We are not alone...probably
According to researchers at Edinburgh University we share the galaxy with at least another 361 intelligent civilisations, and there may be as many as 38,000 planets supporting alien lifeforms.
Something about the preciseness of the first figure (how can they be so sure it's not 362?) and the vagueness of the second, gives you a clue as to the nature of this research: we're talking statistical probabilities here - mathematical extrapolations - rather than hard empirical evidence.
Even so, that doesn't mean that the data being fed into the computer model is entirely spurious. The Edinburgh team combined the latest criteria on the conditions thought to be necessary for life - the so called "Goldilocks zone" around a star where it's neither too hot nor to cold - with the latest information about planetary formation from astronomical observations.
The researchers looked at three scenarios for how life could develop. In the first they assumed that it was relatively difficult for life to get started, but easy for it to evolve once established - that scenario produced the figure of 361 intelligent civilisations.
A second scenario assumed that life was a much more common phenomenon, but that intelligence was rare. In a third, they included the possibility that life could be transferred from one planet to another by asteroid collisions. That scenario produced the figure of 38,000 planets supporting life.
Duncan Forgan, who led the team, says: "It's important to realise that the picture we've built up is still incomplete, and even if alien life forms do exist, we have no idea what form they would take."
Still, it's an encouraging thought to know that, statistically speaking, we're probably not alone.