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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The British government welcomes our new insect overlords

It’s a mystery no longer: the aliens are out there, and we are about to meet them. To be precise, we'll find life on Mars in the year 2015, and life in other solar systems in 2020.

These daring predictions, largely but not altogether tongue-in-cheek, were made by a panel of astronomers in London this morning at a round-table discussion with the UK science minister Malcolm Wicks, titled “Is there life out there? Other Earth-like or Habitable planets.”

Why would the British government be taking an interest in aliens? I entertained the hope of hearing some charmingly ruritanian pronouncement, perhaps claiming for her Majesty a slice of the possibly habitable super-Earth discovered this year.

Of course it was a much more sensible affair, briefing the minister on the search for life in space – for example what is meant by a habitable zone, and how remarkable it is that we can spot planets around other stars at all, given that space is big.

Then came a straw poll of the astronomers: is there life beyond Earth, and is any of it intelligent? Six out of seven answered Yes and Yes.

The dissenter, Michael Perryman of the European Space Agency, only doubted the intelligent bit, on the grounds that Earth’s circumstances are so special.

So where and when will we see some of this extraterrestrial life? It depends which mission you’re working on…

Ian Stevens, of Birmingham University’s extrasolar planets group, says the first hard evidence of alien life could come from Darwin (artist's impression above), a European mission to directly observe extrasolar planets and analyse their light for chemical signatures of life. Darwin is scheduled to go up in 2018, so it could have found life by 2020.

John Zarnecki thinks that another European mission could beat them to it. In 2015, Exomars should land on Mars and dig down a couple of metres below the hostile surface, perhaps reaching a level where martian bugs can live.

Which is all very encouraging, as long as the natives are friendly.

Stephen Battersby, space correspondent

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Can't say I get too excited about the prospect of discovering microbes on Mars. Unless they are significantly different from those we find on Earth, their discovery won't add much to the sum total of human knowledge.

In fact, chances are good that their biology will be very similar to Earth organisms because at some time in the past, either Earth or Mars (doesn't matter which) may have been seeded by microbes from the other planet. So we may travel to Mars looking for alien life and find instead ourselves.

Europe's Darwin project (to discover and analyse extrasolar planets) is, on the other hand, hugely exciting because it offers a revolutionary new way to answer the question of whether there is other intelligent life out there.

Unlike SETI, which relies on intelligent civilizations broadcasting radio signals for us to find, Darwin may be able to detect planets with thriving industrial civilizations by looking for the pollutants in the atmosphere. Who knows, they might even discover a planet in the throes of an alien-made greenhouse crisis (but one could certainly question whether that counted as proof of intelligence).
By Anonymous on June 06, 2007 12:03 AM  
Holy ****! they are already here!, they are softening us to the idea.
By Anonymous on June 06, 2007 10:26 PM  
Concerning "they" may already be here I suspect they are and people are largely ignoring a phenomena that should have been studied intensely a long time ago but people have made it a taboo out of their ignorance since not everyone expirences the same thing. However I would refrain from labling these things even extra solar or extra terresterial. They could even be extra-dimensional but do display physical properties but also violate them. Even with other countries having problems with these things scanning their bases and out running and playing games with their f16's not to mention fiddling with women and genetic expirments. I am seriously in question of their ethics. It is frightening because if it turns out to be something where they come eventualy and dominate us, their ethics could dominate over ours. That is not a good thing but then not everyones ethics are all that great anyways. Some of the phenomena is physical some of it is not. Some indication of manipulation of physics in our dimension as we know it but then agian we don't under stand all the physics in our dimension. However I have also expirenced God and feel that He is most likely extra-dimensional and far superior to even "them." I am very excited about the possibility of finding organisms on mars or even other planets and have been following new discoveries of planets out side of our solar system. Our new tools just keep on getting better. Got to love inventing and innovation. fun fun fun.
By Anonymous on June 07, 2007 2:37 PM  
they is here, they is!!! i seen them with my on two eys!
By Anonymous on June 13, 2007 12:38 PM