Nuts for Aliens
Believers in space aliens, or even space bacteria, have cast all restraint to the wind. SETI today is indistinguishable from a cult, and so is its stepchild, astrobiology.
NASA has been studying space for 60 years, Space.com reminds us. The search for life beyond earth has gone on even longer. In all this time, with close observations of every planet and remote observations of many stars, not one shred of evidence for life beyond earth has ever been found. And yet secular scientists and the mainstream media speak as if extraterrestrial life is a virtual certainty.
SETI and astrobiology have one thing in common: Darwinian evolution. The thinking is that since life emerged and evolved here—a planet with water—it must happen wherever water is found. From that springboard of assumption, the true believers perform twisting backflips with incredible contortions. Will it end in a painful bellyflop?
METI and SETI: Messages To and From Nobody
Message Sent to Nearby Planet That Could Host Life (Space.com). Doug Vakoch, president of METI International (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), pulled another stunt by sending a one-way signal to Luyten’s Star, which is 12.36 light-years away. Perhaps this action grants him job security for his non-profit. “It is a prototype for what I think we would most likely need to do 100 times, or 1,000 times, or 1 million times,” he says. But where will he be in 25 years, the soonest possible time for a reply? The only criticism New Scientist had for this publicity stunt involved the publicity:
“Ninety-eight percent of astronomers and SETI researchers, including myself, think that METI is potentially dangerous, and not a good idea,” says Dan Werthimer, a SETI researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. “It’s like shouting in a forest before you know if there are tigers, lions, and bears or other dangerous animals there.”
Vakoch is not worried, because tigers won’t understand it. The message is “distinctive because it’s designed with extraterrestrial SETI scientists in mind,” he says in the Fox News story. “We sent the sort of signal we’d want to receive here on Earth.” New Scientist also gave Vakoch a whole article to explain why “the message we’re sending to aliens is no threat to earth.”
What evolutionary biology tells us about how aliens could look (Science Daily). This article pays obeisance to the controversial views of Sam Levin at the University of Oxford (11/10/17). Levin thinks that natural selection forces aliens to evolve into beings like us. “Using this idea of alien natural selection as a framework, the team addressed extra-terrestrial evolution, and how complexity will arise in space.” Skeptics should submit a writ of Habeus corpus (produce the body).
They may not be out there (Physics Today). Howard Smith of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics pours a cold splash of realism on SETI believers, arguing from history that it is not at all certain that physical laws will make life common.
I think my own community of scientists has hopped aboard an optimistic science fiction bandwagon while being insufficiently honest in highlighting the many cautions. Percival Lowell, famous for his search for Pluto and his studies of the canals of Mars, wrote in 1908, “From all we have learned of its constitution on the one hand, or of its distribution on the other, we know life to be as inevitable a phase of planetary evolution as is quartz or feldspar or nitrogenous soil. Each and all of them are only manifestations of chemical affinity.”
No one believes that today. Every schoolchild knows that Mars has no artificial canals and no Martians either. Lowell’s confident assumption was wishful thinking, and we should beware of making similar assumptions.
Astrobiology – Without the Bio
You Can Visit Real Alien Planets in VR Thanks to This Awesome New Simulation (Space.com). Virtual reality is not real reality, so this might better be called an exercise in VU (virtual unreality), especially since a great deal of speculation is involved visualizing planets about which only orbital radius and mass is known. This speculation experiment uses the FX of a guy who worked on sci-fi animations and Stephen King novels. It will deserve more attention when they get to RR (real reality).
Space dust may transport life between worlds, research suggests (Science Daily). Panspermia is back in fashion. “Life on Earth might have originated from tiny organisms brought to our planet in streams of fast-moving space dust, according to a new study” at the University of Edinburgh. As the Illustra film Origin shows, this solution only “changes the venue” for the origin of life without solving it.
In Earth’s Backyard: Newfound Alien Planet May Be Good Bet for Life (Live Science). A planet named Ross128b caught the attention of science writer Mike Wall. To encourage him to back up his speculations with empirical evidence, let’s have him go there and take a look.
Russian billionaire to fund alien-hunting mission to Saturn moon (RT World News). At least Yuri Milner puts his money where his faith is. Enceladus has water; that’s enough for him to gamble $200 million for explorations of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. He knows better than to gamble on intelligent life; “maybe microbial life, or something more serious.” Microbes are offended at the thought they are not serious. It would be easier and more sensible for Milner to send a few million to Creation-Evolution Headlines. We would accept even 1% of his promised funds for a trip to Enceladus, but to each his own.
NASA scientist expects to find aliens within 20 years (New York Post). Promising something two decades out provides convenient boilerplate for storytellers. In 20 years, most of them will be retired or dead. “They are so convinced, a spaceship is being sent to Europa to see whether alien life could be swimming in its giant frozen lakes.” This excerpt shows the moyboys overtaken with hydrobioscopy:
To be a potential new home, liquid water is necessary so the surface of an alien world needs to be a temperature that allows liquid to be present for billions of years to allow life to thrive.
Our living planet shapes the search for life beyond the earth (JPL news). This typical press release shows the dependence of astrobiology on water. Listing the requirements for habitability, “Above all else, that means liquid water.” But can a planet have too much of a good thing?
A Wet Blanket on Hydrobioscopy
Ocean-covered planets may not be the places to search for life (New Scientist). In this piece, Shannon Hall echoes the worries of Arizona State astrobiologist Tessa Fisher, who realizes that phosphorus (a necessary element for life as we know it) may be hard to come by on planets, even if they have water. “Not only does Fisher’s work suggest that kick-starting life on such a world would be tricky, it is also possible that should life take hold, astronomers would be hard-pressed to detect it,” Hall writes. Fisher thinks that too much water can dampen chances for life. Conclusion? “Don’t follow the water.” Her ideas “sent ripples throughout” the Habitable Worlds Conference in Wyoming. Nature says that she put a “wet blanket” on the conference. A poll at the end of the conference found that a majority predict life will be found on an exoplanet in the 2050s or 2060s. This gives them all time to avoid falsification by dying first.
Materialists pride themselves on taking nothing on faith. One critic of CEH on Twitter boasted, “I don’t trust anything unless there’s a reasonable evidence base.” We hope he will take that advice to the astrobiologists and SETI faithful.