Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagExtraterrestrials (ET)

alien portrait with stars

SETI Director Warns: Those Aliens Could Be Malevolent

Harvard astronomer agrees: We’ve sent a lot of signals in recent years; they may have got them. But now what?

As the Mars Rover Perseverance bumps around looking for fossil bacteria and such, many students of possible ET life are becoming surprisingly cautious about what it might mean: “We have no reason to believe that technological advancement and altruism or morality are somehow linked,” SETI researcher Andrew Siemion told Inverse. “There probably are malevolent civilizations elsewhere in the universe so that’s certainly something that we should consider as we continue to explore the universe.” Siemion, who’s the director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and principal of the alien-hunting Breakthrough Listen project, is invoking a tension at the heart of any project searching for alien life. Successfully finding it would change the world — but there’s also no guarantee humanity…

Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover is exploring surface of Mars. Perseverance rover Mission Mars exploration of red planet. Space exploration, science concept. .Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

Why Some Experts Hope We DON’T Find Life on Mars

Many thinkers worry about what will happen if the extraterrestrials land. But will they feel worse if we never find ET?

Recently, prominent theoretical physicist Michio Kaku (pictured) told media that reaching out to extraterrestrials is a “terrible idea.” Kaku, author of The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything (2021). So long SETI, after all these years? Well, not quite. He explains, Soon we’ll have the Webb telescope up in orbit and we’ll have thousands of planets to look at, and that’s why I think the chances are quite high that we may make contact with an alien civilisation. There are some colleagues of mine that believe we should reach out to them. I think that’s a terrible idea. We all know what happened to Montezuma when he met Cortés in Mexico so many hundreds of years ago.…

alien world, exoplanet in the habitable zone, planet with moon, water and plant life

Could the Universe Be Swimming in Watery Planets?

A new hypothesis of planet formation means that watery worlds may be common rather than rare

As the Mars Rover Perseverance motors around looking for evidence of past life on a now- mostly dry planet, some researchers are asking, can we be sure that most planets in our galaxy are dry? A common assumption among exoplanet experts is that most planets got their water via a chance hit early on from an icy asteroid. But researchers from the GLOBE Institute at the University of Copenhagen offer an alternative scenario, based on the millimetre-sized particles of ice and carbon that orbit all the young stars in our Milky Way galaxy. If masses of these particles are incorporated into a planet from its beginning, it isn’t a matter of chance whether the planet has water. It is a…

Extremely detailed and realistic high resolution 3d illustration of a Grey Alien standing in a forest

What If Extraterrestrials Can’t Afford To Take Chances With Us?

That’s the Dark Forest Hypothesis, riffing off the title of one of famed Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin’s novels

In recent months we’ve been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s coverage of the many reasons (links below) people have advanced as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last Saturday, we considered the Aurora Hypothesis: Given the difficulties and risks of space travel, extraterrestrials with advanced technology may have visited Earth only one in a million years, researchers say. Another hypothesis that Williams has examined is the Dark Forest Hypothesis. He begins by noting that space exploration necessarily conjures up the notion of risk: “Words like Rim, Edge, Fringe, and Verge, Beyond, Perimeter, and Periphery all conjure up feelings of intrigue and anxiety – no doubt, in different measures for different people”: This particular proposed…

Futuristic Mars Space Scene with Large Moon

The Aurora Hypothesis: ET Could Risk Only Rare Contact With Us

Given the difficulties and risks of space travel, extraterrestrials with advanced technology may have visited Earth only one in a million years, researchers say

In recent months we’ve been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s coverage of the many reasons (links below) that have been advanced as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last Saturday, we considered the Percolation Hypothesis, whose beauty is its common-sense simplicity: The aliens can’t overcome the laws of physics, any more than we can. In the real world, barriers like years between communications even at the speed of light would take a toll on adventurousness. Another hypothesis that Williams has examined is our focus today, the Aurora Hypothesis, “just because planets are habitable doesn’t mean that intelligent life can colonize there.” (Williams) The thesis has had a busy life in science media. Its earliest…

Nebula and stars in deep space, glowing mysterious universe. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Is Real-World Space Travel Just Too Daunting for ET?

That’s the Percolation Hypothesis as to why we don’t make contact with aliens. They can’t overcome the laws of physics, any more than we can

Last week we looked at another reason that has been advanced, as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Science writer Matt Williams has been looking at the reasons (see the links below.) Last Saturday, we looked at the possibility that Earth is unusual in that it is a rocky planet whose intelligent inhabitants live on the surface. Many rocky planets and moons with icy surfaces may have interior oceans that harbor life.: In that case, intelligent life may not think of space exploration. Another hypothesis that Williams has examined is the Percolation Theory Hypothesis, that there are limits imposed by the laws of physics as to what intelligent life forms can do by way of…

Slime molds

Slime Mold: An Earthbound “Alien” That Thinks Without a Brain

Researchers are beginning to learn just how giant molds can remember things without a nervous system. What, exactly, is doing the computations?

Turns out, it’s all in the tubes. The slime mold Physarum polycephalum is a single cell, often very large. The way Physarum gets to be so large is that when it divides, the many single cells merge into one giant cell — with no nervous system: “Its body is a giant single cell made up of interconnected tubes that form intricate networks. This single amoeba-like cell may stretch several centimeters or even meters, featuring as the largest cell on earth in the Guinness Book of World Records. Technical University of Munich (TUM), “A memory without a brain” at ScienceDaily (February 23, 2021) The paper is closed access. But how does the giant Physarum cell, with no brain, mouth, limbs, or…

Jupiter's moon Europa in front of the planet Jupiter

Is Intelligent Life Found in Oceans Inside Planets and Moons?

The Ocean Planets Hypothesis is that intelligent beings may flourish in the interior oceans of the moons of gas giant planets — or within exoplanets — but they are trapped there

Readers will recall that last year, we were looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons that we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. (See the links below.) Last time out in November, we looked at the Transcension Hypothesis: The extraterrestrial intelligences exist—but after a Singularity, they became virtual intelligences, exploring inner space at an undetectably small scale. Williams has reported since then on some additional hypotheses so this week we look at a more conventional approach — the “Ocean Worlds” Hypothesis, that icy planets may have interior oceans that harbor life: To illustrate, there’s the search for life that is going on right now in the Solar System, which is almost entirely focused on…

A Group Of Large Radio Telescopes

Astrophysicist Warns: Aliens May Be Boring or Unreachable

Researchers are taking the emissions from the vicinity of exoplanet Proxima B seriously. But if it is truly a technological signal, what would follow?

Boring? How very un-Star Trek of them! But it’s possible, says Caleb A. Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University (pictured). He worries that, “Perhaps other life in the universe is, in the end, utterly dull.” Why might he think so? He is reflecting on the recent report of what may be a technological signal at roughly 982.002 MHz, coinciding with the direction of Proxima Centauri. If it is, what might the aliens turn out to be like? There’ll be some initial oddities, some curiosities that aren’t quite the things we planned for. A dull carrier wave signal for instance. Over time more evidence will show up, until eventually it’s clear that there are lots of species out there, puttering…

Comb Jellyfish in the dark

Sci-Fi Saturday: We Have Met the Aliens and They Are Comb Jellies

The alien life form, when it appears, is very well imagined

Or something. Here’s “Seedling” at DUST, an Irish entry by Michael Donnelly V and Stevie Russell (October 22, 2020, 08:14 min) “Amidst a huge storm, a couple experience an encounter with an alien species.” The opening scene, showing a complete failure of technology (electricity, radio, telephone, car) and the resulting emotional collapse of the female lead, is a stark reminder of how dependent we are on technology today. A thousand years ago, no one would have noticed that anything was wrong, apart from a rather violent storm (which some might attribute to witchcraft, others to sin). The alien life form, when it appears, is very well imagined. It is not remotely what we might have expected (although there are life…

UFO, alien spaceship in orbit of planet Earth, extraterrestrials from outer space in flying saucer

Will China Find Alien Life First? A Chinese Astronomer Says Yes

Whether either American or Chinese astronomers find anything, it will certainly be an interesting race

One Chinese astronomer, Tong-Jie Zhang, is working on it: In China, Zhang was tirelessly lobbying Chinese authorities to access FAST for his own research. Only recently was he granted the ability to use the telescope through the National Astronomical Observatories’ association. Initially, Zhang and his students had to conduct their observations at FAST while the telescope observed other targets, not allowing him to choose the areas he wanted. But after collaborating with Werthimer and students from the SETI Research Center on a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, Chinese officials eventually allowed Zhang a window of time with the telescope to shortlist specific solar systems that he and his collaborators believe can most likely harbor intelligent life. Over the next…

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life on planet Mars, astronaut discovers bacterial life on the surface of a rock

At Scientific American: The Aliens Could Be Extremely Boring

Well, we can’t be sure, can we? It’s literally a whole other world

Okay, it’s just a thought. But what if all the interesting stuff is happening in our own imaginations? Caleb Scharf is a University of Columbia astrobiologist and here is his view: There’ll be some initial oddities, some curiosities that aren’t quite the things we planned for. A dull carrier wave signal for instance. Over time more evidence will show up, until eventually it’s clear that there are lots of species out there, puttering around in their own little neighborhoods and doing nothing truly extraordinary, because those possibilities were, in the end, more the product of our lively imaginations than anything that the universe compels life towards. Of course, I’m being a little facetious, the first discovery of life of any…

astronaut looking at the alien tentacles coming out of the portal, digital art style, illustration painting

Researchers: We Don’t See ETs Because They Are All Dead

According to some NASA researchers, they may have destroyed themselves

A recent NASA study suggests that most extraterrestrial civilizations have died out. : The statement comes from researchers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology and Santiago High School who used an updated version of an equation to calculate the likely existence of intelligent life and determined aliens may have emerged some eight billion years after our galaxy formed. With these results, the team included the idea that progress of science and technology inevitably leads to the destruction of civilizations and because humans have yet to make contact outside our planet, scientists now think they know why… ‘If intelligent life is likely to destroy themselves, it is not surprising that there is little or no intelligent life…

Close encounters of the third kind. Unidentified objects coming from space. Contact with extraterrestrials UFO.

Science Writer Warns: Contact With Aliens Might Not Turn Out Well

Lockett doesn’t say we shouldn’t explore; it’s more of a warning

Will Lockett offers some pessimistic thoughts: It is 100% possible that our cosmic neighbours might have no empathy at all, hunt us for sport, have tribal wars, regular duals to the death or ritualistically kill foreign organisms for religious reasons. So rather than being overrun by the galactic version of the British, it might be more like the Klingons or Predator (Ridley Scott). They may even be like the Vogons from Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy and see Earth as something in the way that needs to be demolished. Will Lockett, “Should We Meet Aliens?” at Medium Lockett doesn’t say we shouldn’t explore; it’s more of a warning: If by some miracle there is a civilisation a few lightyears…

alien planet landscape, beautiful forest the surface of an exoplanet

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Gets an Update

The universe appears fine-tuned for life to a dramatic degree; it’s at least reasonable to think it’s out there

California Institute of Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Santiago High School are updating the famous Drake Equation (1961): Over the span of human history, many have wondered if life exists on other planets—intelligent or otherwise. As new tools have been applied to the question, many space scientists have become convinced that the likelihood of extraterrestrial civilizations developing seems more probable than not given all that has been learned. As other exoplanet systems have been found, many circling stars very similar to our sun, it has become difficult to find anything unique about our own planet to justify a belief that Earth alone ever produced life. In this new effort, the researchers have expanded on research done by Frank Drake…

Spaceship in space above the planets in distant solar system. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

Astrobiologist: Change How We Search For ET!

There’s a longstanding controversy in the pursuit of extraterrestrial life as to whether life forms must be carbon-based

Sara Imari Walker, of Arizona State University, puts her finger on a key issue: The discovery of life on another planet should be a momentous event for humanity, but any announcement of a biosignature detection made right now will not be a milestone but a mess, because scientists will have no consensus that we’ve even made a discovery. Here on Earth, we don’t recognize life by its atmospheric byproducts. In fact, none of our current biosignatures address the central question: What about us makes us alive? Our biosignatures are not definitive signs of life because we don’t have a coherent theory of what life is… Carl Sagan famously showed that adopting a definition that includes the ability to eat, metabolize,…

weird ice planet

We Won’t Find ET on Ocean Planets, Researchers Say

We will see few extraterrestrials if a great many promising exoplanets are Waterworlds

Science writer Matt Williams has been writing a series on the question of why, despite the size of our galaxy, we see no other intelligent life forms. It could be, he suggests, that “many planets out there are just too watery!” Williams points out that, although water covers 71% of Earth’s surface, it is only 0.02% of the planet’s mass. If the proportion were much higher, Earth would be an ocean planet because the water would surface. It’s an open question whether an ocean planet would feature highly technologically developed intelligent life forms. Dolphins, for example, are quite intelligent but they do not seek to use any technology. The question of whether a planet could have too much water arose,…

Space dust abstract galaxy

Does the Slow Pace of Evolution Mean That ET Life Is Rare?

That’s the contention in a recent paper by astrobiologists at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute

In a new paper, researchers affiliated with Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute use the assumptions we make about the evolution of life on Earth to estimate the likelihood of it happening the same way elsewhere. And the numbers do not look good. As a science writer puts it: There are countless naturally occurring, but extremely lucky ways in which Earth is special, sheltered, protected, and encouraged to have evolved life. And some key moments of emerging life seem much more likely than others, based on what really did happen. Caroline Delbert, “Intelligent Life Really Can’t Exist Anywhere Else” at Popular Mechanics In the paper, the Oxford group concludes, It took approximately 4.5 billion years for a series of evolutionary transitions…

Blue glowing multidimensional energy sphere isolated on black

New Sky Catalog Reveals Most Likely Sites for Alien Technology

“Exotica” lists phenomena for which conventional natural explanations don’t seem to work well

We’ve been looking at reasons why we don’t see extraterrestrials, even though many scientists are sure they must exist. One enterprising research group has now assembled Exotica, a catalog of strange phenomena in space, which might help us search more efficiently. If extraterrestrials exist and are technologically advanced, they would leave a “technosignature,” which might at first only be seen as astrange phenomenon in space: Breakthrough Listen, the initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe, today released an innovative catalog of “Exotica”—a diverse list of objects of potential interest to astronomers searching for technosignatures (indicators of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence). The catalog is a collection of over 700 distinct targets intended to include “one of everything”…

Alien arrival on planet Earth, full moon rises above the horizon

Particle Physicist Offers 75 Reasons We Don’t See Aliens

But Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute gives high odds that we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy

Recently, we’ve been looking at Matt Williams’s admirable collection of hypotheses as to why we do not see intelligent extraterrestrials, despite the size of our universe. But particle physicist Stephen Webb collected many more such theses, in a book published in 2002, If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens … WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life (2002). A revised edition was published by Springer, a big science publisher, in 2015, offering 75 hypotheses. Webb calls his collection of hypotheses the “Fermi solutions,” in honor of Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–1954), whose famous question was “Where are They?” “Fermi realized that any civilization with a modest amount of rocket technology and an…