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A century of alien landings, in two maps
First contact movies had their Golden Age in 1980s America – now they're going global.
- The first extra-terrestrial to make contact (in a movie) appeared in 1920s Germany.
- ET set off a wave of 'first contact' movies in the 1980s.
- Many recent alien-landing movies are set in China and India – the future of the genre may well be Asian.
Until humanity makes contact with some genuine extra-terrestrials, the aliens we invent will say more about us than about them. By extension, the same goes for where we first encounter these imaginary off-worlders.
These maps show the locations of alien first contacts on Earth in almost a century of popular films, from Algol (1920), a Faust-from-outer-space parable made in Weimar Germany; to Annihilation (2018), a reflection on America's loss of faith in the future of humankind.
The rules: Each dot shows the first appearance of (outer-space) aliens at specific locations in films. Excluded: Inter-dimensional aliens and global alien invasions (hence no War of the Worlds).
Alien landings in the U.S.
If the maps are anything to go by, ET will flock to the U.S., and preferably to places with well-established movie industries: Los Angeles and New York, mainly. Don't do it, guys – you'll just end up waiting tables!
A few other locales seem to attract more than their average share of UFO landings: The Bay Area, certain parts of the Southwest (Arizona and New Mexico), the Midwest (Chicagoland and Ohio), and the South (particularly Alabama and Florida). Unsurprisingly, California is the most ET-friendly state (14 landings), followed by New York (7) and Illinois (5).
Some parts of the U.S. remain curiously alien-free. The Pacific Northwest, for example. Well, who ever heard of an alien craft landing in rain? If it weren't for two sightings in Montana and Wyoming each, that no-UFO zone would extend all the way to Minnesota. New England is also virtually extra-terrestrial-less, as is that row of states just west of the Mississippi.
The mapmaker has kindly provided dates for each movie, which tells us something about the peaks and troughs of alien-landing excitement in the U.S.
It all started so well in the 1950s, with six touchdowns – and then none in the 1960s. Things picked up slightly in the 1970s, with 5 first-contact films. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) inspired a lot of what came after.
The 1980s were the Golden Age of Alien First Contacts. The first and perhaps most influential one was Spielberg's ET, the Extraterrestrial (1982). In all, the map shows no less than 19 first-contact films from this decade. After the long climax, a slow decline: 15 landings in the 1990s, 10 in the 2000s and 9 in the 2010s.
Alien landings in the rest of the world
Even if the U.S. gets preferential treatment, it doesn't have exclusive rights to alien first contacts. As this map shows, UFOs do land in other parts of the world as well.
One particular invasion is more 'globalist' than others. The aliens in Arrival (2016) touched down in Montana, Russia, Pakistan, Greenland, China, Sudan and Venezuela, among other places. That's how they do 'Shock and Awe' on Rigel 5.
In general, however, non-American aliens are more discriminating in their choice of landing locations. They have a strong preference for London, the rest of the UK and western Europe (in that order, but keep in mind this is pre-Brexit) over the rest of the world. Mind you, being a rest-of-the-worlder could be a good thing. As this map also indicates, the aliens' intentions aren't always benevolent.
Take for instance Grabbers (2012), the only film set in Ireland that made it onto the map, and providing what may be a uniquely Irish take on the genre. The movie features human-eating monsters which fortunately prove allergic to high blood-alcohol levels. In order to survive the attack, the townspeople have to get drunk in the local pub.
With the exception of two Arrival landings, two first contacts in Egypt (Stargate, 1994; and The Fifth Element, 1997), and two South African ones (Nukie, 1987 – set in Kenya; and District 9, 2009), aliens stay clear of the Mother Continent. This despite the rich seam of African sci-fi usually grouped under the header 'Afrofuturism'.
Latin America doesn't fare much better, with the exception of Mexico. A charming example is La Nave de los Monstruos (1960), which tells of an expedition from Venus to recruit males to help repopulate their all-female planet. The titular ship is filled with male 'monsters' from all corners of the galaxy. On Earth, the Venusian crew fall for Lauriano, a singing Mexican cowboy.
Mexico's sci-fi production also includes The Incredible Invasion (1971), a low-budget flick featuring Boris Karloff, set in 1890s Germany.
Science fiction was big in Soviet times, but only First Spaceship on Venus (1960) and This Merry Planet (1973) get a mention here. In the latter movie, an alien delegation lands in the middle of a New Year's costume party in a Soviet House of Culture. They fail to convince anyone of their extra-terrestrial origin. When the clock strikes midnight, they realize they've landed on the most beautiful planet in the universe (and, as is undoubtedly implied, the country with the best ideological system on that planet).
One of the most remarkable post-Soviet sci-fi movies is Abdullajon (1991), judged by many to be the greatest film ever made in post-USSR Uzbekistan, as well as (probably) the only sci-fi one. A local Uzbek farmer discovers a crash-landed alien – a white boy – when looking for a lost cow. Dubbed Abdullajon, the alien can perform miracles, but doesn't always understand his hosts. When asked to produce 'big money', he fashions a giant one-ruble coin, for example. He does succeed in making the hens lay 50 eggs per minute, though. The alien manages to escape back to space before the Russian Army captures him.
Looking at the dates for first-contact movies set outside the U.S., there is a definite trend: Back in the 1950s and 1960s, aliens most often landed in Europe, Japan and Mexico. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, the U.S. hogs the scene. But then, ET starts visiting other places, including non-western ones, such as India, China, the Philippines.
Unless and until the first real extra-terrestrial lands, the future of alien first-contact movies could very well be Asian. Meanwhile, I've got to check out what must be Greece's definitive contribution to the genre: Attack of the Giant Moussaka (1999).
Many thanks to Dylan_Mq for providing these maps. He describes himself as a "DataViz, Map and Pop Culture enthusiast (who creates) maps & designs about things I like". Find them on Reddit, Twitter and Etsy.
Strange Maps #960
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.
- We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
- If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
- Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
The 5 eras of the universe<p>There are many ways to consider and discuss the past, present, and future of the universe, but one in particular has caught the fancy of many astronomers. First published in 1999 in their book <a href="https://amzn.to/2wFQLiL" target="_blank"><em>The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity</em></a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Adams" target="_blank">Fred Adams</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_P._Laughlin" target="_blank">Gregory Laughlin</a> divided the universe's life story into five eras:</p><ul><li>Primordial era</li><li>Stellferous era</li><li>Degenerate era</li><li>Black Hole Era</li><li>Dark era</li></ul><p>The book was last updated according to current scientific understandings in 2013.</p><p>It's worth noting that not everyone is a subscriber to the book's structure. Popular astrophysics writer <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/ethansiegel/#30921c93683e" target="_blank">Ethan C. Siegel</a>, for example, published an article on <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/07/26/we-have-already-entered-the-sixth-and-final-era-of-our-universe/#7072d52d4e5d" target="_blank"><em>Medium</em></a> last June called "We Have Already Entered The Sixth And Final Era Of Our Universe." Nonetheless, many astronomers find the quintet a useful way of discuss such an extraordinarily vast amount of time.</p>
The Primordial era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjEzMjY1OX0.PRpvAoa99qwsDNprDme9tBWDim6mS7Mjx6IwF60fSN8/img.jpg?width=980" id="db4eb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e568b0cc12ed624bb8d7e5ff45882bd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1049" />
Image source: Sagittarius Production/Shutterstock<p> This is where the universe begins, though what came before it and where it came from are certainly still up for discussion. It begins at the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. </p><p> For the first little, and we mean <em>very</em> little, bit of time, spacetime and the laws of physics are thought not yet to have existed. That weird, unknowable interval is the <a href="https://www.universeadventure.org/eras/era1-plankepoch.htm" target="_blank">Planck Epoch</a> that lasted for 10<sup>-44</sup> seconds, or 10 million of a trillion of a trillion of a trillionth of a second. Much of what we currently believe about the Planck Epoch eras is theoretical, based largely on a hybrid of general-relativity and quantum theories called quantum gravity. And it's all subject to revision. </p><p> That having been said, within a second after the Big Bang finished Big Banging, inflation began, a sudden ballooning of the universe into 100 trillion trillion times its original size. </p><p> Within minutes, the plasma began cooling, and subatomic particles began to form and stick together. In the 20 minutes after the Big Bang, atoms started forming in the super-hot, fusion-fired universe. Cooling proceeded apace, leaving us with a universe containing mostly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, similar to that we see in the Sun today. Electrons gobbled up photons, leaving the universe opaque. </p><p> About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough that the first stable atoms capable of surviving began forming. With electrons thus occupied in atoms, photons were released as the background glow that astronomers detect today as cosmic background radiation. </p><p> Inflation is believed to have happened due to the remarkable overall consistency astronomers measure in cosmic background radiation. Astronomer <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGCVTSQw7WU" target="_blank">Phil Plait</a> suggests that inflation was like pulling on a bedsheet, suddenly pulling the universe's energy smooth. The smaller irregularities that survived eventually enlarged, pooling in denser areas of energy that served as seeds for star formation—their gravity pulled in dark matter and matter that eventually coalesced into the first stars. </p>
The Stelliferous era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjA0OTcwMn0.GVCCFbBSsPdA1kciHivFfWlegOfKfXUfEtFKEF3otQg/img.jpg?width=980" id="bc650" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c8f86bf160ecdea6b330f818447393cd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="481" data-height="720" />
Image source: Casey Horner/unsplash<p>The era we know, the age of stars, in which most matter existing in the universe takes the form of stars and galaxies during this active period. </p><p>A star is formed when a gas pocket becomes denser and denser until it, and matter nearby, collapse in on itself, producing enough heat to trigger nuclear fusion in its core, the source of most of the universe's energy now. The first stars were immense, eventually exploding as supernovas, forming many more, smaller stars. These coalesced, thanks to gravity, into galaxies.</p><p>One axiom of the Stelliferous era is that the bigger the star, the more quickly it burns through its energy, and then dies, typically in just a couple of million years. Smaller stars that consume energy more slowly stay active longer. In any event, stars — and galaxies — are coming and going all the time in this era, burning out and colliding.</p><p>Scientists predict that our Milky Way galaxy, for example, will crash into and combine with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years to form a new one astronomers are calling the Milkomeda galaxy.</p><p>Our solar system may actually survive that merger, amazingly, but don't get too complacent. About a billion years later, the Sun will start running out of hydrogen and begin enlarging into its red giant phase, eventually subsuming Earth and its companions, before shrining down to a white dwarf star.</p>
The Degenerate era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTk3NDQyN30.gy4__ALBQrdbdm-byW5gQoaGNvFTuxP5KLYxEMBImNc/img.jpg?width=980" id="77f72" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="08bb56ea9fde2cee02d63ed472d79ca3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Image source: Diego Barucco/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>Next up is the Degenerate era, which will begin about 1 quintillion years after the Big Bang, and last until 1 duodecillion after it. This is the period during which the remains of stars we see today will dominate the universe. Were we to look up — we'll assuredly be outta here long before then — we'd see a much darker sky with just a handful of dim pinpoints of light remaining: <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/evaporating-giant-exoplanet-white-dwarf-star" target="_blank">white dwarfs</a>, <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/new-observations-where-stars-end-and-brown-dwarfs-begin" target="_blank">brown dwarfs</a>, and <a href="https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/definition-what-is-a-neutron-star" target="_blank">neutron stars</a>. These"degenerate stars" are much cooler and less light-emitting than what we see up there now. Occasionally, star corpses will pair off into orbital death spirals that result in a brief flash of energy as they collide, and their combined mass may become low-wattage stars that will last for a little while in cosmic-timescale terms. But mostly the skies will be be bereft of light in the visible spectrum.</p><p>During this era, small brown dwarfs will wind up holding most of the available hydrogen, and black holes will grow and grow and grow, fed on stellar remains. With so little hydrogen around for the formation of new stars, the universe will grow duller and duller, colder and colder.</p><p>And then the protons, having been around since the beginning of the universe will start dying off, dissolving matter, leaving behind a universe of subatomic particles, unclaimed radiation…and black holes.</p>
The Black Hole era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjE0OTQ2MX0.ifwOQJgU0uItiSRg9z8IxFD9jmfXlfrw6Jc1y-22FuQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="103ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0e6a71dacf95ee780dd7a1eadde288d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1400" data-height="787" />
Image source: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock/Big Think<p> For a considerable length of time, black holes will dominate the universe, pulling in what mass and energy still remain. </p><p> Eventually, though, black holes evaporate, albeit super-slowly, leaking small bits of their contents as they do. Plait estimates that a small black hole 50 times the mass of the sun would take about 10<sup>68</sup> years to dissipate. A massive one? A 1 followed by 92 zeros. </p><p> When a black hole finally drips to its last drop, a small pop of light occurs letting out some of the only remaining energy in the universe. At that point, at 10<sup>92</sup>, the universe will be pretty much history, containing only low-energy, very weak subatomic particles and photons. </p>
The Dark Era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzg5OTEyMH0.AwiPRGJlGIcQjjSoRLi6V3g5klRYtxQJIpHFgZdZkuo/img.jpg?width=980" id="60c77" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a857fb7f0d85cf4a248dbb3350a6e1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Image source: Big Think<p>We can sum this up pretty easily. Lights out. Forever.</p>
Dr. Katie Mack explains what dark energy is and two ways it could one day destroy the universe.
- The universe is expanding faster and faster. Whether this acceleration will end in a Big Rip or will reverse and contract into a Big Crunch is not yet understood, and neither is the invisible force causing that expansion: dark energy.
- Physicist Dr. Katie Mack explains the difference between dark matter, dark energy, and phantom dark energy, and shares what scientists think the mysterious force is, its effect on space, and how, billions of years from now, it could cause peak cosmic destruction.
- The Big Rip seems more probable than a Big Crunch at this point in time, but scientists still have much to learn before they can determine the ultimate fate of the universe. "If we figure out what [dark energy is] doing, if we figure out what it's made of, how it's going to change in the future, then we will have a much better idea for how the universe will end," says Mack.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty