Aliens might be just like us… greedy, violent and short on resources

Paul Raven @ 26-01-2010

If you’re waiting patiently for saintly extraterrestrials to come and rescue us from our civilisational follies, you might want to reassess your hopes.

Simon ­Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary ­paleobiology at Cambridge University, suggests that aliens (should they ever arrive on Planet Earth, the likelihood of which is another question entirely) may well turn out to be more like us than we’d have thought… warts and all. [image by Markusram]

[…] while aliens could come in peace they are quite as likely to be searching for somewhere to live, and to help themselves to water, minerals and fuel, Conway Morris will tell a conference at the Royal Society in London tomorrow.

His lecture is part of a two-day conference at which experts will discuss how we might detect life on distant planets and what that could mean for society. “Extra-terrestrials … won’t be splodges of glue … they could be disturbingly like us, and that might not be a good thing – we don’t have a great record.

And here’s some soundbite action from Albert Harrison of the University of California, appearing at the same conference:

I do think there’s a risk in active searches for extra-terrestrials. The attitude seems to be they’re friendly, they’re a long way away, and they can’t get here. But if you wake up one morning and an armada of extra-terrestrial spaceships are circling Earth, that prediction won’t necessarily hold,” Harrison said.

If life has evolved elsewhere in our cosmic neighbourhood, we should find out by detecting their waste gases in the atmosphere of their planet or by discovering remnants of extra-terrestrial microbes in meteorites or alien soil samples, he said.

Harrison dismisses fears of public panic if alien life is discovered, of the kind which reportedly followed Orson Welles’ infamous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938.

“The public reaction was overstated. Most people who thought the broadcast was real took sensible actions to protect themselves,” Harrison said. “Surveys suggest most people think they will be fine, but they worry about others freaking out.”

Yeah, that makes sense. Or it will do, right up until the point when the aliens deploy their HUGE FRICKIN’ LASERS.

Given that the SETI people are somewhat emboldened by the flood of newly-discovered exoplanets [via Mark Chadbourn], perhaps we should keep a contingency plan on the back burner? “Git ’em afore they git ye”, as the saying goes…


Boffin reckons there could be 37, 964 advanced civilizations in the galaxy

Tom James @ 20-10-2008

Here we have a new treatment of the Drake Equation in this paper: A Numerical Testbed for Hypotheses of Extraterrestrial Life and Intelligence. From the preamble:

This paper outlines a means for applying Monte Carlo Realisation techniques to investigate the parameter space of intelligent civilisations more rigorously, and to help assign errors to the resulting distributions of life and intelligence.

The Monte Carlo method, from what I can gather from Wikipedia, involves:

…a large and widely-used class of approaches. However, these approaches tend to follow a particular pattern:

  1. Define a domain of possible inputs.
  2. Generate inputs randomly from the domain, and perform a deterministic computation on them.
  3. Aggregate the results of the individual computations into the final result.

There’s a lot of complex maths in the paper, and author Duncan H. Forgan says that when it comes to biological parameters the figures are basically guesswork, given that there is only one known biosphere.

Forgan applies his methods to different theories concerning the likelihood of life, including Panspermia, the Rare Life Hypothesis (life is rare, but life is likely to become intelligent), and the Tortoise and Hare Hypothesis (we assume civilizations that develop rapidly are more likely to destroy themselves) with the following scores:

  • Rare life: 361 advanced civilizations
  • Tortoise and Hare: 31,573 advanced civilizations
  • Panspermia: 37, 964 advanced civilizations

Read the paper – if it demonstrates anything it is how much more there is to find out about our galaxy.

[via Slashdot][image from on flickr][image from Kevin on flickr]


Are alien lifeforms already on Earth?

Paul Raven @ 21-11-2007

A cluster of Escherichia coli bacteria Is the emergence of life a localised one-shot fluke, or does it happen all over the place? It’s not a question we can answer with certainty yet, but that’s probably why it’s such a fascinating thing to ponder. Scientists in the latter camp suggest that life may have arisen here on Earth more than once, and according to Scientific American they are engaged in a search for examples of Terran microbial lifeforms which aren’t (or rather weren’t) based on the building blocks of the biology that we’re more accustomed to – which might add evidence in favour of the emergence of extra-terrestrial life. [Via Slashdot] [Image from Wikipedia]

Of course, some of the creatures that have existed on Earth that were based on the familiar biological patterns can still seem pretty alien, if only in the B-movie/pulp magazine manner – 2.5 meter long monster sea scorpion, anyone?

[tags]life, biology, science, extraterrestrial[/tags]