Are They Out There?
What’s with all the interest in aliens lately? CNN’s Miles O’Brien is “looking into” alien life, and over at Discovery Channel Space DISCO, our own favorite BadAstronomer, Phil Plait got interviewed about his view of aliens, UFOs and other such topics. Sure, aliens are a perennially interesting topic, as are UFOs. People LOVE to talk about them because — well, let’s face it — they’re mysterious and somehow related to space and the cosmos.
Any of us who write and/or talk about astronomy and space in public run into the inevitable questions from people who really ARE intrigued with the idea of life elsewhere in the cosmos. Usually they’re thoughtful and interesting questions from thoughtful people. But, sometimes you get the woo-woo contingent — the folks who have gone a little off the deep end for all things alien and UFO-ey.
Whenever somebody asks me about aliens, I always say what I think — that there’s no reason why life shouldn’t exist elsewhere in the universe. Of course, we haven’t found it yet. We will, eventually. Our methods are getting better all the time, as is our understanding of what it takes to create life and where it can flourish.
If somebody asks me about alien visitations of Earth, I usually say that there’s not a shred of reliable evidence to prove that aliens have been visiting us. Bring me some evidence and I (and, more importantly, scientists who want to find evidence of alien life just as badly as the rest of us do) will take it seriously.
But, the kicker here is that it has to be real evidence. Blurry pictures of flying saucers aren’t going to be taken seriously. Nor are garbled memories of body probes by big-eyed monsters, or strange archaeological finds that somehow are supposed to “prove” that aliens walked among, impressed, or even impregnated ancient humans.Those all represent a lot of wishful thinking more than they do solid evidence. And, evidence is what science needs in order to establish the existence of life, aliens, and even flying saucers (if they really exist).
Go read Phil’s interview — he pretty much says the same thing and also brings up the fact that there are thousands and thousands of amateur astronomers watching the skies each night, and they’re not seeing aliens landing. You’d think that if a self-respecting spaceship was going to come screaming for a landing, its ion trail would be completely obvious to a HUGE number of people who spend nearly every night studying the sky (and believe me, these folks KNOW their skies).
Well, evidence aside, let’s get to the question I asked at the top of this article: are THEY out there? That’s an excellent question. I don’t know if they are or not. We haven’t received any signals that we can recognize as alien communications to us from other star systems.
Nobody’s landed here that we know of.
If they’re out there, and I hope there are aliens out there exploring the skies (same as us), they’ll eventually get around to saying hi. If we were “out there” exploring the galaxy, wouldn’t we do the neighborly thing and drop in for a visit? Why, of course we would. Space is big. It’s lonely. And, just like people who live in isolated parts of our own planet get together with their own neighbors for some socializing, I would like to think that beings who inhabit other planets out there in the vast stretches of the galaxy would also feel the need to greet the neighbors when they go exploring.
If they’re out there, eventually we’ll meet them. What we do next — well, that depends on the situation when it happens. And, if you’re into science fiction, there are many, many excellent stories written about First Contact that represent our human condition and what might be like. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to go find some and read them.