42: Life, The Universe, And Everything

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a whimsical, silly, very funny and superbly inaccurately numbered trilogy of five books by Douglas Adams. The books chronicle the adventures of hapless ape-descended Earth human Arthur Dent, who is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect (who, unbeknownst to Arthur, is not a human, but in fact from a planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse) just before the Earth is demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. 

It's a ... complicated story.

Anyone familiar with the books knows the centrality of the number 42 to the plot: it is no less than the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Clearly then, syzygy episode 42 deserves special treatment. In honour of Adams’s creation, Emily and Chris consider the possibilities of other intelligent life in the galaxy, and dive deep into the Drake equation, a back-of-the-envelope calculation to work out how many intelligent civilisations there are in the Milky Way that might get in contact with us.

Then, to mark the milestone in an even more appropriate way, on Monday 9 September 2019 the podcast was beamed out across the galaxy from Emily’s second home, the University of York’s Astrocampus. We pointed the radio telescope dish towards the giant red star of Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion — home to The Hitchhiker’s Guide’s wandering researcher, Ford Prefect, and his semi-cousin and former President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox.

We wired ourselves in, pressed play on episode 42, and waved bye-bye to the signal as it sped up through the atmosphere into space. The transmission should arrive at Betelgeuse in about 640 years or so.

Along with the podcast, this first trans-galactic transmission also included a shout-out to the University of York, their Astrocampus, the ever-helpful and long-suffering Mark Laughton, and our fabulous Patreon supporters: Russell Townsend, Joshi D., Chris Baker and Sho Fuji. Thanks for your support, and thanks for listening!

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