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Alpha Centauri and the Search for Technosignatures

Is there any chance we may one day find technosignatures around the nearest stars? If we were to detect such, on a planet, say, orbiting Alpha Centauri B, that would seem to indicate that civilizations are to be found around a high percentage of G- and K-class stars. Brian Lacki (UC-Berkeley) examined the question from all angles at the recent Breakthrough Discuss, raising some interesting issues about the implications of technosignatures, and the assumptions we bring to the search for them.

We’re starting to consider a wide range of technosignatures rather than just focusing on Dysonian shells around entire stars. Other kinds of megastructure are possible, some perhaps so exotic we wouldn’t be sure how they operated or what they were for. Atmospheres could throw technosignatures by revealing industrial activity along with their potential biosignatures. We could conceivably detect power beaming directed at interstellar spacecraft or even an infrastructure within a particular stellar system. One conceivable technosignature, rarely mentioned, is a world that has been terraformed.

All this takes us well beyond conventional radio and optical SETI. But let’s take the idea, as Lacki does, to Alpha Centauri, which we can begin by noting that in the past several years, Proxima Centauri b, that promising world in the habitable zone of the nearest red dwarf, has found its share of critics as a possible home to advanced life, if not life itself.

Michael Hippke noted in a 2019 paper that rocket launch to orbit from a super-Earth would be difficult, possibly inhibiting a civilization there from building a local space infrastructure. Milan Ćirković and Branislav Vukotić asked in 2020 whether the frequent flare activity of Proxima Centauri would inhibit radio technologies altogether. Whether abiogenesis could occur under these kinds of flare conditions remains unknown.

Alpha Centauri A and B, the central binary, offer a much more benign environment, both stars being exceedingly quiet at radio wavelengths. Moreover, we have known since the 1990s that habitable orbits are possible around each of them. We have no knowledge about whether the evolution of life would necessarily lead to intelligence; as Lacki pointed out, this is an empirical question — we need data to answer it.

The Drake Equation points to further unresolved issues. In what portion of a star’s lifespan would we expect technological cultures to emerge? Our own civilization has used radio for about a century — one part in 100,000,000 of the lifespan of the Sun. Hence the slide below, which is telling in several ways. Lacki refers here to temporal coincidence, meaning that we might expect societies around other stars to be separated in time, not just in space. Hence this simple graph of a very deep subject.

Deep time always takes getting used to, no matter how many times we think we’ve gotten a handle on figures like 4.6 billion years or, indeed, 13.8 billion years, the lifetimes of the Sun and cosmos respectively. I stared at this figure for some time. Lacki has arbitrarily placed a civilization at Centauri B, as shown by the vertical line, and another at Centauri A and C. Our own is shown in its known place in the Sun’s lifetime, except for the striking fact that the thickness of humanity’s timeline on the chart corresponds to a lifetime of 10 million years. If we wanted a line showing our 100 years of technological use — i.e., radio — the line would have to be 100,000 times thinner.

The odds that the lines of any two stars would coincide seem infinitely small, unless we are talking about societies that can persist over many millions of years. But here we can begin to turn the question around. We might want to rethink nearby technosignatures if we remind ourselves that what they represent is not the civilization itself, but the works it created, which might greatly outlive their builders. Objects like Dyson spheres would seem to fit this category and would exist at planetary scale.

Small artifacts can also last for vast periods — our own Voyagers will be intact for millions of years — though finding them would be an obvious challenge (here it’s worth thinking about the controversy over ‘Oumuamua. If a piece of dead technology were to pass near the Sun, would we be able to recognize its artificial nature? I simply raise the question — I remain agnostic on the question of ‘Oumuamua itself).

But can we be sure we are the first intelligent technological society on Earth? It’s worth considering whether we would know it if an advanced culture had existed hundreds of millions of years ago, perhaps on Earth or a different planet in the Solar System. Looking forward, if we go extinct, will another intelligent species evolve? We don’t know the answer to these questions, and the depth of our ignorance is shown by the fact that we can’t say for sure that intelligence might not evolve over and over again.

If interstellar flight is possible, and it seems to be, we can consider the possibility of intelligence spreading throughout the galaxy, perhaps via self-reproducing von Neumann probes. Even with very slow interstellar velocities, the Milky Way could be settled in relatively short order, astronomically speaking. Michael Hart pointed this out in the 1970s, and Frank Tipler argued in 1980 that at current spacecraft speeds alone, self-replicating probes could colonize the galaxy in less than 300 million years.

Sending physical craft to other stars may be difficult, but there are advantages. So-called Bracewell probes could be deployed that would wait for evidence of intelligence and report back to the home system, as well as carrying inscribed messages intended for the target system. This is Jim Benford’s ‘lurker’ scenario, one which he proposes to explore by searching nearby objects in our own system including the Moon. After all, if they might exist elsewhere, there may be a lurker here.

We don’t know how long a probe like this might remain active, but as a physical artifact, it remains a conceivably detectable object for millions, perhaps billions of years. Finding such a probe in our own system would imply similar probes around other stars and, indeed, the likelihood of a civilization that has spread widely in the galaxy. We might well wonder whether a kind of galactic Internet might exist in which information relays around stars are common, perhaps using gravitational lensing.

In other words, the question of technosignatures at Alpha Centauri doesn’t necessarily imply anything found there would have come from a civilization that originated in that system. The same civilization might have seeded stars widely in the Orion Arm and beyond.

All of these ‘ifs’ define the limits of our knowledge. They also point to a case for looking for technosignatures no matter what our intuitions are about their existence at Alpha Centauri. A lack of obvious technosignatures in our system would imply a similar lack around the nearest stars, but we haven’t run the kind of fine-grained search for artifacts that would find them on our own Moon, much less on nearby smaller objects.

Image: How quickly would a single civilization using self-replicating probes spread through a galaxy like this one (M 74)? Moreover, what sort of factors might govern this ‘percolation’ of intelligence through the spiral? We’ll be looking further at these questions in coming days. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration.

Intuition says we’re unlikely to find a technosignature at Alpha Centauri. But I return to the chart on civilizational overlap reproduced above. To me, the greatest take-away here is the placement of our own civilization within the realm of deep time. Given how short the lifetime of technology has been on Earth, I’m reminded viscerally of how precious — and perhaps rare — intelligence is as an emerging facet of a universe becoming aware of itself. That’s true no matter what we find around the nearest stars.

{ 90 comments… add one }
  • Michael Fidler May 14, 2021, 7:15

    The earths thin shell and thin time that oxygen has been available leaves us with just 1/2 billion years of which large brains could develop but it has been only the last 5 million years that truly intelligent animals developed.
    The factor that has not been figured into this picture is intelligent life once reaching a tipping point will never digress back into the oblivion for that is the beauty of intelligentsia. So our problem is how to find or appease civilizations that may be watching us as the Greek Gods on Mount Olympus did.
    They are not mortal and have seen the eventual outcome of many civilizations such as ours. They remain outside our realm of existence only occasional interfering in what we call the material world. How do we make contact? We don’t and must wait for signs and natural coincides that give clues toward our advancement. The ancient religions of earth are the tecnosignature of these civilization’s that have existed for eons… }

    • Alex Tolley May 14, 2021, 12:27

      The factor that has not been figured into this picture is intelligent life once reaching a tipping point will never digress back into the oblivion for that is the beauty of intelligentsia.

      We are still vulnerable to a variety of extinction events, such as an asteroid impact. It will take decades hence, assuming we do the right things, to ensure this is not an existential threat. However, there are also manmade existential threats, from nuclear war to diseases.

      Consider that despite the emergence of our species some hundreds of thousands of years ago, our cultural explosion only happened 40-80 thousand years ago. We only started our industrial civilization less than 300 years ago. There was a genetic bottleneck in our past that indicated our numbers were very much reduced by some event.

      We should not assume that once our level of intelligence appears that it will:
      1. that it will inevitably move beyond a stone age to an industrial one.
      2. never ratchet back due to some event or process.

      • Michael Fidler May 14, 2021, 22:09

        That is what I mean by the tipping point, we are not far from the point when humans can survive any catastrophes. I am sure right now there are many gene pools in existence that could be pulled out of deep freeze to repopulate the earth with a good cross section of humanity. The hazards you mention will become minor problems in the next 50 years for we have a very good understanding of what could wipe out humans and even the ecosystems that support us. We have just seen that China has landed on Mars and the great SpaceX Starship success all point to a good chance that off world colonies will exist soon.
        Once we have passed thru these last hurdles how long could it be before we become multi dimensional entities? One of the more interesting TV series out now is Debris: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11640020/ which deals with this very subject. The rate that breakthrough’s are happening in quantum physics is good indicator that we are reaching a threshold that will change humanity for ever. We are out of the cave and we see the universe and we have been building temples to it for over 13,000 years.
        After thinking about your comments I realized just how easy it would be to watch us. One of the most stable platforms for earth observations is our very own moon. A quantum telescope interferometer with hundreds to thousands of small 3 foot telescopes put in small craters could be able to count the number of hairs left on your head! A laser or X-ray signal could be sent from the back side of the moon to eager Gods on Mount Olympus via FTL scalar real-time transmissions. We would have no idea that any of this is taking place till we look close enough or pick up a bizarre signal from the backside of Luna.

        I’m afraid we are at the same impasse for the idea of a mostly dead universe is the norm for modern science gothic perspective. The alternate is a natural progressive universe with millions of still existing extraterrestrial civilizations watching us like parents watching a baby in it’s crib.

        • DCM May 16, 2021, 11:47

          We maybe among the first civilizations, or the first reaching beyond their planet.
          Re: catastrophe survival see SCATTER, ADAPT, AND REMEMBER by Annalee Newitz. Subtitle “How Humans Will Survive A Mass Extinction”.

  • wdk May 14, 2021, 10:07

    How to start?

    My somewhat intuitive arguments seem to come to this: Life and the stages we are familiar with seem to be a fortunate provision of the universe we live in, but I can’t see as yet an imperative for techno-signatures. No more than beaver dams ultimately lead to the Hoover dam on the Colorado River. They would be beacons for life in the universe, for sure, but if they were commonplace, we would be asking ourselves a different question than the Olber’s paradox ( “Why is the sky dark at night?”) and that would be why is there any visible light at all?

    We can congratulate ourselves on the good fortune of being in a universe that is conducive to life, sentience and cognition. And note that we reproduce ourselves and somehow arrived at this state, but did not actually produce ourselves in the first place in any conscious way. And of the qualities just described, we don’t know if there are any higher planes as a consequence of life. E.g., although we have cognition, it does not result in causing levitation of the dirty dinner plates from the table to the sink. A mundane possibility, but there could be others we have yet to imagine. Now, given that we are in the state we are, could this be a pervasive feature in the galaxy, say? Or as close by as Alpha Centauri? …In terms of science, we are stumped to a certain degree about how it became a state where we exist. Because when we look at all the off branches between here and Earth’s start, there could have been so many opportunities of going off the rail for this idea of a terrestrial “Technosignature”, modest as it might be.” All else equal for Alpha Centauri, it would exciting enough to be able to go fishing there or watch the birds or the equivalent thereof.

    It is remarkable that Alpha and Proxima Centauri are our closest neighbors, so much like our solar system in many respects but different enough to capture the imagination. It is not arranged the same way for terrestrial planets to develop, but its age is roughly the same as our own solar system’s, perhaps a billion or more years older. ..

    But significantly, our current proximity should be examined. Has it been stable over millions of years? Hundreds of millions? Billions?
    Could anything about life’s nature been transmitted from there to here and here to there? Or with other stars? Or through the interstellar medium?

    One reason I ask is with regard to the basis of life: How transmittable is it? At its most difficult, we can consider the possibility that the universe has technical instructions such as DNA, RNA, the double helix and/or other sets of building blocks, the provision for carbon, nitrogen, etc.
    as stellar evolutionary products…These are all very subtle measures to produce ultimately very complex life. Fred Hoyle, who played in the sand with idea that life could be transmitted from star to star, he was struck by the many difficulties; so much so that he once posited that the universe need many more times the post Big Bang era for its processes to invent its complex chemistry. If he was right, then this has implications. At the very least, that the issue of life goes beyond the temporal wall of the big bang and the resulting cosmic playground we inhabit. What could be more reverse entropic than a random universe spilling nuclear fusion residue into life’s building blocks and then using them billions of years later for such purposes as us? Our very ability to argue such matters does not seem consequent of statistical mechanics. This is more than all the molecules stacked in a corner one morning when the gas dynamics professor enters the lecture hall.

    But there is still the mystery of, if it succeeded here, then could it succeed over there? Is there such a thing as pan spermia? How basic is that package or signal: Interstellar medium? The planetesimals in Oort Clouds? Very fundamental organic chemistry?

    How to summarize? Maybe for every techno-signature you need some power of ten planets on which life was installed.

    • Alex Tolley May 14, 2021, 12:35

      Fred Hoyle, who played in the sand with idea that life could be transmitted from star to star, he was struck by the many difficulties; so much so that he once posited that the universe need many more times the post Big Bang era for its processes to invent its complex chemistry.

      Fortunately, we know he was wrong. The idea of a “designer” for life (or an extremely long time to operate by” chance is a constantly renewing fallacy. It assumes that life must be as complex ax the works of Shakespeare, requiring an infinite amount of monkeys randomly typing to reproduce it. Evolution by natural selection is algorithmic and searches the space of possibilities for viable ones much more efficiently. So efficiently that it compresses the search space to allow solutions to appear rapidly, rather than very slowly.

      Hoyle was brilliant in his field, but he was just as ignorant as anyone else when he opined on subjects outside of his expertise.

      • wdk May 14, 2021, 23:29

        Checking my bearings here, the matter at hand is technosignatures at Alpha Centauri. And we have had discussion as to whether these could be un-coupled from biosignatures due to automated exploration or colonization. There are several routes to techno-signatures evidently, but capability to generate a biosignature could well be a preceding requirement.

        Was about to add something else to my above comment; it was about the life issue before I got called away. The observation was as follows:

        In cosmology, introductions to the subject stress our “position” in the cosmos as not unique. Stars, galaxies, clusters thereof in all directions.We just happen to occupy an arbitrary place, nothing unique about it …

        Then should the subject of “life” be introduced, the arguments take a hard turn toward our uniqueness. Textbook descriptions do not expect much from the cosmos in general. Just environment for a speck where life exists.

        Had to wonder what you would think of that assertion as well.

        I would agree that we have the opportunity to prove Hoyle wrong in the coming decades. But I don’t think we have demonstrated life’s adaptability except very locally – here. Francis Crick, who might be as well informed as any suggested once that life here could have started with aliens dropping off their garbage. An insult to some and a jest to others, but I think I see what he meant. There was a threshold to mount. We have not proven that life has kicked off on any solar system neighbor. Were it as adaptable as you assert, then perhaps we should be looking for it in some regions such as gas giant planet cloud banks. Plenty of active chemistry. Plenty of room. 2.5 Earth gravity is no big deal for a microbe.

        What I suspect is that organic chemistry precursors to life have been produced in laboratory conditions by such as Urey and Miller, individuals that Hoyle was surely aware of. Their notions of primordial terrestrial conditions would now be considered dated ( abundances of ammonia and methane vs. CO2 and nitrogen). And I haven’t heard of anyone producing double helix strands that way either, no matter how many times they hit the electric discharge button. I would hazard to say that life when it gets past that threshold would be better propagated like embers from a fire (rather than rubbing together of two sticks to get the biological equivalent of fire every time on another planet).

        To cite another thinker on this problem, Robert Hazen of the Carnegy Institute has often observed that the solar system’s geochemistry has remarkable hierarchies of complexity. Say if you compare the Moon, Mars and the Earth. The moon has several dozen simple geochemical compounds or minerals, Mars is intermediate ( due largely to atmospheric and hydrospheric weathering) and the Earth has extremely complex geochemical features which we could describe as bio-signatures, the pervasive interaction of life miles deep into its interior. Hazen’s updates of the Urey-Miller experiment point to geothermal vents as a candidate site for forming life’s “building blocks”. But I don’t see any claims for DNA or RNA strands here either.

        It is quite possible that when we really draw a bead on a terrestrial planet in a presumed habitable zone, the first instance might be
        a planet devoid of life, but similar to the Earth in other regards.

        • Alex Tolley May 15, 2021, 10:49

          Let me give you this analogy about life. If you are a painter in any medium (watercolor, oil, acrylic, etc) you have a limited palette of colors, especially if you buy them from an art store. Yet the number of different paintings is infinite.

          Biology may be like those media, there may be a limited number of basic component types, but the diversity of phenotypes is potentially vast. We see that in the evolution of life on Earth. Add in behaviors and the diversity increases again.

          Can ennui set in at some point? Humans seem to have an endless capacity to enjoy tv nature programs so that ennui hasn’t set in for us yet. Now imagine that we have some access to alien life on an exoplanet. Even if the basic biology is identical to ours, the organisms would be very different, although some would bear at least some resemblance to terrestrial forms. One could recreate our last 75 nature programs for that biosphere. Rinse and repeat.

          [Astro]biologists would really like to know just how similar basic biology is. For example, do we share DNA, but the genetic code is different (frozen by chance], or does life use a different version of DNA (different chirality, different bases, etc.). Is the biology very different, [watercolors vs oils but both representations of color], or are there completely different forms of life [paintings vs music].

          Biologists have been sneered at as “stamp collectors”, but immersing oneself in variety is a perfectly natural human interest and activity. If it disappears, we will have lost one aspect of our humanity. However, over my lifetime, it seems to me that new tools and techniques have increased the range of biological exploration. Biology has penetrated other fields – biomimicry has influenced computation. I’m not a geologist, but I have looked at Hazen’s classification of minerals by Earth’s stages and how life has created a large range of new minerals.

          So I will rest my case for life being an enduring fascination with the last part of Darwin’s statement:

          …from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

          • wdk May 17, 2021, 11:13

            Nice picture itself. Thank you.

  • Alex Tolley May 14, 2021, 11:13

    I’m glad that you raised the point about civilizations and interstellar travel. It seems to me that the Drake equation makes an implicit assumption that civilization frequency is determined by the number of stars, which tends to bind thinking to: star->planet[s]->HZ->life->ETI. Far more likely that if ETI appears AND it can develop a hi-tech civilization around its birthplace star, that it will spawn off populations to colonize other star systems. The Alpha Centauri system may be inhospitable for abiogenesis, but be a perfectly acceptable group of stars to colonize. Of course, if this argument is correct, then the Fermi Question rears its head again.

    A second issue is the assumption that civilization is biological. If non-biological von Neuman replicators are possible, then so are machine ETI. To me, this implies that we would not look for “terra”-formed planets, but rather evidence of a planet transformed for machines. When living in space, biological beings needs bubbles of their home ecosystems, if only for basic life support. Long-term stability will mean bringing along a lot of species from viruses and microbes to many species of complex life. Dyson swarms that house biological civilization will appear as enclosing objects. Machines civilization might build equivalent structures that are open to space, perhaps more like webs – mass efficient. We should probably think more about what signatures would such machine ETI produce?

    It may be that rather than lurkers, the vast expanses of space and time are best served by spreading life. Thus I think that Paul Davies’ suggestion to look for shadow life is worthwhile. Rather than thinking about just different abiogenesis on a living planet like Earth, we should consider whether there is [fossil] evidence of different types of life on planets, where just one has won the Darwinian race amongst many that were perhaps part of [separate?] directed panspermia operations.

    Lastly, my mind was opened to the very interesting idea that Cixin Lui suggested at the end of his “Three Body Problem” trilogy. He suggests that the universe started with 10 dimensions but that wars weaponized the laws of physics. One weapon was to reduce the enemy by a dimension. Humanity’s solar system and almost all its population was killed by a reduction from 3 to 2 dimensions. The enemy was already reduced by a dimension and therefore immune from counterattack. While highly speculative, it does at least open one’s mind to think more “outside the box” than most astrobiologists and SETI/METI scientists are doing.

  • Jean Schneider May 14, 2021, 15:26

    Paul, when you describe somone’s work, can you give a reference ?

    Thank you,

    Jean Schneider

    • Paul Gilster May 14, 2021, 16:43

      Are you referring to the Breakthrough Discuss meeting video, Jean? If so, it’s here:


      This is the video from Day 1, with all the talks from that day.

      If you’re referring to the other authors, I’ll pull those together and get them up here tomorrow. As they were peripheral works to this discussion, I didn’t cite them at the end as I usually do.

      • Paul Gilster May 14, 2021, 16:53

        Here you are, Jean:

        Milan M. Ćirković, Branislav Vukotić, “Habitability of M dwarfs is a problem for the traditional SETI” 2020 (preprint)


        Michael Hippke, “Spaceflight from Super-Earths Is Difficult,” International Journal of Astrobiology 18, no. 5 (October 2019): 393–95 (preprint)


        • wdk May 17, 2021, 0:32

          Hippke’s paper, I checked it out. To some extent it is example dependent. He uses escape velocity vs. orbital velocity for his requirement for spaceflight and then ends up with a very small residual mass allowed to leave Kepler 20 b. Whatever the exoplanet, local circular orbital will be subject to square root of mass over radius, and the escape increased by the square root of 2. So if you are talking in terms of the earth, you reduce the goal post sizes by 70.7% and the residual, in this case won’t look so bad. This example: Earth is 7.9 km/sec and Kepler 20b, 19.16 km/sec. The Hippke paper speaks of payload at the end of the burn, but what is really obtained is the dry mass ( i.e., the mass
          at the end of the burn). Payload is another fraction of whatever that is. But given that this is a terminal mass at the end of the burn, in the case of Earth, it would be with the same assumptions of velocity change would 0.1 mass and 0.00375.
          This is a delivery mass ratio of about 26 to 1 vs 100 to 1.
          Another consideration is “work”. Reaching altitude of orbit.
          Additional velocity for that is equal to the square root of ( surface 2 x surface gravity x change in altitude). Five sixths of the terrestrial ascent is change in velocity and the remaining sixth is due to the climb.

          Now assuming a super earth had the same density as Earth, then if its radius were doubled, the mass would be increased to the third power ( 8x). Kepler 20 b is more dense than the Earth is for whatever reason. Super earths could be more dense or less dense, depending on the depth of mantle vs. core or amount of water… If they rotate rapidly, that could be of some help.

        • Paul Gilster May 17, 2021, 7:29

          The other two papers:

          Hart, M. H., “Explanation for the Absence of Extraterrestrials on Earth,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 16, p.128.


          Tipler, F. J. “Extraterrestrial intelligent beings do not exist,” Royal Astronomical Society, Quarterly Journal, vol. 21, Sept. 1980, p. 267-281.


  • tesh May 14, 2021, 15:37

    There are 3 things that always come to my mind when this general topic of SETI / why the silence / are we alone / a civ only take x millions of years to colonise a galaxy / etc, is discussed.

    1. As Paul highlights the critical point, deep time renders the chances of two civs being neighbours in space and time or indeed ever meeting (likely) impossible. This sort of seems a given and should almost end further discourse.

    2. I have always been uncomfortable with the idea/concept/rationale of self-replicating probes and galaxy colonisation. The Forge of God and Anvil of the Stars (Greg Bear), though great reads, left me with the feeling of “Really?” – and on a number of levels:

    a. Can such god like civs ever come to exist? For me biological life is too unstable to allow it. Life has to be inherently unstable (particularly wrt to shallow time rather and deep time) so as to allow evolution and innovation. I would argue that most civs arise and then demise. For me if civs existed in our neighbourhood the most likely artefacts that may still exist are satellites and/or non-planetary mini/mega structures within their solar systems.

    b. If a civ managed to exist in a stable form for the time it takes to achieve the mastery of building and sending out such fantastical ships and probes (malevolent or benevolent), it would almost be inconceivable as to why they would do it – beyond of course petty reasons that they should have been left behind on the road to said stability. Why even send benign ships and probes, even for observation or gathering resource, when they can surely observe get what they want from afar or by less intrusive ways just as easily.

    3. I think that there are likely a number of reasons as to why there is silence. A positive one is that advanced civs go in and not out. Once these civs have come about and have become satiated with what’s in their locale and understand it and find that its a much of a muchness else where, they build their own matrix like worlds or create their own universes that are more complicated / interesting / in essence less boring than this one. A negative one is the one stated in 2a – life is just too unstable to exist beyond a certain length of time.

    Now one could argue that they become machine like, synthetic if you will, to fight off the inherent instability of biology. If this happens and life spans become to all intents and purposes infinite, you are then detached from the ravages of time and also geography – two critical realities that has shaped life here and will do so anywhere. We may be sheltered from those realities nowadays but we will never be able to shake of that shaping – it is in our very DNA and the instability will continue to manifest.

    • Robin Datta May 14, 2021, 19:03

      Yes indeed, biology is quite unstable. About 300,000± years ago Homo sapiens sapiens was just a handful of folks from the savannahs after an arboreal phase in rainforests. There was no need of “critical race theory” since we were all one race. Even 50,000 years ago none of us had left Africa, and in spite of marked genetic diversity physical appearance was not much diverse.

      If 50,000 years have wrought such changes on the assorted cohotrts of humanity worldwide, it may take some exercise of one’s imagination to think of what multigenerational interstellar starships might do.

  • Alex Tolley May 14, 2021, 18:09

    For me biological life is too unstable to allow it. Life has to be inherently unstable (particularly wrt to shallow time rather and deep time) so as to allow evolution and innovation. I would argue that most civs arise and then demise.

    Do you mean “species” rather than “lif”? Life is remarkably resilient as 3.8 bn years of terrestrial life can attest.
    For species, typical species last ~10 my which would fit the separation of civs in time as per the chart in the OP.

    Why even send benign ships and probes, even for observation or gathering resource, when they can surely observe get what they want from afar or by less intrusive ways just as easily.

    How do you extract information about biology, written histories, etc by remote observation? How do you do experiments on things and organisms remotely? Think of all the science humans have done over the past 500 years and ask yourself how many are specific to Earth rather than universal, and how many could be done with local data collection?

    If you think that life and culture are going to be rather similar elsewhere, you must be bored to tears with different national cultures and art. Might as well defund all artists as there is little new to create. But then there is a contradiction in expecting to be able to build a virtual world that is more diverse and interesting than the offerings of other civilizations. To me, that is analogous to stating that Hollywood is more inventive and interesting than the output of the rest of the planet. This seems unlikely to me and even flies in the face of evidence. Whether it is worth the economic cost to explore other civilizations is another issue that could constrain physical exploration, but not the communication of knowledge and cultural artifacts.

    • tesh May 16, 2021, 19:22

      “If you think that life and culture are going to be rather similar elsewhere” —>
      They are fairly uniform here – should they be wildly different elsewhere? Life is incredibly uniform here. Arguably all life is permeated using DNA. There isn’t anything else. Even the argument of RNA is weak. Life elsewhere will have a system to permeate – is it that important exactly what it is?
      wrt to “culture”, the basics of culture, i.e. the generating, passing on and retaining of knowledge, is probably not going to be (very) different either. You need a system that works and yes, this could be skewed by wacky geography but it will basically be similar.

      “you must be bored to tears with different national cultures and art” –> Largely, yes but that is a personal defect.

      “Might as well defund all artists as there is little new to create.” —>
      No. I think art defines and refines us as well as the times we live in. The only issue I have with “the arts” is that it is oftentimes used as a function of snobbery. I could spend years looking at Greek/Roman art works, paintings by the Dutch masters or the various Renaissance artists and never get bored of it. However, even while I would marvel at their magnificence and brilliance, there would be a bitterness and a disappointment at what I was looking at – but that is for another discussion.

      As far as different nationalities, I don’t really see too many differences – we are all born, sleep, poo, pee, eat, drink, etc and then die. The fluff in between is given the importance that is needed by interested parties. Never mind different nationalities, internally all countries suffer from issues with inequality and the differences within are just as stark as without. All systems have come into being proclaiming they would solve it and yet none have. Why is that? I believe inequality (and the instability it brings) is inherent to life. From bugs to bunnies to greys.

      “Life is remarkably resilient as 3.8 bn years of terrestrial life can attest.”—->
      Yes, true. Life has persisted and will likely persist long after culture and nationalities have died….

      “To me, that is analogous to stating that Hollywood is more inventive and interesting than the output of the rest of the planet.” —>
      Hollywood is oftentimes dismissed as a nonsensical or culturally bankrupt entity – is it though? It does not exist in a vacuum. It is the focus of billions of dollars a year, and the talent that buys, and produces products that shape, influence and mould minds. You could look at it as a Manhattan project that has been fuelled for a lot, lot, lot longer and by a lot more money to produce and continue to produce highly bespoke cultural bombs (in every sense of the word…).

      There are a lot of interesting things, even many aspects of Hollywood, but ultimately there is little (if anything) that is new under the this sun and by extension likely also other suns. Even as humans we dismiss a lot of the output of human life – we just don’t care. Each life is unique and has a story, oftentimes highly valuable and culturally enriching, yet we have no time to take stock or celebrate them.

      I am hopeful of our endeavours – especially those that reach for the stars. I fear our humanity.

  • Alex Tolley May 14, 2021, 18:16

    The Great Silence.

    So far there is no evidence of other life, let alone civilizations out there. The Fermi Question can be answered at this time by – because we are the first or only.

    I am hopeful that we are like human civilization before the invention of the microscope. We could only see macroscopic life and were totally unaware of microscopic life.

    As our telescopes get ever better, is it possible that we are just about to get hints of life/civs elsewhere, just as the microscope exposed the unseen microworld? That perhaps some future resolving power life/civs will suddenly come “into focus” and change out POV?

    • John C Mruzik May 14, 2021, 20:18

      “There is plenty of room at the bottom.”RF

    • AlexTru May 15, 2021, 4:14

      I suppose that present moment versions: “we are alone”, “we are first”, “we are alone because we are first” ( in limited space volume) are most probable case , for science no need to invent different sci-fi speculations to explain our current astronomical and biological observation results.
      When we are talking about astronomical observation, we must to remember well that present moment we can observe only PAST we never see the present, farther we are watching – we get only more obsolete information, we can only speculate about present Universe state…
      All those arguments (+ no any detection over more than 50 years fruitless searches) are bad new for SETI community, so to keep money stream live SETI have to invent new or refine old fruitless hypotheses .
      I am sure if we are not alone – we will finally detect this without any special SETI like efforts, just need to continue (increase) our scientific space explorations.

    • Scott Guerin May 17, 2021, 9:31

      The upcoming gov’t report on all those UAP sightings with impossible physics may, just may, change everything.


  • Robin Datta May 14, 2021, 18:22

    Today’s essay is rife grounds for rampant speculation.

    Technologies too far advanced may be unrecognizable and therefore overlooked. As in the case of the cave man who finds a smart phone. We may well be missing something right under our noses, as could be the case with Boyajian’s star and ‘Oumuamua.

    With regard to biology, it is an extension and emergence from biochemistry. In a diverse primal soup, organic molecules which attract and assemble other organic molecules may produce a mish-mash. Those with a particular selectivity will produce new assemblages somewhat similar to themselves. Yet even their random progeny may or may not have the properties of the forebears, and will tend towards dissipation.

    Yet again randomly, a few molecules – or assemblages of molecules – may copy themselves with sufficient fidelity to ensure that their lineages do not dissipate, but persist, and through that persistence become a dominant presence in the primal soup: the progenitor of further sophistication, which we now call “life”.

    Whether such abiogenesis happened on earth or whether through panspermia the products of such abiogenesis elsewhere were imported is still open to debate.

    The “fossils” of prior failed xenobiological imports may persist if remote and isolated enough. Fissures deep underground come to mind. Finding organisms there with alien molecular cell machinery and a different genetic code and/or different nucleotides would be as paradigm-shifting as alien megastructures.

    In larger hospitals they have equipment tags for malfunctioning equipment that are filled out explaining the problem and attached to the equipment; a referral is also filed with hospital engineering, so that they can perform needed maintenance / repair. When looking for alien structures, similar “tags” should be “attached” to each suspect, and they should be reported to a central repository.

    Just as now almost-ancient photographic plates are yielding useful astronomical data, those plates and old databases may yield evidence of the relics of bygone biological and /or post-biological civilizations – if we know what to look for.

  • Neil Stahl May 14, 2021, 21:35

    So pessimistic yet so easily true. If the speed of light is the speed of travel and interstellar travel is as hard as it may well be, and considering that civilizations may, while they still can, choose to not reveal themselves to whatever’s out there, it seems there’s a good chance we’ll have to last a very, very long time to contact any civilizations from other stars.
    And there are so many things that can in fact end a civilization, maybe a species. Global warming is our most existential current problem; unsympathetic AI could be second and what if our electromechanical successors lacked curiosity?
    We could have a glorious future even if no one ever experiences the Mos-Eisely cantina or gets a copy of an Encyclopedia Galactica but we have a lot of problems to solve before we can even enjoy our isolation for a biologically long time.

  • Andre Chambord May 15, 2021, 7:21

    Dear Paul,
    with reference to Unexplained Aerial Phenomena (re. the documentary ‘The Phenomenon’, made by James Fox in 2020), could one say that some of the observations–a.k.a. sightings–referred to in this film are technosignatures of some sort?

    • Paul Gilster May 15, 2021, 8:38

      A good question! They’re certainly being investigated, but thus far opinions are all over the map on what they are. There’s a good article on all this in a recent issue of The New Yorker, by the way.

      • Michael Fidler May 15, 2021, 9:59

        Watch 60 Minutes this Sunday night it should be very interesting…

        • Alex Tolley May 17, 2021, 17:49

          Same old, same old. Unexplainable phenomena. The unsubtle suggestions that “unidentified” really implies “alien”. I thought Project Blue Book was the airforce taking UFO reports seriously, rather than the implied DOD always trying to dismiss evidence. (a bit difficult when other governments were more open.)

          I would bet money the “report” to be issued clarifies nothing and just repeats the existing story that the evidence cannot be identified. Story. End. Of.

          • Robert May 18, 2021, 10:37

            The report will very likely be intentionally inconclusive because it will probably be driven by the politics of the situation. No doubt the SETI lobby is active trying to debunk the military evidence and promote their own narrow paradigm and purpose. It will then be used as further ‘evidence’ that there is nothing to the UAP reports and they are a ‘distraction’ from real science.

            I’m not hopeful the truth will come out, whatever that really is.
            I think it was foolish for Congress to make the military do this report. It only gives them the opportunity to end this pesky UAP stuff very conveniently.

            • Alex Tolley May 18, 2021, 16:16

              So it doesn’t matter what the report says, there must be UFOs (aliens)? Either they report that they are, or you assume they are hiding that they are.

              This is conspiracy thinking. Sometimes there are conspiracies, but to hide real evidence after many decades and not a single person on their deathbed or fleeing to another country has ever explained what was hidden….defies sense, especially as we know that people do ignore official secrets and speak out, even going to jail.

              • Robert May 19, 2021, 9:58

                Alex, I said no such thing. The issue is do you take the phenomenon of UAP’s seriously or not? Many of your previous statements seemed to suggest you do not because you seem to question the competency of the military witnesses and you throw up old cases that have been explained to suggest they all can be explained by mundane phenomenon.

                I merely expressed my pessimism that the subject will be treated with intellectual honesty by the report writers. This is not about what the ultimate truth is but about the process of finding out as far as publically released information. National security concerns could sharply limit what they say.

                And no, I don’t assume the ‘Tic Tac’s’ are alien spaceships but I do think they are some kind of very advanced and very real technology based on the evidence released so far.

                So, we are faced with mounting evidence of what appears to be some kind of technology we don’t yet understand that outperforms our best capabilities by far and that makes it a national security concern that should not be minimized or belittled.

                Nothing I have said suggests I buy into various conspiracies.

      • Robert May 17, 2021, 9:48

        For the first time it seems they are undoubtably something real and technological and not just some false blips on radar screens. The military acknowledges the issue candidly now while remaining agnostic about the interpretation. I wonder if this is the first step towards a formal disclosure of some kind?

        • Patrick Underwood May 17, 2021, 14:26

          It was interesting, but (of course) inconclusive. As next month’s report will probably be. Prepare for hundreds of pages of redactions.

        • Alex Tolley May 17, 2021, 18:12

          I disagree. Only recently a cloud of insects was mistaken by weather radar.

          I once saw a UFO 9that rapidly became an IFO. It was over London in the late afternoon. I saw an orange, lenticular light in the sky moving in a string line. The object was coming in my direction. The sky was hazy. After some seconds, the outline of a commercial jet appeared out of the haze and the object was clearly the reflection of the later afternoon sun off the unpainted, metallic belly of the fuselage. Now it was obvious that it was a jet on the flight path to London’s Heathrow airport.

          As the New Yorker article points out, now that almost everyone has a multi-megapixel camera in their pocket that can take hi-resolution still and video images, how come we still have very poor sightings. Why are those military visual, IR, and radar images still so awful? We had great photoreconnaissance photos for planning bombing raids as far back as WWII, yet somehow the unclassified images and video show little beyond blurry shapes.

          • Michael Fidler May 17, 2021, 21:31

            I just love it when scientists that have never seen a UAP show their ineptitude about the subject. Try taking a high resolution image of craters on the moon with your handheld 48 megapixel camera and if you succeed I will pay you for your lunch, a 20 dollar bill. That is handheld,
            no tripod!

            Carl Sagan on how education system kills curiosity.


            • Alex Tolley May 18, 2021, 9:56

              Try taking a high resolution image of craters on the moon with your handheld 48 megapixel camera…

              There are pictures of the Moon taken that way (not sure about the tripod) that show a clear full or partial disk but with very poor resolution of the maria. The problem with the images/video we are shown is that the images don’t even provide that limited capability. They are blurry, or a moving “dot”. There is no processing done.

              I have seen blurry videos that when processed can create a good image by integrating successive frames. Astrophotography often uses multiple images that are stacked to provide a much clearer image of the target. Back in the early 1980s when personal computers were weak things, I saw a demo of image processing where a blurry picture was sharpened by image processing. Now you can do that sort of sharpening by selecting a filter or 2 on an image handling package, like Photoshop. Are we to believe the DoD cannot do this? Of course, they can.

              Carl Sagan on how education system kills curiosity.

              It can. It can also be very useful for critical thinking. When the Spaniards arrived in the New World, it was said that the locals thought they were seeing centaurs as they had not seen men on horses before. (Horses were one of the megafauna driven to extinction in the Americas). OTOH, the pilot testimony is colored by their education, so that they describe the UAP as technological artifacts – aircraft without wings or obvious means of propulsion. Rightly or wrongly, Project Blue Book concluded that pilots mistook the planet, Venus, for a UFO. Are pilots so unimaginative that a bright light cannot be perceived as a planet in the sky, or alternatively so imaginative that they see a planet as a spacecraft?

              We do know that the vast majority of UFO sightings are misidentification of terrestrial objects, such as weather balloons, lenticular clouds, aircraft lights, etc. The rest are just unable to be pinned down.

              I would say we have seen the same issues with the Breakthrough Listen “signal” from the direction of Proxima. Lots of creative (ie non-scientist) speculation about aliens signaling us. Fortunately, actual scientists were able to discount this with careful analysis of the signal, with the preferred explanation that it was RFI.

              A final note, none of the interviewees on the 60 Minutes segment were trained scientists, and AFAICT, neither were any of those doing the investigations for the government in the New Yorker piece.

              Carl Sagan as said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. We should keep that in mind when the evidence is blurry images or video with little context, accompanied in some cases with excitable comment.

              • Robert May 18, 2021, 14:09

                “None of the interviewees on 60 Minutes were trained scientists”

                No, they were trained officers and skilled pilots. That doesn’t make them ignorant and incapable of reporting what they witnessed. Not to mention that the objective facts of the object’s flight path and behavior were recorded on radar and camera’s which are scientific instruments in this context.

                And I suspect Carl Sagan would agree that a flight path recorded on camera and radar and seen visually by many independent witnesses as well as analyzed by computer would qualify as extraordinary evidence. Not to mention that these interactions are certainly not isolated incidents to the military.

                The Pentagon is not saying we are being visited by aliens but that are saying that there is a real national security issue that they cannot explain and that is not because there is a lack of military and civilian scientific experts engaged at looking at this issue.

                We should take this issue seriously until it is resolved one way or the other and not dismiss it out of hand.

                • Alex Tolley May 18, 2021, 16:35

                  No, they were trained officers and skilled pilots. That doesn’t make them ignorant and incapable of reporting what they witnessed.

                  And as biological human beings are subject to the same perceptual illusions and misidentification as anyone else.

                  …objective facts of the object’s flight path and behavior were recorded on radar and camera’s which are scientific instruments in this context.

                  And as you can see, the video is not good. Radar rarely shows more than an ill-defined shape, and the signals can fool radar operators. Reporting “something” in the sky and “recording” that something only confirms that the observer saw something – which may be real or an illusion.

                  Case in point: ‘Hovering ship’ photographed off Cornish coast by walker.
                  Was that evidence of a ship using anti-gravity? No, it was an optical illusion the same as a mirage. Suppose that ship had been further away, and the air misty, so that only a long, gray, Zeppelin-like shape was seen and photographed? Would that count as a UAP/UFO/alien technology ship? Would it convince you more if shore radar confirmed an object was offshore at that distance? Lots of shore-based observers?

                  In this case, no UAP was reported because it was clearly identifiable, just as my own experience in London didn’t require reporting.

                  As for the reliability of trained and untrained observers, recall the kerfuffle over supposed drones disrupting flights out of Gatwick a while back. Investigations now cannot even confirm that drones were even flying over the airport, despite the claims at the time. How can that be? A cover-up? If this story doesn’t remind you of human fallibility (trained professionals or no), I don’t know what will.

                  The mystery of the Gatwick drone

              • Michael Fidler May 18, 2021, 21:32

                Let me ask you this, if you had seen a Alien Spacecraft land and had small aliens walking around it would you report it in front of all your scientific colleges right now?

                • Alex Tolley May 19, 2021, 10:16

                  The best evidence is an artifact that has properties that are of clear non-terrestrial origin. A piece of spacecraft hull, or better yet an instrument. As we are so adept at producing realistic movie spacecraft and aliens, video is almost useless, and a personal experience report is pointless. And for good reason, it is too easy to be fooled by a prank, walking onto a movie set (possibly abandoned), etc.

                  Scientists are just as easily fooled as anyone else, as the late James Randi proved extensively. Why face skepticism without hard evidence?

                  • Robert May 19, 2021, 17:59

                    There is a difference between skepticism and denialism. Here us a recent quote from former president Obama

                    “What is true, and I’m actually being serious here, is that there are, there’s footage and records of objects in the skies, that we don’t know exactly what they are. We can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so, you know, I think that people still take seriously trying to investigate and figure out what that is.”

                    • Alex Tolley May 19, 2021, 21:51

                      And almost all the GOP is currently denying that anything happened on January 6, or if it did is was democrats/antifa/normal visitor event.

                      Is an [ex-]President really going to say that he thinks that the military is incompetent at doing its job? [Oh wait, he did say that about General Flynn, so maybe he would. ;) Life imitating art – c..f. Dr. Strangelove]

  • Harold Shaw May 15, 2021, 20:26

    I am skeptical of the rna first model. Needing a miracle of probability may indicate the hypothesis or model is rubbish. On Earth, Life didn’t need to wait for the cosmic monkeys to deliver the blueprint for many cellular structures or chemical pathways. That may be the case everywhere. Abiogenesis wouldn’t be described as architects first creating the plans for everything. Instead, the architects would provide the project management expertise needed to team of trades people to overcome a “skyscraper threshold”. A planet would still have to provide the conditions suitable for an ecosystem of energetic metabolisms. The crucial percentage for water likely eliminates a vast percentage of systems.

    I approach civilization as a grand network of people and institutions organized for agency innovation and democratization. A people will seek its best version of itself. If the laws of reality and supply of beneficial technologies are finite then the demand for civilization may also be limited. All beneficial agency is discovered and democratized. Civilization may always be required to provide access to agency. I would expect a people will eventually colonize the niche that offers maximum individual agency and unfortunately we really don’t know what is going on with reality. However, even the technologies within our sight could open the galaxy to us. Perhaps the laws of reality are finite and allow a people access to the optimal niche early in their history.

    An active social life may be the key to surviving Deep Time and when to say hello must be infinitely debatable.

    • Robin Datta May 16, 2021, 22:28

      “I approach civilization as a grand network of people and institutions organized for agency innovation and democratization.”
      …biological life as a grand network of molecules and polymers organized for replication, survival and growth”.

  • torque_xtr May 16, 2021, 7:24

    If we use solely the “colonization factor” – the ratio of planets which were visited to the planets which developed indigenous civilizations, then there’s not much need to search Alpha Centauri system. Even with thermonuclear-based STL travel, it could be much greater than one. Based solely on this, there is equal probability of extraterrestrial technology presence there and in the Solar System, but the latter is much more accessible to xenoarchaeology.

    But if we extrapolate from what is going on here on Earth, the distribution of artifacts, technosignatures and intelligence would be far from even and the answer would not be so obvious.

    Almost all land surface of Earth is basically habitable for humans, especially with the use of high technology. Looking from afar, for an abstract mid-sized settlement which uses renewable resources and produces food, basic tech and some high-tech goods, there is not much difference between high Arctic and Amazonian jungle. Both settings are surely habitable and have their own sets of advantages and challenges. Still, population density is extremely uneven, not only because of varying climate conditions and resource availability, but also because of geography and urbanization itself. Transportation progress does not make much change – now it’s possible to travel and transport goods between almost any two points on the globe within few days, but population density does not level.

    Could we expect the same for Galaxy? Assuming classic STL spacefaring on millenia-to-MYr timescale? If civilization lasts as long as a bioligical species here on Earth, slow c is not a problem. If many of them live fast and die young, it is the long-lived ones that matter. For our current point of view, there is a vague Galactic habitable zone, no true show-stoppers almost everywhere outside of it. But for a true interstellar-spacefaring civilization, there would be subtle differences which all matter. They will settle not the system next-door because it is the nearest, but some other, much farther away, because it is better than home in some other way than just being additional territory. Maybe they’ll go to some young star cluster because planets there are surely sterile, or to a binary with neutron star on a wide orbit, because it provides unique conditions and energy source, or something else that we could only guess. There is plenty room for differences even in the universe made of same elements, rocks and gases, and no unobtanium.

    Biospheric compatibility is a factor not encountered here on Earth, and much under-estimated. My guess is that it has a major impact on colonization pattern of classic interstellar-faring civilizations in general. If Venus and Mars switched orbits, Venus would be the imagined jungle world, it’s biosphere descended from common sub-cellular ancestor of litho-panspermy age, but diverged through four billion years of isolated evolution. And there will be much greater disappointment. Just some differences in basic biochemistry, and oops, we could not eat it’s fruits and plant our crops, but still could be infected by some of it’s pathogens to which we have no immunity at all. There would be only two ways – to live in domes with no less protection than on real-world Moon, or to genetically engineer ourselves. Maybe even to rebuild our bodies and all we need to become compatible, a more daunting task than to send a heavy worldship to Orion’s nebula if the difference goes down to the set of basic amino-acids. Terraforming already-inhabited planets is so much pain comparing to seeding sterile worlds. The second possibly requires roughly the same level of knowledge and technology as building closed ecosystems, but the first is a whole another step indeed. (not counting the somewhat easier sterilization-and-reseeding way :-> )

    Does urbanization have a role on the galactic scale? Difficult to guess, but the more dissimilar are independently-developed civilizations, the more space for symbiosis, providing they transcended or at least mitigated biochemistry barriers…

    Taking all this into account, there could be more ET presence in the Centauri system if it is not habitable. If we live in the outback, than there will be not much both here and there. Searching Solar Systems for ETAs still does make sense because it is so much easier, but outside it, it’s better to search for distant cities than for nearby settlements. From a mountain top in the middle of nowhere, it’s easier to spot a sky glow from coastal metropolis far away than the lights of villages just beyond the horizon.

  • Patrick Underwood May 16, 2021, 14:05

    I’ll add my own, naive, science-fictiony take, similar to other comments here.

    It’s a sort of “Universal Moore’s Law”: at some point in any technological civilization’s advancement, the value proposition of computation swamps the value proposition of biology coupled with, for lack of a better term, “real-world” technology. Consciousness and civilization continue, but in increasingly local and less detectable ways. Perhaps within long-lived red dwarf stars, or wherever computation can proceed most efficiently. So a civilization might be detectable for a few centuries, then suddenly (or slowly, or piecemeal) fade away. But they are still there, living life bigger than ever.

    On the other hand, next month’s report might blow that idea out of the water. Ha, no pun intended.

    • Harold Shaw May 17, 2021, 17:45

      I think the question to ask is whether biological computation offers agency and qualia that can not be reproduced within a more exotic medium. If the answer is yes, I would predict hybrids or people who move between exotic medium’s and the “real world”.

      • Alex Tolley May 17, 2021, 20:32

        If the substrate is Turing-complete, in principle it should be able to create the same output and affect as biology. As we now know that all vertebrates most likely feel pain, as apparently do some invertebrates (cephalopods), and many of us have seen earthworms and insects appear to react to what we would call painful stimuli, it seems likely that almost all animals with brains have some sense of “pain”. Why should not other beings based on other substrates also feel? It is likely that humans are unable to feel some things, or have emotions, that artificial beings have.

        • Patrick Underwood May 18, 2021, 12:43

          Yes. Biology is physics. There is no reason to draw an artificial line between different types of hardware.

        • Harold Shaw May 18, 2021, 19:47

          A Turing-complete substrate would still depend on algorithms to produce qualia. Replication fidelity would be determined by the algorithm. I don’t think a similar concept can be applied to inputs. Inputs are important. Qualia are inherently subjective; beings that collect and process qualia often place high value on minor, subjective differences.

          I am not sure how you intend for the rest of your reply to map to my original comment. Pain is likely an ancient experience. Life needs to learn what is bad for lifeforms. There are countless unique and subjective experiences of pain. Consciousness Ai may increase the number by orders of magnitude.

          Deep Time may be a luxury market with the standard of living settled at functional immortality. A demand for subjective qualia would span the spectrum of inputs, outputs and processing substrates. I think we should still expect successful people to inhabit optimal territories. Optimal territories don’t need to be 100% optimal. Territories and footprint will be messy.

  • Jeff Wright May 16, 2021, 22:31

    47 Ursae Majoris needs be our focus I think. Isn’t there a “warm spot” in terms of things like the oh-my-god particle and such? A bit of anti-matter hit us not long ago. Did 1972 Teton fireball which was to do a reasonant return come from Lyra? Did Earth go through a focal line during the WOW signal? What constellation was overhead during Vela?

  • ljk May 17, 2021, 11:53

    60 Years Later, is it Time to Update the Drake Equation?


    On November 1st, 1961, a number of prominent scientists converged on the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, for a three-day conference. A year earlier, this facility had been the site of the first modern SETI experiment (Project Ozma), where famed astronomers Frank Drake and Carl Sagan used the Green Bank telescope (aka. “Big Ear”) to monitor two nearby Sun-like stars – Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti.

    While unsuccessful, Ozma became a focal point for scientists who were interested in this burgeoning field known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). As a result, Drake and Sagan were motivated to hold the very first SETI conference, wherein the subject of looking for possible extraterrestrial radio signals would be discussed. In preparation for the meeting, Drake prepared the following heuristic equation:

    N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L

    This would come to be known as the “Drake Equation,” which is considered by many to be one of the most renowned equations in the history of science.

    On the sixtieth anniversary of its creation, John Gertz – a film producer, amateur astronomer, board-member with BreakThrough Listen, and the three-term former chairman of the board for the SETI Institute – argues in a recent paper that a factor by factor reconsideration is in order.

    Full article here:


    The paper is online here:


  • Gary Wilson May 17, 2021, 16:56

    I’ve always loved the idea of exploration and I think searching for technosignatures is another valid form. However in order to possibly begin to get some answers and data points we will need to stay in the game for a long period of time. The whole temporal coincidence idea brings that concept home very powerfully. In order to stay in the game we must not only survive but also thrive to have resources for exploration of nearby space. Humans will have to come to grips with the damage we have created by our approach to existence. We are ravenous consumers of resources and rabid destroyers of ecosystems via resource extraction, pollution of all kinds and overpopulation (which endlessly increases the damage we do as our population grows). The way forward will be difficult because it will require massive change. Technologies are beginning to arise which will allow this transformation to begin but time is short. I highly recommend Jared Diamond’s Collapse as a starting point to understanding the danger we are in and how we can possibly circumvent it. E. O. Wilson has also argued for massive changes in human behaviour to protect our precious home world. I would recommend any of his works also. I also go by the maxim hope for the best but prepare for the worst. It seems appropriate based on the current and past behaviour of our species.

    • Alex Tolley May 17, 2021, 20:38

      I haven’t yet finished the novel, but I can recommend KSR’s The Ministry of the Future as one fictionalized view of how we might reach the other side of the climate issue.

      • Gary Wilson May 18, 2021, 20:08

        Hi Alex. Thanks for the recommendation. As it turns out I bought the book in question last weekend. It is my next to read. I consider KSR to be one of the top handful of science fiction authors currently active. We will need some real world application of ideas as well however. We know how to reduce our global environmental footprint but many of us (including many governments) just don’t want to do it. Call it lack of foresight or selfishness or whatever, it just may destroy us as a technological civilization.

    • Jeff Wright May 22, 2021, 21:20

      FDR won WWII by NOT being green. Had he died earlier, the wetlands would be pristine and the Axis certainly would have bit into that overpopulation problem…at great human cost…proving that the green thing to do can be the wrong thing to do. When I hear how “humans are a virus on the Earth/volk whatever…I get nervous…since some want to replace the Constitution with the Unabomber manifesto. I am sick of nature documentaries reducing all of human endeavor with a picture of a smokestack. If all I did was show an animal eating and defecating…I could make it look pretty wasteful too…hold nature up to EPA standards…she fails too with mold, ash, tar pits and the like. So you go back to the cave as the rest of us go to the stars…

  • Michael Fidler May 17, 2021, 21:44

    SETI Breakthrough Listen – E.T. Signal Search.
    Find extraterrestrial signals in data from deep space.

    “Are we alone in the Universe?”
    “It’s one of the most profound—and perennial—human questions. As technology improves, we’re finding new and more powerful ways to seek answers. The Breakthrough Listen team at the University of California, Berkeley, employs the world’s most powerful telescopes to scan millions of stars for signs of technology. Now it wants the Kaggle community to help interpret the signals they pick up.

    The Listen team is part of the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and uses the largest steerable dish on the planet, the 100-meter diameter Green Bank Telescope. Like any SETI search, the motivation to communicate is also the major challenge. Humans have built enormous numbers of radio devices. It’s hard to search for a faint needle of alien transmission in the huge haystack of detections from modern technology.

    Current methods use two filters to search through the haystack. First, the Listen team intersperses scans of the target stars with scans of other regions of sky. Any signal that appears in both sets of scans probably isn’t coming from the direction of the target star. Second, the pipeline discards signals that don’t change their frequency, because this means that they are probably nearby the telescope. A source in motion should have a signal that suggests movement, similar to the change in pitch of a passing fire truck siren. These two filters are quite effective, but we know they can be improved. The pipeline undoubtedly misses interesting signals, particularly those with complex time or frequency structure, and those in regions of the spectrum with lots of interference.

    In this competition, use your data science skills to help identify anomalous signals in scans of Breakthrough Listen targets. Because there are no confirmed examples of alien signals to use to train machine learning algorithms, the team included some simulated signals (that they call “needles”) in the haystack of data from the telescope. They have identified some of the hidden needles so that you can train your model to find more. The data consist of two-dimensional arrays, so there may be approaches from computer vision that are promising, as well as digital signal processing, anomaly detection, and more. The algorithm that’s successful at identifying the most needles will win a cash prize, but also has the potential to help answer one of the biggest questions in science.”



    New Idea!

    What if the signal was sent on two or more frequencies that look like garbage until merged to give a decipherable signal. There may be some signal in both that gives it a indication of being able to be merged… }

  • DCM May 18, 2021, 12:10

    All very well to look for signs (and signals) of life but the vital thing is to develop ways for life we know exists — us and ours — to persist and expand.
    Our survival and spread is paramount.

  • Alex Tolley May 18, 2021, 13:39

    What if the signal was sent on two or more frequencies that look like garbage until merged to give a decipherable signal. There may be some signal in both that gives it an indication of being able to be merged.

    Are you suggesting some sort of spread-spectrum communication? If so, does it suggest the search of a single, narrow band signal filter is too restrictive?

    • Harold Shaw May 18, 2021, 19:55

      Worse. Using a broadband of frequencies to carry information is economical, more secure and more reliable. It is functionally invisible.

    • Michael Fidler May 18, 2021, 23:24

      Yes, but also something like stacking of deep space images, where the signal looks like noise until merged. I would think there may be a number of possible ways to apply this. Maybe some form of entanglement that may be observed via polarization. The National Reconnaissance Office would be a good source for this kind of processing for their SIGINT.



      Under this look at this:
      Electronic signals intelligence and SIGINT versus MASINT.

      The logic would be to make the signal undetectable until you have a certain level of knowledge about physics or the right crystal… )

  • Alex Tolley May 18, 2021, 21:36

    BBC’s Newsnight magazine had a short piece on UFOs and the upcoming report, interviewing the NewYorker writer Lewis-Kraus.

    What I found infuriating was that the only 3 choices of explanation were: US experimental aircraft/drones, Foreign aircraft/drones, or alien craft. Lewis-Kraus added sensor glitches but quickly dismissed them.

    Historically, the vast number of UAP are either natural phenomena or mistaken identification of objects – e.g. weather balloons.

    To be fair, the video clip was of the “blurry bug” so some natural phenomena could be ruled out – it wasn’t Venus. OTOH, it could be a bug trapped in front of the camera.

    It is a pity that no reporting ever seems to rule out possibilities based on the sensor and other contextual data, rather than skipping this and stating “we cannot identify the object” which just leads to “it must be [insert speculative bias here]”. All due credit to Loeb in that he does try to rule out alternative explanations for ‘Oumuamua – as he should – as these can then be challenged.

    • Dimjo May 19, 2021, 8:16

      “bug trapped in front of the camera”….
      Please, the pilots are looking thru their windscreens. The gun cameras confirm that they are not making up stories. You might confuse the readers by emphasizing that radar and FLIR operators don’t actually see the UAP. Pilots do. The problem here is: scientists and engineers who do not have extensive flying time (as pilots, not passengers) and have absolutely no training re arial phenomena are being dismissive of combat pilots. These people train to look for, asses, and engage in arial combat. If a radiologist ‘looks’ at a CT scan and says pancreatic cancer, a lot of things start to happen, one of which is a pathologist will ‘look’ at a biopsy under a microscope. No one dismisses the radiologist opinion. Delay in diagnosis usually occurs when a patient with vague, non-specific symptoms is dismissed by the friendly family doctor.
      The pilots (the authority on visual evaluation of UAP) are telling the politicians, scientists, and engineers that they have to invent the tools to evaluate UAP. We can do something about it or continue to be dismissive.

      • Alex Tolley May 19, 2021, 10:56

        Let me run with your medical analogy for a moment. Firstly, as anyone subjected to x-rays and MRIs who pays attention knows, the images require careful interpretation. One hopes that the interpretation is correct. Machine learning trials on such data, as well as visual inspection of biopsies, show that humans make more mistakes than machines. It is why we are starting to use machines to do a first pass evaluation of such imaging.

        Secondly, imaging isn’t perfect. Sometimes a small spot shows up that is suspicious. To ensure it is real, a second scan is done to make sure it is real, not a scan error. I’ve seen one example where the spot proved not real.

        So even in a limited domain with trained operators and specialists, errors in machines and diagnosis can be made. How often? One hopes not. But how do we know?

        Back to the pilots and UAP evidence. The pilots report something that looks like technology to them. But the evidence presented are recordings that do not verify the sighting’s features. Nor do the repeat sightings indicate some sort of conformity – like Adamski’s “flying saucers”. Because we still depend on physics, our flying machines take very few recognizable forms – sacks to contain gases lighter than air for lift, a fuselage with wings, or a fuselage with rotating blades. Despite the many designs, we can easily identify which type is which, and recognize lineages.

        This does not yet seem to be the case with sightings, at least the ones that seem to defy explanation. So we are left with the problem that each sighting is unique, which in turn suggests that if such artifacts are alien technology, that the different forms might be from many different civilizations. That has implications.

        Skeptics are justified is asking why, especially if there are so many sightings, that we have not one single verifiable piece of hardware evidence. Is it purely a failing of human technology that bits of airplanes fall off and are found, or that they crash and leave lots of evidence? Similarly with spacecraft that reenter on land, rather than successfully over an ocean graveyard. Yet not one of these alien craft has ever crashed, been shot down, or otherwise left evidence. No alien has even dropped and lost anything before leaving (c.f. “Roadside Picnic”) – unless you are an Area 51 conspiracy believer – which fails to explain the same missing artifacts in other countries.

        I accept that these sightings are not something that can be studied in a lab and experimented on. They are more like natural phenomena – meteorite falls, ball lightning, lightning sprites, etc. Nevertheless, we do have evidence for each.

        If a pilot says he sees one such sighting “every day”, then surely a limited number of planes can be fitted with really good multi-sensor equipment to record such sightings so that any actual sighting will have a wealth of data associated with it, including really clear, hi-res imaging of the craft?

        • Robert May 19, 2021, 19:43

          “But the evidence presented are recordings that do not verify the sighting’s features.”

          Can you prove that claim?

          • Alex Tolley May 19, 2021, 21:45

            Do any of the presented videos verify the shapes of the vehicles according to the pilots’ visual reporting?

            I was watching the short segment of the woman pilot talking to Anderson Cooper on CNN. It struck me that her description of the craft disappearing and reappearing some distance away was less like a solid craft and more like light reflecting off different objects, much as one shines a flashlight about to illuminate different scenes. What the source of the light was (sun?) and the objects it was illuminating I have no idea. Did the navy go and look after she was debriefed. I did appreciate that she acknowledged that memories of events could be false and change after so many years, and cautioned against her current account of events all those years ago.

            • Robert May 20, 2021, 9:48

              Except that these visual encounters were also appearing on flight camera’s and radar systems. Reflected light leaving a radar trace? Doubtful. Note also that these encounters with military jets became routine. It is true however that these encounters only became a thing after the radar systems were upgraded.

              As mentioned before, these encounters were of concern enough to merit presidential briefings. I am confident that the process which brought the phenomenon to that level involved expert sophisticated analysis and not casual leading questions from TV reporters.

              Physicist Jack Sarfatti thinks he knows how the ‘Tic Tac’s’ work. He thinks it’s a very low energy version of an Alcubierre type metric involving a metamaterial surface which would explain the apparent ability to make sudden jarring moves that seem to defy physics such as moving from zero to thousands of miles per hour in an instant without disturbing the atmosphere and disappearing and reappearing elsewhere. As far as I can tell Sarfatti does not believe these craft are extraterrestrial but terrestrial and are a sub-light version of the ‘warp’ mechanism. Of course if such technology were possible it would open the entire solar system to easy and quick access as well as allow unmanned interstellar probes at a high fraction of light speed making them truly practical.

              Is Sarfatti right? We would be correct to be skeptical at this point but I’m glad someone is at least thinking along those lines. It would be funny indeed if Sarfatti’s ideas worked while the Tic Tac’s themselves turned out to be an illusion but stranger things have happened.

              • Alex Tolley May 20, 2021, 16:04

                I don’t like discrediting the messenger rather than the message, but…


                • Robert May 21, 2021, 10:40

                  I don’t see that wiki page as discrediting Sarfatti unless you interpret ‘working largely outside the mainstream’ as equal to being a nutcase. Sarfatti is edgy but brilliant people are rarely all right or all wrong about everything. I would say we at least listen to his arguments about the physics of these objects, the so-called Tic Tac’s, and not reject his ideas out of hand because he’s a rather eccentric personality.

    • Michael Fidler May 19, 2021, 10:34

      This is frustrating, I am trying not to make it worst, but there is a very long history of reports. To deal with something a little more concrete the many vehicle and aircraft electromagnetic interference from these objects goes clear back to WWII. This is the only way research can deal with these objects for both sides can make assumptions that fall down the rabbit hole. What is needed is a in depth study of such reports and what causes the extremly high slowly rotating magnetic field. That is what is at the core of the national security issue associated with UFOs. I’m afraid any other way will lead to the biased arguments. Pure hard core physics is involved and the large number of professional’s reporting these effects have the scientific instruments in use while the objects are near. Aeronautical instruments are not something that can be hoaxed and any issues are under strict guidlines by the FAA. The credibility is also very high for airline pilots are risking there carrers.

      • Alex Tolley May 19, 2021, 17:32

        I have not doubt the skepticism is as frustrating to you as global heating and holocaust deniers are to me.

        However, I have not just “fallen off the turnip truck” as the Irish like to say. I read a number of books on UFOs and ancient aliens when I was young. What seems convincing to the authors is debunked by experts and those with fewer tendencies to accept every report as accurate and truthful. The noise level from hoaxers, attention seekers, and the mistaken is huge. That is why official analysis, like the USAFs “Project Blue Book” ultimately found just a small residuum of unexplainable sightings – i.e. that no definitive explanation was available.

        The problem I see is that ufology is very like other phenomena. For example, those that believe the Bible literally is the “word of God” then need to “debunk” evolution as it contradicts the Book of Genesis. Their default for any “incomplete explanation” is that God did it – known as the “God of gaps” With UAP, the equivalent is “Aliens are responsible”..

        Rashes of UFO sightings occur in cycles. In the late 1800s, people saw cigar-shaped things in the sky with porthole lights. Funnily enough, airships were being experimented on at the time, particularly Zeppelins. In 1947, pilot Ken Arnold kicked of the “flying saucer” form, which became the default in sci-fi B-movies, and Adamski’s Venusian saucers. Now we have a variety of forms reflecting ships, airships, saucers, drones, and a host of forms that have been made in sci-fi/fantasy tv and movies. Mass hysteria seems to account for a number of sightings claimed by many people. People mistake planets and stars for moving lights, and actually moving aircraft lights for something else. Add in the human propensity to “follow the crowd” and a purported object in the sky suddenly gets “confirmed” by other witnesses.

        Are pilots immune to this? I seriously doubt it.

        What about radar and other apparent more objective information? To take a simple example, a stealthed plane appears the size of a bird on radar. So is a small object detected by radar a bird or a stealthed plane? Can reflections or other phenomena make a bird reflection look like it is traveling 100s mph? I don’t know. But we do know that sensor data (lidar, IR, visible light) has been misidentified by autonomous automobiles causing fatal accidents. So I don’t buy that sensor data is infallible. I am sure that operators of such instruments can recount all sorts of stories like this. [And remember the US warship that misidentified and fatally shot down an Iranian airliner in 1988. So much for the superiority of trained military personnel who purportedly mistook an Airbus A300 for an F-14! Like the book title by the late Oliver Sacks – “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” – this would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.]

        If high-tech craft were frequently making sorties in Earth’s atmosphere, then there would be nth-order effects that should be detectable. Just as a Loch Ness monster (suggested plesiosaur) cannot exist on its own for hundreds of years nor fail to leave traces in the local environment and therefore can be dismissed as nonsense, neither can a stealthed [space]craft. Asking the right questions and looking for other evidence that might corroborate a sighting is important. If a radar shows a solid, visible object traveling at 100s/1000s mph then there should be other effects – atmospheric turbulence, perhaps shadows on the ground, and a host of other effects. If such a vehicle is visible in the air how did it get there? Unless it materialized, it must have come from elsewhere, perhaps from space. Did no other asset detect it in space nearby as we do already track satellites and meteors? And so on and so forth. Without them, one has to start doubting a radar recording is reflecting reality. In the case of the Iranian airliner, one has to ask why was a large aircraft mistaken for a fighter, when other evidence such as airport location, flight information, and probably eyeball observations ignored? A heat of the moment issue? If so, why discount possible similar errors of judgment by pilots?

        As Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” Everyone can be fooled, laypersons, scientists, and yes, even military pilots. Skepticism is warranted, especially so as decades of sightings and investigations have turned up no tangible hard evidence. Science turned up meteorites, but no ghosts or evidence of ESP which can now be dismissed unless one falls into the rabbit holes of sensational tv “documentaries”. It is, after all, the job of the investigators to prove the reality reflected by the observed evidence, not the skeptics to disprove it.

  • Edwin May 19, 2021, 6:21

    Detectability of Artificial Lights from Proxima b

    Just catching up on all the comments

  • Alex Tolley May 19, 2021, 12:02

    So, we are faced with mounting evidence of what appears to be some kind of technology we don’t yet understand that outperforms our best capabilities by far…

    Just think about that statement for a moment. A terrestrial agency/company has technology so advanced that is must also be so secret that there are no hints of it in the scientific and technical literature. Note, that when scientists worked on the H-bomb, they published in astrophysics journals to hide data from non-specialists. Yet somehow, all the real reported advances needed are nowhere to be seen or detected. Just who is making this stuff? If it turns up in US airspace then it is surely US sourced, not Russian/Chinese/Nazis-under-the-Earth etc. Who is maintaining this secrecy? It requires lots of people to develop such technology – c.f . F-35. Yet no crashed experiments have been found, no one has leaked any secrets, etc. So what are we left with? Aliens with infallible technology that somehow gives us tantalizing glimpses. Is this something out of Douglas Adams’ HHGTTG?

    As for pilot testimony. I have said repeatedly that they make the same mistakes as everyone else. Yes, they can identify every US/Russian/Chinese military jet in the sky at distance. So what? As the scene in the movie “Red October” indicates, when ML trained on sonar signal identification cannot find a match, it defaults to “whale”. (Very 1980s expert system technology, IMO.) All experts are trained to be able to identify between similar objects – entomologists and beetles, ag inspectors and fruit flies, etc. But are you seriously suggesting pilots have some superhuman ability to not get caught out by the many optical illusions and biases that experimental psychologists, like Kahneman, have identified? If a pilot says something like “it accelerated to over 2000 mph in less than a second”, should we take that as truth, when we know that traffic cops seeing and ticketing speeders every day cannot reliably judge speeds and must correctly use frequently calibrated radar detectors as evidence in court – and they still make mistakes. We know that pilots exaggerate as was found in WWII when pilots reported more planes shot down than in the enemy squadrons, which was why cameras were used to record “kills”. Has that practice suddenly been abandoned? believing pilots are superhuman observers is possibly part of the fetishizing of the US military. Better to stick with real, rather than subjective, evidence. This is why I emphasize that with the increasingly cheap and sophisticated technology we have available, we should equip all planes with sensor arrays to collect data. If we can capture superb images of celestial objects from space probe flybys, then we ought to be able to capture good quality images and video with multi-sensor data from a number of observers (e.g. 2 aircraft tracking the same object) rather than a fuzzy video. [Conspiracy theorists haven’t suggested that the low-quality video was deliberately fuzzified to obscure the true nature of the craft – yet.]

    For the record, I don’t believe there is any company or government agency working on super-advanced technology, whether terrestrial-, or alien-based. Not in the US, Russia, China, or anywhere else. Historically, every technology development has a clear lineage and no step jump from nowhere. Every aircraft, rocket, and computer chip technology can be traced to its origin and how it was invented. There is no hint of injected alien technology.

    But note that we see pop-sci articles that use headlines and hints of alien biology in terrestrial animals – like octopi. We’ve seen suggestions that terrestrial biology complexity needs more time than the age of the Earth to appear, so it must be alien – ie panspermia is required. Just a common source of bias – ie an offshoot of religiosity?

    • Michael Fidler May 19, 2021, 19:58

      Ex-Air Force Personnel: UFOs Deactivated Nukes.


      The Mysterious Cold War Case Of Unidentified Aircraft Descending On Loring Air Force Base.


      UFOs & Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites Kindle Edition.

      The reality of UFO incursions at American nuclear weapons facilities has been convincingly established. Hundreds of U.S. military veterans now openly discuss these ominous incidents and thousands of declassified government documents substantiate their revelations. Over the past four decades, renowned researcher Robert Hastings has interviewed more than 150 of those veterans regarding their involvement in these astounding cases. On September 27, 2010, CNN live-streamed his UFOs and Nukes press conference in Washington D.C. during which former U.S. Air Force officers described numerous nuclear missiles mysteriously malfunctioning moments after a disc-shaped craft was observed hovering near their underground launch silos.That shocking episode, in March 1967, was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Documented UFO activity occurred at a plutonium processing plant in Washington State as early as January 1945, months prior to the atomic bombings in Japan. Another incident, in October 2010, involved one missile base in Wyoming being unable to communicate with several of its missile launch control capsules just as a huge cigar-shaped craft slowly flew over them. Significantly, documents smuggled out of Russia in the 1990s confirm that Soviet nukes were also the focus of UFO interest during the Cold War era. On one occasion, in October 1982, a number of missiles temporarily activated for launch, as terrified officers attempted to disrupt the unauthorized count-down. After 15 seconds, the anomaly terminated and the equipment returned to standby status. While this was taking place, an enormous disc silently hovered over the base. In short, the evidence presented in UFOs & Nukes makes clear that humans’ deadliest weapons have been, since their development and use during World War II, under intense scrutiny by still-unidentified observers possessing tremendously advanced technology. Given these disclosures, it seems evident that the UFO-Nukes Connection is highly significant and perhaps even the key reason these mysterious aerial craft have appeared in our skies over the past seven decades.


      Read this and stop making up fruitless arguments, this is off planet technology.

      • Alex Tolley May 19, 2021, 21:36

        It is the plot of the first half of the movie: “Earth vs The Flying Saucers”. We just haven’t had the battle/war yet. ;)

        Perhaps Mr. Carpenter could land shortly and explain how our actions with nuclear weapons worry the planets and that Gort will enforce compliance if we do not abandon them. ;)

        • Michael Fidler May 20, 2021, 9:29

          You talk of your fantasies, but the real world of nuclear weapons is no fantasy. This is all well documented by the agencies that are involved and should be a major part the release coming next month.

      • Alex Tolley May 20, 2021, 10:40

        If UFOs were really causing malfunctions of nuclear missiles, there would be a national security panic. I don’t believe it for a moment. Firstly, let’s decouple any sighting from the alleged malfunctions. Humans often conflate coincidences with cause and effect. What is the evidence, statistical or otherwise that there was some sighting->malfunction connection? Were there really any sightings, or were they just excuses for the malfunctions – rather like the WWII “gremlins” that in reality were manufacturing errors at the plant? “Damn, the missile shows an error reading, it must be caused by one of Bert’s UFOs.” [Not said: “Ok, let’s have a look at what the problem is…..Oh, I see, it looks like a loose washer has shorted the ‘infrabulator’.” Followed by a discussion of reporting the problem and the resulting pain of the paperwork load. Not reporting won.]

  • Robert May 19, 2021, 19:27

    You seem to be saying that if there were anything actually interesting going on we would already know about it because there would be a technological trail left behind in the development. There is none that is publically known so therefore there is no new technology. This a very weak position and really makes little sense.

    Then you hammer the testimony of the pilots with the argument that because pilots can make mistakes, therefore these pilots are making mistakes. That completely ignores the fact that the testimonies are backed up by data. I previously mentioned president Obama’s statement.

    Third, you claim that there would be better quality photos. The film I saw has the same resolution as flight cameras used in the Gulf War. I don’t know if there are better photos or not but it is a weak argument. Also, usually the initial images from deep space probes are not great but they then are highly processed.

    You also make the statement that “all the real reported advances needed are nowhere to be seen or detected”. That’s quite a bold claim. How would you know for sure? In fact there are physicists working on understanding these objects and their behaviour within the framework of known physics.

    • Alex Tolley May 20, 2021, 11:07

      In the last 75 years, name a new technology that suddenly appeared with vastly superior performance offering some possibly military advantage but had no prior scientific or technical lineage. All those new technologies of the 20th century, like jet engines, microcomputer chips, lasers, etc., etc., and yet every one of them can trace its lineage back to the original idea or a scientific paper. Don’t you think that if there were such technology appearances, questions would be asked about them by domain technical experts? Would reporters fail to note and write about such miraculous advances? Would a government be able to kill all such reporting and questioning for decades without a single leak? Introduced alien technology is the stuff of fiction, not reality.

      If you think you know of any such technology, please inform us.

      • Robert May 20, 2021, 12:50

        The point is that would be consistent with a mysterious new technology developed either in secret here or by some other intelligence but you are using it to suggest there could not be a sudden appearance of a radical new technology. And again, I did not claim the UAP phenomenon in question is alien.

        I could also argue that the characteristics of the UAP’s we are discussing are not new and these are not the only or first unresolved cases. Can you honestly claim that all prior UAP cases have been resolved? Of course unresolved cases do not mean aliens.

        The other point is that if these ‘craft’ were secretly developed human technology the trail may just not be obvious but ultimately may exist in hindsight when all is revealed.

        We’ve discussed this before and don’t agree so let’s not argue it again but I would have argued that the discovery of lower energy states of Hydrogen, so-called Hydrino states, would/will have the appearance of a suddenly new and unpredicted technology as the reactors are working at the net 250kW power levels now, but in fact there is a long and complete record of it’s discovery and technological development but most people just aren’t aware of it yet.

        • Alex Tolley May 20, 2021, 16:19

          But apparently this “new technology” has been around since at least 1947 (Ken Arnold’s flying saucer sighting) and probably before. In 1947, most aircraft were still subsonic and piston-engined. Jets had been invented by Whittle and were operational by the end of WWII. Powerful rockets (V-2) were developed by the Nazis that were operational before the end of WWII. Yet apparently, despite a war and the value of such “flying saucer” craft, they were never deployed by the allies. Nor later in Korea and Vietnam where their performance would clearly benefit US airmen. Nor apparently were they used to spy on Russia, where we preferred developing other spy planes – U-2 and SR-71. The sightings suggest any development by an agency clearly has not significantly improved their performance, nor have any spin-off technologies been employed by conventional aircraft. If these objects are seen daily by naval aviators amongst others, it doesn’t say much about the competency of the organization trying to keep these machines secret.

          So we are really left with the idea that such objects are not under the control of terrestrial governments.

          • Robert May 21, 2021, 10:27

            If these objects, and that seems like a fairly neutral term, are under control, it does not have to be by known governments. There could be a breakaway group operating within some government unknown even to those supposedly ‘in the know’.

            But beyond that there are other non-alien possibilities. Given the supposed flight characteristics are consistent with advanced physics such as the Alcubierre type metric, perhaps time travel plays a role. The objects might be visiting from the future (or remote past) where an advanced culture perhaps at one time lived. If so, they might be ourselves from another time. Why? Maybe a time loop plays an integral role in the development of the technology. So, maybe they aren’t trying to keep secret at all but are trying to stimulate us to think about the physics of what’s happening and what’s possible and start in a path to development of such advanced technology. Then why not just land on a ship? Perhaps that’s not allowed by their rules or perhaps these visits are actually unintended side effects of our future selves testing this technology? I’m not saying I buy into this kind of speculation, it’s just food for thought.

            I heard someone with connections say that not all the information, such as high res video and other data, has been publically released yet.

  • ljk May 20, 2021, 13:47

    Video “games” may provide wonderful playgrounds to safely create plausible scenarios involving all kinds of First Contacts with all kinds of ETI that we may imagine. They do not have to be simple battle games or stuck in a dramatic format ala Star Trek.

    See here…


    This is why I also like Orion’s Arm:


  • ljk May 20, 2021, 13:49

    This situation may also apply to ETI, especially since I think the kind of intelligent aliens that traverse the stars will not be organic:


    While the title says “crush humans” it does not have to mean these Artilects would literally destroy us. They would just outmatch us on multiple levels. This may explain the Great Silence.

  • Michael Fidler May 21, 2021, 3:56

    Why Scientists Run from Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.

    Academics and scientists have remained cautious about research into the UFO mystery. If we understand why, that could change.

    A Professional Guillotine.
    Stick your neck out and you risk getting your head chopped off. That’s the short answer to why scientists don’t get involved in studying Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAP.
    Should we blame scientists for shortening their necks like a turtle retreating into its shell to avoid danger?”


    “At the end of the day big universities care about money and prestige. If the general public comes to learn about and accept the reality of UAPs, that could drive interest and perceived value in this line of research. Money must be made available by the government specifically for this purpose. If big grants are available to scientists, we might find that universities suddenly become interested in this topic and encourage research. It has to become a reputable and respectable line of pursuit. From an institution’s perspective, research should be highly relevant and bring in grant dollars.
    In its current state, the UAP field is too littered with mines. Step on a hoax and a scientist is finished.”


    With a lot more in between, a very well written balanced article that shows how big the problem really is. I would react the same way if I was in their shoes. Hopefully this will change in the not too distant future… )

    • Michael Fidler May 23, 2021, 10:13

      I Look for Aliens for a Living, and No, I Don’t Study UFOs.
      MAY 22, 20215:55 AM


      He needs to get a good expensive pair of binoculars and go someplace unpopulated and just observe for awhile. I find 99.99 percent of the populace are cross eyed and cannot see beyond their noses. I’m are not talking about you Jason but real scientist (Natural Philosophers) that still have an once of curiosity. I was told once that most professional astronomers are not interested in the heavens but only to make there dent in books, papers and the news. It is that .01 percent that you never will look at that you will forever be never forgiven.

    • Michael Fidler May 23, 2021, 10:33

      tolerant – showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that one does not necessarily agree with.

      You are tolerant of students and people’s religions and beliefs, so whey so vehement about this one subject!

  • Michael Fidler May 21, 2021, 22:57

    I would say that these objects use slowly rotating high magnetic fields and plasma that relate to magnetic reconnection and solitons. We are still learning about this subject and any such advanced civilizations would have a matured technology based on a complete understanding of plasma physics. This would be the logical outcome of studing their star. The relation of quantum physics at the nuclear level with Ions and electrons and plasma is still in its infancy. The high probability that electrons have FTL properties embedded in them has been clearly pointed out by R.C. Jennison’s theory of phase-locked cavities for electrons. We are still learning… )

    Physicists Have Broken The Speed of Light With Pulses Inside Hot Plasma.


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