A group of scientists from Nottingham University believe they may have discovered more than 30 alien races actively communicating in the Milky Way.
New research carried out by the team and published in The Astrophysical Journal indicates that 36 alien races could already be using radio waves through our galaxy.
The paper suggests that there are likely between four and 211 civilisations currently capable of communication, with 36 the most likely figure.
Experts say that this could not only prove that life exists beyond earth but how humans communicate with other lifeforms in the future.
Professor Christopher Conselice, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Nottingham and a co-author of the research, explained: “I think it is extremely important and exciting because for the first time we really have an estimate for this number of active intelligent, communicating civilisations that we potentially could contact and find out there is other life in the universe – something that has been a question for thousands of years and is still not answered.”
Although the research does not show definitive evidence of extraterrestrial lifeforms, it does go some way to putting a number on how many civilisations should be searched for.
However, researchers also say that the average distance to such civilisations is likely to be around 17,000 light-years – making detection and communication “very difficult” with present technology.
First author of the paper, Dr Tom Westby, explained: “The classic method for estimating the number of intelligent civilisations relies on making guesses of values relating to life, whereby opinions about such matters vary quite substantially.
“Our new study simplifies these assumptions using new data, giving us a solid estimate of the number of civilizations in our galaxy.
“The two Astrobiological Copernican limits are that intelligent life forms in less than five billion years, or after about five billion years – similar to on Earth where a communicating civilisation formed after 4.5 billion years.
“In the strong criteria, whereby a metal content equal to that of the Sun is needed – the Sun is relatively speaking quite metal rich – we calculate that there should be around 36 active civilisations in our Galaxy.”
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Conselice, added: “If we do find things closer … then that would be a good indication that the lifespan of [communicating] civilisations is much longer than a hundred or a few hundred years – that an intelligent civilisation can last for thousands or millions of years.
“The more we find nearby, the better it looks for the long-term survival of our own civilisation.”