Aliens Invade Science News
What are aliens doing in science news reports? There is no evidence they even exist. That has not hindered some scientists from speculating. BBC News reporters Pallab Ghosh headlined an entry “Astronomers hopeful of detecting extra-terrestrial life,” and adorned it with a Hollywood-style alien corpse. The article highlighted the optimism of Lord Rees, the president of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal of Britain, who thinks we are getting close to discovering alien life. And whatever the discovery shows them to be, “It would change our view of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.”
Frank Drake of SETI fame was also given very good press by the BBC News for finding nothing for 50 years. Drake was praised for inventing an equation that, to evaluate, would require knowledge of several factors that are beyond observation or measurement. Reporter Jonathan Amos focused on what our reactions would be if we discovered aliens.
New Scientist went even further and speculated on what aliens will look like. Reporter Stephen Battersby acknowledged there is no evidence for “Tentacled monsters, pale skinny humanoids, shimmery beings of pure energy… When it comes to the question of what alien life forms might look like, we are free to let our imagination roam,” he said. “The science-in-waiting of extraterrestrial anatomy has yet to acquire its first piece of data, so nobody knows what features we will behold if and when humans and aliens come face-to-face. Or face to squirmy something.” From there, various astrobiologists and origin-of-life researchers weighed in with their imaginative speculations. Stephen Benner thought life might be built on alien chemistry. Battersby speculated about life in our solar system. “In our eyes, the Titanians might seem pretty laid back. At around 93 kelvin, Titan’s seas are very cold and that makes chemical reactions super slow.” Dirk Schulze-Makuch (U of Washington) who said, “Things could be very slow-moving and slow-growing. The lifetime of such an organism may be 10,000 years, or perhaps as much as a million.”
Battersby switched over to SETI and let his imagination run loose: “Even without knowing the details of their chemistry or habitat, it is possible to hazard a few guesses,” he said. He used “convergent evolution” to speculate that aliens might look like us, and even put English words in their mouth.
So if our aliens come from a planet with a range of habitats not too different from those on Earth, they might well have some of the same characteristics. A well-lit world like ours would probably produce beings with eyes – so maybe a recognisable face after all. And our cosmic correspondents would presumably need some manipulating organs to fiddle with the nuts and bolts of their technology. They might even have hands, but then again why not a prehensile tail or a trunk instead? “Maybe it’s an antenna, maybe a tentacle,” says [Lynn] Rothschild [NASA Ames]. “Maybe an octopus would look at us and think ‘How can you expect this organism to develop technology with its two clumsy front limbs?’”
While we’re speculating, let’s not let empiricism get in the way. They might even be machines; or “we might find tentacled monsters, pale skinny humanoids, shimmery beings of pure energy….” At least we can take comfort in the probability that the aliens are green – that is, environmentalists. The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) tells us, for good or for ill, “Astrobiology Opens Pandora’s Box.” Pandora has improved her reputation since the movie Avatar. “Lisa Kaltenegger from NAI’s MIT team discusses exoplanets and science fiction with CNN World, noting that it’s likely many moons such as Avatar’s Pandora exist, and we’re that much closer to finding them with NASA’s Kepler mission.” Actually, Pandora does exist. It’s a little bitty moon inside Saturn’s F-Ring (see Planetary Photojournal). But since this is an article about Astrobiology, the implication is that where big-world Pandoras of the Avatar kind form, Pandorans – environmentally-friendly sentient communicators – are sure to emerge. Why? Because evolution is a force throughout the universe. Whether green sentient slime or general electric beings of pure energy, it good things to life.
For more on SETI speculation, see the 10/31/2009 entry.
If this is New Scientist, don’t ask what New Rationality is supposed to be. Can you imagine the reaction of these “scientists” if theologians or historians were to flip out in unsubstantiated imagination like this? This is nothing but Darwinism, with all its silly concoctions like “convergent evolution” (01/26/2010) projected into space. They call it “science-in-waiting.” Gnomology could be called that, too (09/01/2009, 09/17/2008, 04/21/2008, and 03/16/2008 commentaries). Let’s throw in alchemy, astrology and natural magic. After all, no data are needed, and those “sciences” actually had more to work with. While the alien hunters are speculating in Fantasyland pretending to be scientists, maybe they could tell us how many aliens made of pure energy could dance on the head of a pin.