“I would say the odds are even 50/50 that in a year or two, we will
have discovered life elsewhere — and that’s pretty big stuff!”
– Jim Al-Khalili, Ph.D., Prof. of Theoretical Physics,
Univ. of Surrey, Guildford, U. K.
Reposted December 8, 2023 – May 26, 2017 Guildford, England – In early May 2017, I received by email the cover of a book originally published in November 2016, and now newly released on May 9, 2017, with this provocative title: ALIENS: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life — edited by Jim Al-Khalili, Ph.D., Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey in the U. K. His several books have included Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines in 1999 and Life On the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology in 2014. This year he hosted for the BBC a 90-minute documentary entitled Gravity and Me: The Force That Shapes Our Lives. And last year in 2016, he hosted another BBC documentary, The Beginning and End of the Universe.
Now 54 years old, Prof. Al-Khalili was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and now resides in Southsea, Hampshire, England. In this new book where the word ALIENS is in unexpectedly big white letters, Prof. Al-Khalili asked leading thinkers in astronomy, cosmology, astrobiology, neuroscience and genetics this question: Is the biodiversity of life on planet Earth and the smart standing up primate Homo sapiens sapiens a freak accident in this universe? Or is organic life inevitable when some basic chemistry comes together at the right temperature and humidity? I began by asking him how this book came about with strict scientists — and he brought up flying saucers and aliens.
Jim Al-Khalili, Ph.D., 45, Prof. of Theoretical Physics, University of Surrey, Guildford, England: “The book was the idea of the publishers in the U.K., Profile Books, who approached me and asked me if I wanted to edit and bring together this book on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. As you say, it’s a subject that’s hugely popular. It’s in the news. Hollywood makes movies about the subject. People want to know whether the Earth is the only place in the universe where there’s life, and why should that be the case? But if not, where else might we find it? It was a really exciting project to do because I could call upon chemists, biologists, astronomers, astrobiologists, philosophers, even a psychologist who talked about why it is that people truly believe that they have been abducted by aliens, that they’ve seen flying saucers. And people are not lying when they say they’ve been abducted by aliens. They truly believe it.
WHAT IF THERE IS SOMETHING GOING ON THAT IS OTHER-DIMENSIONAL AND WE REALLY ARE IN A COSMOS OF MANY DIMENSIONS, NOT JUST THIS ONE, AND THAT THERE COULD BE THINGS (Aliens) COMING AND GOING FROM OTHER DIMENSIONS?
It is possible, it is possible. And mathematically, we can think about other dimensions of space and time. We can solve equations. And so if one comes up with a theory or suggestion that explains alien visits to this planet, then we need to have more definitive evidence than a fuzzy photograph or hearsay.
Astounding Fast Radio Bursts — Alien Source?
WELL, YOU KNOW THERE HAVE BEEN THESE FASCINATING HEADLINES — I’M LOOKING AT ONE RIGHT NOW FROM SCIENCE ALERT ON MAY 11TH — “SCIENTISTS ARE AT A LOSS TO EXPLAIN THIS MYSTERIOUS COSMIC RADIO SIGNAL.”
IT’S ONE OF THE FAST RADIO BURSTS. AND THIS ONE, IT WAS EQUIVALENT TO 500 MILLION SUNS. THEY HAVE LOOKED AT THIS HUGE BURST WITH 11 TELESCOPES TO SEARCH FOR RADIO, OPTICAL, X-RAY, GAMMA RAY, AND NEUTRINO EMISSIONS. QUOTE, “NEITHER TRANSIENT NOR VARIABLE EMISSION WAS FOUND TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE BURST, AND NO REPEAT PULSES HAVE BEEN OBSERVED IN 17.25 HOURS OF OBSERVING.” HOW CAN SOMETHING THAT GENERATES AS MUCH ENERGY AS 500 MILLION SUNS HAVE NO AFTERGLOW?
It’s a puzzle, yes. Fast radio bursts are still a big mystery in astronomy, and we believe they are coming from outside of our galaxy. People have talked about trying to model them as two colliding black holes, for example. But you’re right. This is not something that can be explained. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the origin is some alien life.
Advanced Intergalactic Civilization
WELL, TWO MONTHS AGO, I INTERVIEWED AVI LOEB, THE CHAIR OF THE HARVARD UNIVERSITY ASTRONOMY DEPARTMENT.
Yes, I know him. Yes.
ABOUT THESE RAPID, FAST BURSTS. AND HE IS HYPOTHESIZING THE POSSIBILITY THAT WE ARE GETTING THE FIRST EVIDENCE THAT WE HAVE IN A RECORD OF ALL THESE BURSTS, 22 OF THEM SO FAR, THAT COULD BE ASSOCIATED WITH SOME SORT OF PROPULSION SYSTEM BY AN ADVANCED ALIEN TECHNOLOGY.
Yes, it is possible. Avi is obviously very interested in propulsion systems because he’s very much involved in the project to send micro-craft to our nearest neighbor star, Proxima Centauri.
Breakthrough Starshot: Using Lasers to Propel
Small “Starships” Near Light Speed to Explore Exoplanets
Yes. So obviously, he’s very keen to find out. If indeed there is alien intelligence that has developed this, well, hey, we need to know how they do it, right? But he’s postulating that that is possible, but it’s far from confirmed. And until we can have evidence for sure, it doesn’t yet fit in with something we can confirm scientifically.
WELL, WHAT IS POINTING IN THE STRONGEST DIRECTION FROM HAVING DONE THIS BOOK, ALIENS: THE WORLD’S LEADING SCIENTISTS ON THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE?
I would say the most important evidence, firstly we are discovering all the ingredients that we believe are necessary for live. And of course, we may not be imaginative enough here. But certainly, in terms of a planet or moon of a planet having an energy source, whether it’s its own star or whether it’s an internal energy, we need energy to sustain the complexity of life. There needs to be liquid water because we believe water is vital for helping build the molecules of life. And of course, we need organic molecules, the chemistry to be in place.
But what we do know, the only example we have for evidence of life is here on this planet. We know that life began very soon after the Earth cooled sufficiently for life to form. And so we have the feeling that at least microbial life, single-cellular simple life, may not be that hard to appear provided the conditions are right. And it may well be that that’s something that’s under the ice of one of the moons of our own gas giants, or it could be on some exoplanet, of which we’re discovering, as you mentioned at the start, discovering so many exoplanets, many of them that we think are in the Goldilocks Zone with the right conditions.
So I would argue that it is very likely that life exists elsewhere, but I suspect that the first alien life we will discover if we do, will not be as interesting as many would like because it’s likely to be simple microbial life. It may be that the hard part, the rare version of life, is the multicellular, complex life that emerged here on Earth many billions of years after the first lifeforms appeared, and that accident that happened may be very rare. That doesn’t suggest that it doesn’t exist elsewhere. It’s just that it may not be as common as single-celled, microbial life.
Is Our Universe Old Enough to Have
Space/Time Bending Civilizations?
HAVE YOU TALKED WITH MICHIO KAKU AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY ABOUT HIS PERSPECTIVE THAT THIS WHOLE COSMIC UNIVERSE AT 3.8 BILLION YEARS OLD IS OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE THREE OR FOUR STAGES OF EVOLVING LIFE? AND HE TALKS ABOUT CIVILIZATIONS ONE, TWO, AND THREE, POSSIBLY FOUR.
Yes. I’ve not spoken to Michio for a few years now, but I’ve certainly read his books, and I’ve read what he says about that. And I agree with him. The universe is certainly old enough for there to have been earlier generation star systems where life could have evolved billions of years ago. In which case, they will have evolved to such an extent, they will be such advanced civilizations, that we couldn’t possibly conceive of what they might be capable of technologically. That is all absolutely possible, first, second, and third generation civilizations and how advanced they could become. So all of that is possible. There’s absolutely no reason why we should discount it. But we still don’t know how easy or difficult it is for complex life to emerge. We know it happened here on Earth. But how common is life elsewhere?
Saturn’s Enceladus Moon Could Have
Swimming Creatures in Its Warm Ocean
WELL, YOU KNOW ON EARTH WE WERE SURPRISED SOME YEARS AGO TO FIND THAT THERE WERE TUBEWORMS THAT WERE SURVIVING DEEP IN OCEANS NEAR VOLCANIC VENTS WHERE THE TEMPERATURE WAS EXTREMELY HIGH, AND THEY ARE THRIVING. AND WE HAVE OTHER EXAMPLES OF VERY EXTREME FORMS OF LIFE ON OUR OWN PLANET LIVING DEEP IN GOLD MINES, HIGH ON MOUNTAINS, AND EXTREMES.
WELL, OUT IN THE SATURN WORLD OF OUR OWN SOLAR SYSTEM, THERE IS ENCELADUS (moon) THAT APPEARS TO HAVE A CRUST OF ICE. DATA TWO YEARS AGO INDICATED THAT DOWN AT THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN ON THAT MOON, THERE APPEARS TO BE A TEMPERATURE OF 194 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. POSSIBLY IT IS RADIOACTIVE RADIATION IN ENCELADUS THAT IS HEATING THE WATER UP. IT SEEMS THAT THERE IS A POSSIBLITY WE MIGHT EVEN FIND SWIMMING CREATURES THERE.
Yes, I think that’s certainly what has changed our views in recent years. Discovering these extremophiles near these hot vents under the ocean, in cracks in rocks—it seems wherever we look on Earth, we see life able to thrive. So what we’ve had to do is broaden our spectrum of conditions that would be appropriate for life.
And certainly, Enceladus, the moon of Saturn, is proving to be one of the most exciting places to explore the possibility of life. I interviewed on my BBC radio show a woman, Michele Dougherty, Ph.D., physicist, who is the head of the science project for the Cassini mission. She was the person who persuaded the mission to fly past Enceladus a second and a third time to get a better look at it.
And now we know this moon has an atmosphere. It has these jets of water shooting out from its pole. As you say, it has a heat source inside, which we can determine from its magnetic field, which would keep water in liquid form under the surface. So yes, if I were a betting man, I would say we are likely in my lifetime to find life somewhere, probably within our solar system, either under the surface of Europa or Enceladus, or maybe on the moon Titan.
But I don’t know how excited the rest of the world would be if we discover such lifeforms, which they may be swimming, but they’re likely to be very simple lifeforms. I wonder whether those who regard extraterrestrial life as needing to be intelligent, sentient creatures or nothing, they may be disappointed if that’s all we find. But for me as a scientist, it will be just as exciting just knowing that life exists somewhere other than on Earth will be a huge revolution in science.
WELL, SOMEHOW THOUGH IN OUR UNIVERSE, IT DOES SEEM TO REPLICATE ITSELF FROM ONE END TO THE OTHER. AND IF THIS EARTH IN THIS SMALL ARM OF THE MILKY WAY GALAXY HAS A VARIETY AND EVOLUTION OF STANDING UP PRIMATES WITH INTELLIGENCE, IT SEEMS LIKELY THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED SOMEWHERE ELSE IN THIS 13.8 BILLION LIGHT YEAR UNIVERSE.
I think that’s true. I think the bottom line is our universe is vast, and it’s been around long enough. So it would be extremely unlikely that there isn’t life elsewhere, including intelligent life elsewhere. Of course, the question is whether there’s intelligent life elsewhere close enough to us to want to or have the reasons to come and visit us. But then of course, as you say, it may be that there’s life that’s far in advance of us in terms of technology, for which the vast distances of space are not such an obstacle.”
Continued in Part 2.
• 04/05/2016 – “Interstellar Travel with Laser Light Propulsion”
• 04/22/2006 — Cassiopeia A Is Not Dying Peacefully. Is It A Rare Magnetar?
For further information about search for life in this universe, please see reports in the Earthfiles Archive organized in chronological order from 1999 to 2017 ongoing of which a few are listed here.
- 01/05/2017 —“Fast Radio Bursts” of Intense Radiation from Galaxy Far, Far Away
- 07/26/2013 —Unidentified Cosmic Radio Bursts Baffle Astronomers.
- 04/05/2016 —Interstellar Travel with Laser Light Propulsion
- 10/22/2016 —Is Our Sun’s Mysterious 6-Degree Tilt Linked to A Huge 9th Planet?
- 09/30/2016 —Part 1: Searching for Other Life and Dark Matter in This Universe
- 09/30/2016 —Part 2: Self-Activating Intelligence of Dragonfly and James Webb Telescopes
- 01/29/2016 —Gravitational Evidence of 9th Planet 10 Times the Mass of Earth!
- 06/27/2015 —Is Time An Illusion and the Future Already Written, As Einstein Thought?
- 07/26/2013 —Unidentified Cosmic Radio Bursts Baffle Astronomers.
Project Breakthrough Starshot: http://spaceref.com/interstellar/announcing-breakthrough-starshot-building-earths-first-starships.html
“Scientists Are At A Loss to Explain This Mysterious Cosmic Radio Signal,” May 11, 2017, Science Alert: http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-are-at-a-complete-loss-to-explain-this-mysterious-cosmic-radio-signal
“Could Fast Radio Bursts Be Powering Alien Probes?” March 9, 2017, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics: https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2017-09
“Harvard Theorists: How Sailing Aliens Could Have Caused Fast Radio Bursts,” March 10, 2017, The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/03/10/delightful-thought-experiment-sailing-aliens-caused-furious-and-fast-radio-bursts/?utm_term=.264e71bbc214
“Mysterious Cosmic Radio Blasts Traced to Surprising Source,” Nature Int’l. Weekly Journal of Science, January 4, 2017: http://www.nature.com/news/mysterious-cosmic-radio-blasts-traced-to-surprising-source-1.21235
Cornell University “Cosmic Source Found for Mysterious ‘Fast Radio Burst’,” January 4, 2017: http://mediarelations.cornell.edu/2017/01/04/cosmic-source-found-for-mysterious-fast-radio-burst/
“Mysterious Radio Burst Came from A Galaxy 2.5 Billion Light-Years Away, Astronomers Discover,” January 4, 2017, The Washington Post:
Project BREAKTHROUGH Starshot: https://breakthroughinitiatives.org/Initiative/3
Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_Centauri
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