Tag: Astrobiology

What Scientists Could Learn From Alien Hunters

 

February 10, 2020                           (wired.com)

• Astrobiologists use telescopes to seek biochemical evidence of microbes on other planets. SETI scientists use telescopes to look for intelligent beings’ technological signatures. Then there are those who believe that intelligent extraterrestrials are here, now, buzzing the skies of planet Earth. The respective members of these three groups of ‘alien hunters’ do not necessarily get along with one another. Their interactions demonstrate a concept that sociologists call “boundary-work”, e.g.: building fences and enforcing ideas about who counts as a scientist, and who doesn’t. This ‘boundary’, however, is subjectively based on social mores, social fears, and politics.

• People who find themselves on the outside of mainstream science often foster a sense of antagonism. But the line of demarcation as to what is ‘outside’ of mainstream science shifts with time. Science’s ideas about which ET-seeking methods are valid and which are ‘fringey’ have changed over the past few decades.

• In the early years, astrobiologists and SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, worked together. ‘Perhaps those microbes on a far-off planet evolved and built radio transmitters.’ But then their respective disciplines parted ways. In order to study the conditions of life on other planets, astrobiologists tend to study conditions on this planet – drilling into frozen lakes, doing lab experiments, studying geological evolution, researching our genetics. They use this data to determine which exoplanets have the best chance for evolving life forms. SETI, on the other hand, search for electromagnetic transmissions and signatures of technologies that are not yet understood.

• In the early 1970s, NASA and the National Academy of Sciences considered SETI an important component of the search for extraterrestrial lifeforms. Then politicians such as Senator Richard Proxmire denounced SETI as a wasteful, useless, and futile endeavor. Congressional funding of SETI’s ‘High-Resolution Microwave Survey’ in the early 1990s was cut-off in 1993. The National Science Foundation banned SETI projects from its funding portfolio. Grant opportunities dried up. NASA and mainstream astrobiologists began to distance themselves from SETI.

• In the 2000s, SETI turned to private investors like Paul Allen and Yuri Milner and became associated with searching for ‘little green men’ and UFOs. The mainstream considered SETI ‘laughable pseudo-research’ outside the bounds of proper science. At the same time, astrobiology became a “legitimate” science. Astrobiologist Sara Seager told Congress in 2013, “We’re not looking for aliens or searching for UFOs. We’re using standard astronomy.”

• But SETI scientists have been clawing their way back to legitimacy. In April 2018, Congress directed NASA to start including searches for “technosignatures” in its broader search for life beyond Earth. The House Appropriations Committee is deciding whether SETI’s work will be sanctioned in the 2020s.

• One thing that both “legitimate” astrobiologists and SETI have in common is that they both consider ufology silly. They keep their distance from anyone who believes in UFOs or an extraterrestrial presence. But for someone at SETI who imagines light-years-away microbes growing into sentient beings that broadcast radio waves and beam lasers, is it that much harder to imagine these beings traveling here to Earth?

• Mainstream academic researchers claim that virtually no hard UFO data exists beyond personal accounts. Ufology doesn’t explain how or why alien spaceships could or would come all the way here. Then there are the standard variety of banal explanations for bogus UFO sightings. Ufology is not science in the way SETI researchers do science.

• Greg Eghigian, a Penn State researcher, points out that “From the early-1950s through the 1970s, a number of academics took the study of UFOs seriously and regularly engaged with ufologists.” Back then the military had official UFO research programs, even though their conclusions usually amounted to “nothing to see here.” Those programs ended. The Air Force-sponsored 1968 ‘Condon Report’ concluded that studying UFOs was a waste of time, and UFO research was consigned to the fringes.

• In 1983, Thomas F. Gieryn published his paper: “Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science.” When researchers do ‘boundary-work’, they create and maintain lines around who qualifies as a scientist and who doesn’t, and what is and what is not science. In so doing, they bestow legitimacy onto themselves and deny it to others. But this can backfire on them. When the public perceives scientists arbitrarily establishing exclusive scientific authority, people themselves feel alienated, fostering conspiracy theories about the mainstream scientists’ true motives.

• Similar to anti-vaccination activists, GMO no-goers, and people who say climate change has nothing to do with people, many ufologists have decided that scholars and politicians are at best, narrow-minded or, at worst, engaged in a deliberate attempt to hide information.

• Psychologist Stuart Appelle wrote that ufology “is not simply rejected as a legitimate discipline, it is categorically dismissed.” Rejection suggests a conclusion based on close examination and careful reflection. But dismissal is a judgment that close examination is not warranted at all, which is not very scientific. This silencing is a form of ‘social stigmatization’.

• Adam Dodd, a communications instructor at the University of Queensland (in Australia) sees mainstream scientists’ dismissal of the UFO phenomenon as ‘saving face’ in order to maintain their reputation among their own peers. An example of this is when Stephen Hawking concluded that the absence of any evidence of aliens essentially equates with evidence of the absence of aliens. And therefore, for a ‘true scientist’, UFOs and aliens are not worthy of consideration.

• This ‘boundary-work’ by mainstream scientists is both frustrating and patronizing to UFO researchers who find themselves outside of the mainstream fence. They suspect a mainstream agenda is being formed against them. Ufologists become mistrustful of so-called ‘experts’, while the mainstream regards UFO followers as ‘cranks’. So they each band together to create an ‘us versus them’ scenario, and keep their distance from each other. Scientists cannot afford the professional consequences of being associated with fringe ufologists. As a consequence, science probably loses out on the ‘kernels of truth’ in the nut bin.

• The thing that both sides generally have in common is the desire to get to the truth. But with the elitist scientists’ blanket denial of all that is lumped together as ‘fringe conspiracy theories’, these ‘hard science’ practitioners also tend to ignore cultural knowledge, emotional knowledge, spiritual knowledge, and personal knowledge. Their plodding and myopic focus on hard science may slow the rate of scientific achievement.

• Today, mainstream science seems to be more willing to embrace SETI. In 2014, SETI astronomer Jill Tarter received radio astronomy’s highest honor, the Janksy Lectureship award. And this is slowly expanding into the field of ufology. The chair of the Harvard astronomy department has publically suggested that the ‘asteroid’ Oumuamua could be a visiting spaceship.

• A NASA scientist notes that both SETI and ufology are about ‘finding the signal in the noise’. There may be ‘signals’, however small, that indicate a phenomena associated with UFOs that cannot be explained or denied that should be taken into consideration. Rather than dismissing the research of a particular ‘fringe’ group outright, scientists might listen. If so, the reaction by the fringe might be to consider mainstream ‘expert’ analysis more. There can be important truths revealed from both sides of the spectrum.

 

Aliens—hypothetical beings from outer space—fall into roughly three categories. They could be far-away microbes or other creatures that don’t use technology humans can detect; they could be far-away creatures that use technology earthlings can identify; or they could be creatures that have used technology to come to Earth.

         Senator Richard Proxmire
          Sara Seager

Each of these categories has a different branch of research dedicated to it, and each one is probably less likely than the last to actually find something: Astrobiologists use telescopes to seek biochemical evidence of microbes on other planets. SETI scientists, on the other hand, use telescopes to look for hints of intelligent beings’ technological signatures as they beam through the cosmos. Investigating the idea that aliens have traveled here and have skimmed the air with spaceships, meanwhile, is the province of pseudoscientists. Or so the narrative goes.

Although these three groups have a common goal—answering the question “Are we alone?”—they don’t always get along. Their interactions demonstrate a concept that sociologists call “boundary-work”: designing and building fences around Legitimate Science, and enforcing ideas about who counts as a scientist, who doesn’t, and why. Those fences are supposed to defend science’s honor, demonstrate scientists’ objectivity, and uphold the profession’s standards. That’s good! We want that! But the fence posts also demarcate a boundary that isn’t objective but is, in fact, a function of time, location, culture, social mores, social fears, and politics. The enforcement of this sometimes-shifting boundary can send people who find

     Greg Eghigian

themselves on the outside further away from mainstream science, fostering a sense of antagonism and slighted outsiderism. The history of hunting aliens is a good way to understand those unintended consequences of boundary-work in other disciplines. Because even though none of the groups actually knows, or has gained access to, whatever ET truth is out there, science’s ideas about which ET-seeking methods are valid and which are fringey have changed over the past few decades.

Astrobiology v. SETI

   Thomas F. Gieryn

In the early years of astrobiology and SETI, the two groups worked more side by side than they later would. After all, they just existed at different locations on a spectrum: Maybe microbes arose on a far-off planet, and maybe those microbes evolved and built radio transmitters. Astrobiology technically just means the study of life in the universe. But that encompasses a lot: Astrobiologists look into questions like how life started, how it evolved, and what environments can support it. To study these questions, scientists can gather data on this planet, drilling into frozen lakes, doing lab experiments involving the chemistry of early Earth, studying geological evolution on Mars, or gaining a better understanding of genetics to get a better sense of what alternatives might exist to our own DNA. They also investigate what life might look like on another world, whether it has existed on other solar-system planets, and how to pick out a habitable or perhaps inhabited exoplanet from astronomical data.

         Stuart Appelle

SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, falls logically within the scope of astrobiology. But this search, usually for electromagnetic transmissions, is more speculative, since it deals less explicitly with the kinds of chemistry, geology, physics, and biology we can observe in the solar system—and so perhaps beyond—and instead seeks signatures of technology whose nature we don’t yet, and may never, know.

          Adam Dodd

Still, NASA initially supported both sorts of searches (although it called astrobiology “exobiology”). The venerable National Academy of Sciences, in its 1972 recommendations for the search for life beyond the solar system, listed SETI as an important component of exobiology, stating that “SETI investigations are among the most far-reaching efforts underway in exobiology today.” Trouble bubbled up between the groups, though, after SETI became the object of political ire. The search for smart aliens had already proven to be a favorite football for politicians, a frequent contender for cancelation—because of the low probability of success, the speculation required, and the money that they said could be better spent on Earth. For instance, in 1978, Senator Richard Proxmire awarded the nascent project his infamous Golden Fleece Award, for wasting government funds on what he considered a useless, futile endeavor. In the early 1990s, NASA finally began its first SETI observations, part of the project that had been on the drawing board when Proxmire mocked it: then called the High-Resolution Microwave Survey. But the year after the survey began, in 1993, Congress shut down the program.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

 

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. ExoNews.org distributes this material for the purpose of news reporting, educational research, comment and criticism, constituting Fair Use under 17 U.S.C § 107. Please contact the Editor at ExoNews with any copyright issue.

This is How NASA Should Hunt Space For Aliens and UFOs

by Sebastian Kettley                  October 15, 2018                     (express.co.uk)

• Seventeen scientists representing the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) have released a report urging NASA to focus all future missions on the hunt for astrobiological alien life. The report was mandated by the U.S. Congress.

• The report argues that growing public interest in life outside of Earth will dictate the course of NASA’s research in the “coming decade”. The report reads: “In the three years since publication of NASA’s Astrobiology Strategy 2015, significant scientific, technological and programmatic advances in the quest for life beyond earth have taken place.” “Scientific advances have revolutionised fields of astrobiological study, ranging from results from missions focused on exoplanets, such as Kepler, to continuing discovery from existing planetary missions.”

• NASA’s astrobiologists have primarily looked at candidates for life in the solar system so far, such as Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. In recent years, NASA has found evidence of complex organic molecules in Martian rock, water plumes Saturn’s moon Enceladus and even icy deposits of water on our Moon. But an ever-growing list of exoplanets discovered far out beyond the borders of our corner of space have expanded the potential number of worlds where life could exist.

• Scientists are now hoping to unravel the mysteries of how life begins in the first place and whether these exoplanets have the right conditions for live to thrive. “Evidence from major transitions in environmental conditions from early Earth to today, and an understanding of how they occurred, is critical for the search for life.”

• The new report comes in contrast to NASA’s recent efforts to hunt the universe for signs of alien technosignatures – artificially created evidence of life in space such as radio signals – as opposed to biosignatures.

 

NASA should focus all future missions on the hunt for astrobiological alien life, top scientists have urged in a new report.

Seventeen scientists representing the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) believe the hunt for alien life is paramount.

In a report mandated by the US Congress, the 17 experts claimed astrobiology needs to be at the forefront of NASA’s research in space.

The scientists labelled astrobiology a “field of rapid change” where technological and scientific progress is advancing the quest to discover alien life.

Their report reads: “In the three years since publication of NASA’s Astrobiology Strategy 2015, significant scientific, technological and programmatic advances in the quest for life beyond earth have taken place.

“Scientific advances have revolutionised fields of astrobiological study, ranging from results from missions focused on exoplanets, such as Kepler, to continuing discovery from existing planetary missions.”

The report further argued growing public interest in astrobiology and life outside of Earth will dictate the course of NASA’s research in the “coming decade”.

Astrobiology is the study of the origins, development and spread of life throughout the universe.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

 

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. ExoNews.org distributes this material for the purpose of news reporting, educational research, comment and criticism, constituting Fair Use under 17 U.S.C § 107. Please contact the Editor at ExoNews with any copyright issue.

How Would We Recognize an Alien if We Actually Saw One?

by Samuel Levin               October 10, 2018                 (aeon.co)

• Astrobiology – the study of life on other planets – has grown from a fringe sub-discipline of biology, chemistry and astronomy to a leading interdisciplinary field, attracting researchers from top institutions across the globe, and large sums of money from both NASA and private funders. But what exactly are astrobiologists looking for? Would they even recognize an alien being?

• Under Darwin’s theory of ‘natural selection’, we can expect an extraterrestrial being to have reached that place in its development naturally through survival and reproduction. This combination of complex design (to better survive) and apparent purpose (to reproduce), also known as ‘adaptedness’, defines life. Entities are designed to fit their surroundings. The organism’s ‘design’ variation is always improving over the generations, which allows for ‘design to appear without a designer’.

• If alien development wasn’t ruled by natural selection, the aliens wouldn’t be able to cope with changes on their planet, and so would disappear before we found them. Therefore, aliens must be the product of natural selection, following certain Darwinian rules to produce only certain kinds of organisms. Thus, astrobiologists can use the theory of natural selection and the mathematics of evolution to make predictions about alien development.

[Editor’s Note]  On the other hand, what if the biggest game in the universe was genetic experimentation to create endless types of beings? What if technologically advanced ‘creators’ have simply adapted a humanoid “star template”, i.e.: a head, torso, two arms and two legs, as a practical template for the vast majority of intelligent beings? And what if these created intelligent humanoid beings were scattered all over the galaxy/universe already? What if Earth humans were unremarkable – a common entity throughout the galaxy, and were even at the lower end of the intellectual, technological and spiritual development scale? Or what if the different Earth human races were the descendants of various refugee groups from other worlds?  What if Darwin’s ‘natural selection’ had nothing to do with human or alien development, but these attributes were indeed ‘given’ to us not by natural selection but by ‘purposeful creation’ in order to survive in a particular environment? Once we have shed our belief that we are the only intelligent beings alive in the universe – having evolved ‘naturally’ from the planet’s primordial ooze, an entirely new universal paradigm of ‘creative evolution’ will be revealed to us as we raise our collective consciousness. It’s coming folks, so hold onto your hats.

 

What would convince you that aliens existed? The question came up recently at a conference on astrobiology, held at Stanford University in California. Several ideas were tossed around – unusual gases in a planet’s atmosphere, strange heat gradients on its surface. But none felt persuasive. Finally, one scientist offered the solution: a photograph. There was some laughter and a murmur of approval from the audience of researchers: yes, a photo of an alien would be convincing evidence, the holy grail of proof that we’re not alone.

But why would a picture be so convincing? What is it that we’d see that would tell us we weren’t just looking at another pile of rocks? An alien on a planet orbiting a distant star would be wildly exotic, perhaps unimaginably so. What, then, would give it away as life? The answer is relevant to our search for extraterrestrials, and what we might expect to find.

Astrobiology – the study of life on other planets – has grown from a fringe sub-discipline of biology, chemistry and astronomy to a leading interdisciplinary field, attracting researchers from top institutions across the globe, and large sums of money from both NASA and private funders. But what exactly is it that astrobiologists are looking for? How will we know when it’s time to pop the Champagne?

One thing that sets life apart from nonlife is its apparent design. Living things, from the simplest bacteria to the great redwoods, have vast numbers of intricate parts working together to make the organism function. Think of your hands, heart, spleen, mitochondria, cilia, neurons, toenails – all collaborating in synchrony to help you navigate, eat, think and survive. The most beautiful natural rock formations lack even a tiny fraction of the myriad parts of a single bacterial cell that coordinate to help it divide and reproduce.

And living things, unlike dirt and wind, appear to be trying to do things – eat, grow, survive, reproduce. If you’ve ever tried to squish a resilient bug, you know that it doesn’t require a complex mind for an organism to appear to want to survive. Or for a squirrel to ‘want’ to jump from one branch to the next. Or for a plant to ‘try’ to reach towards the Sun and soak up nutrients from the soil. Not only do living things have many intricate parts, but all of those parts have the same, common purpose ¬– survival and reproduction. This combination of complex design and apparent purpose, also known as adaptedness, defines life. When we look at that photo of an alien, it’s exactly this adaptedness that would make us go: ‘Aha!’ We would see, clearly, the difference between a disappointing pile of rocks and an exciting alien – design. This is good news, because there’s only one way to get such design: natural selection.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

 

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. ExoNews.org distributes this material for the purpose of news reporting, educational research, comment and criticism, constituting Fair Use under 17 U.S.C § 107. Please contact the Editor at ExoNews with any copyright issue.

Copyright © 2019 Exopolitics Institute News Service. All Rights Reserved.