Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The search for alien life

It was an old Twilight Zone episode I watched as a kid. There’s this dumb guy in a bar and in the back is an alien with two heads from Mars. Being from an advanced civilization, this being can’t be seen by the Earthlings as he gives the dumb guy super strength as a part of an experiment. By the end of the episode the Martian meets two small people with antennas who explain they are from Venus and they decide to perform an experiment by making the dumb guy smart.

It was a great story, however, with all the probing we’ve done since I saw that episode, I now know for sure that there are no super advanced humans living on Mars or Venus. Modern science has rendered the story pure fiction instead of “maybe this could have happened” fiction.

There’s always been a large line between the science fiction aliens we see in the movies and TV shows and they are always threatened by real science. No one has proven that aliens exist, but no one can prove they don’t so sci-fi aliens live on in our movies and TV.

The Star Wars series really covered its ass—“a long time ago (a million years or last year?) in a galaxy far away”(they are all far away, in the millions of light years and of the billions of galaxies he doesn’t even tell us which one it is).

While Captain James T Kirk use to mingle with Vulcans and Klingons as if they were just a bus trip down town, in today’s world we have yet to send as much as a man less probe to the nearest star Alpha Centauri..

On one hand scientist are looking for earlike planets, with telescopes, around other stars. On the other, some scientists are still looking for life in this solar system. So far of the three near earth size planets and moons to have an actual atmosphere, Venus, Mars and the moon Titan, there are plenty of pictures of their surfaces and none seem to have mountains with trees all over them, birds flying around, cows walking around or big cities. There are plenty of mountains, plains and other earth like features—minus any visible life forms.

Venus has a surface temperature of about 900˚. That would kill any life form ever found on earth. While Captain Kirk may have discovered lava monsters in his travels, no one has yet to notice any lava monsters on the surface of Venus.

Mars and Titan are part of a group of one planet and three other moons where there might be some form of life as we know it. These life forms are most likely found not on the surface, but under ground.

Mars is still being studied for the possibility that it was once warmer, had a thicker atmosphere and liquid water on it. Life may have evolved. Today it has no liquid water, a very thin atmosphere and the amount of radiation the surface gets seems to sterilize it. All organic molecules are broken down by the suns rays. However, scientist are looking for fossils of former life forms and they now believe there may be liquid water under the ground. If this is so, some hardy microbes may have migrated far underground and might still live there today. After 20 years of studying Mars we still don’t know if there is life there. We do no that Marvin the Martian is fictional.

Saturn’s moon Titan is supposed to look as earth did when life began billions of years ago. It has a thick atmosphere filled with organic chemicals and gasses that would be ideal to start life. But the temperature is a little more than -300˚F. It does have liquid lakes, probably made of methane or nitrogen. It may have some simple quasi life forms, such as DNA molecules or virus type microbes. The moon also has a liquid core of water that occasionally erupts into a volcano. In that world, water turns to frozen rock when it hits the surface. Could their be life in that underground water? Another interesting Saturn moon is Enceladus. It’s about 300 miles wide and parts of it are covered in a thin crust of ice, with liquid water below. It has geysers that spew out liquid water that instantly freezes. Some scientists want to send a probe there because the ice is thin and getting a sample of water could determine if there is life in that moon. Jupiter’s moon Europa is believed to be mostly water with an ice crust several miles thick covering a large ocean. Jupiter’s moon Callisto is also believed to have an underground ocean that could support life.

For all we know these ocean worlds could have fish or crabs in them. The main reason for looking for life is that it would give us an idea how the process of life arising on a planet works and whether it is a common occurrence or a rare one.

Some of us want to believe in aliens. We may never meet Klingons, or Romulans, which we know are fictional. But finding any aliens in this solar system makes it more likely some type of intelligent beings exist in some part of the galaxy.

Then the line between science and science fiction is smaller.

Don’t be surprised if the space program is slow to move on exploring these things. It seems lately that every program has to “pay for itself” before our congress wants to fund it. The conservative attitude today is “Space—the final frontier—to go where no man has gone before—to seek out new life—but only if there is something there we can bring back and sell for a lot of money. Other wise we just sit on our asses here on earth.”

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