Category Archives: Aliens

Review: The Fifth Wave

IMG_6727trimRelease date: 2015
Setting: 2010s

  • Futurism — 5. Potential future issues — the aliens and their motivation, and how people respond to the disaster — are touched on only lightly.
  • Plausibility — 4. Aliens might come up with an invasion scheme as intricate as this, but some logic would presumably underlie it.
  • Storytelling — 6. More than most scifi movies of young-adult origin, this gets mired in its YA origins.

Alien invasion
Aliens invade the earth in five steps, using electromagnetic pulse, induced tsunamis, and a pandemic. They must have their own reasons for this methodical but inefficient campaign, and the motivations of aliens could indeed by inscrutable to us.

The probability of such an event is impossible to estimate with any precision.
The possibility of alien invasion might be very high, if aliens are monitoring us actively, or it might be zero, if no aliens exist, or if they exist but can’t reach Earth.

Estimations of likelihood benefit from a little data: as far as we can tell, we have not been invaded by aliens for thousands of years, if ever. (We can’t be sure that we were never visited. If aliens invaded two billion years ago and stayed for millions of years, signs of their presence would be sparse or nonexistent in many scenarios. Or if they landed 65 million years ago, hunted dinosaurs to extinction, and then left, we would have no idea, if they didn’t build lasting structures.)

Even if very low, likelihood is increasing over time, as we draw attention to ourselves with broadcasts, send spacecraft further out, and might be viewed as a rising threat.

The movie notes the wishful thinking that advanced aliens will be morally upright by human standards. “What did we do to deserve this?” asks a human. “Nothing — other than occupy a space we need,” the alien replies. The outraged human asserts that people would not “wipe out species.” “Of course you would,” the alien retorts — “You’ve been doing it for centuries.”

Hawking Warns of Alien Danger

Physicist Stephen Hawking has created a stir by warning that aliens could endanger humanity, and that we should refrain from drawing attention to ourselves.

“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” he suggested on his Discovery Channel series.  “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,”  the BBC quotes him as saying.  And: “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

While this is a possible outcome, that it “would” come out this way presupposes a lot about the nature of aliens.

As I’ve noted, aliens will be alien.  They might be benevolent, hostile, or indifferent, and they might have purposes and emotions incomprehensible to us.  (We tend to define emotion and intellect by our own mind’s range, but that is as silly as defining sight by our own limited sensing capabilities on the electromagnetic spectrum.)  Neither conquest nor excessive resource use are inherent in an intelligent species, but are instead products of our distinct evolutionary heritage.

Aliens will also be quite advanced, if they can show up here — we are rapidly developing the technology necessary to detect ourselves at a distance — so it is not clear that we can make ourselves much less conspicuous.

Writing for a Wall Street Journal blog, professor Paul Davies has his own reasons for doubt:

  • The galaxy is vast, and interstellar travel may be unlikely.
  • If aliens needed resources, some ancient species would have shown up long ago in Earth’s history.
  • An advanced species would be unlikely to be aggressive by nature, or would have engineered the tendency out of themselves by now.  “Any truly bellicose alien species would either have wiped itself out long ago, or already taken over the galaxy.”

Let’s hope Davies is right, and we end up more with Close Encounters than Independence Day.

Image copyright — usable with link and attribution

New Alien-Spotting Capabilities

Exoplanet (NASA)NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope may soon enable us to spot signs of alien life.

The observatory is designed to detect Earthlike planets. Though it is only in its testing phase, the BBC reports that Kepler has already detected the atmosphere of a planet — though not an Earthlike one — 1,000 light years from Earth.

This is a crucial capability in the search for life: some atmospheric compositions would be strongly suggestive of a living biosphere. (And some might even begin to hint at a technological civilization.) If such a planet were discovered, it could move us closer to the question of whether there is life elsewhere, and greatly boost our impulse to find out more about the phenomena, spurring attention and funding.

(Image courtesy NASA)

Aliens under our feet

New discoveries are revealing the potential range of extraterrestrial life forms.

Scientists have found microbes that live nearly two miles underground, completely detached from the surface biosphere.

Previously discovered deep-dwelling organisms had used molecules ultimately derived from surface plants or animals, and thus ultimately from solar-powered photosynthesis.

The newly-identified creatures don’t need sunlight: they live off radiation, combined with sulfur-bearing rocks and water.

This greatly expands places to look for life, beginning with Mars and various of the solar system’s moons.

Curiously, these bacteria live very slowly, dividing only every 45 to 300 years, thousands of times less often than their surface relatives.

This raises the possibility of lifeforms living and perceiving existence at a fundamentally different pace from ours.