Thursday, January 5, 2012

Aliens and UFO's

As the director of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium, a big part of Science Museum Oklahoma, I answer lots of questions about space-related topics.  One of the questions I am asked most often is if I believe in aliens.  I say I firmly believe life exists all over the universe.  There are some four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone.  We believe that as many as one-fourth of them harbor planets.  The likeliness of only one planet out of hundreds of billions has life on it seems worse than odds of winning back to back to back to back lotteries.

But what they really want to know is if I believe that aliens ever visit Earth in their spaceships.  Are UFO’s really alien spacecraft buzzing our little planet?

I have a bigger problem with that. 

Stars are separated by mind-boggling distances.  The closest stars likely to have life-bearing planets are very far away.  Let’s set things to scale to better understand this.  Say Earth was a ball one foot across.  Our Moon would be a ball three inches in diameter 30 feet away.  The sun would be over two miles away.  The next closest to Earth, Proxima Centauri, would be 555,880 miles away.  In real space, that corresponds to about 24,000,000,000,000 miles away.

It would take us humans more than fifty thousand years to get there with our current best technology, and the radiation in space would kill everyone on board long before they arrived, even if we HAD some sort of suspended animation.  Traveling in space farther than to our own moon remains too difficult for us.

But let's assume that some alien race has solved these problems.  They can travel faster than light (and NOT end up in the far distant future), or at least so close to light speed that they can arrive in a reasonable amount of time.  Maybe they have discovered some kind of star gate or wormhole technology to shortcut the astronomical distances in the universe.  They possess technology to shield themselves from cosmic radiation. 

They travel hundreds or thousands of light years to study us.  Now does it make any sense to anyone that a race with those capabilities would travel all that way and just crash in the New Mexico desert?  If they are that good, I can't understand why they crash so often.

And what’s up with them impregnating our women or castrating or gutting our cows?  Why do they take us humans to their ships and do horrible things inside our bodily cavities?  Supposedly they are learning about our physiology.  Heck, even we lowly humans have x-rays, CAT scans and MRI machines to study the body non-invasively.  Wouldn't advanced aliens that can cross interstellar distances have better medical tools?

If they ARE here, they are likely invisible to all of our technologies and senses (unless and until they WANT us to see them).  They may even exist in a parallel dimension, sort of like a one-way quantum mirror where they can see us but we can’t see them. 

Reports of alien encounters seem to imply that these aliens have technology that is, at best a few decades ahead of ours.  The Milky Way galaxy is thirteen billion years old.  Our solar system is a mere four and a half billion years old, and we humans barely crack the fifty thousand year barrier.  Any other civilizations are likely to thousands or millions of year ahead of us.  One hundred years ago, we had barely left the ground in airplanes and all “sane” scientists thought spaceflight was impossible.  Where will our technology be in a few hundred or a few thousand years from now?  We wouldn’t even recognize ourselves.

And yet, we keep seeing us in them.

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