Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘aliens

Still Alone in the Universe

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Alas, yet another well intentioned and optimistic attempt has been made to search for alien civilizations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for SETI (The search for alien technological civilizations) and am glad it gets done.  I just don’t think they are going to find anything, and am not surprised this latest search is a failure. Why? Some background first:

NASA has a satellite, the WISE satellite. Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. It basically made a survey of the sky in infrared. It was a big deal. Many new discoveries, thousands of asteroids, numerous star clusters, and a whole wealth of data about the skies. Including information on millions of galaxies. Then scientists with private funding (our precious tax dollars saved for ever more drone strikes) computer sifted through this data to find 100,000 promising galactic candidates for further investigation. They then hand searched these galaxies, looking for galaxies with signs of widespread industrial civilization. How is that? Well, the idea being that aliens that colonized a galaxy would use starlight to power industry, and thus the galaxy in question would be shy on starlight, but long on infrared, the waste product of industrial processes. The results? Nada. None of the galaxies showed anything that was obviously unnatural. A few warrant further looking, but there was certainly no smoking gun.

What can we glean from this? On the first pass, a Star Trek or Star Wars galaxy is ruled out. Bad news on one level, we won’t be joining any Galactic Federation anytime soon, because it doesn’t exist. That’s not surprising, the aliens in these sorts of imagined galaxies are pretty much just people with funny costumes. While it would be fun and comforting to find out that’s what aliens are like, there’s simply no reason to think aliens would be anything like us. In fact essentially all SETI has been doing is steadily eroding the idea of a universe populated by anthropomorphic aliens. At this point, it’s looking pretty grim for the Star Trek galaxy.

So what’s left? Well, maybe our idea of how advanced alien civilizations would look needs some tweaking. Most, if not all,  of our ideas about SETI involve searching for aliens who are acting like us. Granted, how to imagine aliens who aren’t like us is a bit tricky. I suspect the goal shouldn’t be to decide what to look for and look for it, but try to look for anything that doesn’t have a good natural explanation. Granted that’s a pretty nebulous concept in and of itself, but it has the advantage of eliminating our own prejudices about what aliens will be doing. And yes, it’s also limited by the fact that our understanding of what is and isn’t natural in the Universe is also pretty nebulous at this stage. Still, it would be a start, and I hope at least some in the SETI community are looking into searching for the unexpected.

Lastly, and the point that seems to distress so many people, it’s possible that we are alone. We simply don’t know how likely it is for species like ours to come along and start building technological stuff. Maybe it’s so incredibly unlikely that it’s only happened once. People love to claim that the size of the Universe means there “has” to be others, but that’s simply an argument from big numbers. What are the chances that one grain of sand on Earth contains an exact miniature replica of a McDonalds® outlet down to the smallest detail? Saying, there’s trillions of grains of sand so one must contain a miniature McDonalds® because there are so many grains of sand, is an absurd argument.

In any event I hope SETI continues. Heck, I wish it was better funded, but it’s too easy an idea to ridicule and there’s no SETI lobby to speak of, and certainly no SETI industry, so it’s going to continue to be a privately funded search. I wish SETI all the luck in the world, I just don’t recommend making any bets on it succeeding any time soon.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image was taken on Mars about a year ago by the Curiosity rover. As a NASA photograph, it is for most practical purposes, including inclusion in this blog, a public domain image. NASA does not in any way endorse Doug’s Darkworld. I used this image because, gee, Mars is sure looking like a barren lifeless rock. And because I still think its effing incredible that we have machines on Mars able to send pics like this. The blue sky means it’s sunset. On Mars the sky is normally scarlet or a bright orangeish-red colour. It turns rose at sunset and sunrise.)

Written by unitedcats

June 19, 2015 at 1:15 pm

The Universe is so Ginormous, There Must be Other Life Out There!

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This argument that has been repeated endlessly since at least 1961. Anyone who has any interest in space exploration and science generally is so familiar with it that for all practical purposes it is a matter of faith. Even such luminaries as Neil Degrasse Tyson, famous astrophysicist and science communicator, has uttered a version of it, helpfully illustrated above. Myself, I get tired of hearing it repeated uncritically. And there’s no question, it is repeated uncritically by many people, most of whom have no idea where the argument originated, and are often vague as to what the idea really means. The original Drake Equation was about intelligent tool-using life such as humans, ET as it were. The above is about life in general. Let me restate the argument in a way that is easier to parse:

“Considering the vast size of the Universe, with at least 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, statistically speaking, Earth cannot be the only planet where life evolved.”

That, in a nutshell, is the oft repeated sentiment that aliens must be out there somewhere. The problem I have with this argument is that it is neither scientific nor logical. There are other other problems with how Mr Tyson chose to word his argument above, but I degrasse. (You were warned about my sense of humor.)

The big flaw, in fact fatal flaw, in the argument is this. We don’t know how likely the formation of life is from natural ambient chemistry. We’ve never seen Abiogenesis in the wild, we’ve never achieved it in the lab. We have a lot of theories, and we know about the creation of self-replicating molecules, and we certainly haven’t come up with any good reason why DNA life couldn’t have evolved in some primordial soup. We know it happened once, because here we are. However, in any scientific, statistical, or logical sense, one data point is the equivalent of zero data points. If the creation of DNA life is unlikely enough, it may have only happened once. No matter how big the Universe is, there is also no end to how low the odds on an event occurring are.

The typing monkeys demonstrate this. How likely is it that a monkey sitting at a keyboard randomly hitting the keys will type Hamlet by chance? Essentially zero of course. However, if we convert all mass in the Universe into typing monkeys, typing for the lifetime of the Universe, how likely is it that one of them will type Hamlet by chance? Still, for all practical purposes, zero. Is the creation of life as likely as a monkey typing Hamlet by chance? No one knows. And until we have a definitive answer to this question, speculating about life elsewhere is just that, speculation. Note I’m not saying there isn’t other life out there, I’m just saying that the affirmation that there must be other life out there is wrong.

And when it comes to intelligent language using life such as ourselves, the situation gets worse. First, the odds clearly have dropped. Of the as many as 40 billion species that have evolved on Earth, only one has evolved tool-using, language, and intelligence. So humans may have been an unlikely fluke. Secondly, we don’t even know if our kind of intelligence is a good idea or not. Humans do seem to have some very self-destructive tendencies, and our species has only been around an eye-blink of time, maybe species such as ours quickly destroy themselves? Human intelligence may be an evolutionary dead end, until we find others like us that have been around awhile, or we last a  few million years, we simply can’t say.

Lastly there’s the science of it all. Again, bad news, SETI has come up with nothing so far. And despite Mr Tyson’s pronouncement above, SETI has covered a lot of territory at this point. If there are beings like us out there, no evidence of their existence has been found. Granted SETI has a lot of ground to cover still, and some excellent new ideas have been proposed recently, but at the very least the 1950s idea that the galaxy was teeming with intelligent aliens is now wishful thinking at best. Worse, we are starting to get a good picture of solar systems around other planets, and it turns out our solar system and Earth itself seem to be unusual. Again, a blow to the 1950s, Star Trek, and all that follows:

Picard: “We’ve entered the system Data, what do you see?”
Data: “Two hot Jupiters, and two giant super hot Earths.”
Picard: “Any sign of life?”
Data: “No Captain, another sterile system, like the previous 8,792.”
Picard: “If we don’t find life soon, even a slime mold, I’m going to snap.”
Data: “Sixteen other Star Fleet captains have been relieved of duty this year because they suffered psychological breakdowns due to boredom.”
Picard: “Worf, toss Data out the airlock.”

It kinda gets even worse if one steps back a bit further. What if DNA life isn’t really life? What if DNA was invented by real life for information storage, real life which we haven’t ever encountered? We’re just a  lab spill that didn’t get cleaned up? Or in the analogy above, we examine a cup of water from the ocean that a scuba diver dropped his watch into, will that watch teach us anything about the ecology and biology of life in the sea? Mr Tyson, and people who make this argument, are in essence saying they can use the cup of water to prove their theory about what is or isn’t in the rest of the ocean, but other people’s theories make no sense. Excuse me? The bottom line is we don’t know how life appeared on Earth, so speculation about what is out there is just that, speculation. Speculation is never certainty.

I rest my case.

(The above image was lifted from Facebook and falls into a category that’s probably years or decades behind the law. I’m claiming it as Fair Use, and am in no way making commercial use of the image, and will remove it instantly if the original copyright holder asks. Many of the other things Mr Tyson says are right on, so no one should take this as an attack on him. In fact the guy is pretty smart, and his statement above is a beautifully crafted edifice of false arguments, so I wonder if he did it deliberately wondering if someone would call him on it?)

Written by unitedcats

January 9, 2013 at 5:52 am

The Evil Out There

with 3 comments

Well, I was disappointed that no one identified the image on the first post. How are we supposed to defend ourselves against aliens if we can’t even identify the fictional threats? Oh well. OK, this is the post about why I don’t think the first explorers  the stars should be allowed to return home. It sounds harsh, but as I said before, they could bring home something much worse than syphilis.

What could be worse than syphilis? Who knows. That’s my first point, when experimenting with one’s only habitable planet, some experiments shouldn’t be performed. Like pumping the atmosphere full of CO2 and methane, but I digress. And in the early stages of exploring nearby stars, why take the risk that a sample return could be malignant? Humans have done terrible damage to isolated ecosystems on Earth through accidental biological contamination, and Earth in a galactic sense is definitely an isolated ecosystem. It’s not had to imagine that some alien organism or bacteria could wreak havoc on Earth, as countless sci-fi movies and books attest.

It’s easy to imagine pests such as we have on Earth, and that alone is sufficient reason to be very cautious about anyone coming home from the stars. Then of course there is the alien invader and/or parasite genre. The former is not likely to happen, the later seems very unlikely. Still, why take the chance? We are talking about the human race and Earth here. There’s no harm done if no one comes home from the stars. As for invaders, the idea is so anthropomorphic that it hardly bears mentioning. A superior intelligence could destroy humanity without going to all the trouble to sending in invading armies, and an alien race capable of actually infiltrating human society is again pretty much by definition one we would be helpless against.

There’s some more exotic possibilities. In fact, considering that everywhere we look in the Universe we find stuff we never expected, it’s pretty safe to say that we will find exotic hazards out there. An idea I have been toying with, what if what we think of as “life” isn’t really life? Or maybe more accurately, maybe there is a form of life out there so radially different than us and so radically superior to us that we can’t imagine it. Maybe DNA based life is an evolutionary dead end, and will be quickly supplanted if it ever encounters other life. Only our isolation in a star system has kept our primitive form of life around. We may be no more than the Lord Howe Stick Insects of the galaxy.

Lastly there are the unknown psychological effects of star travel. For all we know there is something about the Solar System that makes us uniquely human, and that leaving the Solar System will do something totally unpredictable to the human psyche. Granted that seems unlikely, but the truth is that “unlikely” is a judgment call based on our common experience. While it is certainly scientific to assume that the conditions for healthy human psychology are universal, it’s an assumption that should be tested without putting Earth at risk.

Frankly I think the same case can be made for the first human visitors to Mars, but I think many would consider that paranoid. In most cases I would agree that minimizing the risks is the way to go, but when the consequences might be devastating to life on Earth, there’s no harm in shooting for zero risk. Fortunately the hurdles of getting the first explorers back from the stars are so large that the problem is unlikely to come up, if ever.

Then again, I’ve often thought: If aliens exist and the hurdles of interstellar travel are surmountable … they are already here.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s from The Outer Limits, credit and copyright: ABC. I am not making a profit from it, and I urge everyone to go out and buy the DVD. It’s the episode where some alien poison gas spewing plants are brought back to earth and begin to multiply out of control. Finally a rainstorm  destroys them. So many aliens are destroyed by water, from Triffids to the Wicked Witch of the West. Sadly the real deal will not be so vulnerable.)

Written by unitedcats

April 28, 2012 at 9:20 am

Ancient Astronauts Revisited Again

with 8 comments

Here it is, proof that aliens visited the Middle East thousands of years ago, a Sumerian clay seal depicting the Sun surrounded by all eleven planets, with visiting planet Niburu by itself in the next open space to the right. Yes, proof positive that aliens have visited earth in the past. OK, yes, I’m being facetious. Even a little insulting and sarcastic, sue me. At the behest of reader’s comments, I reviewed online what is touted as the best evidence for alien visitation in human history. I was not impressed.

This Sumerian seal is claimed to represent ancient knowledge of our Solar System having more than the traditional five visible planets (Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn.) I suppose it could be interpreted that way, but eleven planets? Assuming it is even supposed to be the Sun and planets, how people explain the depiction of eleven planets quickly gets too torturous to bear repeating. Suffice it to say we don’t know much about ancient Sumerian astronomy, but I couldn’t find any serious references to the ancients having any knowledge of the Solar System beyond the visible planets. Nor did the idea of a Sun centred Solar System appear until thousands of years after the Sumerians were dust. I don’t know what was being depicted above, but Venus in a field of stars is as good a guess as any. My point is that there is nothing definitive about the above image, so one can make any interpretation one wants.

The Nazca Lines were mentioned. These are huge outlined figures in scraped soil in a  desert in Peru made some 15 or 16 centuries ago.   They were rediscovered, or at least weren’t brought to the world’s attention, until the advent of modern aircraft revealed their extent. Yes, they are very curious. Yes, we have no idea, only speculation, as to why these ancient peoples went to all this trouble. However, and it’s a big however, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about their construction. It didn’t take that many people to make them, nor were any particular arcane skills involved. Ancient peoples did all sorts of stuff that seems pointless to modern people. Because we don’t know why they made these figures isn’t evidence of anything. They wouldn’t have been to only people in history who thought the Gods were looking down on them from the skies.

A lot is made about how ancient people’s moved such huge rocks around. Again we have a number of problems with this as evidence of alien intervention. First of all, a lot of progress has been made understanding ancient engineering. So right off the bat we have a line of argument that has been steadily weakening the past few decades. And it wasn’t a strong argument to begin with, and was often exaggerated to make it stronger. No, the blocks making the pyramids weren’t so finely cut that a piece of paper can’t be slid between them. Gaps between them are often big enough to stick one’s fist into them. The pyramids were an amazing accomplishment, and there is no doubt lots we still don’t know about them, but the mysteries they still hold don’t require any alien intervention to explain.

Then there’s the ancient Sanskrit writing in India. I can’t even be bothered to look up the reference, because a decade ago I read a book on same. If the gentle reader doesn’t know what I’m talking about, they’re not missing anything. Long story short, in this huge body of ancient mythical literature, there are a few passages that could be interpreted as descriptions of flying machines or space flight. There’s also passages in the Bible that could be interpreted as same. And other references too I am sure. The problem here is the same ol same ol retrofitting problem. If one has a theory, and searches for evidence that supports the theory, one can find evidence that “fits” the theory. Um, so what? Unless the evidence of alien visitation is so clear that every other interpretation isn’t viable, it’s not really evidence. Yes, this is setting the bar rather high. That’s because when one theorizes that leprechauns invented human civilization, anyone with a brain is going to require powerful arguments and strong evidence.

As one more aside, a lot of people don’t seem to understand that at least some of the people promoting alien visitation claims and similar such are doing it for the money! Gasp, would people simple make stuff up to sell books and make buckets of money? Yes, yes they would Virginia. I have a hard time grasping how  someone can fervently believe the claims made by say Von Däniken, but not believe that he might be simply lying? Alien visitation is more likely than a human being lying to make a buck? No doubt some adherents of radical theories are serious, but a huge amount of nonsense gets injected into the debate by charlatans. And then repeated as fact by the credulous. Sigh.

On the plus side, pseudoscientific nonsense aside, there is really good news in the search for ancient aliens. Since it’s entirely possible that aliens not only exist and have visited the Solar System, there are sound scientific reasons for looking for evidence of same. Any empirical evidence of alien technology would be fascinating and informative for any number of scientific disciplines, and even the search for same has interesting scientific aspects, so mainstream science is indeed moving beyond looking for alien radio beacons in the stars. There are  a number of promising avenues of investigation in the search for ancient alien visitors to earth.

That’s my next post. Or some future post. I think the next post is on the frightful rise of elder immolation in the USA.

(The above image is so ubiquitous on the Internet that a copyright notice seems pointless, still, it’s claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, yadda yadda yadda. I chose this image because it’s as far as I can tell the best proof the informal ancient astronauts theorists can come up with. I see.)

Written by unitedcats

November 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Ancient Astronauts, has the Earth been visited by aliens?

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Yes, I am deliberately writing a fluff piece because I don’t want to write about the nightmare that is Libya. OK, fluff piece is a bit unfair, let’s just say this is a fun post. In the spirit of “any topic should be taken seriously,” some people are convinced that aliens have visited Earth in the past, and claim there is evidence purporting to support said conjecture. What are we to make of this? In no particular order …

First off, the theory is not absurd. Humans exist, therefor it’s undeniable that tool-using interstellar travelling aliens are a possibility. IE if tomorrow someone found the equivalent of an alien Viking lander sitting in the Gobi desert, it wouldn’t overturn any current scientific theories. At least there’s no extent theory I am aware of that precludes that possibility. OK, so the concept of ancient aliens passes the laugh test. It goes mostly downhill from here though. Sigh. And I loved “Chariots of the Gods” as a kid.

For one thing, there is no known artifact of alien origin extent or in the historical record. There are a few hints here and there in the historical record, none of which rises above anecdotal hearsay level in terms of empirical veracity.  If aliens have visited Earth, they were few and far between, and they were careful not to leave anything behind.

Secondly, there are no mysteries in the historical and archaeological record that require an unknown alien contribution to explain. In the nineteenth century things like the Egyptian pyramids and Easter Island statues were head scratchers, those days are long gone. There is no need for nor is there any evidence of non-human intelligence in any ancient construction, archaeologists are agreed on this. And modern archaeology is an amazing thing.

As a codicil to the first two, it should be noted that it would be relatively easy for aliens to leave more or less unmistakable traces of themselves if they so desired.  Artifacts  made out of alloys only modern technology could produce for example. In the information realm it’s even easier. A map of the far side of the Moon, or a map of the Solar System showing Neptune and Uranus would do the trick in spades. No such item exists to the best of my knowledge.

Now I could take a look at a lot of the purported evidence for alien visitation in more detail, but frankly none of it is really much to get excited about. Some rock drawings of people with what could be construed as space helmets on. (As illustrated above.) Some figurines and such that bear a superficial resemblance to jet aircraft. Nothing that rises above the “well, it sorta looks like” level.

Well, almost nothing. There are three items that bear a little more comment. The first is the Tunguska Event in 1908. This was a nuclear sized explosion in remote Siberian, I’ve blogged about it. At one point it was somewhat mysterious, and it has been half seriously proposed that it might have been an exploding alien spaceship of some kind. As with the pyramids and Easter Island, that was then, this is now. Modern science, while it doesn’t understand everything about the Tunguska event, is now sure it was caused by a large rocky asteroid that overheated and exploded when it plunged into Earth’s atmosphere. Poot.

Secondly, the Dogon people Sirius mystery. The Dogon people are a people that live in Africa, Mali to be exact. It is claimed by some that the Dogon possess astronomical knowledge that wasn’t known until the modern era, to wit that the star Sirius has an invisible (to the naked eye) companion. Sadly, what the Dogon don’t possess is a written language. So even if we believe that some Dogon wise man told a western anthropologist about Sirius’s invisible companion star in the 1930s (and even this is subject to a lot of doubt,) that’s still nearly a century after modern astronomers discovered Sirius’s companion star. That’s a lot of time for the information to have made it to the Dogon people long before the anthropologist got there in the1930s, the Dogon are not some obscure tribe living in the hinterlands, they are a large tribe in well travelled areas that have had contact with westerners for centuries.

Lastly, the author Johnathon Swift in his satire Gulliver’s Travels written in 1726 mentions Mars as having two small moons similar in size and orbit to the Moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos … which weren’t discovered until 1877! Pretty amazing coincidence, eh? This has led some to suggest that Swift had access to information that had to have come from aliens. Alas, the reality is more prosaic. For some time before Swift it had been conjectured that Mars might have two small moons. Small because they couldn’t be seen with the telescopes of the day. It seems more than likely that Swift was just using an astronomical theory of his day when he wrote about the two moons of Mars. Poot again.

So basically, when it comes to ancient astronauts, there’s no there there. It’s a nifty idea, it’s not impossible, but none of the evidence so far lacks alternative prosaic explanations. Personally I think that the people who believe in alien visitation should take a more scientific approach to the problem instead of searching for evidence that supports their belief. Any moron with a theory can find evidence that supports their theory. The scientific method was invented to weed people like this out of serious discussion. It needs to be appled more rigorously.

(The above image is public domain under most copyright law since the artist has been dead some 10,000 years. It’s a rock drawing in Italy, one among hundreds of thousands. Yes, it could represent people wearing space helmets. It could represent idle stylized graffiti. It could represent whatever one wants. What it doesn’t represent is proof of anything.)

The aliens are coming and other news from outer space

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A former NORAD officer claims that on October 13th aliens will make their presence on Earth unmistakably known with “a massive UFO display over the world’s principal cities.” I have my doubts, but hey, it will certainly be fodder for any number of blog posts should it happen. And San Francisco is certainly arguably one of the world’s principal cities, so I should be able to see them from my balcony. I’ll definitely take pictures and post them. How credible is this prediction? Well, my thinking is that if stable technological civilization is possible, if aliens with same  are relatively common, and if interstellar flight is feasible in any classic scifi senses … then the aliens are already here living and studying among us. Unfortunately since all of these are really big ifs, combined with a complete lack of empirical evidence for aliens, their existence here seems pretty unlikely. Still, the existence of aliens doesn’t conflict in the slightest with current science, so it’s always a possibility that UFOs will land on the White House lawn tomorrow.

Still, been around as long as I have and one has to be a little skeptical about people who predict “the aliens are coming.” It’s simply a modern version of “the messiah is coming” or “the rapture is coming”  or “the end is coming” as far as I can tell, and like all of those, it’s always proved false before. In fact predicting disasters and the end of the world seems to be a fundamental need in human psychology, and the fact that some people always fall for it bears this out. That such predictions have always been wrong doesn’t seem to faze people one bit.

In other alien news, an astronomer claims to have seen a  suspicious pulse of light coming from the direction of Gliese 581g a few years ago. Gliese 581g is the recently found planet some 20 light years away that is in what we call the “habitable zone” around its parent star. While the maker of the claim is an actual astronomer, other astronomers are taking the claim with large doses of salt. The fact that the astronomer in question can’t seem to furnish much by way of details about his retroactive claim is, well, suspicious.

And while I don’t really expect any UFOs tomorrow, Earth got a near visit today. At 6:51 AM EDT a small asteroid zipped by Earth, coming to within 28,000 miles at its closest approach. Asteroid 2010 TD54 is only about 20 feet wide, just a big rock really, but even so some amateur stargazers may have been able to spot it. Asteroids of this size pose no danger to Earth, but it is amazing that we are able to locate and track such small objects. In other asteroid news, a second asteroid has been discovered to have water on its surface. (OK, ice, details, details.) This is an unexpected discovery, and will lead to more research no doubt. It may explain how Earth got its water, it may have come from the heavy asteroid bombardment early in the Earth’s history. It used to be thought that Earth got its water from comets, but it’s now known that the water in comets differs chemically from most of the water on Earth, so they aren’t the candidate they once were.

In final space news, aside from gutting the US space program to give ever more money to the bankers and generals that are holding the USA hostage, astronomers are switching from stargazing to data mining. Basically so much data has been gathered in recent decades that scientists are falling behind in analyzing it if anything. The astronomers of the future may never even go near a telescope, who would have thunk it?

(The above image of  “nearby” galaxy NGC 2683 is an APOD Hubble image and thus public domain for all practical purposes, including its use in this post. Credit: Data: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing: Nikolaus Sulzenaur. NGC 2683 is thought to be a barred spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way galaxy, but it’s hard to tell from an edge on view like this. It’s a mere 20 million light years away from us, that’s practically next door neighbours on a cosmic scale. Hell, that’s a house guest on a  cosmic scale. Click on it to see the full size version, other more distant galaxies can be seen in the background. I used this image for the same reason I use so many space images, the vastness of the Universe amazes me to this day, and the fact that there may be “people” in NGC 2683 looking at a similar image of our galaxy at this very moment fills me with wonder.)

Written by unitedcats

October 12, 2010 at 8:07 am

“Hello Gliese 581d inhabitant. Can you help us humans travel through space and become smart like you. Please do not eat us we are a friendly race.”

with 4 comments

There’s been some new thinking in SETI research. Well, it’s not that new, but it’s been brought into prominence by an important SETI researcher recently. His theory is that biological intelligences such as ourselves will quickly evolve into, or spawn, thinking machines. And those machines will also quickly evolve, and that such machine intelligences would want to live where there was plenty of matter and energy, galactic centres and hot young stars. Thus we should be concentrating on looking there for signs of  alien life, since such alien machines civilizations would be far longer lasting than biological intelligences. Well, fair enough. With SETI discussions we do have to start with the codicil that we might as well be arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, our database is that small. Still, even in the information is limited, logical arguments can still be constructed by making assumptions and building on them. And this is what the esteemed Seth Shostak has done.

And while I don’t think it can hurt to listen where he suggests as part of ongoing SETI efforts, my thinking is that he’s wrong. My thinking being if that machine intelligence is possible (it is just an assumption,) and it does evolve as quickly as Seth Shostak postulates, wouldn’t it quickly get to the point where such intelligences could literally rearrange stars or make artificial stars? In fact such structures and creations should be common, shouldn’t they? And so far we’re seeing nothing in that department. Still, I wonder sometimes if anyone is looking for stuff like that. Patterns and such in the layouts of stars. And such patterns might not be immediately obvious to the naked eye, but software could be designed to look for them. Stars laid out in the pattern of a giant buckyball or something would obviously have to have been artificially placed.

By the same token I wonder if we might accidentally stumble onto star system engineering with our new planet searching missions like Kepler. For example it’s been proposed that to terraform Venus we might build some sort of giant orbital sail to literally shade the planet periodically to cool it down. And something like this around a nearby star could be detectable with current technology. The media has fostered the idea the appearance of aliens will be a dramatic event, but I suspect it’s something that’s going to come out of left field. Scientists announcing for example that not only does a nearby star have an earth like planet, the planet appears to have three absolutely identical equally spaced moons orbiting it. That or something like it would be pretty hard to explain as a natural phenomena.

Which brings us back to my previous idea of searching Lagrange Points. And frankly, I’m liking the idea more and more. While there are no large objects in the Lagrange Points near Earth, there is indeed dust and objects up to one metre in size. And when we get to some of the Lagrange Points in other parts of the Solar System, like those near Jupiter, some of them have asteroids in them. Um, if aliens are gonna park some sort of Solar System observatory near our Sun, an asteroid in a Lagrange point would be an obvious first choice. Especially if one considers that such aliens  might want to be found. And if they were thinking in terms of tens of thousands of years, a Lagrange Point is an obvious point to leave us a message in a bottle so to speak.

I also wonder if Lagrange Points could act more or less as repositories of flotsam and jetsam that has “washed up” so to speak on the shores of space. I don’t know enough about orbital mechanics to even guess on that one. In any case, I’m only a humble and ignorant blogger, but I think Lagrange Points should be getting far more attention from the scientific community. Even if we find no alien artifacts in same, just samples of whatever dust and asteroidal material there would be of immense scientific value. It’s not like an asteroid or Lagrange Point probe is going to be wasted money. Sampling the dust and pebbles at the near Earth Lagrange Points for example would not only give us some cheap and interesting stuff to study, it would be a great way to develop sampling technology that could be deployed anywhere. I mean, going out there and looking is incredible beyond words, but the next step is bringing stuff back for scientists to get their claws into.

So, are we not planning to explore the Lagrange Points because there is some logical reason they are of no interest, or has the UFO fringe factor scared off legitimate enquiry? I’d really like to know.

(The above public domain image is part of the Arecibo message we beamed, well, into random space in 1974. It was sent only once to demonstrate new technology, and the chances it will ever be read are basically zero. I also think it’s funny because the part I illustrated above shows Pluto as a planet. Um, Pluto was mistakenly classified as a planet, and it’s unlikely aliens will make the same mistake. So I can see them reading this message, discovering the Solar System, and concluding that they had the wrong star system because there was no planet beyond Uranus. Coming up, UFO pyramids and ghosts. Oh, yeah, the title. That was a message scientists recently sent to a nearby planet, Gliese 581d  planet, if we get a response it will arrive about 2051. I’ll blog on it, you can count on it.)

Written by unitedcats

August 24, 2010 at 2:50 am

Posted in Science, Space Exploration

Tagged with ,