Friday, August 27, 2010

Alien Civilizations and the Escape Clause - The Big Bang Singularity

Time Zero

Pity the hapless soul who comes face to face with a singularity, the nemesis of anyone trying to find a finite, well-defined solution to an equation. Einstein notably despised these mathematical beasts. In the 1930s and 1940s, while working with his assistants on various attempts to unify the various aspects of nature, he counseled that singularities were unnatural, even ungodly. Like a meticulous merchant wrapping up a precious package, he felt that an intelligent creator would not allow open ends. This cautionary note was passed down by Einstein’s assistants, such as Nathan Rosen, to their own students. For example, Fred Cooperstock, a student of Rosen’s, was used to such admonitions. Distaste for singularities has not faded over time. Today, despite the hard evidence of the background radiation, many researchers still find it hard to accept the idea that the universe was created in a state of infinite density and zero volume. How could it ever get out of such a state? Almost nobody doubts there was a period in the early universe when it was extremely hot and dense; in fact, WMAP and other measures of the cosmic microwave background provide unmistakable proof. There have been numerous other attempts to account for this radiation, but none of them can explain why its temperature is very nearly the same in all directions. Thus, for want of a better explanation most cosmologists accept that it is the remnant of a primeval fireball. The debate has to do with the Big Bang singularity itself. Could there be a way of accounting for all observed cosmological results without having the mathematics of the theory go haywire some 13.7 billion years in the past? Could the initial creation of matter be explained by a known physical process, rather than just by fiat? In the late 1960s, Hawking and Penrose demonstrated that just as black holes must have final singularities, the standard Big Bang must have had an initial singularity. The theorems they proved assumed that the universe contained material of typical density and pressure and that its dynamics could be modeled through ordinary general relativity. Most physicists have accepted these conditions as reasonable and have resigned themselves to a universe of indeterminate origin.

Evolution of the Universe

Quantum fluctuations
In recent decades, however, researchers have sought ways around this knotty issue. One such proposal was put forth, interestingly enough, by Hawking himself. At a 1981 conference organized by the Vatican, he suggested that space-time has no boundary. By substituting “imaginary time” (mathematically, real time multiplied by the square root of negative one) for real time, Hawking found that he could transform the Big Bang singularity into a smooth surface— akin to Earth’s South Pole. Just as Antarctic explorers don’t fall off the face of the Earth when they pass the pole, but rather change their direction from south to north, Hawking argued that if someone could travel back in imaginary time, past the Big Bang, they would simply start to move forward in time again. This is all well and good and shows a mathematical way of eschewing the initial glitch. However, to many physicists this explanation doesn’t seem physical enough, given that nobody can really travel in imaginary time. Other suggestions for eschewing the initial singularity have been based on quantum randomness. In 1973, Hunter College physicist Edward Tryon published a provocative article in the prestigious journal Nature, entitled “Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?” In quantum field theory, particles continuously pop in and out of the vacuum froth. Tryon pointed out that under extraordinarily rare circumstances a particle could randomly emerge from the foam with the mass of the universe. Though the chances of it coming forth at any given moment would be almost nil, it could literally take all the time in the world to make its debut. Eternity’s infinite patience would guarantee its emergence. This quantum fluctuation would serve as the creation event for the entire universe we see today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Are Aliens and their Technology Underground and Undersea?

War of the Worlds in the Making?

Alien underwater bases
I don’t see any way around this issue: repeatedly in my underground and underwater bases and tunnels research I have encountered the theme of purported aliens. I will be frank with you from the outset: I positively do not know the truth behind these stories. Having said that, this highly strange issue of purported aliens underground and/or underwater is exceedingly persistent. I can conceive of a whole wide gamut of possibilities, of lies within lies, conspiracies within conspiracies, insidious agendas of cover-up, concealment and deception — as well as the very real possibility that there is a substantial kernel of truth to at least some, and perhaps most of the accounts. If the realm of clandestine underground and underwater bases and tunnels is a strange and highly secretive place (and it is!), well then, adding purported aliens to the mix and stirring up the whole caboodle to boot, makes the whole affair even stranger. My intention is not to draw firm conclusions on the matter, because I cannot. I simply do not know for certain what is going on and I am telling you that now as plainly as I can. But what I can do is to present for you representative information that I have encountered in the course of my research. What I will set out for you here is not exhaustive. I have not read everything there is to read; I have not talked to everyone there is to talk to; I do not know all the stories there are to know. I have read a lot of mind-bending literature over the years, including my own, but little can top the first few pages of The Ultimate Alien Agenda, by James Walden. I picked up this intriguing little book in a used bookstore and have read and reread the first several pages multiple times — that’s how puzzling I find the author’s story.

Aliens underwater

To make a long story short, James Walden alleges that he was abducted by alien beings and taken to a secret, deep underground facility where he was subjected to an involuntary, intimate and intrusive examination procedure that was observed by upwards of 100 others who were in attendance. Moreover, he alleges that not all of the beings present were aliens — some of the other beings present were human beings, much like himself. It appeared to him that the ostensible aliens who purportedly abducted him were in cahoots with other human beings who were in on the game — whatever this highly strange game may involve. At the conclusion of the intrusive and humiliating medical examination to which he was subjected, he was informed telepathically, "You are in an underground facility located beneath southeast Kansas."

As the alien voice spoke he saw a vision of the rural Kansas countryside far above. The telepathic voice went on to say that he was “participating in a peaceful, cooperative experiment” and added that he would not be harmed. As he pondered the other humans he saw gathered around him, the telepathic voice spoke again and said: 2 These human workers are volunteers who control human disease. are learning to Walden’s strange story continues on from this juncture at some length. If you want to know the rest of the details you will have to read his book. But for the purposes of this chapter the bare bones of his story as presented above are quite fascinating enough, in and of themselves. But can it be true? Are there really secret underground bases under the American Midwest in which aliens and human researchers work in great secrecy, cheek by jowl, and to which unsuspecting humans such as James Walden are abducted, there to be poked and prodded — as if they were nothing more than laboratory subjects in a medical school amphitheater? I reiterate that I don’t know the answer to this question. However, more and more people seem to be coming forward to report this sort of experience as the years pass. It certainly appears possible that highly covert and uncommonly strange goings-on might be transpiring underground.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Space Expolration Pioneers and the Quest for Extraterrestrial Life

Early Planet X - Pluto
Miller’s landmark work, carried out in 1953, meant that scientists could study the origins of life in a laboratory setting. Urey and Miller were interested in terrestrial life, but others soon explored the cosmic implications of their work. Life might appear in other regions of the universe where Earthlike conditions prevailed. It was no longer an exclusively terrestrial phenomenon. Carl Sagan started graduate work at the University of Chicago in the midst of these new developments on the origins of terrestrial and extraterrestrial life. Sagan’s mentor at Chicago was the astronomer Gerard Kuiper. While completing his doctoral studies with Kuiper, Sagan met the Nobel laureate geneticist Joshua Lederberg (1925–). The two men were brought together by their common interest in the origins of terrestrial life and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Lederberg was a pioneer in the scientific study of extraterrestrial life. In 1960 he named the new science exobiology and used his considerable scientific reputation to enhance its credibility. Lederberg hoped that exobiology would give America’s space program a new focus. Instead of concentrating upon missiles and manned flight, the program would turn to scientific topics. From its beginnings, exobiology was a highly speculative and controversial field of study. Despite its uncertain status among scientists, exobiology found a home within the space sciences. NASA created an Office of Life Sciences in 1960, sponsored conferences on extraterrestrial life, and funded exobiological research. Upon Lederberg’s recommendation, Carl Sagan was asked to serve on a number of government panels and commissions that advised NASA on matters relating to space exploration and biology. Sagan worked with NASA during the directorship of James C. Fletcher. Fletcher was a very able administrator, a tireless advocate for space exploration, and a supporter of the search for extraterrestrial life. He was also a devout Mormon whose religion had long taught that inhabited worlds existed outside our solar system. For these varied reasons, Fletcher brought the Viking Mars missions to a successful completion and encouraged NASA-sponsored efforts to communicate with intelligent beings outside the solar system.

Viking images of Mars
Joshua Lederberg’s and Carl Sagan’s strong belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life found favor in some NASA circles, but it was disputed by officials and scientists preparing for the Apollo flights to the Moon from 1969 to 1972. The central issue of the dispute, microbial contamination, pitted exobiologists against geologists and engineers at the space agency. The exobiologists warned that terrestrial microbes carried to the Moon by Apollo spacecraft and astronauts could endanger lunar life forms. Likewise, lunar microbes accidentally brought back from the Moon might infect inhabitants of the Earth. Sagan urged the sterilization of all spacecraft traveling to the Moon. NASA officials ruled out sterilization of the Apollo lunar landers. It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to place a sterile lander on the Moon. In order to protect humans from infection by lunar microbes, NASA agreed to quarantine returning Apollo astronauts and their cargo of lunar rocks. Appropriate tests made on the first astronaut team to visit the Moon showed no evidence of lunar life. NASA dropped the quarantine of returning astronauts after several more lunar missions. By 1972, when Apollo 16 flew to the Moon, virtually all scientists agreed that the Moon was lifeless. Carl Sagan was one of the few to dispute this conclusion. He maintained that microorganisms might live deep beneath the lunar surface. In the early 1970s, Sagan became a member of NASA’s imaging teams for Mariner 9 and the two Viking missions. The imaging team interpreted the pictures of the Martian surface recorded by the spacecraft’s electronic cameras. Sagan was the sole astronomer, and the only scientist with an extensive background in biology, on the team. Furthermore, he was a staunch believer in the existence of advanced Martian life at a time when most scientists considered it doubtful that microbes existed on the planet. One of his NASA colleagues explained Sagan’s position in these words: “Sagan struggles to create situations where life might exist. It’s a compulsion.”

Friday, August 6, 2010

Martian Life: Canals on Mars Evidence of Past Glories

Prof. Percival Lowell is certain that the canals on Mars are artificial. And nobody can contradict him. —Clipping from unidentified newspaper (summer 1905)

Canals on Mars
On May 19, 1910, less than two months before his death, Schiaparelli publicly stated that natural forces could account for the dark lines seen on Mars. However, he went on to suggest that someone assemble all evidence related to the existence of intelligent life on the planet. In the concluding paragraphs of his final communication on Mars, Schiaparelli mentions his admiration for the work of Percival Lowell. This praise for Lowell raises doubts about Schiaparelli’s acceptance of a natural explanation of the canali. Lowell was an outspoken defender of canals built by Martians throughout his scientific career (1894– 1916). Percival Lowell (1855– 1916) was the most powerful champion within the scientific community for the idea of intelligent Martian life. His claim that the Martian landscape included a global irrigation system influenced the conception of Mars held by scientists, government officials, and the general public well into the second half of the twentieth century. Unlike Schiaparelli, Lowell wrote popular books and magazine articles and lectured widely on Martians as canal builders. Lowell was an energetic and effective publicist for his views on Martian life. Some writers have called Lowell a newcomer to astronomy, an outsider, and even an amateur. When Lowell began his scientific career, entrance into the profession did not require an advanced degree in astronomy. A number of distinguished early twentieth-century astronomers, including directors of major observatories, never received advanced training in astronomy. Lowell’s credentials as an astronomer were not unusual for his times. Lowell studied mathematics at Harvard University under America’s premier mathematician, Benjamin Peirce. Peirce fully expected his brilliant student to succeed him as a professor of mathematics. Lowell had different plans for the future. After spending a year abroad, and the next six years attending to the business holdings of his illustrious and wealthy family, Lowell left America to study the Far East. In 1882 Lowell had attended a lecture on Japanese culture by zoologist Edward S. Morse. Morse’s lecture inspired Lowell to travel to Asiatic countries recently opened to the West. The dark regions of the planet observed by astronomers were areas of vegetation, not bodies of water. The melting of the polar ice caps during the warm season freed water to flow through the canal system. The flowing water irrigated the desiccated planet and brought life to its vegetation. Lowell’s theory, completed after a short stay at Flagstaff, changed little over the next twenty years. In describing the orderly arrangement of the Martian canals, Lowell compared them to trigonometric figures. Lowell’s maps of the canals are simpler and more geometrical than Schiaparelli’s. There are two explanations for Lowell’s schematic maps. First, Lowell studied Mars using Schiaparelli’s maps as his guide. Second, according to Carl Sagan, Lowell was a poor draftsman who drew polygonal blocks linked by many straight lines. Pickering and Douglass were no better at rendering details of the Martian surface than Lowell.

Ancient Martian City?
The unique physical conditions of the planet, Lowell declared, explained the social behavior and technology of the intelligent creatures who lived there. Lowell claimed that because Mars was smaller than the Earth, it evolved faster. Mars continued on its rapid evolutionary path and soon reached the final stages of planetary development. Lowell believed that Mars was older than the Earth. All planets, Lowell argued, become drier as they age. At one time, the Earth had much more water than land. On Mars, land had largely replaced water, leaving the planet covered with vast desert regions of a reddish-ochre color. This color reminded Lowell of the Sahara region of northern Africa or the Painted Desert of Arizona. Mars was dry but not without water. Lowell drew attention to Martian polar caps that melted during the warm seasons. As the polar caps retreated, a deep blue band appeared around the poles. This band was ice that melted with the rising temperature of the Martian spring and summer. Lowell dismissed the hypothesis that the polar caps were largely frozen carbon dioxide, not snow and ice. A desert planet with water frozen in polar ice caps is an unlikely habitat for life. However, Lowell assured us that Mars had enough water to sustain life. It also had an adequate supply of air, another crucial ingredient of life. Lowell’s telescopic study of the disk of Mars convinced him, if not other astronomers, that Mars had an atmosphere. Water circulated throughout the atmosphere in a vaporous form and condensed at the poles of the planet. The freezing and melting of water at the polar caps convinced Lowell that the average temperature of Mars was comparable to the Earth’s, if not higher. Hence, Martian polar caps shrink back far more drastically during the warm seasons than do the ice caps at the Earth’s poles. The existence of water and air on Mars, along with its mild climate, were essential to Lowell’s picture of the planet as a place of constant change. It was not static like the airless, waterless, and lifeless Moon. Lowell first described the physical characteristics of Mars. Then he was ready to introduce life there. The Martian climate, smooth terrain, and adequate supply of water and air indicated life could thrive on the planet. If astronomers properly examined Mars through their telescopes, evidence of life would emerge.

Lowell claimed that the dark, bluish green regions of Mars turn to shades of gray and brown seasonally. The dark areas are plants that flourished with warmth and moisture and faded when the frosts of the Martian autumn arrived. The changing colors of Martian vegetation reminded Lowell of American forests seen from a distance.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Alien Life on the Moon - New ways of seeing, Old ways of thinking

Ancient astronomers
The ancient astronomers and Copernicus made their great contributions to science before the invention of the telescope. They based their conceptions of the universe on astronomical data gathered by naked-eye observers. These observers used sighting and angle-measuring instruments that did not include magnifying lenses of any sort. The classic refracting telescope, consisting of a tube with an eyepiece at one end and a larger objective lens at the other, first appeared around 1609, more than sixty years after Copernicus’s death. The Copernican revolution did not originate in a new set of observations made with a novel scientific instrument. It was an intellectual revolution inspired by changes in the way early modern scientists thought about the structure of the universe. In any case, the telescope alone cannot supply crucial evidence for the Copernican system. A viewer cannot see either a heliocentric or geocentric universe through the eyepiece of a telescope. Observations made with the help of a telescope are like any other sets of observations. Astronomers gather their data and then interpret it within the framework of existing scientific theory and practice. This complex process ends with a majority accepting a given view of the workings of the universe. Historians divide observational astronomy into three periods. The first period, the era of naked-eye astronomy, dates from the earliest human observation of the skies and ends in 1609. This preoptical period included the work of Ptolemy (second century, a.d.) and Copernicus, two of the greatest figures in the history of astronomy. The second period began with Galileo’s use of a telescope in 1609 to study the major heavenly bodies. Telescope makers devised new and more powerful instruments during the following three centuries, when optical telescopes ruled the astronomical sciences. Then, in 1931, Karl Jansky of Bell Telephone Laboratories detected radio signals coming from regions beyond the solar system. Jansky’s discovery marks the beginning of the third period of observational astronomy, the era of the radio telescope. A radio telescope is essentially a large antenna, often shaped as a parabolic dish, used to detect, amplify, and analyze radio emissions from celestial sources. It is mounted so that it can be aimed at different portions of the sky.

Telescopes, both optical and radio, play an important part in the search for evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. However, astronomers must interpret the raw data collected with their instruments. The difficult process of interpretation yields ambiguous results that fuel scientific debates. Galileo’s telescopic observation of the Moon revealed large circular cavities on the lunar surface. Were these natural cavities of unknown origin, or did the inhabitants of the Moon build them? Late nineteenth-century telescopic observers of Mars saw a series of long dark lines on the surface of the planet. Were these lines generated by an observer’s visual response to the natural Martian landscape, or were they evidence of a network of canals built by Martian engineers? Late twentieth-century radio telescope operators recorded periodic signals coming from outer space. Were these signals due to physical changes occurring in a distant celestial body, or were they coded messages from extraterrestrial beings in the universe? In each of these cases, interpretation of the observational data depended upon the state of astronomical knowledge and current ideas about intelligent extraterrestrial life. Scientists can never escape the scientific, philosophical, and social assumptions that influence their best efforts to extract meaning from the observed world. In short, observations do not speak for themselves. Scientists shape their speech for them as they gain knowledge about the physical world.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Search for Advanced Extraterrestrial Life Stemming from Antiquity and the Middle Ages?

Ancient Aliens
Scientific perceptions of advanced extraterrestrial life are based upon a trio of ideas that first appeared in the religious and philosophical thought of antiquity and the Middle Ages. The first idea is that the universe is very large, if not infinite in extent. The second, that we are not alone in the universe, there are other inhabited worlds somewhere in the vastness of space. The third, that there is an essential difference between the superior beings of the celestial world and the inferior ones who live on Earth. These three ideas are relevant to the work of scientists today. Modern cosmologists have determined that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate and is unlikely to slow down and collapse on itself in a final Big Crunch. Within our immense universe, astronomers have recently identified more than 100 extrasolar planets. An extrasolar planet is one that orbits a star located far beyond our solar system. Some scientists believe that extrasolar planets are inhabited by creatures with a level of intelligence and civilization that surpasses the intellect and civilized life of humans. Astronomers, however, have just begun their investigations and have found no evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations. Any examination of extraterrestrial civilizations must begin with the debt modern science owes to the trio of ideas that shaped our ways of thinking about the universe and its inhabitants. These key assumptions, which appear so often in the modern search for extraterrestrial intelligence, arose in much earlier times and within different contexts.

The Infinitization of the Universe 

Aristotle's Universe
The ancient Greek atomists were among the first to introduce the idea of an infinite universe. In the fifth century b.c., they claimed that tiny bits of matter (atoms) moved randomly in infinite empty space. Because an infinite number of atoms collide an infinite number of times in an infinite void, an infinite number of universes exist. Each universe has its own sun, planets, stars, and life forms. A century later the influential philosopher Aristotle (384– 322 b.c.) rejected the atomists’ infinite void and their many universes. In its place, he put a single finite universe with the Earth located at its exact center. The planets, Sun, and stars all circle the motionless Earth. The stars marked the outer limits of Aristotle’s geocentric (Earth-centered) universe, and he refused to consider the existence of space beyond the stellar boundaries. There are no voids, vacuums, or empty spaces in Aristotle’s universe because the region between the Moon and the stars is filled with a solid, transparent, crystalline material. Aristotle’s view of the universe explained all known astronomical phenomena and satisfied the ordinary observer’s feeling that the Earth was at the center of things. It lasted for nearly two thousand years and inspired some of the greatest scientific, philosophical, theological, and literary minds in Western civilization. By the fourteenth century, however, critics argued that Aristotle was wrong to place limits on God by confining Him to a finite universe. God extends Himself, they said, filling infinite space with His immensity. Influenced by their conception of an infinite God, philosophers and theologians in the Middle Ages accepted a universe that was infinite in extent. The identification of God with infinite space, sometimes called the divinization of space, lasted well into the seventeenth century. Some Renaissance astronomers and philosophers were not satisfied with the medieval understanding of the cosmos. They more than a theological construct. By interpreting astronomical observations mathematically, they argued, it was possible to obtain a true picture of physical reality. The crucial figure in this intellectual revolution was the Polish astronomer and Church administrator Nicolaus Copernicus (1473– 1543). He proposed a heliocentric (Sun-centered) model of the universe. It featured a stationary Sun at the center of a system of orbiting planets that included the Earth. The Copernican universe remained finite, but it was substantially larger than the old geocentric model made popular by Aristotle. The infinitization of the universe grew out of the fundamental changes Copernicus made in the arrangement of the Sun, Earth, and planets and in the motions of the Earth. By the second half of the sixteenth century, followers of Copernicus claimed that the universe extended to infinity. The first printed illustration of an infinite universe dates to 1576, just thirty-three years after Copernicus published his theory of a heliocentric universe. Most astronomers, if not the general public, soon accepted the infinite nature of the universe. In the seventeenth century, Sir Isaac Newton made a static infinite universe an integral part of his new physics of moving bodies on Earth and in the heavens. Despite the work of generations of physicists and astronomers who succeeded Newton, the precise nature of the universe remains an unresolved problem for modern science.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Receiving the Extraterrestrials - Radio Communications

Artificial satellites intended for broadcasting and communications are included and the scope of the chapter extends to the basics of moonbounce and interplanetary radar experiments and radio astronomy. For each of these subjects there is an enormous wealth of information and whole books are devoted to each one. The present text provides only an outline of each with some suggestions for detail on each subject. The common factor about almost all signals from space is that they have traveled over a very long path so all are very weak. (The only exceptions are radio noise from the Sun and occasional signals from the planet Jupiter.) For example, the signal strength available at ground level from a 30-W transponder on a geostationary satellite is liable to be significantly less than 1 pW/m 2 ; expressed in terms of decibels below 1 W/m 2 , figures in the range of 125 to 130 are common. (A picowatt is 120 dB less than a watt.) Signals used by radio astronomers and the returns from interplanetary radar experiments are liable to be yet another 60 to 80 dB weaker. The most sensitive possible receiver is essential, and highly directional aerials are commonly used, but there are no really strong signals coming from those directions so great dynamic range is not required.

Within the time scale of a human lifetime the fixed stars that form the background to the celestial sphere may be regarded as stationary, but, in fact, the whole Milky Way Galaxy is rotating about its center which is in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. Our Solar System, as a whole, is part of that rotation and is moving at about 20 km/s in a direction toward the constellation Hercules. That plane of rotation about the center of the galaxy forms another frame of reference which is of great interest to professional radio astronomers. Artificial satellites which move in orbit around the Earth can be tracked in relation to figures for azimuth and elevation as seen from particular points on the Earth’s surface or they can be related to positions in declination and right ascension against the background of the fixed stars. Both systems of measurement can be used, and there are most appropriate uses for each one. To translate from one to the other can be complicated and must give due allowance for the rotation of the Earth and its associated time considerations. A satellite in geostationary orbit, for instance, maintains the same azimuth and elevation figures in relation to the Earth for very long periods but is moving in relation to the fixed stars so that it is carried around the celestial sphere once each day.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why there's no Nobel Prize for Mathematics

On a lighter note tonight, here's why there's no Nobel Prize for Mathematics, the Italians ruined it for everyone!

P.S - Also why the Maths guy never gets the girl at the end of every "Mathematician/Physicist/Engineer" joke.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Search for Alien Civilizations and the Age of the Universe

The age of the universe is known to be 12 to 15 billion years because, ever since the pioneering work of the American astronomers Vesto Slipher, Edwin Hubble, and Milton Humason in the first three decades of the twentieth century, the universe’s rate of expansion has been known. Measurements of galactic redshifts show that the farther away a galaxy is from us, the faster it recedes. In other words, redshift is proportional to distance. The data was collected by Hubble and Humason in 1931. Clearly, the relationship between distance and velocity of recession was a straight line. Therefore the equation representing this straight line is v = Hd, where v is the velocity of galactic recession, H is the slope of the line (now called the Hubble constant), and d is the distance between the observed galaxies and us. Velocity is expressed in kilometers per second, and d can be expressed in kilometers as well (although lightyears or megaparsecs— 1 megaparsec equals 3.26 million light-years— are more commonly used). Thus H, the Hubble constant, is expressed in kilometers times seconds 1 times kilometers 1 (or megaparsecs 1 ), which can be reduced to seconds 1 , which is of course the inverse of a time. Therefore the inverse of the Hubble constant, 1/H, gives the age of the universe in seconds— that is, the time elapsed between the Big Bang and now. Current estimates of the Hubble constant range between 50 and 100 km s 1 megaparsec 1 , with an apparent consensus at 80 km s 1 megaparsec 1 . The precise value of H is not known because of the difficulties and errors encountered when measuring galactic distances. The success our search for alien civilizations is intricately linked to an accurate perception of the age of the universe. Take the case of the early environment on a young earth. Earth’s atmosphere 4 billion years ago was very different from the one we know today. There was no oxygen, but other gases were present. In one scenario, these were methane (CH 4 ), water vapor (H 2 O), nitrogen (N 2 ), ammonia (NH3), hydrogen sulfide (H 2 S), and carbon dioxide (CO 2 ). Primeval hydrogen (H 2 ) and helium (He) were disappearing fast because Earth’s gravity was not strong enough to keep them in the atmosphere. Traces of helium would always be present, however, thanks to the radioactive decay of elements, such as uranium, thorium, and radium, in Earth’s interior. There were also oceans, whose geography we would not recognize today, since plate tectonics has moved the continents around. Volcanic activity contributed water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and other gases to the atmosphere. 

All of the above planetary activities affect the formation of the primary information bearing organic compounds that serve as the blueprint of known life. A very interesting deduction from the study of earth's chemical evolution is that the primitive atmosphere might have been a reducing one. In a reducing environment, oxygen is absent. This was one of the motivations that led to what is known as the Miller's Experiment. Miller had set up his experiment in a flask with various water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen gases. He also induced electrical discharges in experiment to simulate lightening. After several days of cycling the gases and sparking, Miller noticed that the condensed water in the tube had turned pink and subsequently orange-red. Clearly, some chemistry was taking place, as the original gases were completely colorless. Analysis of the solution revealed the presence of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins! Of the twenty amino acids found in proteins, ten were formed in Miller’s experiments. The chemistry that took place in these experiments is now understood. For example, the simple amino acid glycine results from the condensation of formaldehyde (formed from the sparked gases) with ammonia and hydrogen cyanide (also formed in the gas mixture) to produce the compound aminonitrile. Aminonitrile then reacts with water to form glycine. In addition to amino acids that make up proteins, gas-discharge experiments have also yielded the four nitrogenous bases, adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and uracil (U), the building blocks of RNA. Adenine for example, results from the condensation of five molecules of hydrogen cyanide (figure 4.3). (It is unsettling to think that the poison used to execute prisoners in a gas chamber can lead to the synthesis of some of the building blocks of life!) Finally, many types of sugars were also synthesized in these experiments, including ribose, the sugar found in RNA. The startling results of Miller’s experiments have led to the notion that Earth’s primitive oceans accumulated more and more of the building blocks of life, amino acids, nitrogenous bases, and sugars, and became some sort of primordial or prebiotic soup. (Instead of the term soup, which suggests a chunky mixture— think about split pea with ham or chicken noodle soup!—I prefer the word broth.) Primordial broths of the Miller type have been replicated by many investigators using similar gas mixtures exposed to short-wave UV light or silent electric discharge, all undoubtedly present on primitive Earth.

 Search for alien civilizations would be best served if focused on extrasolar planets that have been observed going through similar transformations. If the pattern of evolution of life on earth is truly universal, the process might have been replicated countless times across the cosmos that must have yielded intelligent life over time. An accurate realization of the age of the universe would give a quantitative indication of the multiplicity of the organic evolution on M-type planets and realistic odds of finding intelligent life one day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Alien Conspiracies and the Roswell Incident

In July 1997, tens of thousands of Americans made pilgrimage into the New Mexican outback to Roswell, the most sacred shrine of the ufo phenomenon and the hallmark of government coverups regarding alien conspiracies. There they commemorated the incident of fifty years before, when, they believed, an alien craft had crash-landed and confirmed the existence of extraterrestrial life. In spite of one hundred– degree– plus temperatures, the pilgrims were in a festive mood, and Roswell entrepreneurs served up a cornucopia of treats. An “Aliens Welcome” sign decorated the Arby’s fast-food restaurant, while Bud’s Bar described itself as the “Unofficial ufo crash recovery site” and Church’s Fried Chicken promised “Best Alien Chicken in Town.” Owners of the crash site offered fifteen-dollar guided tours, and dirt bags from the debris field could be purchased for an additional $3.95. A stroll through town brought close encounters with vendors of assorted extraterrestrial knickknacks and shirts, one of which read, “I crashed on Earth and all I got was this crappy T-shirt.” More serious believers viewed crash dioramas at the International U.F.O. Museum and Research Center and its rival the UFO Enigma Museum. Meshing naturally and adding to the ambience were the pleas of street-corner evangelists who insisted that the aliens were “demonic beings” conspiring with the devil and ufo sightings fresh evidence of the approach of Judgment Day. An air of defiance was also palpable. On the eve of the celebration, the U.S. Air Force had launched a preemptive public relations strike to debunk the incident and deflate ballooning interest. This only heightened suspicion of government intentions and made believers more adamant in defense of their scenarios. At center stage of the Roswell encounter was a press conference scheduled for Independence Day, attended by reporters from twelve countries representing 220 news organizations and videotaped by crews from the abc, cbs, cnn, nbc, and fox networks. On screen was a slide of a metal chip that purportedly came from the spaceship. After careful analysis, Dr. Vernon Clark had concluded that the fragment was “both manufactured and extraterrestrial in origin.” Filmmaker Paul Davids, Clark’s colleague, said, “This is as rare as the shroud of Turin.” Although no chain of evidence linked the metal to the crashed saucer, Davids declared the Roswell “case closed” and the mystery solved. The men left the conference hall soon after, refusing to take questions from the press.

The commercialism and hype of the encounter masked Roswell’s significance. For believers the Roswell incident is the holy grail of all alien conspiracies, and many have joined the search, making it the most studied event in ufo history. The mystery begs solution, and a quest for truth and fame compels researchers, who have flushed out hundreds of witnesses testifying to things extraterrestrial. Enhancing the drama of this interpretation is the theme of conspiracy. As a researcher noted, Roswell has produced “a virtual mini-industry . . . paralleling in almost every respect that spawned by the Kennedy assassination.” Believers contend that a secret group within the federal government is engaged in plot weaving, covering up the evidence of extraterrestrial contact, and conspiring to discredit them and deceive the public. Roswell was, moreover, only the first instance of deception, setting the pattern for official denials about ufo sightings, abductions, cattle mutilations, crop circles, and even hidden alien bases. No famous men or women drive this challenge to government authority. It comes, instead, from the grass roots, raised by individuals with few resources and little reputation outside the ufo community. In mainstreaming their belief in a Roswell cover-up, the conspiracy-minded welcomed the embrace of the media. They relied heavily, as well, on the behavior of the authorities to prove their case.

Friday, July 9, 2010

UFO's, Culture & Public Opinion

The number of Americans who actually participate in the UFO subculture— by buying books, magazines, and videotapes; attending conferences; visiting Web sites; and engaging in similar activities— cannot be precisely estimated. But survey data make clear that those who do participate represent merely a fraction of a vast number of people interested in the subject. Whether they are open-minded or simply credulous, it remains the case that millions of Americans view UFOs with considerably less skepticism than do the government and the academy. Within a few months of the first modern claim of a flying saucer sighting in June 1947, polls showed that 90 percent of the population had heard of them. By 1966, that figure had risen to 96 percent, and, more important, 46 percent of all Americans believed UFOs actually existed. More than a decade later— in 1978 —30 percent of college graduates believed they existed. At that time, the number of Americans who believed UFOs were real reached its highest level, 57 percent. The number fell to 47 percent in 1990 but was still at 48 percent in a 1996 Gallup poll, nearly half a century after the first sighting. A 1997 Time-CNN poll (presumably commissioned in connection with the fiftieth anniversary of the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO “crash”) indicated that 17 percent of Americans believed in alien abduction. An even stranger result had appeared in a 1992 Roper survey, which suggested that 2 percent of Americans (roughly 3.7 million) believed they themselves had been abducted. While the Roper result is almost certainly inflated, a number even half as large would be extraordinary.

Two aspects of these figures are particularly striking. First, they have remained astonishingly stable over a fifty-year period. What might have been an early Cold War fad clearly came to occupy a semipermanent niche in the American psyche. Second, the level of belief was not only relatively stable; it was extraordinarily high, regardless of when the survey was taken or by which polling organization. Even if one compensates for problems of sampling or the wording of questions, tens of millions of Americans accept the reality of UFOs. In a survey of 765 members of the UFO community, Brenda Denzler found her respondents to be anything but “fringe.” They were predominantly white, male, middle-class college graduates, with incomes just slightly below the national median. At the same time, attitudes about UFOs contain the seeds of conspiracist thinking, for public attitudes are clearly at variance with the official position that there is no credible evidence that UFOs exist. Indeed, in the 1996 Gallup survey, when subjects were asked, “In your opinion, does the U.S. government know more about UFOs than they are telling us?” 71 percent answered yes. In the Yankelovich poll in 2000, 49 percent believed that the government was withholding information about UFOs. 7 Thus an extremely large number of people hold beliefs that contradict official government positions and believe that government concealment explains the discrepancy. Belief in a government cover-up runs deep in the ufology community, especially among those who are professional or full-time UFO writers or investigators.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ufology and Imagination

In many ways the study of UFOs has exemplified modernity’s conflicted relationship with the “Other.” In a transcendent sense, this alone qualifies ufology as having religious valences. But even in a more mundane sense, religion and ufology have been intertwined, because religious motives have so often been imputed to UFO witnesses, UFO investigators, and those who believe them. Yet although many in the UFO community struggled with mainstream science, they nevertheless tended (or intended) to use a scientific framework for understanding UFO phenomena. There was almost no room in the organized study of aerial anomalies for religion, which one theologically oriented ufologist candidly described as a “‘wart’ on what [ufology] hoped was a scientific hog.” 1 Indeed, at the 1992 abduction conference held at M.I.T., participants were very unwilling to “deal with the spiritual and religious issues” surrounding encounters. In part this rejection of religion stemmed from the contactee phenomenon, with its salvific pronouncements about the beneficent space brothers. To most people in the UFO movement, the contactees sounded like pathetic purveyors of a quasi-religious message clad in space-age garb. 

Indeed, most contactees were students of spiritualism and Theosophy who had adopted a mantle that was (at the very least) quasi-scientific and modern— the UFO phenomenon. The apparently hard-edged reality of UFOs, and the superior levels of technological achievement (and presumably of moral development) of the UFO operators, dovetailed nicely with preexisting worldviews that included infinitely wise spirit guides and Ascended Masters. The larger UFO myth did not originate in the teachings of Theosophy or spiritualism, however; it entered American consciousness as spontaneous personal experiences whose apparently real-world tangibility caused them to be reported as fact, retold as story, and eventually embraced as a veritable cultural myth. Its emergence as a modern myth, combined with the psychological and spiritual impact reported by many who had a UFO experience, helped to nudge the entire subject toward the realm of religion. But if you wanted to understand a real-world event, you turned to science, not to religion, because religion in the West was no longer the Great Legitimator, the arbiter of Truth and determiner of Reality. Being reported first as factual, real-world encounters, UFO phenomena were predisposed to being studied first from a materialistic rather than a metaphysical point of view. Thus the status of UFO reports as factual claims also accounts in part for the early rejection of religion as an interpretive framework for UFO studies. Nevertheless, religion continually intersected with UFO phenomena and those who were interested in them in a variety of ways. Donald Menzel, ufology’s first official scientific debunker, was frequently vexed by correspondents who wrote to him to report sightings but who refused to accept his prosaic explanations. Sometimes these correspondents would attempt to bolster their case by pointing out UFO-like phenomena described in the Bible. At other times they would simply offer biblically based barbs, as in the case of the man who, after some months’ correspondence with Menzel, wrote that he could “understand better now just why Jesus Christ gathered about him relatively unschooled men, instead of trying to convince the ‘learned’ of his day.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Concise History of Alien Encounters

Fore-word - Legitimate search for extraterrestrials aside, a lunatic (or a prophetic genius, if you believe so), has kick started a petition campaign to force the London natural history museum to allow DNA analysis of the skeletal remains of the so called "Goddess". The petition service is provided by 'ipetitions' and you can sign the petition  here. If the museum does go for the DNA testing, you'll finally be able to either do away with your 'Crosses' or laugh your ass off at Sitchin, at any rate it'll be an interesting exercise! 

In its most basic manifestation as an aerial anomaly the UFO was, to borrow a phrase from C. G. Jung, a “myth of things seen in the sky.” In its simplest form as night lights and anomalous daylight disks, it presented formidable challenges to the grassroots organizations of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s who were dedicated to solving the mystery. Ideas about crashed saucers and a government cover-up conspiracy added layers of complexity to the basic myth and siphoned time and energy away from study of the core phenomenon while, some felt, yielding little of concrete value in return. The notion of a cover-up provided the frustrated with a partial explanation for ufology’s otherwise slow progress in discovering more about the phenomenon. But the merit of conspiracy allegations and, as the years passed, their usefulness in advancing UFO research were subject to dispute. 2 After the closing of Project Blue Book, the entire public responsibility for UFO research fell to the UFO community. It only made sense that the priority for ufology from that point forward should be to find proof that UFOs were real rather than proof of conspiracy. But as ufologists well knew, proving UFO reality would be easier said than done. A major problem in studying UFOs and proving their existence was the ever-changing conception of just what might constitute irrefutable proof. Project Blue Book’s first director, Edward Ruppelt, pointed out that the UFO phenomenon had in fact exhibited in increasingly sophisticated ways that it was a physical phenomenon and not just an illusion.

Simple visual sightings, prone to human error, had been followed by instrumented sightings such as radar returns, followed shortly thereafter by simultaneous radar and visual sightings, multiple-witness sightings, and reports of ground traces found after sightings. But though each increase in the complexity of the reports was important, ufologists were still left with just that: reports. What was wanted was “something you could get your teeth into,” not just anecdotal data. The failure of UFOs to “make predictable appearances at convenient times and places,” to fly into a laboratory “for a physical and a chemical checkup,” meant different things to different people. To the skeptics, it meant that UFOs were not a scientific problem because there was no physical, tangible evidence for the scientist to study. Ufologists pointed out, in response, that if scientists were to wait until they could personally see a UFO or its remains before they began to take a serious interest in them, ufology could be at a standstill for another fifty years. “If we had waited until we ‘captured’ an electron,” wrote one interested scientist, “we would never even have suspected that they exist!” To the ufologist, the fact that the evidence for UFO reality ultimately came down to various kinds of sighting reports meant that UFOs presented a “new kind of scientific puzzle” that might have to be studied in a slightly different manner. Jacques Vallee shared other scientists’ mistrust of a “simple report” as constituting adequate proof of the existence of UFOs. He argued, however, that the data contained in many individual reports could be useful if studied and analyzed cumulatively with a view toward apprehending the phenomenon for what it was in itself, without prejudice toward making it appear to be something recognizable and ordinary. Thus, as ufology approached its silver anniversary it had a clear goal in mind: to prove that UFOs were real phenomena deserving of serious scientific funding and study.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Life Hypothesis: UFOs and Extraterrestrials

Are we Quantum leaping in the wrong direction?

Do unidentified flying objects (UFOs) really exist? They most certainly do! No doubt about it: Many flying objects have not yet been identified. Have any formerly unidentified flying objects been convincingly shown to be alien spaceships? They most certainly have not. It is ironic that UFO has become synonymous with alien spaceship, because, if an object had been identified as an alien spaceship, it would no longer be an “unidentified” flying object! Furthermore, sightings that turn out to be stray lights are not sightings of “objects.” And although these lights may be moving, they are certainly not “flying.” For these reasons, it has been suggested that unidentified flying object (UFO) be replaced by unexplained aerial appearance (UAA), since the latter term does not put into people’s minds preconceived notions that should not be there. On June 24, 1947, nine unidentifiable moving objects in the sky were observed by Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot flying near the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Mr. Arnold reported that the objects were flying “like a saucer skipping over water”— a flying saucer. 

What happened shortly thereafter added to the mystery. Nine days later, in a New Mexico desert, an object was observed to fall out of the sky and land. Rumors began to circulate that the object might have been one of these flying saucers. The mystery was heightened five days later when the U.S. Army Air Force roped off the area. Rumors began to spread that the bodies of four extraterrestrial beings (ETs) had been found in the wreckage. Rumors also spread that the government had sealed off the area so that it could remove the wreckage and bodies and cover up the existence of aliens. (For the record, the suspicious object that crashed in New Mexico in 1947 eventually proved to be a weather balloon.) Identification of a flying object— or any other object— requires sufficient information about that object. Many objects appearing in the sky are viewed from a great distance, for a relatively short time, and only occasionally, thus making identification difficult if not impossible. Even objects observed by large numbers of people for prolonged periods can be misjudged. For example, a full Moon appears larger near the horizon than when it is high in the sky. If you look at the Moon through a tube when it is near the horizon, it appears no larger than when it is overhead. This optical illusion is known as the “Moon illusion.” One possible reason the Moon looks larger when it is near the horizon is that it is near objects we’re used to seeing.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Does the Universe Appear to have a Creator, or is it the Result of Multiverse trotting Extraterrestrials?

We often use a fully materialistic standpoint to explain what science knows about the origin of the cosmos and of life. This approach stems not only from my own philosophical bent but also from my belief that science and religion should not mix. I think this is an attitude espoused by an enormous majority of scientists. In this view, whether the cosmos and life have a purpose becomes largely irrelevant to the scientist searching for knowledge; we are here to study nature with our brains and our scientific tools, not to decide whether God exists. Once in a while, however, some scientists and other thinkers have crossed the science-religion barrier, usually to defend the notion that nature itself suggests the presence of a deity. One of these thinkers was William Paley, a nineteenth-century opponent of Darwin, well known for his watchmaker metaphor. For Paley a complex object like a watch cannot appear spontaneously— it implies a watchmaker, a designer. And so it goes with life itself, said Paley. This type of argument has recently been revived by neo-creationists— including the American biochemist Michael Behe— who see in living things evidence for the existence of a creator. In general, these individuals are opposed to the theory of evolution in a Darwinian sense, although some have come up with the concept of microevolution, an illdefined mechanism that allows for some genetic flexibility leading to minor evolutionary changes. Like Paley, scientific creationists rely heavily on metaphors, this time invoking “perfect” metabolic pathways and other cellular functions that could not have evolved from less perfect ones. Life must then have been designed. To use one of their metaphors, they say that a perfect bicycle, for example, cannot evolve from metal and rubber or from an imperfect bicycle without the intervention of a designer. Since the designer of a bicycle has a purpose in mind— the transportation of people— and since life was also designed, life (and, by extension, the whole universe) must also have a purpose.

Does our own biochemical complexity point towards intelligent design?

There are serious problems with this type of thinking. First, metabolic pathways are not necessarily perfect. For example, the enzyme ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase— the most abundant protein on planet Earth because it is present in all plants— converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into organic carbon, which is then used to make sugars. But the oxygenase function of this enzyme uses atmospheric oxygen to degrade a portion of the sugars it helps make. These sugars— and the energy consumed by plants to make them— are thus wasted for further metabolic processes. Clearly, this enzyme is quite imperfect. Another argument used by the defenders of the designer hypothesis is the existence of the “perfect” (and very complex) blood-clotting mechanism present in vertebrates, which they say could not have evolved from a less perfect pathway. But now that large parts of the human genome have been sequenced, we know that the human blood-clotting system is present in simpler form in the fruit fly and even in a worm, two invertebrates. Clearly, the complex system found in humans and other vertebrates results from the recruitment of more ancient genes (such as worm and fly genes) often accompanied by their rearrangement. This observation demonstrates that the vertebrate blood-clotting mechanism did in fact evolve from a simpler system and was not designed with a specific purpose in mind. On the contrary, organisms that acquired a more efficient blood-clotting mechanism through evolutionary processes recovered more quickly from injury, and they lived and reproduced more successfully, thereby passing on their better adapted genes.

Interestingly, Dyson Freeman (a famed physicist) is one of the few scientists I know of who explicitly states that the cosmos and life do not make sense without the existence of God. However, as I said earlier, Dyson does not espouse the idea that God is some type of engineer who mapped out the details of the Big Bang and designed living organisms to make them perfect. Dyson’s God is far more subtle. For Dyson, the universe cannot be an accident— that is, a chance event. Indeed, if the masses of elementary particles had been created very different from the existing ones, much of physics and chemistry would have been different, and life as we know it might not have appeared. Similarly, if the four fundamental forces were very different in their relative strengths (for example, if gravity superseded the other three forces), the universe would be a very different place today. Thus Dyson sees in the laws of physics not a proof of the existence of God but an indication that the “architecture of the universe is consistent with the hypothesis that mind plays an essential role in its functioning.” It should be kept in mind that for Dyson, apparently, mind and soul are a single concept. And, indeed, without the presence of a mind (or minds or souls) that tries to understand the universe and discover its laws, the universe might as well not exist. However, Dyson makes it very clear that this is as far as science can go. For him the existence of a world soul (God) is a question that belongs to religion and not to science. 'Dyson the Christian' does believe in a world soul, however, and has thus gone beyond the threshold that 'Dyson the physicist' could not cross.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not a Peep out of Alien Civilizations?, Consider Interstellar Migration

Under optimistic projections, we will set forth on the first interstellar voyage before 2100, perhaps within the expected life span of today’s children. According to pessimistic projections, for all intents and purposes human interstellar travel is impossible, and the reality is that “you can’t get there from here.” The problem, given present-day technology, is distance. Distances between the stars (including our own Sun and its neighbors) are measured in light-years. Since light travels at the speed of 300,000 kilometers per second, one light-year is almost 10 trillion kilometers. (A trillion is a million million.) With the exception of astronomers, who are taught to think big, it is almost impossible for people to grasp the enormity of such distances. Eugene Mallove and Gregory Matloff note that the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, 4.3 light-years from here, is about 273,000 times the distance from Earth to the Sun. 1 If we represent the Sun by a circle with a diameter of 1 centimeter, Earth would be a dot with a diameter of .1 millimeter, located 1 meter away. Pluto would be 42 meters from the Sun, and Proxima Centauri would be 292 kilometers farther out.


The challenge of interstellar travel is covering immense distances within a time frame that keeps the journey meaningful. We have already launched interstellar probes. Pioneer 10 and 2 have completed their work within our solar system and will make their closest approach to other stars as early as 32,600 or as late as 497,000 years from now. 2 Since their primary function is to explore our solar system, they are not taking the most direct route to our nearest neighbor. If we could travel at the speed of light, then 4.3 years’ travel time to Proxima Centauri might not be too bad. Given what we know right now, however, we can’t come close to this. Estimated starship speeds are measured in hundredths of the speed of light, and a ship that topped out at .06 times the speed of light would be a snappy performer. Yet because it would take years to accelerate to this speed (and years to decelerate in order to stop at the destination) average speed would be much lower than this. By many estimates, even a “short” interstellar voyage could take centuries. This might not bother an automated probe, but could cause problems for humans. 
Detailed planning for interstellar spacecraft has been under way since before the first orbital flights. Over the years, many different designs have been brought forward. Some of these are based upon optimistic predictions about future science and technology, but others involve either known technologies and construction techniques or ones that should soon become available. Like airplane, ship, and automobile designs, starship plans reflect trade-offs among size, fuel requirements, and speed. Without question, nuclear rockets are the most promising.
We can divide interstellar missions into two categories: multigeneration and single generation. All starship designs that use known or reasonably demonstrable technologies will require multigeneration missions, but some, known as slowships, will require more generations to travel to a given star than will others, known as fastships. As for singlegeneration interstellar missions, many space scientists would say that we have only hazy or wishful ideas about how to accomplish them, if they are possible at all.

This Brings us to the most  fundamental and critical question regarding the interstellar migration. If a multigeneration Interstellar ship were to leave for another solar system today, would you consider volunteering for the greater good of humanity? Use the opinions poll and let us know!

In the meanwhile, enjoy these artist's renderings of futuristic interstellar vehicles.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Has Life Originated Elsewhere and will it End?

If the genetic code is universal, it is probably because every organism that has succeeded in living up till now is descended from one single ancestor. But, it is impossible to measure the probability of an event that occurred only once. 
Fran├žois Jacob, The Logic of Life (1973)

The wave of optimism that followed the Miller experiment in 1953 has been replaced today by more subdued attitudes. Solving the mysteries of the emergence of life on Earth is now seen as a very difficult proposition. In the face of this, some have proposed that life may have originated elsewhere in the solar system, or even somewhere else in our galaxy. Proponents of this view include the famous biophysicist Francis Crick of DNA fame (his statement on that question seems to have been tongue-in-cheek) and the equally famous cosmologist Fred Hoyle (not so tongue-in-cheek). 

Echoes of Panspermia

In the nineteenth century, the well-known Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius hypothesized that a lifeless Earth was seeded with life-forms from outer space. Unlike Rael, however, he did not think that all creatures originated from clever extraterrestrial genetic engineers. Arrhenius’s life-forms were simply bacterial spores that drifted through space, landed by chance on Earth, germinated, and started the process of evolution. Arrhenius called this the concept of panspermia, suggesting that maybe life originated somewhere in our galaxy and then became distributed through it. This was an interesting idea, and it solved the problem of the origin of life on Earth. As expected, that idea was criticized from several angles. Granted, spores are hardened, dehydrated, dormant cells formed by some prokaryotic species. They are more resistant to heat, cold, and radiation than dividing cells. Spores are known to be the hardiest forms of life on Earth and some have been revived after spending 100,000 years in their dormant state. A somewhat controversial report even claims that 25to 40-million-year-old spores have been revived in the laboratory. Spores contain a unique enzyme that can repair ultraviolet (UV)-damaged DNA very efficiently, they are resistant to temperatures up to 150°C, and they can withstand pressures as high as 6000 atmospheres and as low as 10 11 atmosphere. They are also quite resistant to gamma radiation. However, are they hard enough to have resisted conditions prevalent in outer space? Assuming bacterial spores were ejected into space by gigantic volcanic eruptions or asteroidal impacts on a solar or on an extrasolar planet, which is possible, it would have taken them perhaps millions of years, depending on the distance between another solar planet and Earth or between their star and the Sun, to reach our planet. Meanwhile, the spores, even if hidden in the midst of dust grains or chunks of rock, would have been exposed to hard cosmic and ultraviolet rays that pervaded interstellar space. How long could they have resisted? Experiments conducted in the laboratory on Earth and aboard spacecraft, mostly with the spores of the soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis, show that panspermia within the solar system and even interstellar panspermia are valid concepts. As we have seen, laboratory experiments have demonstrated the high tolerance of bacterial spores to injuries inflicted by temperature, radiation, and extremes of pressure. Basically, panspermia is possible only if (a) spores can be ejected from another planet and resist the acceleration and heat produced in the escape process, (b) spores can tolerate space travel for perhaps long periods of time, and (c) spores can survive the reentry process into Earth’s atmosphere.

The escape process must have involved accelerations in excess of the host planet’s gravity. Laboratory experiments have shown that spores can tolerate up to 460,000 × g of acceleration, which is plenty to reach escape velocity from terrestrial types of planets. Then, spores must have been able to survive the hostile environment of space during their travel, during which they would have been exposed to stellar protons, electrons, alpha particles, cosmic rays composed of heavy ions, UV radiation, and X rays. They would also have experienced the effects of a high vacuum and extremes of temperature. Several satellite-based experiments have shed a considerable amount of light on the hardiness of spores in outer space. These experiments were conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Spacelab, the Long Duration Exposure Facility, and Apollo missions 16 and 17; by the European Space Agency aboard the European Retrievable Carrier; and by the Russian Foton spacecraft. The experiments demonstrated that 30 to 80 percent of B. subtilis spores survived 6 years of exposure to vacuum and radiation in outer space near Earth if they were embedded in crystals of glucose or salt, imitating meteoritic rock. Only a thin layer of this material was needed to completely shield the spores from UV radiation. Experiments conducted outside the Van Allen belts— which deflect charged particles, including most cosmic rays, from Earth— have shown that protection from cosmic rays is more challenging. Even so, it has been calculated that some spores would survive up to 25 million years in deep space if shielded by 2 to 3 meters of meteoritic material. The notion of spores embedded in meteorites naturally raises the question of whether bacteria can live in rock. The answer to that question is yes, as living bacteria have been found in boreholes as deep as 2.5 km inside Earth’s crust.

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The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - Inspired by Religious Faith?

While science and religion are seen to be two opposing poles of a stick, never fated to meet, it seems the most ardent of tasks was inspired by religious faith after all, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The question that remains is, will you find the average Joe of an alien a church regular? Do you expect alien civilizations to be obsessed and compulsively driven by religion as humans?

Some scientists acknowledge the religious impulse that inspired their study of alien life. Carl Sagan was not among them. Although he was reluctant to accept religious interpretations of SETI research, Sagan used religious explanations to challenge the validity of UFOs. In an essay he contributed to the Encyclopedia Americana, Sagan argued that unidentified flying objects had less to do with scientific curiosity than with unfulfilled religious needs. For some people, he wrote, flying saucers “replace the gods that science has deposed.” When novelist Cynthia Ozick interviewed Sagan for a popular magazine, she noted the religious overtones of Sagan’s extraterrestrials. She said, “What you postulate is Angels. Faith, the same old faith.” Sagan retorted, “Not faith. Calculation. Extrapolation.” 2 Nevertheless, Sagan’s eldest son, Dorion, supported Ozick’s conclusions. Dorion, a science writer, scoffed at the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He said it was nothing more than a replacement for religion in a secular age. Meanwhile, Sagan’s colleague Frank Drake readily admitted that a fundamentalist religious upbringing was the initial inspiration for him and others to join the search for advanced alien life. Granted, Drake repudiated his religious training in his youth. Nevertheless, in his mature years, he claimed that the extraterrestrials are virtually immortal and perhaps willing to pass on the secret of immortality to humans. When depicting the life and culture of intelligent aliens, anthropomorphic thinking enters to fill in the missing details. Extraterrestrials, we learn, are remarkably like us. They study mathematics and science, practice technology, and grapple with issues raised by warfare, environmental pollution, diminishing natural resources, disease, overpopulation, and energy crises. This blatantly anthropomorphic portrayal of alien culture is accompanied by the disclaimer that aliens are biologically different from humans.

Anthropomorphic thinking, however, lies close to the surface of speculation about extraterrestrial intelligence. SETI pioneer Frank Drake was once asked what form an intelligent alien might assume. He answered:

"They won’t be too much different from us. What I usually say, when people ask me that question, is that a large fraction will have such an anatomy that if you saw them from a distance of a hundred yards in the twilight you might think they were human."

Drake continued his description by noting that it was advantageous to walk upright on two legs with your head on top, eyes near the brain, and mouth near the eyes. He clearly believed that human anatomy serves as a pattern for intelligent aliens. Well, old Gorn on the left won't complain! When Drake was asked if aliens were real, he candidly responded: “You talk about something enough times, you begin to believe it. And we sure talk about this a lot.” Since the seventeenth century, philosophers and scientists have understood that anthropomorphic thinking exists in science. That is why scientists differentiate fact from value, resist granting humans a unique status in the universe, and avoid searching for purpose in the cosmos. Scientists claim they can produce objective knowledge even though their work rests upon human perception and understanding of the physical world. Sagan had his own solution to the problems introduced by anthropomorphism. He asked scientists to reject the chauvinisms that marred their thinking. A chauvinism is simpler to overcome than entrenched anthropomorphic thought because the former is easier to recognize and vulnerable to rational argument.

The main chauvinism that threatens the study of extraterrestrial organisms is the widespread belief that life must have the same physical basis everywhere in the universe. Sagan identified oxygen, carbon, ultraviolet light, and temperature chauvinisms. Each of these rests upon the false assumption that terrestrial and alien life have identical chemical and physical requirements.

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