Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cosmic Questions of Alien Mice and Men

One of the joys I had growing up in Georgetown, South Carolina that extended well into the 1980’s was the ability to go outside and see the stars of the Milky Way scattered across the sky at night. Of course these very impromptu observations were before both urban sprawl forced a huge jump in nighttime illumination for safety reasons and damn suburbanites developed the narcissistic need to show off their carefully tended lawns with landscape lighting. Such is the nature of childhood I guess that something so simple and pure can literally be lost in the glare of what some call progress. Truthfully, I cannot blame progress all that much, while my hometown was a very pleasant place to live it would have only been a matter of time before one of the newer neighbors called the sheriff on my ass accusing me of being a peeping tom.

It would be a supreme understatement of criminal proportions to say those quiet nights watching the stars were awe inspiring. In truth I actually felt privileged to be able to see the majesty of creation wheel before me. Couple that with Carl Sagan’s show “Cosmos” that aired about the same time and there were times I could stand outside looking at the stars and almost hear his words describing the birth of the universe.

One of the problems of being overly curious is that you cannot stand outside looking at night sky for any length of time and being to wonder if their might be sentient creatures like us living on alien planets circling those distant stars. The next natural step, fueled by science fiction both good and bad, is wonder if maybe these other intelligent species might be advanced enough to travel the almost unimaginable distance and come visit our small but hospitable world.

Saying that such journeys would be difficult is a monumental understatement and to be fair there are a number of respected scientists that say manned interstellar travel is simply impossible given the energy requirements needed to accelerate even a relatively small mass object close to the speed of light. For them any possible interstellar community would be restricted to a galactic internet with various species broadcasting radio messages to each other, then waiting the centuries, if not millenniums, for a reply.

Of course this stay-at-home attitude ignores such possible propulsion technologies as nuclear pulse, fusion engines, antimatter drive, and the really wild ideas for surfing space-time itself which, some say, would allow us to break Einstein’s law about not traveling faster than light. Except for nuclear pulse, which was actually tested on a very small scale in the 1960’s, all of those possibilities are for the foreseeable future just theoretical curiosities. Yeah, it bugs the living shit out of me.

Not surprisingly there is intense debate among the stay-at-home crowd and those like me who would jump at the chance to “explore strange new worlds.” The former likes to bring up Fermi’s Paradox which says that given the high probability that there are at least a few other intelligent species in the galaxy if interstellar travel was possible even a relatively slow starship, say going just ten percent the speed of light, should have visited already. In other words, even at an interstellar snail’s pace it is possible for an adventurous species to explore the entire galaxy in just a few million years. Yes, the rocket scientist boys and girls have checked the numbers on that one.  

The obnoxious stay-at-homes also like to point out that Earth was prime carbon-based lifeform real estate for billions of years and should have been snapped up by at least one colonizing species. Furthermore, given that complex life has existed on this planet for millions of years if any alien Jim Kirks had stopped by they should have left examples of their visit in case intelligent life ever evolved. Now the stay-at-home get vague here, and never really state what type of evidence any possible aliens might leave. Just off the top of my head some of the junk they might have left behind could be a few burned out warp drives, mounds of alien trash including poo, and just maybe the occasional crewmember left marooned on an airless moon because it would not stop farting on the bridge.

Frankly I am in the Star Trek camp who believes all the stay-at-home are unimaginative poopoo heads. Interstellar propulsion technology is not even in its infancy and while it will obviously be too expensive for nation-states to pursue alone there is simply just too much promise to abandoned research when the human race could end up with the chance to explore the galaxy. Unfortunately, even if we get the chance to “seek out new civilizations” the basic principles of evolution preclude the possibility of someone playing James T. Kirk and bagging some smoking hot green-skinned Orion babe. Yeah, you can probably begin to imagine what my childhood was like but don’t go there.

Now there is sort of a bridge between the Star Trek types like me and the aforementioned unimaginative poopoo heads. The idea is that even if manned interstellar travel is impractical bordering on impossible an adventurous species could send self-replicating probes on the long and very slow journey. Once these robotic emissaries arrive at a promising star they radio back what it has found and then go about building copies of itself which in turn begin the journey all over again.

From, posted July 19, 2013:

Now even this compromise opens up its own can of alien face hugging worms. If alien robotic probes are hanging around our solar system wanting to make contact with us hairless primates what are they waiting for? The disturbing idea I cannot shake is that they do not consider us an intelligent species, and who in this great big wide cosmos would blame them? Even hamsters know not to make a mess of where they live and do not get me started on humanity’s other sins.

Secondly, it only takes one Nazi-like alien species suffering from paranoid delusions to send out fleets of self-replicating destroyers whose only purpose is to listen for other intelligent lifeforms leaking out television broadcasts of their versions of The Tonight Show or I Love Lucy then drop by their home planet and nuke the living daylights out of them. Think I am crazy? First, my mother had me tested and second even Stephen Hawking has said pursuing alien contact might be a very bad idea.

In my opinion humanity making first contact with another intelligent species might be the best thing that ever happened to us. It might just be what is needed to make the bulk of our species realize there is more to existence than just our civilization’s perpetual idiotic games of empire building, destroying the environment for a buck, and some nation making an attempt at global domination.

The incident that sticks in my mind though happened to me on was on one of those star gazing nights back in my hometown. It was during one summer night after a particularly bad thunderstorm had knocked out power to the neighborhood. The storm cleared out quickly leaving my backyard almost pitch black and the stars an unimpeded stage. Looking through my granddad’s old army binoculars I had gone into serious geek mode after catching the sight of Jupiter and at least three of its Galilean moons.

My reverie was destroyed when out of nowhere I heard someone shout, “What the Hell are you doing boy?”  Out of the darkness emerged a man I called “Uncle Boo”, he had heard someone talking to themselves and came over to see what sort of fool was outside after a thunderstorm. Uncle Boo literally scared the Hell out of me, it was like he came out of nowhere. Once I explained he went back home and got his own telescope and we spent about an hour looking up at clear night sky before the lights came back on. While these days nighttime illumination prevents me from seeing the stars like I use to but I still look up and like Enrico Fermi, who was one of the smartest men of the twentieth century, wonder where in the Hell everyone is, or if  they are lurking somewhere out in the darkness watching us, or if maybe they are all hiding from something. 

This is for those damn Stay-at-Home shitheads.


Cirze said...

You would love where I live now, buddy.

When I stroll out of my driveway at night to make my star journey, it's so dark that I have to pick my way along the route until I turn back toward home and turn into my street again.

Only one streetlight.

Love ya, and thanks for the stories!


Slick said...

I love to stargaze, I just don't get to do much of it. We've probably been scoped out, and they have determined that we are unworthy at present. We should be okay as long as they don't look at us as an "infestation" of some sort.

Pixel Peeper said...

Your post today reminded me of a time when my sister and I were still kids and we observed the stars at night. We started wondering and talking about the universe and the immense size of it, and the possibility of aliens. During our conversation, we thought up the idea that our entire universe was possibly just an atom in someone else's universe and that these "giant aliens" had no clue that inside "their" one atom was "our" entire universe. And...what would happen to us if, by mistake and unknowingly, those aliens would squash this atom?

At precisely that moment, when we considered this horrible fate of being squashed, the fire siren in our small village went off... My sister and I looked at each other in horror...The giant aliens are coming!!!...and then started giggling and laughing uncontrollably. We were just kids.

lime said...

any species smart enough to get here would either be dismayed by our stupidity and leave or squash us like bugs. then again i could be full of shit.

Akelamalu said...

I love stargazing too. There has just got to be other life out there, it's too huge for there not to be.

Mr. Charleston said...

There's a pretty strong lobby who believe the alien space visitors did leave something behind... us!

Randal Graves said...

As long as we get a holodeck out of it.

goatman said...

I really like the probe idea -- exponential spread of possible contacts. I would maybe add solar sails for speed and human participation to ease the decision as to the next destination for a probe. And take advantage of the reproductive capability of the people on the probes (who would never return and be a constantly expanding human presence in the universe).

Ideas abound. . .

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Whenever I hear discussions as to the likelihood of lifeforms existing on another planet, defined entirely by a carbon-base, it makes me crazy. Why would any serious scientist limit the definition and possibility of life on life only as WE know it? We're such an insignificant little speck of nothing in the universe, assuming that our mediocre understanding of life is all-encompassing is totally ludicrous and narcissist.

I loved Pixel Peeper's comment.

Marja said...

Oh I do so love star gazing as well. Do you know that we have one of the clearest skies here above lake tekapo where you can see more stars than in other place and the milky way is so beautiful
I am sure there is other intelligence out there and I think too that they wouldn't be much interested in these creatures here

Beach Bum said...

Cirze: Given the inbred right-wing cesspool I live now anyplace this side of Afghanistan or Somalia would be an improvement.

Slick: You know I believe there is a good chance we have been scoped out as well. But of course, its just a hunch with no evidence.

Pixel: I believe several sci-fi stories about universes inside atoms have been written.

Lime: I like the idea of an interstellar Las Vegas where they are taking bets on whether or not humans self-destruct.

Akelamalu: I agree, its an awful waste of space for us to be the only intelligent life.

Mr. Charleston: Good point, maybe they used us for some genetic engineering experiments. Too bad they did not finish the job.

Randal: Hell yeah! That way I could have my Orion girlfriend. This begs the question, is having sex with a holographic woman cheating?

Goatman: You would love David Brin's book "Existence". He touched on those same ideas.

Susan: Good points, I like the idea of silicon-based life.

Marja: I can only imagine the clear skies and the awesome views you have in the southern hemisphere.