Space Aliens Still AWOL
Aliens should be everywhere, but the heavens remain eerily silent. The faith goes on.
In the 1980s, Carl Sagan predicted that there could be a million advanced civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy alone. In 2015, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner gave SETI $100 million to find them. The latest results have found nothing. Live Science writes about astronomers’ reactions to the no-shows,
“There’s certainly nothing out there glaringly obvious,” Danny Price, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of a paper about the results, which were published in The Astrophysical Journal, told Live Science. “There’s no amazingly advanced civilizations trying to contact us with incredibly powerful transmitters.”
Four years into Milner’s decade-planned Breakthrough Listen initiative, astronomers have garnered a petabyte (a million gigabytes) of data from 1,327 stars within 160 light-years of Earth. The project has made the data publicly available in an Open Archive on their website, “making it the largest publication of SETI data in the history of the field.” Citizen scientists can wade through the pile to see if the experts missed anything.
SETI believers have plenty of excuses they can make. The sample size is a tiny percentage of stars in the Milky Way. Astronomer Jason Wright of the University of Pennsylvania compares it to a hot tub’s worth of water compared to Earth’s oceans. And the project assumes that space aliens would choose the particular radio and optical frequencies the project selected in order to communicate. Given the nanoscopic odds of success, it seems hopeless to try. What drives them to do it?
One motivation was expressed by Danny Price of UC Berkeley, lead author of the paper about the negative results. “I think it would be one of the most important discoveries humankind would ever make,” he said, if evidence of intelligent life were found beyond Earth. While the existence of space aliens does not require the assumptions of spontaneous generation and evolution, the fact is that most SETI enthusiasts are staunch atheists and Darwinists. They believe that life popped into existence on the Earth without design or purpose. Since it happened here, it must happen elsewhere, they figure, and evidence of other civilizations would bolster their case that the emergence and evolution of advanced life is not as difficult as some skeptics insist. In science, though, it is risky to build a case on a sample size of one. And even if aliens were found, it would not prove evolution. Creationists could still argue that they were created.
UFOs: Have the Aliens Come Here?
Some may think it odd that the very people who believe the universe is filled with space aliens do not think UFOs give evidence of them. That’s because, being trained more rigorously in physics than many UFO enthusiasts, they understand the difficulty of physical space travel across stellar distances. “UFOs Are Real, But Don’t Assume They’re Alien Spaceships,” says Mike Wall in Space.com. He means that pilots, like US Navy pilots who reported UFOs in 2014 and 2015 really did see something flying that was unidentified, but it does not follow that they were visitors from outer space. Seth Shostak is skeptical of the space alien claim because if beings from distant planets were visiting Earth, they never do anything. “They just buzz around,” he quips. “They don’t address climate change; they don’t steal our molybdenum.” But who can say what aliens are thinking?
Lower Sights, Harder Searches
Astrobiologists make similar assumptions as SETI advocates, but they would be happy to just find microbes. The problem with microbes is that they typically do not broadcast their presence with radio telescopes. We have to go and find them. As with SETI, results to date are negative, despite millions of dollars spent by NASA’s astrobiology programs. The search continues, nevertheless, due to strong beliefs about spontaneous generation and evolution.
Life on Jupiter’s moon Europa? Discovery of table salt on the surface boosts hopes (The Conversation). If life spontaneously appeared in your salt shaker, Chris Arridge might have a point, but what does possible NaCl on Europa have to do with life? The paper in Science Advances that announced the moon’s sodium chloride doesn’t speculate that life arose because of it. Salt is actually bad for creating cell membranes, but Arridge, a lecturer at Lancaster University, argues that it’s not as bad as some other salts. He says that NaCl lowers the freezing temperature of water, and that might keep the moon’s oceans habitable. Such reasoning should be taken with a dose of salt.
How Mercury and Venus can guide our hunt for alien life on exoplanets (New Scientist). Leah Crane spends most of her article describing how hellish and inhospitable Venus and Mercury are, but then argues that studying them can help our search for life on exoplanets. Actually, it helps by reducing false positives. Astronomers might find worlds around other stars that look promising, but they could be “sizzling coals” like Mercury or Venus.
Supernovas May Seed the Universe with More Stardust Than Predicted (Space.com). Analysis of meteorites led some at the Max Planck Institute to conclude that supernovas give off more stardust than thought. The article surmises, “this study reinforces the notion that we are all made of stardust, or rather our atoms all came from materials in stars.” Dust, however, is what happens to things that are dying and disintegrating. It does not follow that dust bunnies turn into real bunnies.
If space aliens are ever found, they will need the gospel. Beware the fake aliens who try to bring us a false gospel. Paul warned, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).