ET has phoned home

December 2, 2010

Torah Kachur

Looking to the heavens has been around since the dawn of consciousness; the desire to look outwards to determine what lies within was the realm of the ancient astronomers like Ptolemy, the Mayan and others who dabbled in the stars.  The cosmos was regarded as a way to tell time, the playground of the gods or proof that humans are the center of the universe.  But no matter what the motivation is for skyward seeking, the search for someone else in the cosmos is universal.


            Epicurus cosmos earth center spherical universe Torah Kachur Science in Seconds


Is it a quest to feel not so alone in the ever-expanding universe?  Or is it just plain egocentrism that thinks that life on other planets must look like us?  What exactly are we looking for?


Today NASA will hold a press conference, and this isn't just any old press conference about a moon landing on any of that boring stuff - the press release says that NASA will "discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life."   My immediate thought - "They did it!  They found Mork!"  My 8am wakeups to watch Mork and Mindy through university have finally paid off.  And then I thought - *sigh* "No.... Mork is in rehab".


But before you start practicing your xenolinguistic skills like Na'vi or Interlac to communicate with the distant galaxies, the discovery of a speaking and thinking alien race is unlikely.  Not because they aren't out there, but because we have never even found a crumb of an alien species before (quacks notwithstanding), so we'll probably need baby steps.  NASA has tempted the nerd-world with saying that the scientists participating in the press conference are astrobiologists and molecular evolutionists (and one dude cryptically just called "a professor") making the abducted cringe in horror with the thought that their masters are returning.  It has also made scientists drool.


The likely announcement (totally my unexpert opinion): the discovery of organic matter on one of Saturn's moons.  So far no one else has had the balls to make a prediction so there it is; by a complete rookie astronomer/thinker/nitwit. 


The public will probably be disappointed and the hype will outstretch the actual news, but that is only because the public are awaiting some age-defying announcement about where LV-426 really is or the introduction of a Mulder-esque alien containment lab.  Or the truth behind Rocky Horror. 


The much less sexy announcement of organic matter or evidence of light-harvesting compounds or even of primordial slime will be ground-breaking for science.  Because the building blocks of life are the crumbs that we have been waiting for, amino acids or even better, nucleotides, will suggest that our chemical composition might be universal.


          Torah Kachur Science in Seconds Alien SETI


Space explorations have discovered water on other planets and habitable moons, a necessary ingredient for our 'brand' of life.  We have found amino acids on a comet.  And our imaginations have been allowed to run wild with Wookies, Vulcans and Alf.  Finding life in the cosmos isn't a small chance, it is an inevitability.  Even Epicurus (341 BCE – 270 BCE) believed that an infinite universe must lead to an infinite number of worlds.  Stephen Hawking believes that the search for extraterrestrial life will succeed but, that it is dangerous to communicate and interact with alien species. 


Who are we to go seeking Vulcans?  SETI has vast scientific explanations, but what about the philosophical ones.  I'm not going to go all "Dr. Ellie Arroway" on you, but the discovery of life on other planets will be incredible.  The discovery of intelligent life on other planets is just scary.  And I've never even been abducted, imagine how scared those guys are right now.


Scared Science in Seconds SETI Torah Kachur


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