Monday, June 7, 2021

Do Aliens Exist?

Painting by David Huggins

As vast as the universe is, I think it's quite likely some kind of alien organisms exist on another planet. If we want to narrow our criteria down to single-cell organisms, that greatly increases the possibility—some bacteria and archaea can live in very "extreme" or inhospitable environments—so-called extremophiles. These organisms can be found to inhabit the depths of the earth's crust, the deep ocean, extreme levels of acidity and alkalinity, extreme hot and cold environments, toxic waste, etc.

The point being is that unicellular lifeforms can evolve to become highly adaptive to niches that most multicellular organisms could never tolerate. Cyanobacteria in particular can thrive in a diverse range of environments. The same for fungi—including the multicellular variants.

A planet can certainly be too inhospitable for these ecological niches to form in the first place, but it's thought that Mars once had a stronger atmosphere that would have rendered it closer to earth in terms of habitability, and the same could hold true for many a planet. Extremophiles could have formed in the coldest ecologies prior to the planet being unable to support the burgeoning of new life, perhaps even lying dormant in permafrost.

However, I think most people are probably not terribly excited by the prospect of "lower" forms of life being out there; sure, they would be excited if a simple organism were found on mars, but finding any kind of life suggests there is a greater diversity of organisms to be found, perhaps more complex ones. Most people really want to find something humanoid, intelligent, and, most of all, relatable. Why? Probably out of sheer curiosity, some existential itch that needs to be scratched, to understand more about the universe, or to have sex with the aliens... I'm not kidding. "Sexy aliens" are very common in pop culture. Pornography of such encounters would probably be circulated within a blackmarket before casually being uploaded on Pornhub. 

There very well might be aliens of the more intelligent type out there, but so far we can only speak of probability pertaining to a complex topic rather than anything close to certainty. For what it's worth, I think there is the potential for other lifeforms similar to mammals on earth somewhere in the universe—whether they still exist, are now extinct, or will soon (relatively speaking) come to be.

Additionally, some other animals on earth are even quite intelligent, like dolphins, but they evolved in such a fashion that they couldn't manipulate tools or interact with the world in the same way that humans—or even non-human primates—could. 

One critique of the "little gray/green men" that are often depicted as aliens is that they are too similar to humans. Aliens from a different world should have much different selection pressures than earth would, even if they are "earth-like." 

Many of the strange quirks of the depicted aliens—such as the gray alien who is the subject of the Roswell autopsy hoax footage—could even be similar to what you would see from a human with rare chromosomal disorders and combinations of other conditions. If we ever confirmed some kind of living creature resembling what was found in the Roswell autopsy footage, I would immediately assume it was the result of some grotesque experiment on human fetuses, perhaps crossed with the DNA of other animals, long before I would ever think it was a captured alien. There are some researchers who think aliens might look quite similar to humans, though. 

If selection pressures are unlikely to create anything similar to a human, then perhaps some aliens may be bestowed with a form that leaves them unfit for interstellar travel, or even conquering their world, as humans have. 

Dolphins appear to be living a good life. They have no need to build or expand into new frontiers. What more do they need? Their only real problem is that humans have advanced, leading to dolphins being hunted and their territories being polluted. If humans had not come to dominate the world as they did, then the life of dolphins would be as close to perfect as you can get.

Perhaps primates are one of the few lifeforms to have any hope of changing the world so drastically, and regardless of capability, they may be the only one with the drive to do so. There is the possibility of other physiological configurations with the same potential, but we have never witnessed such a creature. Of course, an alien could also have a humanoid form and hands or something hand-like to allow them to manipulate objects. We may never know.

It's also entirely possible planet earth is the only planet with life. Other planets (or even moons or other astronomical bodies) may have been close, but not enough. 

It should be stated that most who are optimistic about alien life tend to omit any information suggesting aliens might not exist or are far less abundant than we would have previously thought.

Update: The above paragraph was written based on my misconception about whether or not astronomers believed most stars were part of a multiple star system. As is explained here, it was widely believed for a long period of time that the majority of stars had companions—as many as 80%!—and single star systems were rare. This belief seems to have held until sometime in the 1990s. In the milky way galaxy, 2/3rds of stars are thought to be single, and 1/3rd are binary or greater.

There are reasons to believe it is difficult to find habitable planets within multiple star systems, so the former arrangement being true greatly strengthens the arguments of those who are skeptical about alien life existing or interacting with our solar system. It appears that the current view actually gives more support to the "believer" than the "skeptic."

There are still astronomers and various astronomy-related sources (for example) that either share my misconception, or this subject is far more contentious within the field of astronomy than is being properly conveyed in popular science articles. It's not clear how many stars in the universe are multiple star systems, but a lot of this information is based on models that may probably turn out to be inaccurate, so I'd suggest taking many of these findings with a grain of salt.

Some astronomers have posited that all stars began as binary star systems, including our own. Astronomy is a very theoretical field, but there is a lot of speculation about how binary (and triplet) star systems form—and whether or not a binary star system can transition into a single star system. Statistical analyses seem to indicate most—if not all—stars began as binary systems. Who knows if it's really more like 50% or 20% or if their models are even accurate. Multiple scientists have had similar results, and to lend credence to the hypothesis, young stars that are found tend to be part of a binary system. If true, this has serious implications for how galaxies and solar systems form.

The stars of Binary star systems are often depicted as being right next to each other, but they can be as far apart as 500-1,000 AU—1 AU is the distance between the sun and the earth—about 93,000,000 miles. Supposedly, about half of binary stars are separated by 1,000 AU or more. You would think with such distance, planets could orbit one of the stars in a stable fashion, but the other stars can affect their orbit quite a bit—either having a more elongated orbit or ejecting them from the system. It really sounds like most binary systems will be too unstable to support life. Yes, the planets can enjoy a comfortable temperature and orbit similar to the earth—but just because it has found the "sweet spot," doesn't mean it won't be disrupted.

Some articles place binary star systems in a more positive light for habitation. [1]

As was mentioned in the update above, multiple star systems are numerous enough to impact the likelihood of alien encounters, but probably not so numerous as to make a huge difference for the formation of life. If it's true that stars start as part of a multiple star system, and these systems tend to be less habitable than a single star system, then these stars would have been delayed from forming viable solar systems. 

However, as can be witnessed from the many contradictions and uncertainties pondered upon in this article alone... we really can't say for sure. Science rapidly changes as we accumulate more information, but astronomy is so speculative that it might as well be science fiction; that's an exaggeration, but people really cling to the words of these astrophysicists and astronomers like the information being presented is more certain than it really is. 

Since multiple star systems are probably (Who knows?) far less abundant than I originally thought they were, it'd be good to touch upon the most abundant star, and its deficiencies for life. Red dwarf stars are the most common kind of star—possibly amounting to as much as 70% of milky way stars. I've also seen estimates of 80% and higher. 

These red dwarf stars have a low mass, and it's thought that the photons will not be strong enough to sustain plant life for quite a few of the ones that appear relatively habitable. Perhaps simpler organisms would be possible, but without much oxygen, more complex lifeforms are unlikely, based on what we know from earth, and the lack of any apparent life on the surfaces of other planets that we've observed.

The universe is supposedly 14 billion years old, and red dwarf stars are thought to survive for as long as 100 billion years. This means that these stars are mostly quite young, and so they have powerful magnetic fields, releasing devastating solar flares and solar winds that can destroy a planet's atmosphere.

Get too close and the planet is bombarded with the intense radiation of solar flares, and too far will mean the dimness of the star will result in a frigid wasteland.

Orbit, spin, and proximity to the star are all a number of factors making determining whether or not a planet will be a good candidate for life far more complex as well.

The majority of locations that appear habitable may only support simple organisms or will be disrupted before any organisms can form at all. The more you look at it, the more you realize how slim the pickings are, and sustaining life is based on sheer luck.

Who is to say a great race couldn't form on a particular planet, with far more potential than humans, only to get snuffed out like a candle—their planet hurtling off into an ice age?

The pessimists on the alien questions have a pretty good case against the optimists. Even if the optimists are right, life seems to be so rare and spread apart, the chances of humans stumbling across another alien life form may be nil.

However... I think all of this speculation is ultimately a moot point and irrelevant to the topic at hand—that is, whether UFOs and other alleged phenomena are related to aliens. There is a lot of postulating about aliens being the source of UFOs, but all we have to assume that would be nothing but fun sci-fi concepts and theoretical physics and astronomy.

There doesn't appear to be a lot of substantive evidence for faster than light speed travel, worm holes, warp drives... really anything that could allow aliens to traverse the universe quickly, and the universe is massive. Maybe there is an alien rocket (or something more sophisticated) out there that is vastly superior to what we currently have, but we should put that into perspective first.

Proxima Centauri, the closest star outside of our solar system, is 268,770 AU away, which is a very long number in km or mi. Voyager 1 is supposed to be moving at a speed close to 35,000 mph, and is estimated to take 73,714 years to reach the closest star. The Parker Solar Probe is supposed to be able to reach speeds of 430,000 mph, and it would take 6,619 years to reach the same star. Light speed would take about 4 years.

How close we—or lifeforms with similar or superior intelligence—could get to the speed of light is unclear, but no matter how intelligent an organism is, it takes time and trial and error to even get to the point we have reached. Aliens would have to go through similar milestones and beyond, whether they could achieve them faster or not.

Harassing us or flying around to observe us would be impractical unless they have colonized planets along the way, and the closest planets don't have any obvious signs of colonization.

Sure... they could have colonized mars before we had recorded history and cloaked a base or hid it underground, but what's the point? They would clearly have vastly superior technology to be able to do that, so there's no need to be so secretive. And for such sophisticated ships, they sure are alleged to have crashed on earth and had their pilots and ships salvaged by Lockheed Martin or the government quite a damn bit, so I'm not sure if they're competent or incompetent, or that their technology is really so vastly superior after all, to be entirely honest...

I suppose a setup like the Russian sci-fi novel Hard to Be a God by the Strugatsky brothers (interesting book/film and a wonderful concept), where the humans blend in to the society of another planet while having superior technology, and the aliens (who look just like us and are functionally the same) are in a stagnant period equivalent to the middle ages, could be possible, but all of these unlikely assumptions do get tiresome.

Occam's razor, while not always correct, is probably best applied to this situation. The universe is inordinately vast, and aliens simply have not made contact with us humans, therefore, the UFOs are terrestrial—either a hoax, or, if real, some kind of government project or experimental crafts.

I'm not really interested in getting heavily into the Fermi paradox [2] and Drake equation debate, but the former does seem to lead to the reasonable conclusion that if our star is thought to be about 4.5 billion years old, and other stars in the milky way galaxy are believed to be even older—one being at least twice the age of our sun, then an alien race equivalent to our potential or much greater probably would have already arrived or we would see clear evidence of them having been here. 10 billion years is a lot of time for an alien race within our galaxy (and potentially outside of it) to surpass our current potential enough to colonize nearby planets or dock a spaceship relatively close to earth.

The alternative would either be these aliens died out before they could achieve such a feat as to travel to earth, their capabilities are less than that of humans, they haven't developed enough yet, or they're on their way (though if they were on their way, they would probably be detected before they could get sufficiently close). Otherwise, subtracting any possible alternatives I'm forgetting about or haven't thought of, aliens don't exist.

I don't find the Fermi paradox—at least as it's often presented—entirely convincing, but speculating about it like this just strengthens the notion that we most likely haven't made contact with aliens, and we won't in the near future, so any of the peculiar activity we've seen is not alien in origin.

That certainly seems sounder to me than saying the probability of aliens being real is high, and we see strange stuff in the sky that we can't explain, ergo, the strange-stuff-in-the-sky-we-can't-explain is a result of aliens who are far advanced compared to humans, who also regularly harass us semi-surreptitiously. All the while, probing our butts, mutilating our cattle, making cool-looking and sometimes aesthetically pleasing crop circles, and just generally being obnoxious and creepy.

There are thousands of reports of UFOs being spotted every year. 2019 had 5,971 reports alone. That is reported sightings—think of how many are either not reported or are not seen. If even a small amount of these sightings are aliens, just what are they doing every year that they would need to come back to earth so often? Taking soil and feces samples? Maybe they're filming us, and this is just one big macroscopic Truman Show, and they're beaming the footage back to their home planet for other aliens to laugh at.

The whole thing is utterly ridiculous.

In conclusion, aliens might exist, but it's pretty clear that the UFO question is not related to aliens, and the main purpose of this article is to set up my historical and current reviews of the UFO question.


[1]: For more specificity about different forms of binary star arrangements, this blog post is interesting.

[2]: The Fermi Paradox stems from a question by Enrico Fermi, when he asks, "Where are the aliens?" The Fermi Paradox is a quick shortcut used by those who believe aliens don't exist. But as Fermi conceived the question, the answer may have been more so about interstellar travel being achievable than whether or not aliens can be found in our galaxy or the universe—we hadn't even launched a satellite into space when Fermi had his conversation, and we really haven't made an incredible amount of progress when it comes to interstellar travel. Hart and Tipler's views on the subject aren't particularly persuasive to me and probably are more narrow-minded than what I believe Fermi had ever meant.

For a further look at the subject, here is a publication by Robert H. Gray on the Fermi Paradox. Regardless of where you stand on the Fermi Paradox, it appears to be more so an invention of Michael Hart in the 1970s, using Fermi's question as a framing device, with additions by Frank Tipler in the 1980s.

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