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Star Clusters Might Host Intelligent Civilizations, Astronomers Say

Milky Way galaxy. (Image: ESO)

Astronomers have not ruled out the possibility of discovering intelligent life beyond planet Earth, which should be pretty exciting for the Ancient Aliens fans out there. In fact, recent findings seem only to be bringing them closer.

Highly concentrated clusters of stars on the fringes of our Milky Way galaxy may be home to intelligent life, one astrophysicist claims.

Milky Way galaxy. (Image: ESO) Milky Way galaxy. (ESO)

The Milky Way is host to approximately 150 old and stable globular clusters — tight, dense spherical clusters of stars. And according to Rosanne DiStefano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the nature of these clusters would be a bonus for an advanced civilization — their density making it feasible to hop from one place to another and thereby increasing the possibility of maintaining an advanced society.

According to DiStefano, the first step in probing potential extraterrestrial territory is to locate more planets within these globular clusters.

At this point, only one has been found among these specific clusters, causing some scientists to argue that globular cluster stars are less likely to host planets. DiStefano and her colleague Alak Ray of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai argue that this view is too pessimistic.

"It's premature to say there are no planets in globular clusters," Ray said in a statement.

DiStefano presented her research at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting in Kissimmee, Florida, Wednesday. Her paper unsurprisingly gained much attention — one AAS official called her theory "provocative."

Rosanne DiStefano (Harvard University)

"Once planets form, they can survive for long periods of time, even longer than the current age of the universe," DiStefano explained.

The discovery of potentially habitable planets that form in globular clusters and survive for billions of years has led researchers like DiStefano to explore the implications for extraterrestrial life.

According to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the nearest star to our solar system is four light-years, or 24 trillion miles, away. By contrast, the nearest star within a globular cluster could be just 1 trillion miles away. Astrophysicists like DiStefano and Ray have said this would make interstellar communication and exploration significantly easier.

"We call it the 'globular cluster opportunity,'" DiStefano said. "Sending a broadcast between the stars wouldn't take any longer than a letter from the U.S. to Europe in the 18th century."

She claimed that interstellar travel would be faster too.

"The Voyager probes are 100 billion miles from Earth, or one-tenth as far as it would take to reach the closest star if we lived in a globular cluster,” she added. “That means sending an interstellar probe is something a civilization at our technological level could do in a globular cluster.”

Di Stefano has stressed that her theory is still just a theory.

"I want to make this clear — we don't know," she said at a press conference. Even so, she added, "Global clusters are good targets to spend your time on in search of extraterrestrial intelligence.”

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