Search for Life

Why Looking For Aliens Is Good For Society (Even If There Aren’t Any)

Why Looking For Aliens Is Good For Society (Even If There Aren’t Any)

Ian Crawford, UCL

The search for life elsewhere in the universe is one of the most compelling aspects of modern science. Given its scientific importance, significant resources are devoted to this young science of astrobiology, ranging from rovers on Mars to telescopic observations of planets orbiting other stars.

The holy grail of all this activity would be the actual discovery of alien life, and such a discovery would likely have profound scientific and philosophical implications. But extraterrestrial life has not yet been discovered, and for all we know may not even exist. Fortunately, even if alien life is never discovered, all is not lost: simply searching for it will yield valuable benefits for society.

Why is this the case?

First, astrobiology is inherently multidisciplinary. To search for aliens requires a grasp of, at least, astronomy, biology, geology, and planetary science. Undergraduate courses in astrobiology need to cover elements of all these different disciplines, and postgraduate and postdoctoral astrobiology researchers likewise need to be familiar with most or all of them.

By forcing multiple scientific disciplines to interact, astrobiology is stimulating a partial reunification of the sciences. It is helping to move 21st-century science away from the extreme specialisation of today and back towards the more interdisciplinary outlook that prevailed in earlier times.

Earth rising above the surface of the moon, as seen from Apollo 8 in December 1968.
NASA

By producing broadminded scientists, familiar with multiple aspects of the natural world, the study of astrobiology therefore enriches the whole scientific enterprise. It is from this cross-fertilization of ideas that future discoveries may be expected, and such discoveries will comprise a permanent legacy of astrobiology, even if they do not include the discovery of alien life.

It is also important to recognise that astrobiology is an incredibly open-ended endeavour. Searching for life in the universe takes us from extreme environments on Earth, to the plains and sub-surface of Mars, the icy satellites of the giant planets, and on to the all-but-infinite variety of planets orbiting other stars. And this search will continue regardless of whether life is actually discovered in any of these environments or not. The range of entirely novel environments opened to investigation will be essentially limitless, and so has the potential to be a never-ending source of scientific and intellectual stimulation.

Sand dunes near to Mars’ South Pole.
NASA

The cosmic perspective

Beyond the more narrowly intellectual benefits of astrobiology are a range of wider societal benefits. These arise from the kinds of perspectives – cosmic in scale – that the study of astrobiology naturally promotes.

It is simply not possible to consider searching for life on Mars, or on a planet orbiting a distant star, without moving away from the narrow Earth-centric perspectives that dominate the social and political lives of most people most of the time. Today, the Earth is faced with global challenges that can only be met by increased international cooperation. Yet around the world, nationalistic and religious ideologies are acting to fragment humanity. At such a time, the growth of a unifying cosmic perspective is potentially of enormous importance.

In the early years of the space age, the then US ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, said of the world: “We can never again be a squabbling band of nations before the awful majesty of outer space.” Unfortunately, this perspective is yet to sink deeply into the popular consciousness. On the other hand, the wide public interest in the search for life elsewhere means that astrobiology can act as a powerful educational vehicle for the popularisation of this perspective.

Indeed, it is only by sending spacecraft out to explore the solar system, in large part for astrobiological purposes, that we can obtain images of our own planet that show it in its true cosmic setting.

The Earth photographed from the surface of Mars by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, March 2004.
NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M

In addition, astrobiology provides an important evolutionary perspective on human affairs. It demands a sense of deep, or big, history. Because of this, many undergraduate astrobiology courses begin with an overview of the history of the universe. This begins with the Big Bang and moves successively through the origin of the chemical elements, the evolution of stars, galaxies, and planetary systems, the origin of life, and evolutionary history from the first cells to complex animals such as ourselves. Deep history like this helps us locate human affairs in the vastness of time, and therefore complements the cosmic perspective provided by space exploration.

Political implications

Alexander von Humboldt, 1843.

There is a well-known aphorism, widely attributed to the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, to the effect that “the most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world”. Humboldt was presumably thinking about the mind-broadening potential of international travel. But familiarity with the cosmic and evolutionary perspectives provided by astrobiology, powerfully reinforced by actual views of the Earth from space, can surely also act to broaden minds in such a way as to make the world less fragmented and dangerous.

I think there is an important political implication inherent in this perspective: as an intelligent technological species, that now dominates the only known inhabited planet in the universe, humanity has a responsibility to develop international social and political institutions appropriate to managing the situation in which we find ourselves.

The ConversationIn concluding his monumental Outline of History in 1925, HG Wells famously observed: “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” Such an observation appears especially germane to the geopolitical situation today, where apparently irrational decisions, often made by governments (and indeed by entire populations) seemingly ignorant of broader perspectives, may indeed lead our planet to catastrophe.

Ian Crawford, Visiting Research Associate in Astronomy, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How Do You Work Out If A Signal From Space Is A Message From Aliens?

How Do You Work Out If A Signal From Space Is A Message From Aliens?

Andrew Norton, The Open University

Astronomers working at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico have detected a weird radio signal, spotted when pointing their telescope at the nearby star Ross 128. They’re not getting too excited about the prospect of an alien civilisation contacting us just yet though. “In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations,” said Abel Mendez, the scientist leading the campaign.

Of course, this doesn’t stop others speculating that the signal may be just that. And it begs the question, how do you work out if a strange signal from space really is a message from aliens? The simple answer is that you have to rule out everything else first and only then can you think it may be aliens. As Sherlock Holmes said: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” But eliminating all the other possibilities isn’t exactly easy.

When radio pulsars were first detected in 1967, “little green men” were at least considered a possibility – before it was that they are rapidly rotating neutron stars. The discovery opened up a whole new area of astrophysics, so could hardly be considered a disappointment.

The Arecibo Radio Telescope, at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF.

There have been other cases. In 1977, astronomers detected a radio burst dubbed the “WOW signal” – and they have been debating its origin for decades. Only recently was it suggested that there could be a natural explanation: emission from a passing comet that happened to lie in the right part of the sky. However, other astronomers have cast doubt on the comet idea, so it can’t be considered to be settled just yet.

Another mysterious signal is that from Tabby’s star, which displays strange quasi-periodic dips in its brightness. Could this be evidence of orbiting alien megastructures, or is it merely a cloud of natural debris surrounding the star? Once again, the jury is still out on that one, but we have certainly not ruled out all natural possibilities yet.

The signal seen from Ross 128, which is 11 light years from Earth, consisted of quasi-periodic radio pulses across a wide range of frequencies. The observations were made on May 12 in the range 4-5 GHz and lasted about ten minutes. A periodic signal naturally draws attention to itself and could indicate an artificial origin. However, some natural processes can give rise to periodic signals too. The pulses could be due to something like solar flares coming from the red dwarf star (a small and relatively cool star). Such stars are indeed prone to this type of activity, but the researchers say the radio pulses are unlike anything ever seen from other similar stars.

Perhaps more likely is that the signals originate closer to home – arising as interference from a high altitude, Earth-orbiting artificial satellite which happened to pass through the field of view of the telescope during the observations. However, such a signal from a satellite has not been seen before either. The Arecibo team are planning further observations to try and check these possibilities.

Strange light from Tabby’s star.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Exoplanets and life

So, what are the chances the signal is evidence of aliens? The last 20 years have seen an explosion in the number of planets found orbiting other stars. It is likely that a large proportion of the stars in the Milky Way harbour habitable exoplanets, yet we still have no evidence of life elsewhere.

The lack of evidence for extraterrestrial life lies at the heart of the Fermi paradox. Simply put, if planets and life are common in the galaxy, why have we not found aliens yet?

My best guess, based on what we now know, is that simple life may well be common – there are probably billions of Earth-like planets out there, so it is almost inconceivable that life has only evolved on one of them. However, intelligent, communicating life may well be extremely rare – either because it doesn’t arise or because when it does, it gets wiped out fairly quickly. This idea is known as the great filter.

The best chance of spotting life in the galaxy may therefore not come from looking for radio signals, but from looking for the signature of a biosphere as an exoplanet transits across the face of its star.

By measuring the spectrum (breakdown of light according to wavelenght) of a star while its planet passes in front, then subtracting the spectrum of the star seen alone, any tiny difference must be due to the signature of the planet’s atmosphere. This signature could reveal the presence of gases like oxygen and methane, which may mean the planet hosts life – although this may just be microbes. But it may indeed be our best bet to find life in the galaxy.

What if you do spot an alien signal?

Let’s return to the signal from Ross 128. What if the astronomers at Arecibo rule out solar flares and artificial satellites as the origin of the signal? The problem is, we can only rule out the things we know about. So even if these possibilities are discounted, there may still be other causes that have not been thought of yet. In fact, this is how all science works. We can’t ever claim anything is definitely true, we can only rule out the things that are false and make a hypothesis that something else is true until proved otherwise.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t one day receive a signal that is unambiguously of alien origin. If a signal is received with such a high level of structured information that it can’t be a natural signal, then there may be no other explanation.

In this case, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), have clear protocols for what happens next. These specify that the discoverer must notify other signatories to the protocols, other astronomers around the world, and also the United Nations. All data surrounding the discovery must also be made public. Importantly, no response to the signal should be sent until international consultations have taken place. Whatever (if anything) is transmitted back in the direction the signal came from would indicate our presence, so we’d better be sure we want to announce our existence before doing so.

The ConversationMaybe one day these protocols will be invoked, but until then, astronomers will keep looking for more prosaic explanations for all the weird signals they detect.

Andrew Norton, Professor of Astrophysics Education, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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SETI Has Begun Listening To TRAPPIST-1 For Aliens

SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has already begun listening to the newly discovered TRAPPIST-1 star system for signs of alien life.

From SETI:

The SETI Institute used its Allen Telescope Array last year to observe the environs of Trappist 1, scanning through ten billion radio channels in search of signals.  No transmissions were detected, although new observations are in the offing.

How sensitive was this search?  Assuming that the putative inhabitants of this solar system can use a transmitting antenna as large as the 500 meter FAST radio telescope in China to beam their messages our way, then the Allen Array could have found a signal if the aliens use a transmitter with 100 kilowatts of power or more.  This is only about ten times as energetic as the radar down at your local airport.

A plot of diameter versus the amount of sunlight hitting the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, scaled by the size of the Earth and the amount of sunlight hitting the Earth. F. Marchis, H. Marchis

TRAPPIST-1 is a remarkable candidate for life, the discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”

The SETI search at TRAPPIST-1 has just begun, and is sure to continue for years to come.

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Dwarf Planet Ceres Shows Organic Compounds, Raising Prospect Of Life

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – A NASA spacecraft has detected carbon-based materials, similar to what may have been the building blocks for life on Earth, on the Texas-sized dwarf planet Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, scientists said on Thursday.

The finding puts Ceres, a rock-and-ice world about 590 miles (950 km) in diameter, on a growing list of places in the solar system of interest to scientists looking for life beyond Earth. The list includes Mars and several ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

The discovery, published in the journal Science, was made by a team of researchers using NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres for nearly two years.

“I think these organic molecules are a long way from microbial life,” Dawn lead scientist Christopher Russell of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wrote in an email to Reuters. “However, this discovery tells us that we need to explore Ceres further.” Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is located about three times farther from the sun than Earth. The composition of Ceres is thought to reflect the material present in parts of the solar system when it was forming some 4-1/2 billion years ago.

“The discovery indicates that the starting material in the solar system contained the essential elements, or the building blocks, for life,” Russell said.

“Ceres may have been able to take this process only so far. Perhaps to move further along the path took a larger body with more complex structure and dynamics,” like Earth, Russell added.

The organic material was found near a 31-mile-wide (50-km-wide) crater in Ceres’ northern hemisphere. Although the exact molecular compounds in the organics could not be identified, they matched tar-like minerals, such as kerite or asphaltite, the scientists wrote.

“Because Ceres is a dwarf planet that may still preserve internal heat from its formation period and may even contain a subsurface ocean, this opens the possibility that primitive life could have developed on Ceres itself,” planetary scientist Michael Kuppers of the European Space Astronomy Center in Madrid wrote in an related essay in the journal Science.

Based on the location and type of organics found on Ceres, scientists ruled out the possibility they were deposited by a crashing asteroid or comet.

Lead researcher Maria Cristina De Sanctis of Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics and colleagues suspect the material formed inside Ceres through hydrothermal activity, though how the organics reached the surface remains a mystery.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft image of the limb of dwarf planet Ceres shows a section of the northern hemisphere in this image on October 17, 2016. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Handout via REUTERS

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Unearthed Essay On Alien Life Reveals Churchill The Scientist

LONDON (Reuters) – A newly unearthed essay by Winston Churchill shows Britain’s wartime leader was uncannily prescient about the possibility of alien life on planets orbiting stars other than the Sun.

The 11-page article was drafted on the eve of World War Two in 1939 and updated in the 1950s, decades before astronomers discovered the first extrasolar planets in the 1990s.

Yet Churchill pinpointed issues dominating today’s debate about extraterrestrial life, proving that the former prime minister “reasoned like a scientist”, according to an analysis of his work published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The hunt for life on other worlds has taken off in the last 20 years as observations have suggested the Milky Way alone may contain more than a billion Earth-size planets that could be habitable.

Churchill was already thinking along similar lines nearly 80 years ago, writing that “with hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible”.

FILE PHOTO: An artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun in this NASA image released on July 23, 2015. NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

He also honed in on the importance of liquid water for life, saying that a suitable planet would have to be “between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water”.

Modern scientists are busier than ever looking for signs of life in such environments, both in our own solar system and in the wider universe. So far they have found nothing.

Churchill’s essay was probably intended as a popular science piece for a newspaper, although it never appeared in print. The famous polymath had already written similar science articles for newspapers and magazines, including one on fusion power in 1931.

The type-written essay entitled ‘Are We Alone in the Universe?’, was uncovered last year in the archives of the U.S. National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, and passed to astrophysicist Mario Livio for expert examination.

In his analysis in Nature, Livio praised Churchill’s clear thinking, as well as his support for science as a tool of government policy. Churchill was the first prime minister to employ a science adviser.

“At a time when a number of today’s politicians shun science, I find it moving to recall a leader who engaged with it so profoundly,” Livio wrote.

Churchill’s vision of life on Earth in the first half of the 20th century, however, was far from rosy.

“I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures, or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.”

FILE PHOTO: The Houses of Parliament and a statue of Winston Churchill are seen on a foggy morning in London, Britain, December 30, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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This Simple Chemistry Test Can Help Us Identify Life On Other Planets

A simple chemistry method could vastly enhance how scientists search for signs of life on other planets.

The test uses a liquid-based technique known as capillary electrophoresis to separate a mixture of organic molecules into its components. It was designed specifically to analyze for amino acids, the structural building blocks of all life on Earth. The method is 10,000 times more sensitive than current methods employed by spacecraft like NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, according to a new study published in Analytical Chemistry. The study was carried out by researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

One of the key advantages of the authors’ new way of using capillary electrophoresis is that the process is relatively simple and easy to automate for liquid samples expected on ocean world missions: it involves combining a liquid sample with a liquid reagent, followed by chemical analysis under conditions determined by the team. By shining a laser across the mixture — a process known as laser-induced fluorescence detection — specific molecules can be observed moving at different speeds. They get separated based on how quickly they respond to electric fields.

While capillary electrophoresis has been around since the early 1980s, this is the first time it has been tailored specifically to detect extraterrestrial life on an ocean world, said lead author Jessica Creamer, a postdoctoral scholar at JPL.

“Our method improves on previous attempts by increasing the number of amino acids that can be detected in a single run,” Creamer said. “Additionally, it allows us to detect these amino acids at very low concentrations, even in highly salty samples, with a very simple ‘mix and analyze’ process.”

The researchers used the technique to analyze amino acids present in the salt-rich waters of Mono Lake in California. The lake’s exceptionally high alkaline content makes it a challenging habitat for life, and an excellent stand-in for salty waters believed to be on Mars, or the ocean worlds of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The researchers were able to simultaneously analyze 17 different amino acids, which they are calling “the Signature 17 standard.” These amino acids were chosen for study because they are the most commonly found on Earth or elsewhere.

“Using our method, we are able to tell the difference between amino acids that come from non-living sources like meteorites versus amino acids that come from living organisms,” said the project’s principal investigator, Peter Willis of JPL.

Mono Lake, California, with salt pillars known as “tufas” visible. JPL scientists tested new methods for detecting chemical signatures of life in the salty waters here, believing them to be analogs for water on Mars or ocean worlds like Europa.
Credits: Mono County Tourism

Key to detecting amino acids related to life is an aspect known as “chirality.” Chiral molecules such as amino acids come in two forms that are mirror images of one another. Although amino acids from non-living sources contain approximately equal amounts of the “left” and “right”-handed forms, amino acids from living organisms on Earth are almost exclusively the “left-handed” form.

It is expected that amino acid life elsewhere would also need to “choose” one of the two forms in order to create the structures of life. For this reason, chirality of amino acids is considered one of the most powerful signatures of life.

“One of NASA’s highest-level objectives is the search for life in the universe,” Willis said. “Our best chance of finding life is by using powerful liquid-based analyses like this one on ocean worlds.”

Originally published at NASA

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Mysterious X-Ray Signal Intrigues Astronomers

A mysterious X-ray signal has been found in a detailed study of galaxy clusters using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton. One intriguing possibility is that the X-rays are produced by the decay of sterile neutrinos, a type of particle that has been proposed as a candidate for dark matter.

While holding exciting potential, these results must be confirmed with additional data to rule out other explanations and determine whether it is plausible that dark matter has been observed.

Astronomers think dark matter constitutes 85% of the matter in the Universe, but does not emit or absorb light like “normal” matter such as protons, neutrons and electrons that make up the familiar elements observed in planets, stars, and galaxies. Because of this, scientists must use indirect methods to search for clues about dark matter.

The latest results from Chandra and XMM-Newton consist of an unidentified X-ray emission line, that is, a spike of intensity at a very specific wavelength of X-ray light. Astronomers detected this emission line in the Perseus galaxy cluster using both Chandra and XMM-Newton. They also found the line in a combined study of 73 other galaxy clusters with XMM-Newton.

“We know that the dark matter explanation is a long shot, but the pay-off would be huge if we’re right,” said Esra Bulbul of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass. who led the study. “So we’re going to keep testing this interpretation and see where it takes us.”

The authors suggest this emission line could be a signature from the decay of a “sterile neutrino.” Sterile neutrinos are a hypothetical type of neutrino that is predicted to interact with normal matter only via gravity. Some scientists have proposed that sterile neutrinos may at least partially explain dark matter.

“We have a lot of work to do before we can claim, with any confidence, that we’ve found sterile neutrinos,” said Maxim Markevitch, a co-author from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But just the possibility of finding them has us very excited.”

One source of uncertainty is that the detection of this emission line is pushing the capabilities of the two observatories in terms of sensitivity. Also, there may be explanations other than sterile neutrinos if this X-ray emission line is deemed to be real. There are ways that normal matter in the cluster could have produced the line, although the team’s analysis suggested that all of these would involve unlikely changes to our understanding of physical conditions in the galaxy cluster or the details of the atomic physics of extremely hot gases.

The authors note that even if the sterile neutrino interpretation is correct, their detection does not necessarily imply that all of dark matter is composed of these particles.

“Our next step is to combine data from Chandra and JAXA’s Suzaku mission for a large number of galaxy clusters to see if we find the same X-ray signal,” said co-author Adam Foster, also of CfA. “There are lots of ideas out there about what these data could represent. We may not know for certain until Astro-H launches, with a new type of X-ray detector that will be able to measure the line with more precision than currently possible.”

Because of the tantalizing potential of these results, after submitting to The Astrophysical Journal the authors posted a copy of the paper to a publicly accessible database, arXiv. This forum allows scientists to examine a paper prior to its acceptance into a peer-reviewed journal. The paper ignited a flurry of activity, with 55 new papers having already cited this work, mostly involving theories discussing the emission line as possible evidence for dark matter. Some of the papers explore the sterile neutrino interpretation, but others suggest different types of candidate dark matter particles, such as the axion, may have been detected.

Only a week after Bulbul et al. placed their paper on the arXiv, a different group, led by Alexey Boyarsky of Leiden University in the Netherlands, placed a paper on the arXiv reporting evidence for an emission line at the same energy in XMM-Newton observations of the galaxy M31 and the outskirts of the Perseus cluster.  This strengthens the evidence that the emission line is real and not an instrumental artifact.

The paper describing the new Chandra and XMM-Newton observations appears in the June 20, 2014 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Originally published at NASA

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Chilean Government Releases Declassified UFO Video

A classified video recently released by the Committee for the Study of Anomalous Air Phenomena (CEFAA) shows a UFO that was spotted between San Antonio and Quinteros.

The footage is from November 11th, 2014. According to reports, a team in a Chilean navy helicopter was conducting it’s usual daytime patrol when a crew member on board spotted something flying into their airspace. At this point the individual on board directed the helicopter’s infrared camera towards the object, and continued to film. A statement on the CEFAA website confirms this series of events:

“At 1:52 pm, while filming the terrain, the technician observed a strange object flying to the left over the ocean. Soon both men observed it with the naked eye. They noticed that the velocity and the altitude of the object appeared to be about the same as the helicopter, and estimated that the object was approximately 35 to 40 miles (55-65 km) away. It was traveling W/NW, according to the Captain. The technician aimed the camera at the object immediately and zoomed in with the infra red (IR) for better clarity.”

Further investigation of the event showed that the General Directorate of Civil Aviation in Santiago reported no additional air traffic in the region; there was no authorized flight aside from the the Chilean helicopter and they detected no other traces of aircraft on their radar.

The UAP (as referred to in the reports) appears at two “hot spots” that appear to be connected in some fashion. In certain parts of the footage, you can see a trail, or tail, following the object.

The video depicts two connected white circular lights or hot spots, giving off much heat (left). This image was part of an analysis by astrophysicist Luis Barrera. “Envoltura” means “envelope.”

Researchers are also having a difficult time describing the appearance of the trails following the object.

“Some analysts have suggested the hypothesis that it is a medium-sized line aircraft and that the stelae of the detachable element may be the reserve water inside the apparatus, thrown by the crew. However, meteorology asserts that neither the altitude at which the object moved, nor the ambient temperature of that moment, allowed such a wake of condensation.”

The object moved away from the massize plume it ejected just moments earlier.

Since the video went public, there have been plenty of theories on the alleged object. One of the most promising de-bunking theories comes from Mick West, an administrator at Metabunk.org. West describes two flights that were in the same area at the time, contrary to the original reports. LA330 (from Santiago to La Serena) and IB6830 are four-engine planes that are believed to be able to produce the same phenomena. As to why they weren’t caught on radar, Mick believes technicians were simply looking in the “wrong place”.

“At the time this was spotted (the very first sighting on the video, at 13:52:34) IB6830 was actually around 35 miles away. However it would very quickly get further away. By 13:57 IB6830 would be 65 miles away. This explain why it was not seen on radar (IB6830 was on radar, just not where they thought it was).”

The route of the helicopter derived from the displayed geographic coordinates displayed on the camera. (CFEAA)

Here’s the original footage from the Chilean Government:

Here’s Wests’s explanation of the UFO:

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Brian Cox' Theory On Why We Haven't Seen Aliens Is Very Grim

Brian Cox’ Theory On Why We Haven’t Seen Aliens Is Not Very Positive

Physicist Brian Cox recently weighed in on one of sciences’ biggest questions; with such a large probability for life in such an expansive universe, why haven’t we found any evidence as of yet?

The Fermi Paradox is named after Enrico Fermi, and is based on the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates, e.g., those given by the Drake equation, for the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations. These basic points of argument where made way back in the 1950’s and are still pondered upon today.

While Enrico Fermi notably asked “Where is everybody”, Brian Cox think he may finally have the answer, and it isn’t pretty.

According to Cox, “One solution to the Fermi paradox is that it is not possible to run a world that has the power to destroy itself and that needs global collaborative solutions to prevent that.” Cox is essentially saying that it is possible we would never find such an advanced civilization, as it’s more likely to destroy itself than reach the bounds of interstellar travel.

Cox also goes on to warn about possibilities in our own society that could mimic his theory “It may be that the growth of science and engineering inevitably outstrips the development of political expertise, leading to disaster. We could be approaching that position.”

Here’s hoping the next physicist find is a bit more positive. 

Image: Jon Rolin/Flickr

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Strange Messages From The Stars 'Probably' Coming From Aliens, Say Scientists

Strange Messages From The Stars ‘Probably’ Coming From Aliens, Say Scientists

Scientists have heard unusual messages coming from deep space and they think they may be coming from aliens.

New research has found a set of strange modulations in a tiny star cluster. These never before seen modulations could indicate that siganls are coming from an extraterrestrial intelligence, possibly looking to notify other civilizations of their existence.

A new study reports that these modulations have been found in 234 out of 2.5 million stars observed during the specific survey of the sky. There’s no apparent explanation for what is happening, which is prodding scientists to come to all sorts of conclusions:

“We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an [extraterrestrial intelligence] signal predicted in the previous publication and are therefore in agreement with this hypothesis. The fact that they are only found in a very small fraction of stars within a narrow spectral range centered near the spectral type of the sun is also in agreement with the ETI hypothesis,” writes EF Borra and E Trottier of the University of Laval in a new paper.

The paper was published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific under the title ‘Discovery of peculiar periodic spectral modulations in a small fraction of solar type stars’. The originally suggested title was ‘Signals probably from Extraterrestrial Intelligence’.

Naturally the researchers make clear that further work will have to be done in order to confirm what the source of these strange modulations are. This will be carried out by using new equipment to watch for the same signals; using new – and different – equipment, the team will be able to examine different possibilities for the cause of the signals.

Breakthrough Listen is an initiative that was setup with the support of notables including Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg. The team from breakthrough says that the messages are promising, but that further research will need to be done to determine the exact cause of the signals. “The one in 10,000 objects with unusual spectra seen by Borra and Trottier are certainly worthy of additional study. However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

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the-megastructure-mystery-gets-weirder

The Alien Megastructure Mystery Gets Weirder

Earlier this year astronomers found our Galaxies strangest star, KIC 8462852, a star that exhibited rapid changes in brightness over a short period of time. This led astronomers to suspect an orbiting alien megastructure. 

Closer research at the time had determined that the phenomena was not the suspected alien megastructure, and was rather a swarm of comets that surrounded the star.  Using observations from using observations from the Kepler Space telescope astronomers had noted the star had dimmed by 14 percent in just over a century.

New evidence from Kepler is still showing strange and unexplained phenomena around KIC 8462852 (otherwise known as Tabby’s star); “Our highly accurate measurements over four years demonstrate that the star really is getting fainter with time. It is unprecedented for this type of star to slowly fade for years, and we don’t see anything else like it in the Kepler data.” says the team, from Caltech, in a statement.

“This star was already completely unique because of its sporadic dimming episodes. But now we see that it has other features that are just as strange, both slowly dimming for almost three years and then suddenly getting fainter much more rapidly,” note astronomers, from the Carnegie Institute of Science.

“It’s a big challenge to come up with a good explanation for a star doing three different things that have never been seen before,” Montet added. “But these observations will provide an important clue to solving the mystery of KIC 8462852.”

The current belief is that the massive breakup of planetary and comet debris could be causing the dimming, the brightening, and the rapid transitions between the both. Unfortunately, until we get a better look at Tabby’s star, we won’t be able to conclude exactly what is going on.

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Most People Believe In UFOs

Most People Believe In UFOs

With the new episodes having been released, The X-Files are no longer a thing of the past, and people are rethinking the concept of alien life with the help of various art forms and formats of modern media. The interest in the topic has been growing so much that nowadays, there is talk of it even in the official political circles. One of the best examples is Hilary Clinton’s pledge to disclose the content of government files if she ends up being elected president. The question many people are asking is why we are once again becoming fascinated with UFOs.

During the first decade of the 21st century, it seemed that we were growing out of our interest in science fiction and UFOs. There was a significant decrease in the number of reported sightings, as well as the disappearance of movies and TV shows that supported the view that there is such a thing as alien life. The internet seemed to be of great help in making people stop believing in the existence of extraterrestrials, mostly due to it allowing a much easier exchange of both facts and ideas. By the end of the previous decade, it seemed safe to conclude that people no longer believed in existence of UFOs. What changed?

One of the most prominent theories is supported by sociologists of religion. They claim that what is now happening can be described as a sort of “re-enchantment.”  What occurred during the first decade of the 21st century was obviously a victory of the sciences over belief in mysterious forces. That can hardly be argued, but the sociologists in question also believe that things such as UFOs can never be fully banished from the human psyche. In their words, what is happening now is a completely natural shift from the reign of reason to the rule of the supernatural.

As we have already mentioned, there is a political aspect to the problem as well, and it is making the “re-enchantment” a lot tougher to explain. The idea that people go from trusting in science to believing in the supernatural is much easier to grasp than it is to understand why a person who is running for president would ever bring up a topic such as extraterrestrial life. Some believe that the political climate has changed in a way that is making this not only possible, but desirable as well. Nowadays there is a lot of thinking that has been turned against the institution of science. It has come to the point in which what we call the language of reason is now being used to attack both sciences and their endeavors. In a climate such as that, a weird idea can easily go from being a liability to having political appeal.

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can-we-communicate-with-aliens

Can We Communicate With Aliens?

Ever since human kind can remember, we have always wanted to learn, solve and discover. But there is still one question which we haven’t been able to answer – Are we alone in the Universe?

Some people believe that the possibility of humans being the only developed species is so minute, it’s not even worth thinking about. But what would happen if we really discovered alien life? Could we even communicate with them? And if we could, how? Well, science has an answer for that also.

There are many challenges to face when thinking about alien communication. The one thing we can know is that the laws of the universe are immutable, so there is some scientific information which would hold as true for them as it does for us. This means that descriptions of this information should be equivalent. But even if we knew what we wanted to say, the problem is still the means of saying it, and here’s where it gets complex.

Human beings communicate at an 85-255Hz frequency range of sound. We also operate at a 430-770 THz frequency range of light. Aliens might not. There are a lot of things on Earth that humans are unable to hear or see. This means that it should be made possible to translate alien sounds into what our ears are able to hear, and the same goes for sight.

But those hurdles can be surpassed. There are ideas of communicating via touch. For aliens to be as advanced as we are, the one sense that they have to have that is the same as ours is touch. That means that there are plenty of opportunities to translate something into a tactile language.

But then another problem arises – that of the internal language structure. There is a belief in the psychology of language community that the structure of human language is hardwired into our brains. This means that we might not be able to learn an alien language at all, and at best it would be extremely difficult. but on the other hand, we have the cognitive view of language which sets more importance on semantics, and therefore claims that it would be possible for us to understand aliens, and vice versa. Of course, some parts would probably be inaccessible to aliens, such as poetry, but many scientists claim that we could learn to understand each other.

So even though there are many issues in the alien-human communication problem, most scientists believe that there are enough universal structures to make communication possible. What types of structures are those going to be – biological, physical, social, etc. – is something we have yet to find out. But everything suggests that the possibility of communication is very strong.

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what-do-aliens-look-like

What Do Aliens Look Like?

People of all walks of life have speculated about what aliens have looked like for decades thanks to everything from blockbuster movies to scientific discovery. These speculations leave us wondering – what do aliens really look like? Will they take on human appearances or something we’ve yet to imagine? If we look at evolution, we can begin finding answers.

The Question of Evolution

Because we can only study the life forms we have on Earth, and we know their single origin began approximately 3.5 billion years ago, we also know 20 million species of animals were the result from this single origin, 30 separate body plans were organized into major groups referred to as phyla.

These organisms, like the Pikaia for example, gave rise to amphibians, fish, mammals, reptiles, and humans. Had the Pikaia perished, the human race could have evolved into something completely different. Therefore, questions remain about what aliens will evolve into based on the water organisms that are found on habitable planets. If different organisms exist, why would aliens evolve into creatures looking similar to humans?

Can We Expect Similarities?

It seems logical that aliens would need water, or another solvent, like humans. They’ll also likely need stability similar to humans through the use of backbone chains. Regarding replication, it also seems logical for their evolution to occur through the means of DNA, RNA, or another form of analog. We can also expect to see teeth or some other means of pursuing food. These life forms will also need a way of moving across hard surfaces, so we can expect to see a muscular foot or leg.

Can Aliens Look Insect-like?

While this theory is a cool one in movies, it doesn’t make sense in reality. The exoskeleton makes growth difficult. Therefore, the argument that aliens would look like insects would mean they’d be shedding their exoskeleton periodically. Unless the insects remain small, these life forms would become crushed underneath their weight throughout the molting process if their skeleton was external.

Will They Evolve by Chance?

Many of our evolutionary features, like five fingers and toes, may have been the result of evolutionary chance or lock-down. That’s why the jury is still out about if aliens will resemble us or not.

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Extraterrestrials Could Save The Human Race One Day

Should we move heavy industry off of the planet Earth and into space? That’s what Jeff Bezos believes we should be doing, rather than sending the first man to Mars. His vision is to send men to space as a means of saving the planet. He’s explained that our planet is superior and, for that reason, we should be doing everything to ensure its protection. That’s why he believes going into space will accomplish this goal. When giving this serious thought, extraterrestrials could save the human race!

Zoning Earth for Light Industrial and Residential

Rather than having heavy energy work on earth, Bezos believes this work should be done in space. His believe further includes the building of gigantic chip factories in outer space. It, for examples, makes better sense to have solar energy in space for factories because the sun is available 24-hours per day, seven days per week.

While visiting and inhabiting other planets are historic, it’s not as resourceful as putting industry in space. We have to be realistic about the growth in our planet’s population and, if industry moves to space, we’re better able to accommodate this eventuality. He says we have to be aware of the fact that we can’t put a freeze on the growth in our population.

The Use of Reusable Rockets

It’s Bezos’ plan to incorporate the use of reusable rockets into his plan for entrepreneurs so they’re low cost and available through Blue Origin. Not only will these rockets cut down on waste but they’ll help cut down on the millions of dollars in jettison machinery the industry loses following each launch. The European Space Agency, Japan, and Russia are also testing similar technology. Blue Origin in Bezos’ rocket company and he believes it will help him achieve his goal of building giant factories and solar panels in space.

While his vision to move heavy industry entirely off of the Earth may sound impossible, it’s not unfeasible with the right vision and resources. Bezos is currently talking about how, if we continue working on these plans and focus our energies properly, it will come to fruition in the next few hundred years.

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The Search For Life In Space 5 Discoveries That Show Us It's There

The Search For Life In Space: 5 Discoveries That Show Us It’s There

Science fiction has made suggestions about life on other planets for decades. Area 51 has left us curious about visitors coming to our world in the 1950’s. This begs the question—are we alone? It also prompts researchers to search for life in space. There are 5 discoveries that lead us to believe it’s there—life on other planets. What have researchers found?

1: Comet Impacts

Scientists believe comet impacts are occurring in other parts of the universe similar to what took place during the formation of life on Earth. Their belief is that, when a comet hit our planet, the likely result was a combination of amino acids that created the building blocks of life.

2: Drake Equation

The Drake equation, which has become famous since its inception, provides an estimation regarding how many alien civilizations could exist within the Milky Way. The equation is as follows, N=R*(fp)(ne)(fl)(fi)(fc)L, and when defined, it suggests there might be up to millions of alien civilizations present.

3: Life Needs Time

The last lakes on Mars were present the same time there was life on Earth over 200 million years ago, according to researchers. With that in mind, researchers believe that there is enough time elapsing to allow for the creation of life to occur on other planets.

4: Ocean Existence

Researchers have found evidence of oceans existence on at least twelve objects, including five planets, throughout our solar system, in addition to Enceladus and Europa. However, it’s difficult for these scientists to prove there’s life conclusively because the watery mantle is in existence over a hundred miles beneath the surface.

5: Other Earth-Like Planets

Why would planet Earth be the only of its kind in the universe? Think about that for a minute. Realistically, it doesn’t make sense when you take into consideration how many other “like” things we’ve found in the universe like moons, for example. That being said, research scientists found what appears to be an Earth-like planet that’s 4.2 light-years away from us.

Despite these findings, there will always be non-believers out there. However, there will also always be scientists out there working to find answers and prove their suspicions right.

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