Avast! Thar be spoilers ahead!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Defense of Aliens

If there were aliens, why haven't they visited us yet? I hear this argument against sentient life on other planets from time to time and I simply do not understand it. This logic might work with time-travellers (that is a topic for a day when I have much more energy), but it doesn't make sense with aliens.

Somehow, maybe part fear and part low self-esteem, humans seem to think that if there are aliens, they should have already come and made contact. This presupposes that aliens are either smarter, more technologically advanced, or older than humans. Aliens would have to be so far advanced that they reached this technology a very long time ago. Despite how common terms like warp speed and hyperdrive, mass cannot travel at such a speed, let alone faster than the speed of light. The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light years(3.97*10^13 kilometers) away. The fastest thing man has ever built was the Helios 2 probe, which reached 252,792 km/h.

3.97*10^13 / 252,792 = 157,046,109 hours away. There are (about) 8,765.8 hours in a year.
157,046,109 / 8,765.8 = 17,915.776 years away.

Do you know how long ago 17,915.776 years is? It was during the most recent ice age. Now I am not saying that aliens necessarily travel as slowly as we do. As far as astronomers can tell by measuring shifts in the star's radial velocity, Proxima Centauri has no major planets and slim chance for life inside of its system. I give Proxima Centauri as an example because it is our closest neighbour. Any aliens would have to be travelling from even farther than that in space and time. A little patience if you please.

There are several other reasons, besides the time and space it would take to travel across galaxies. For starters, the aliens would have to have an interest in space exploration as well as the fuel and resources necessary to travel. Water is one of our biggest hindrances to prolonged space travel because we need so much of it and it is so very heavy. There is also fuel, food, aging, disease, lack of volunteers, etc. A small party might have started out and eventually become so annoyed with one another that they refused to procreate before getting anywhere near us. Somewhere out in space, there could be an alien spaceship with a few belligerent corpses who simply could not prolong their species enough to reach us. Or maybe they only sent out one sex (why should we be the only ones with sexism?) and failed to take into consideration what would happen if they got far away and still found nothing.

There are so many reasons why we haven't stepped foot on Mars. It would take an species a while to hammer out the kinks. And funding! A space program is a considerable tax on governments and economies. There is not much hope of returning any financial investments. Space exploration to blue-green planet to try to communicate with dolphins probably does not inspire confidence in potential investors.

Our alien bffs would also have to aim in the right direction. For all we know, some parts of the universe are littered with sentience. Why should they bother to get out to us if other places are more alluring? Why do we even think they have had a chance to take notice of us? Aside from ethologists, I doubt many aliens would have entertained the idea of a visit to Earth so long ago. A few thousand years ago we were not exactly Nobel Prize winners and pretentious artists. We were hungry, naked and cold apes with a severe balding problem trying to scratch out an existence and make a name for ourselves on the evolutionary greatest hits list.

The aliens might also need a certain amount of hostility and war to even build a space program. It took us WWII and the Nazi V2 rockets to even really get us started. Humans have barely made it to the moon, we haven't even crossed the asteroid belt. Heck, we haven't even been to the moon in a long time. My husband, Alex, has a theory that nearly the opposite is true. He believes that sentience and evolution come with a certain price, a disposition toward hostility. Aliens haven't come over for tea because life self-destructs too quickly for them to pop over for a cuppa.

There is also the possibility that, being so young a species and all, we just missed them. Maybe some museum going aliens came to visit a few of our scum ponds and continued on their holiday elsewhere. The window of our existence is tiny. We are such fragile things to expect the universe to take notice of us.

Finally, maybe some of those weirdo sci-fi writers figured got it right and we have been visited but the aliens have been incapable of communicating with us. We imagine humanoid, bipedal organisms that communicate through vocalizations and are roughly human sized, or at least are visible to us.

We assume so much about aliens it is almost as absurd as life itself.

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