21 February 2005


There has been avid speculation for centuries as to the existence of alien life. Most of this can easily be dismissed as hoaxes, direct lies, hallucinations, or mental instability, yet it absolutely cannot be definitively proven that life does not exist on other worlds. So this question has been left mainly to the realm of philosophy. Though it still cannot be proven either way, we can examine the evidence and make certain conclusions that can sustain the very strong probability that alien life exists.
SNC Meterorite
Evidence #1: Suggestive Data that Mars once contained Life
The first evidence came from a Martian rock that NASA released evidence for on 06 Aug 1996. This rock, known as the SNC meteorite had been ejected into space by an asteroid impact on Mars about 15 million years ago, and orbited the sun until it impacted with Antarctica about 13,000 years ago. This rock contained fossilized micro-organisms. Not absolute evidence, but decent. Recent data collected by the twin rovers currently operating exceptionally (and well beyond their original scope) from rocks on Mars itself shows mounting evidence that life on Mars was probable in the past.

Evidence #2: Mathematical Probability
We are living in a star system with less than a dozen planets. Now, assuming that life does not exist elsewhere in our solar system (to do this, we must discard the potential on Mars, Titan, Europa, Venus, etc.), that leaves us in say a 1 in 10 chance (rough constant, but for arguments sake, lets say this is a general value). Consider that astronomers currently estimate 200 billion star systems in our Milky Way Galaxy (a good ballpark figure), and a minimum of 200 billion galaxies in the known universe (probably a very conservative estimate), we have 40 sextillion (40 billion billion, or
40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) star systems in the known galaxy. With such radically gargantuan sized numbers like this, how would it be that this is the only planet in the entire universe to have life on it? To say so is ridiculous and blind.

Evidence #3: The Earth was changed by Life itself
In Planetary science terms, our world is composed of the Lithosphere (rock), Hydrosphere (all water), Atmosphere (all gasses), and a 4th part, the Biosphere (all life). Though many naysayers contend the Earth is precisely the perfect distance from the sun, orbital and revolutionary frequencies, contains a single light moon, etc. for life to exist, they perpetually ignore the fact that life itself has changed the conditions on this planet. Look at the atmosphere. On Mars and Venus (our closest neighbors, both 'terrestrial' planets, both similar in size and composition) the atmosphere is mostly CO2 (Carbon Dioxide). Doesn't it seem a bit strange that ours is mostly Nitrogen with strong showing by oxygen?

Easily explained. All life here on Earth is what is known as carbon based, meaning the carbon atom is the basic building block by which other atoms can attach themselves into organic molecules. Start off with an atmosphere of similar composition as Venus or Mars, take the carbon out of the atmosphere, put it into the biosphere (life), release the attached couble oxygen atoms, and VOILA!, you have the atmosphere of modern Earth. Its not magic, its called photosynthesis, and plants do it all the time. In other words, life itself (collectively) has modified its own conditions to those which better serve it as a whole.

Taking these 3 arguments, it becomes well established that life is indeed highly probable outside Earth (ie. alien life). So why haven't they called to say 'hi'? To understand this we really have to examine biology. The extensive fossil collections on Earth detail an extravagant evolutionary history covering hundreds of millions of years. In fact, simple organisms are likely to have been around for billions of years.

From humble roots as simple, single celled bacteria, more complex, multi-cellular forms of life sprang up. With time, these became increasingly complex, giving rise to many diverse kingdoms and families of life (using the taxonomic system developed by the Swedish genius Carolus Linnaeus). Just imagine the vastly different forms of life on our own world (such radical differences as jellyfish, fungi, redwoods, tigers, etc.) and one can start to comprehend the potential that life has to adapt and change.

Given over 2 billion years of evolution, we can only ascertain that our species, Homo Sapien is capable of sending radio waves into the depths of space. Thus, 100 years out of 2,000,000,000 has our planet had life with this ability, not a very extensive legacy. Further, this is on a planet with a decent time span of complex life. It is fairly safe to assume that a strong majority of worlds either have shorter durations of a biosphere or contain only microbes, which diminishes our chance to make contact even more. And to kick it in the ass one step further, the radio transmissions were sending out, even today are so weak compared to the solar wind generated by our own modest sized sun, that it probably wouldn't be received by another civilization within our galaxy should they even be listening.

UFOs? Bah. Outside of the realm of science fiction, there are certain laws in physics that would make an actual journey to even the closest star system (Alpha Centauri) extraordinarily problematic. Limitations such as:
1. a nearly inexhaustible energy source (doesn't exist) to propel the starship
2. life support, systems advanced enough to sustain the occupants over a huge amount of time (possible, but think about how many resources we use each day)
3. shielding materials and technology to weather lethal cosmic energy, space dust (a grain of sand striking a satellite can cripple it), etc.
I am not contending that it is impossible to project humans this distance, but the sheer logistics of it would be a global undertaking that would consume us for centuries. Thus, I cannot have any credence in those who claim to have seen a UFO (much less got an anal probe by its occupants).

What if I am being shortsighted about the potential for technology to overcome these obstacles and allow us to travel the stars? That is possible, and that brings me to my final point. Given that life should exist on billions of billions of planets, should 1 in a thousand give rise to complex life, and 1 in a thousand develop civilizations, and 1 in a million exist at this time, and 1 in a million be in our cosmic neighborhood, we are still left with thousands of civilizations technologically capable of saying hello. So why are we not being contacted or visited by any of them?

My original premise could be in error, and we somehow are the only beings to have ever come into existence in this infinitely large and old universe. Or, perhaps there is a reason why they don’t pop in for afternoon tea. This reason is what I like to call the 'Technological Threshold'. Simply put, this means that anytime a civilization reaches a certain advanced stage in its development, the species that created it will inevitably destroy itself.

This could take many forms. In our case, the following scenarios are all quite possible. First, simple Nuclear Annihilation. The sheer number of nuclear weapons we humans have at our disposal is easily enough eradicate not only our species, but every mid to large sized animal on the planet. The initial blasts would be destructive enough, but the radiation would ultimately be the killer. The Cold War may be over, but nuclear proliferation is increasing rapidly, and the nations in possession of these arms are no closer to peace than at anytime in history. All it takes is one nutball demagogue to end us all.

Second, Environmental Disaster. The ‘use and throw’ away industrial culture is growing massively with each passing decade. Instead of trying to develop more ecologically friendly ways to produce, distribute, and dispose of goods, short-sighted capitalist tycoons and Wall Street investors are more interested in profits. Think of the billions of tons of extremely hazardous toxic waste that industries spew into the air, land, and water every year. This is poison, and it is quite literally killing the biosphere of our planet.
too many people
Third, Overpopulation. When I was born, 3 billion humans lived. Today, roughly 30 years later, that number is over 6 billion. The most conservative estimates by the United Nations contend that at least 12 billion people will be alive before we can level off the birth and death rates (translation: zero population gain). That number is not far away either, many undeveloped nations are doubling their numbers every 20 to 40 years. With every new human inhabitant on this world, more land and resources are needed, leading to greater competition, instability, pollution, warfare, etc. We may simply reach the point where the resources and food do not exist for the people alive, then civilization will simply implode.
Fourth, Disease. We have already caused the third worst extinction in our planets long history from invading every habitat imaginable due to our burgeoning population. But we cannot lose sight of the simple wisdom of the chain of life. What occurs when a predatory species is abolished? Its prey explodes. If we continue to kill off everything larger than a shrew, we will find ourselves surrounded by smaller, more adaptive organisms that evolve much more rapidly than our species can possibly contend with. I am speaking in particular about bacteria and viruses. We already see evidence of bacteria becoming resistant or immune to antibiotics (superbugs), and despite a strong effort by the World Health Organization and other bodies, plagues seem to be always just around the corner from getting out of hand. Add to this actual biological warfare programs in effect by numerous covert government programs, and the problem is only compounded.

No matter the cause, whether it is one example from above or one not listed, it becomes pretty apparent that our species is likely to kill itself off within 1000 years. Societal suicide via the Technological Threshold. I do not believe that a species can get past this threshold without destruction as well, it is just in the nature of life to expand, conquer, grow, and worry about consequences only after it is too late. Granted, this is conjecture, but I do not believe it is a pessimistic view, rather a realistic one.

Hunter S. Thompson dies

Sad news today. One of the most outlandish and original American writers in a century, Hunter S. Thompson was found dead today in him home near Aspen, Colorado. His unique writing style was a challenge to the normalcy, and direct challenge to authority were a gift to all of us.

16 February 2005

Conservatives attack Amtrak...again

The short sighted conservatives are up to their old tricks again. Current target: Amtrak. This old story, all over. The big money corporations that fuel political campaigns (and thus ultimately really pull the strings behind government) continue to spew out their usual rhetoric: more cars, more roads, more sprawl instead of having the slightest bit of foresight and wisdom. Compact cities with an emphasis on trains and public transportation is simply better. Less cars mean more greenspace, more of a sense of community, less pollution, less waste.

The European model is the way to go here. Heavy gas taxes (eek, I said the T word) used to subsidize public transportation systems. Good bus routes to more central hubs for rail. Amtrak is Americas last vestige of a real continental public transportation system, though the conservatives consistently attack it. Hell, what do they care? They have plenty of money to buy more SUVs and Hummers. Its the folks struggling to get by that always get the shaft. More roads do not reduce congestion either, better public transportation designs do.

Further, Greyhound is eliminating many main routes in the countryside. The simple fact is, if you live deep out in farm country USA, you have no choice other than to have a friend with a car take you somewhere now; taxis are too expensive, local short buses (mainly for the elderly) do not travel that far, etc. They say $1bil/year is too much. Well, we pay that every day in Iraq. You can read the story at Yahoo! News

15 February 2005

Freedom of the Press or Responsibility?

Ah, this is a brainteaser. The Bushites are taking a page straight out of Hitlers diary: terror will always suceed unless opposed by equal or greater terror [Mein Kampf]. The Bush regime has systematically punished with full force anyone that even slightly speaks poorly about their performance, direction, leadership, in fact anything that casts them in their true dingy light. The nazis were masters at this game, which helps to explain why they climbed to power with such a small percentage of popular support before they seized power and brought Germany to dictatorship. We all saw dozens of high profile examples of the Bush regime illegitimately attacking its foes in a dirty game last year.

Now, enter Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat who was highly critical of Bush and his starch collared cronies. Mysteriously, the name of his wife, an undercover CIA agent, was leaked to the press shortly after publication of his book. Hmm, coincidence? By the way, his book exposed the fact that there was never any Uranium from africa being sent to Saddam Hussein, and Bush knew this when he claimed it to be true in his push to war in Iraq.

Now heres the brainteaser, I've always believed that the press need to have the right to protect their sources, lest they become mere tools of government propaganda (like Fox News has). But when neocons in the Bush regime or its supporters pull some crap like this, weakening our countries position for a political vendetta, should those sources be named? I dont know how to answer this question, but I do know one thing for sure, the Bush camp knows how to exploit the cracks in the system with a dangerous efficiency. You can read a short article on this at the BBC News.

11 February 2005

Bush betrays Farmers

Not a big surprise to me, but probably causing massive shockwaves in his rural powerbase. Bush is screwing the farming community again, promising to take away a portion of the farm subsidies that keep small towns in the countryside afloat. Isn't it hard enough to make it living in the country the way it is? What can this betrayal possibly do other than hurt the kind folks in rural America? Bet they're sorry they voted him in record numbers now.
Yahoo News

07 February 2005

Moons and Planets

Planets, moons, asteroids. What determines our definition of each? With the discovery of Pluto in 1930, this question began to emerge in the planetary science field of astronomy. As the image displays, Pluto is much smaller than Earths moon, which itself is much larger than Saturns largest moon Titan (current research at the ESA Cassini website. Further, Pluto has a moon of similar proportions, Charon with a equatorial diameter about half of what it has.

Do we define a moon as something that orbits a body that orbits a star? Does this apply to irregularly shaped satellites such as the 2 minor moons of mars (each is only a couple km across). And though we have no record of them currently what about when we find something orbiting a moon? will there be a new classification for those celestial bodies? Does phrasing things in a question answer anything?

Perhaps an enhanced definition is in order here. As anything with sufficient mass will be round, perhaps this series of bodies is best known as Planetoids, with seperate classifications for composition and what it orbits. So as to not close the loop, so to speak, lets include larger and smaller objects in the following sequence (note the names and classifications are rough drafts):

Clusters and Superclusters of Galaxies (groupings of galaxies)
Galaxies (huge collections of star systems)
Stars (white dwarves to red giants and all main sequence stars on the HR Diagram)
'brown dwarves' (sort of like a combination between Jupiter and a weak, small star), Jovian (jupiter, saturn, etc., massive gaseous planets),
Terrestrial planets (earth, venus, etc., smaller, hard crusted planets),
Moons (round, terrestrial bodies that orbit anything of a higher order),
Comets (dirty snowballs in essence)
asteroids (whether they orbit a planet, moon, or the sun),
'gravel sized astroids' (something from a grain of sand to a golf ball size)
Dust (anything smaller than a grain of sand)
Gasses (simple molecular or atomic gasses)
"energy" (subatomic particles like x-rays, photons, EM radiation, solar wind, etc.)

So what to do with Quaoar and Sedna (in the picture above). Quaoar (pronounced kway-o-are) has an orbit less circular than the other planets (just as Pluto does). So is it a simple matter of mass that limits it classification? perhaps. Sedna on the other hand, which spends most of its time in the distant 'Oort Cloud' (what a fucking cool name!), has an orbit that is highly elliptical, more closely resembling a comet. Yet, its shape appears to be round, and its composition would suggest we group this as a planet as well. One day the revision will happen in the astronomical science, but it will take the discovery of dozens of more objects like this before it happens.

Terraforming: Venus and Mars

Read an article yesterday in which they spoke of a revolutionary new idea to make the planet Mars habitable for humans and other terrestrial life forms. Not revolutionary at all, in fact, i wrote a paper about his (not for school, just for kicks) when I was 14, and it has probably been dreamed about for generations. In the article, they advocated seeding the red planet with greenhouse gases. duh.

For those with little planetary science background, Venus and Mars have similarly composed atmospheres, 98% CO2 (Carbon Dioxide). Earth once had the same, being a fellow terrestrial planet, and evolving in a similar fashion, but the biosphere (aka 'life') changed ours to better suit itself. the problem with developing complex, multicellular life forms on those planets is that the atmosphere of Venus is too thick and Mars is too thin. In fact, the formers is so thick that the pressures (~100x that of earth at sea level) and temperatures (enough to melt lead), while the latters are so thin and cold, that anything beyond simple, single-celled bacteria would currently be impossible.

Anyone see where im going with this? It doesnt take a rocket scientist (like the pun?) to see a+b=c, so extract a major portion of the venetian atmosphere and send it to the martian atmosphere. Granted, this would be a massive undertaking, far greater than anything mankind has attempted in our collective history, yet by thinning venus and thickening the martian atmospheres, the rest should be easy. Maybe some water creation and other chemical alterations (say with the soil), and boom, the planet is 'terraformed' and ready to be planted with the seed of life.

Of course, the new ecosystem would take on a drastically different path, they would become just like earth, but they may be adaptable enough to be suitable for large complex creatures that currently exist on Earth to support. This process naturally has an enormous time scale, say centuries or millennia, and we homo sapiens might not be around that long considering how rapidly we are destroying this planet. And of course, should life exist on either (even simple bacteria), we have the moral responsibility not to tamper with their worlds.