Bring On The Third Encounters!

Film, The Arts

A leading Russian astrophysicist has pronounced that as 10% of the known planets circling suns in the galaxy resemble Earth, we’ll have alien contact within 20 years.

He thinks that although they may look human they may not be friendly. He doesn’t just mean they’ll be like people from Blackpool or something, he thinks they might attack us. All of which is a good enough reason to remind ourselves why Tim Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks!’ was such underrated fun.

15 comments on “Bring On The Third Encounters!”

  1. Alan says:

    I was managing a toy and model shop when Mars Attacks came out.

    I made a display window with help from the local cinema – so much fun assembling and painting the horribly gory dioramas.

    Weeks of planning lasted less than a day – the shopping centre asked me to take it down – too disturbing. So I filled the space with rank upon rank of Barbie dolls instead.

    Stepford wife barbies…

  2. Andy says:

    And of course all the aliens have been waiting for us to notice them before they decide to come on over…

    What a twit said russian astrophysicist is.

    1. Not likely to resemble us. “Evolving the Alien” by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.

    2. Not likely to be anything other than microbes and even then only if we’re really lucky. “Where is Everybody?” by Stephen Webb.

    3. If they were out there and actually interested in the rest of the universe they’d be here already. Our solar system is actually quite spectacularly rich in resources, four stony worlds (one supporting a diverse biosphere with copious liquid water), an asteroid belt, two gas giants and two ice giants, plus any number of large planetoids/moons/minor planets all orbiting a stable main sequence G3 star. Prime real estate. I played Traveller and the chances of actually getting a world that was habitable without vacc suits, compressor masks or habitation domes was amazingly small.

  3. Ann Y says:

    http://irlab.astro.ucla.edu/mosfire/
    this should be able to spot aliens….

  4. Daniel says:

    Without having read the astrophysicist’s statement (yet) it depends on how one defines ‘contact’. Contact could imply merely confirming the existence of indicators of intelligent life on a given extra-solar planet, or it could imply a highly powered and focused pulse of information beamed at another planet where we suspect intelligent life may be in existence(as bad an idea as I can think of, by the way).

    As much as I love watching and reading the various ‘What-Will-Aliens-Be-Like” bits of science fiction, that’s what they are; highly speculative works of pop science and pseudo-fiction. Until we find advanced life elsewhere in the universe, we only have highly complex life on Earth on which to base any assumptions about potential extra-terrestrial life. Life on Earth is fond of repeating certain patterns and configurations. While it’s doubtful any extra-terrestrial life will resemble us closely, a la Star Trek, it’s not an unfair assumption that the basic configuration of highly successful apex predators (which are the most likely creatures to develop high intelligence, from what we know of life on Earth) on other Earth-like planets will be at least a little bit familiar, even if their cellular biology is very different and completely incompatible with our own (so there’s may not be the eating of each others food, or even eating each other).

    When it comes to the Fermi Paradox, there are a multitude of possibilities as to why we’ve seen/heard nothing yet, which I won’t list here (although wikipedia gives a nice thumbnail view of the varying counter-arguments), but the Fermi Paradox is nothing more than a hypothesis at the current time; we simply haven’t explored enough of the universe in close enough detail to declare the search over. Even if as few as 1 in 100 galaxies throw up just one example of intelligent, sentient, space-faring, advanced civilisations, that’s still an awful lot of intelligent life out there. To declare the search pointless now, is akin to having a peek in the back garden, not seeing a gorilla in residence and declaring that gorillas mustn’t exist anywhere. (I know it’s not really like that, but you understand the point I’m making, I’m hope)

    As for our system being prime real estate, I wouldn’t say it’s anything special. Where you have certain types of stars, you have planets. If you’re looking for resources, one is much the same as another. Why not pick the uninhabited one? If you’re a type II or III civilisation (the only kind likely to have the resources and technology available for efficient near-light or FTL travel), you can make damned near anything you want if you have the raw materials to hand. A couple of unoccupied gas giants are quite adequate for that. Humans are apex predators too, but we’ve managed to start learning (slowly) not to destroy species or their habitats when at all avoidable; and we aren’t even a Type I civilisation. When it comes to actual places to resettle your excess population, why not choose planets which either haven’t yet generated a biosphere, or else have only developed the most basic kind? For an interstellar Type II or III civilisation, it’s not unreasonable to assume that terraforming is easy enough to do. We’re awfully fond of bashing our own species for its destructive nature, but we’re learning slowly but surely not to act that way. There’s no good reason to assume that other sentient and advanced species won’t come to the same conclusions. Life is precious, rare, fragile and can be snuffed out by the cosmos suddenly and without warning and it’s wanton and destructive to do that to another species/diverse habitat.

    Absence of proof isn’t proof of absence, after all. Especially when you’ve only just started learning how to look for that proof in the first place and are only now developing the technology to search for it efficiently and in great detail.

    None of the above is to say that the universe is teeming with life that looks (very roughly, at least in terms of basic configuration) like us and that they’ll be lovely creatures with the best intentions and good will for all species in their hearts (they could quite conceivably not exist at all, be so different from us we might as well not exist for each other or be exactly the kind of planet-destroying, kill-everything-else-in-existence type of aliens we see in most SF films). Simply that it’s far too early in the game to declare a winner already. On either side of the discussion.

    One final thought. I’ll bet that astrophysicist has a funding application pending…

  5. Daniel says:

    Good grief! I didn’t realise I’d written such a long comment. It’s practically a post in itself. Sorry about that.

  6. Andy says:

    Life on Earth took BILLIONS of years to make the jump to multicellular life and hence complex lifeforms (possibly because of the invention of sex) and that might have been an even larger quirk than the actual creation of life itself. I’m quite sure that there is something resembling what we would call intelligent life out there, the universe is too vast for it to be otherwise, but by that same token it’s likely to be so far away that we’ll probably never even know of its existence. If intelligent life were close it would be here already or we would already have picked up clues to its existence. All it would take is for a civilization to develop even sublight starflight (and there’s no real evidence FTL can or will happen, though here’s hoping) within the last few hundred thousand years for it to have already spread across a large proportion of the galaxy and for evidence of that civilization to have blanketed it.

    I’m not saying don’t look, I want CETI to continue, I’d love to hear signals from another world, to know that we’re not alone, it would be the single greatest discovery in the history of our species. But I’m not holding my breath. We may be the first complex life in this galaxy, we’re evidence it CAN happen sure, but the deathly hush we’ve encountered so far amounts to evidence that it doesn’t happen very often. Maybe not yet even in the rest of the Local Cluster, and it’s a long way to the next neighbourhood. The book “Where is Everybody?” is 50 answers to the Fermi Paradox by the way.

    I recall one xenobiologist stating soemthing to the effect that in the spectrum of possible alien life, shows like Star Trek and Star Wars run the full gamut from A to B, and that real aliens are likely to be off the end of the alphabet. They may actually BE here, but they’re so alien that we simply don’t recognise them as life at all. The book “Evolving the Alien” is actually quite a serious attempt to look at how aliens might be. Eyes, for example are very useful, so they’re labelled “universals” as quite likely to evolve. How they evolve, what radiation they use, how they’re distributed on the body is less certain, so our familiar Human Eyes are “parochials”. It divides biology up like that, what’s likely to evolve and that is likely to be specific to the mass of related life on this world (which is not something that gives up a trick once it’s got it). It’s a good book, alas that it does lead to the conclusion that no green-haired space princess in a tiger-skin bikini is ever going to fly down as ask you to “teach her more of this human thing you call kissing”. Unfortunately.

  7. Alan says:

    Well – woah!

    Visit Kingston-upon-Thames on a Friday night… if God had some sort of blueprint for this kind of human evolution He should have been spanked and sent to His room without supper.

    Terry Pratchett said it very well – the truth is out there, the lies are inside your head. And – oh excuse me – it’s just burrowed under the floor, stop bloody beeping at me…

  8. Vickie Farrar says:

    My favorite part of CF’s post?
    “He doesn’t just mean they’ll be like people from Blackpool…”

    Our biggest threats/enemies are our fellow humans (particularly rulers and military folk and, most of all, the scientists who love tinkering with things like plutonium, elctromagnetic pulses, etc.). Don’t look up, look sideways: The “monsters” are everywhere!!!!!

    My philosophy: If we die, we die. I’m not going to lose precious time festering over what “might” happen…

  9. Andy says:

    On behalf of my fellow scientists…

    http://xkcd.com/836/

    Also- “Storm”. Tim Minchin.

  10. Terenzio says:

    Yes you did go on bit dear boy, but no worry happens to all of us at some time or another. Although I was reading your reply while on the mo and almost did myself a mischief with a 15th century Byzantine cross in the foyer…at the time I was reading the end of the second paragraph. I had to retire immediately to the boudoir with some smelling salts….what would dear mama think of such things…

    However, I am in total agreement with Mrs. Wilberforce that there really are too many people on this planet already…

  11. Gretta says:

    “He thinks that although they may look human they may not be friendly.”

    This sentence is confusing me. Surely being unfriendly – or, indeed, openly hostile – would only serve to make them more like humans?

  12. Alan says:

    Nah Gretta – take a moment to consider how the Powers that be in this country, and how they consider us Council scruffs.

    Contempt is all too easy.

  13. Steve says:

    Ack! Ack! Ack Ack!

  14. Helen Martin says:

    I think I’ll start a table of “things that get Chris Fowler fans going”. Alien life forms should obviously head the list.

  15. Gretta says:

    Alan – Ah but now see, I’m coming from a place of having studied Social Anthropology, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from studying people, it’s that everyone, everywhere, are complete buggers. :) My contempt has become second nature, in other words, so if these non-Blackpool-type aliens want to attack us, they can go for it. Just so long as it’s not during the next series of Dr Who.

    Andy – love that cartoon. It’s about to be thieved for Facebook purposes. ;)

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