if E.T. are able to mate with humans to produce half-breed babies. Interesting.

Jul 27, 2019
Remember the automated machine gun in the extended version of "Aliens?" Use that on the interlopers.
says Thorium Boy

What's wrong with you? That is the typical human aggressiveness that gets them into trouble too often. These E.T. are obviously escaping from a bad situation. Did you ever stop to think that their Home World may have been consumed by a Black Hole, or their home Star begun the process of getting ready to explode? If they are peaceful and just need a place to stay until they find permanent unoccupied quarters, why not welcome them to stay until they decide to leave. Some humans might want to go with them as scientists/researcher.
The alternative is that they have been on Earth/Solar System for millions of years, even before mankind was created.
But in any case, it would not do to provoke them into a fight.

Jul 29, 2019
It would sure be nice to see a government of the people finally having to answer to them.

Jul 29, 2019
Look. It is obvious to anyone looking seriously at the facts, including the electro-gravitic aerospace industry coverup that began in the late 50's, the unexplainable ruins in Peru, Bolivia, and elsewhere, and the numerous UFO sightings by civilians and air force pilots alike, that the aliens are here already, normally cloaked while flying around. This implies that faster than light travel is possible, and therefore relativity limited physics fails in the limit. It also implies that aliens have been visiting for likely millions of years, and yet have reframed from leaving overly dramatic evidence behind, rather only clues. This implies a level of alien ethics not seen in humans, and/or a profound alien experiment still going on. If your physical science has progressed to near the limit of potential progress, what is left to explore is likely new civilization development. Hence, us.

Jul 29, 2019
Absolutely. But humans are bound to kill each other in a new world war, or by some type of manmade disease that is enabled to wipe out all of humanity. After humans are eliminated, then either at least one of the present day animals will get their chance to evolve and progress. OR extraterrestrials will tire of waiting and just move in. They would probably take better care of this beautiful planet than humans have. Perhaps they will allow a few humans to survive - as zoo attractions.
/sarc

Jul 30, 2019
Why Earthlings persist with this myth we are alone

For SEU,
SEU> Humans, for all their bravado and aggressiveness, are actually frightened half to death at the thought that "We are not alone" in the Universe, or in this galaxy for that matter

You have hit the proverbial nail on the head
For all these theories constantly deny any existence but our own
We are actually frightened half to death
Because
Any civilisation that crosses billions of light years
To drop in for tea cakes
Can destroy this earth like a speck of dust
For
We have only travelled 250,000miles at 750mph to our Moonchine
says granville

They don't even want to read what you said here, which is obviously why someone rated you a minus 1. Possibly an embittered moron just had to show his/her disdain for the truth. Very sad thing it is.

Jul 30, 2019
I think it would be great if a bunch of the nutjobs Trump has stoked up got shot by Trump's government forces.

I will deplore the loss of life, but hey, ya gets what ya pays for.

Aug 04, 2019
This isn't about politics, Schneib, and you aren't capable of deploring the loss of human life, except for your own. Your Master doesn't even deplore the loss of human life, but often causes it.
You seem to have a bloodlust for those who are in favour of President Trump's presidency being killed off. How will that improve the nation, Schneib? Are you that anxious for the Communist Party to take total control of the American way of life?

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