Why search for life in outer space?

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Figure 1: A gamma ray and neutron detector on board Dawn was used to determine the elements in the subsurface of the dwarf planet. It found water on the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Earth and Mars. Ceres. Credit: LA Times

In a recent LA Times news item it was reported that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft mission found life’s building blocks on the dwarf planet Ceres.1  However, the reality is that all that was found are possibly some biochemical molecules, molecules that are pre-cursor molecules to form the more complex chemistry in living cells.

Organic molecules are carbon based molecules and the chemistry of life is a special subset of those but from the spacecraft data no biochemical molecules were identified.  Those would be molecules like carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.

The news item reports that this new spacecraft

… using its Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer instrument, … has spotted organics lying on the surface.1

That is the only real fact in the report, that organic molecules of some sort have been found on Ceres.

While the scientists aren’t sure exactly what the compounds are, the fingerprint is characteristic of material containing carbon-hydrogen bonds, and may include components like methyl and methylene.(emphasis added)

But they don’t even know what the molecules are, and the research is hyped up in hope that scientists may find life–even just microbes–living on worlds other than our own.

We can now add this dwarf planet Ceres to other ‘space rocks’ that have been so hyped in the past few years in the quest to find life out there in the solar system. Examples are Mars,2 Enceladus (the sixth-largest moon of Saturn),3 Titan (the largest moon of Saturn),4,5 Europa (one of the 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter),6 and the asteroids.7 Continue reading

The movie “Arrival”

arrivalposterRecently I watched the 2016 movie “Arrival“. It depicts the story of the arrival, at twelve separate locations around the earth, of twelve mysterious spacecraft. The key character, a linguistics professor, Louise Banks is seconded by the military to interpret the language of alien visitors.

The movie is based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (1998).1 It was directed by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.

Here is the trailer from Paramount Pictures:

The 7-foot tall aliens, heptapods,2 which look something like octopuses with 7 tentacles and a human hand, are depicted as enormously technologically advanced on humans. Their 7 tentacles each have 7 tendrils, out of the centre of which they eject an ink-like substance. Remember octopuses produce a black ink like substance. (And you might ask why all the 7’s. It’s science fiction after all.)

Alien language and perception of time

These alien heptapods use a vocal communication that is unpronounceable by humans (classified as Heptapod A), but, as professor Banks discovers, they also have a written script (Heptapod B), which can be dissected and interpreted. But strangely enough the vocal and writing components are unrelated, in the sense that Heptapod B does not represent sound. Heptapod B is written with the ink-like substance they eject from their tendrils and they are able to manipulate it in space to form the characters of Heptapod B.

We are told that a deep understanding of their language can induce a non-linear perception of time in those who learn it. This idea is where it really gets crazy.arrival_2016_heptapod_and_doctor

The story introduces the concept of when one learns a new language, one also learns to think the same way that the producers of that language think–the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis–because one’s brain is rewired to think that way.

Then, with this new perception of time, time-like loops are introduced (really time paradoxes) where, because the professor experiences (in her thoughts or perception) the future, she gets knowledge (of future events) that she then uses to determine the future events she perceives.

The concept here of our perception of time does have some basis in real physics. It is still an open question of why do we remember the past and not the future. That might sound strange to some but most of the laws of physics are time reversible. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, where entropy never decreases in a closed system, but generally increases, is an exception and the primary reason we always perceive the forward arrow of time.

However, for particle physics (including electromagnetism) there is no preference to which way time flows. Physicists call this a symmetry. And in this movie this is highlighted by the name, Hannah, of the yet to be conceived daughter of Prof. Banks, about whom she experiences future memories. The word “HannaH” is a palindrome–a sequence of letters or characters that can be read either forward or backward and produce the same word.

arrival-movie-symbolsHeptapod B is written in a circular way and is palindromic. At least that is what I understood it was intended to be. Looking at one of the alien sentences (on the right) it does not seem to have reversible symmetry, in the structures that form their words (spiky bits that stick out), though, of course, a circle is not linear in one sense as it is represented on a plane.

Of course, this story is just that, a story and total fiction. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining one.  Continue reading

Materialists believe in dark unseen life

Awhile ago I wrote about Lisa Randall, Professor of Science at Harvard University, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, who proposed that the dinosaurs went extinct due to the actions of unseen dark matter.¹ There now appears again an article in the popular science magazine Nautilus with the title “Does Dark Matter Harbor Life? An invisible civilization could be living right under your nose.”² It would appear to be excerpted from Randall’s book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs. In the article Randall asserts that we may, in fact, be kind of racist against dark matter, well, at least, we are biased towards ordinary matter, where, she claims, in fact, that dark matter is the stuff that holds galaxies together so it is really important stuff.

The common assumption is that dark matter is the “glue” that holds together galaxies and galaxy clusters, but resides only in amorphous clouds around them. But what if this assumption isn’t true and it is only our prejudice—and ignorance, which is after all the root of most prejudice—that led us down this potentially misleading path?

People in foreign relations make a mistake when they lump together another country’s cultures—assuming they don’t exhibit the diversity of societies that is evident in our own. Just as a good negotiator doesn’t assume the primacy of one sector of society over another when attempting to place the different cultures on equal footing, an unbiased scientist shouldn’t assume that dark matter isn’t as interesting as ordinary matter and necessarily lacks a diversity of matter similar to our own.² (emphasis added)

randall-article

Illustration by Jackie Ferrentino from Nautilus article, representing (I assume) dark life.

She goes on to promote the possibility of dark life, invisible creatures living on dark planets around dark stars in dark parts of galaxies. She suggests dark matter may be much more than just amorphous matter, but have a rich life with dark forces and therefore this implies a dark invisible universe of creatures we cannot detect. Sure sounds like good material for a sci-fi story.

Partially interacting dark matter certainly makes for fertile ground for speculation and encourages us to consider possibilities we otherwise might not have. Writers and moviegoers especially would find a scenario with such additional forces and consequences in the dark sector very enticing. They would probably even suggest dark life coexisting with our own. In this scenario, rather than the usual animated creatures fighting other animated creatures or on rare occasions cooperating with them, armies of dark matter creatures could march across the screen and monopolize all the action.

But this wouldn’t be too interesting to watch. The problem is that cinematographers would have trouble filming this dark life, which is of course invisible to us—and to them. Even if the dark creatures were there (and maybe they have been) we wouldn’t know. You have no idea how cute dark matter life could be—and you almost certainly never will.

Though it’s entertaining to speculate about the possibility of dark life, it’s a lot harder to figure out a way to observe it—or even detect its existence in more indirect ways. It’s challenging enough to find life made up of the same stuff we are, though extrasolar planet searches are under way and trying hard. But the evidence for dark life, should it exist, would be far more elusive even than the evidence for ordinary life in distant realms.

Dark objects or dark life could be very close—but if the dark stuff’s net mass isn’t very big, we wouldn’t have any way to know. Even with the most current technology, or any technology that we can currently imagine, only some very specialized possibilities might be testable. “Shadow life,” exciting as that would be, won’t necessarily have any visible consequences that we would notice, making it a tantalizing possibility but one immune to observations. In fairness, dark life is a tall order. Science-fiction writers may have no problem creating it, but the universe has a lot more obstacles to overcome. Out of all possible chemistries, it’s very unclear how many could sustain life, and even among those that could, we don’t know the type of environments that would be necessary.² (emphasis added)

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Did aliens hack the Voyager 2 space probe in 2010?

I don’t know how I missed this news item back from 2010! Then NASA reported a single bit-flip error occurred in Voyager 2’s software code used to communicate with Earth. That sounds pretty mundane in today’s IT savvy world where we are all used to software errors and corrupt code.

Artist's concept of Voyager in flight.

Artist’s concept of Voyager 2 in flight.

But sometime the corruption of code is due to deliberate interference. Hackers hack into computers everyday for fun or more nefarious reasons. In this instance several scientists suggested that the on-board computer was hacked by an alien race (from another star system) who were trying to communicate with us.

But note the Voyager 2 space craft at that time was nearly about to cross over into what we would call interstellar space. It was about to leave the solar system in 2010 at a distance of 90 times the distance between the sun and the earth. That is about 8.6 billion miles or about 14 billion kms. That means it takes a light signal nearly 13 hours, travelling at nearly 300,000 km/s, to travel from the space probe to Earth. For NASA to send and receive a signal that would take twice that time, nearly 26 hours. It is certainly at a distance where one can easily discount any Earth based hacker.

The following is excerpted an online news item from 6 years ago and is typical of the several available.1

NASA space probe Voyager 2, which left earth 33 years ago, may have been hijacked by aliens who are now trying to make contact with earth according to a German academic.

The craft, which is 8.6 billion miles from earth on the very edge of the solar system, has been sending back data ever since it was launched – until last month when it briefly stopped transmitting before starting to send strange messages that scientists cannot decipher.

German academic Hartwig Hausdorf believes the change could be down to extraterrestrials. He says that because the rest of the spacecraft is still working normally there may be more to the cryptic messages than meets the eye.

“It seems almost as if someone has reprogrammed or hijacked the probe,” he told German newspaper Bild. “Thus perhaps we do not yet know the whole truth.”

NASA was much more circumspect stating that they believe it was due to this one corrupt bit of code. That may have occurred due to radiation in space or impact by a highly energetic particle which flipped the bit. Continue reading

Aliens are all around us?

With the rapid development of space technology, mankind has accelerated its search for extraterrestrial life, especially intelligent life. This has even spawned a new branch of science—astrobiology (lit. ‘star-life-study’)—despite not a shred of evidence for such life being found in some 50 years of searching. With advances in space-based telescopes, like Kepler, it is widely hoped this situation will soon change.

What is behind this belief in alien life evolving on other planets around other star systems?

It is the rejection of the Creator.

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Professor Caleb Scharf says our world and universe beyond are the remains of intelligent alien life. Credit: calebscharf.com

This means one must explain life on Earth as having arisen spontaneously (and therefore, the reasoning goes, it must also have done so elsewhere in the universe, many millions of times).

But as famous evolutionist (and astrobiologist) Paul Davies has reminded us in a recent Scientific American article,1 leading evolutionists had in past decades opposed this idea of ‘ETs everywhere’.

Why? Because they had faced up to the nigh-insuperable difficulty of trying to imagine a way to have the information systems of reproducing life evolve from raw chemistry.

Continue reading

SETI really?

Astronomers involved in a Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have spent at least 50 years looking into the heavens for a signal from some intelligent source.1 But really it seems to be more like YETI, meaning Yearning for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.2

Man does seem to have this innate desire to connect with some intelligent life other than here on Earth. Why is that? Possibly because God instilled in us the desire to connect with Him. We were created in the image of God and we yearn to connect with an Intelligence beyond us. But sin and hardened hearts have nullified our connection with the Creator and as a result I believe the unregenerate misinterpret that God-connectedness with the belief that intelligent life must exist elsewhere in the Universe.

So much so several large telescopes have been dedicated to the purpose of searching the heavens, particularly around stars with similar properties to our sun. One such radio telescope is the Allen Telescope Array as shown in Fig. 1. The SETI Institute sought private funds for an instrument that could be dedicated to searching the heavens, and in 2001 Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) agreed to personally fund the technology development and first phase of implementation, culminating in the construction of 42 antennas. In October 2007 the array began commissioning tests and initial observations.3

allen-array

Figure 1: Radio telescopes of the Allen Telescope Array at Hat Creek, California (USA). Credit: AP

Astronomers like those at the SETI Institute are hoping to find an Earth 2.0, like recently claimed,4 but with life, even intelligent life that could send a radio communication signal.1 They assume that life evolved once on Earth so why not elsewhere on similar planets in the Universe since there must be billions of them.5 That’s their reasoning anyway.

The detection

On August 29th 2016 an online news report was published titled “SETI has observed a ‘strong’ signal that may originate from a Sun-like star”.6 A radio telescope, the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, in southern Russia (Fig. 2), which is used in the SETI program, sometime in 2015, detected an 11 GHz microwave signal from a location in the direction of the star HD164595. It was hoped that this was one of those otherworldly intelligent creatures reaching out and as a result it was reported that “there is considerable excitement”6 over this new signal. According to the news report:6 Continue reading

The cosmos might be mostly devoid of life

That is the headline of an articlewritten by the British-Australian theoretical physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies in the September 2016 Issue of the Scientific American magazine. Wow! Finally the evolutionists are waking up. This is what biblical creationists have been saying for decades. What an admission from probably the most popular level ‘science’ magazine and a leading promoter of the evolutionary paradigm.

SCIAM 2016 Sept Issue image

Image from Paul Davies article in SCIAM 2016 September Issue. The image represents the search of mankind in the cosmos for other sources of life. Credit: Tim Bower

Davies article is subtitled “We still have no idea how easy it is for life to arise—and it may be incredibly difficult.” Actually the Creator told us a long time ago, in the Bible, how it was done and it took a Creator God to do it so we might reasonably infer that it is not easy to do. Since then mankind has discovered the science of genetics and we now know it is incredibly complex (that is an understatement from a non-specialist). Just look through all the peer-reviewed journals on the origin of first life on Earth 3.8 billion years ago. Yeah right! — that’s the problem, there aren’t any!

On the alleged evolution of life Charles Darwin was clueless thinking it was like mixing paint; just add blue and yellow and you’ll get green. His notion was that simple organisms could add new information as the need arose, just add the right pre-biotic soup ingredients and hey presto! But genetics has now told us that it is just not that simple. And that does not even touch on the problem of the first life–the origin of living organisms from lifeless chemistry.2

Paul Davies thus writes that when he

“… was a student in the 1960s, almost all scientists believed we are alone in the universe. The search for intelligent life beyond Earth was ridiculed; one might as well have professed an interest in looking for fairies.”

And that the origin of life that gave rise to all organisms on Earth

“… was widely assumed to have been a chemical fluke of such incredibly low probability it would never have happened twice.”

Even the famous Nobel laureate who co-discovered the DNA helix Sir Francis Crick is quoted as saying back then:

“The origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle” … “so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”

Continue reading