Thursday, November 16, 2017

Alien tidbits

At various points, I've been asked: "Hey Jon. What gives with all the aliens?"

Aside from my obvious love of science fiction, there are a few other reasons.
Exobiology is a genuinely intriguing mental exercise. What would other life look like? All we have to go on is how life evolved here, and that's an imperfect template at best. Also, when your life is full of job loss, poor finances, health insurance angst, shattered dreams, and daily depression, thinking about life on other planets can be both diverting and relaxing. Even so, don't mistake me for a starry-eyed scrimshanker or someone who sleeps inside pyramids in hopes of "making contact."
That's because while I suspect that there are indeed other lifeforms out in space, I no longer see their existence as a given.

After all, we must face up to that pesky Fermi Paradox: "If the universe is likely filled with life, then where is everybody?" (I'm paraphrasing.) All these years and not one single solid (official) sign that dissuades us from thinking we're alone in the universe. There may be a reason for that.

Imagine you live in a small town in the interior of Nevada or another extreme rural location. If you didn't have access to electronic media, you might begin to get the sensation that you and your fellow citizens of the town are all there is in the world. What if the planet Earth sits in the cosmic equivalent of Nevada?

More specifically, our galaxy, the Milky Way, may float in the midst of one of the largest voids in the observable universeThat's what astronomers at the University of Wisconsin contend. Gravity drew matter together into familiar stellar objects while the universe expands. This "clumping" left behind vast zones of "empty." These voids are suspected to count for 80% of the universe.

All right, so it doesn't quite fit with my Nevada analogy as there are still plenty of stars with us here in the Milky Way. But still I must ask, why haven't we even heard anything? Not even a garbled transmission from the inky dark. Indeed the starry sky seems mostly silent. That may soon change if China has anything to say about it.

They have just built the world's largest radio receiver dish. The dish exists for one purpose: listen for alien signals. Yes, something we Americans scoff at and certainly deem unworthy of monetary investment. By contrast, China has no problem sinking millions into the effort. Just look at that picture at the link. All silvery and set amid green hills, the dish is over twice the width as Arecibo. The Chinese are serious about this.

If they find them, will we get to see what these aliens look like? Well if we do, there's a team of researchers who argue the aliens will look much like us. Scientists at the University of Oxford seem to believe that the same evolutionary forces that formed life on Earth would do pretty much the same elsewhere. This means planets full of multiple lifeforms of varying complexities, from single-cell organisms all the way up to complicated forms such as humans. If they look similar to us, could they be among us?

A tantalizing prospect, but an unlikely one.

Seems that covers about 90% of my blog material, but I digress...

Our view of the "rule book for life" is rather myopic. Biology keeps surprising us and we keep finding living things here on Earth where there shouldn't be any (see extremophiles). So what do we really know? I see no reason why intelligent life would have to look anything like us. It's probably logical to assume that they would have eyes in order to see and appendages with which they could manipulate their environment and build tools, but beyond that? Who knows?

Well that was fun. Now back to Earthly drudgery.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.