E.T. Could Already Be Among Us and We Wouldn’t Know, Says NASA
Alien life may be so different from us that we wouldn’t even recognize it as life.
In Episode 146, late in the run of Star Trek — The Next Generation, its writers finally addressed an obvious issue with science fiction: How come no matter where we go out there, aliens look roughly like us? Obviously, the real answer is that they’re played by human actors, but science fiction has helped instill in us a prevalent bias toward expecting extraterrestrial beings to have arms, legs, heads, not to mention spines, skin, and so on. Little green men are still men, after all.
But even on earth, we don’t represent the norm. There are many more insects than there are humans, and in the oceans? Yipes. Consider giant tube worms.
Why on earth (sorry) should extraterrestrials look like us, or even be recognizable as living beings to our limited imaginations? How do we know they don't already live among us, floating, slithering, flying nearby?
“It’s not like you can walk into a new environment with your lovely robot on some other planet, look at the ground and go gosh it’s life! Instead it’s ‘gosh it’s blue something, and it’s got a copper signal, and I don’t know’ — and then you have to investigate.”
Boston showed the crowd her own rogue’s gallery of omigosh-is-that-alive earthly creatures found in caves.
Boston frames this as the great challenge of astrobiology: Simply being able to recognize life when we see it. Our genetic tools fall short when it comes to examining unknown forms, and with her feeling that off-world life may be weird and microbial, we’ll be essentially clueless about who we’re meeting.
It’s not like we can confidently ascertain life-supporting conditions with our limited knowledge. In harsh environments around the globe, we find living creatures where our current understanding tells us there can’t be.
The astrobiologist ended her talk with he warning that we’d better come up with the technology to recognize life in whatever form it appears before we actually meet up with aliens. If we haven’t already.
Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.
- There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
- CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
- Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
- Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.
Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.