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Archive for the ‘ET Life’ Category

It is when it’s about the search for extraterrestrial life and panspermia.

In yet another example of just this, I’d invite you all to read “Far-Off Planets Like the Earth Dot the Galaxy.”

Have any of these planets actually been identified? No. Have any of them yielded data that demonstrate life is possible? No.

But doesn’t the article lead say this …

Astronomers reported that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy, based on a new analysis of data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.

It does. Sounds real “sciencey” doesn’t it? These scientists are “reporting” this figure — as though the number has been truly validated. Correction: this is guessing or speculating, not “reporting” of something known to correspond to reality.

The reality is that what’s being said is that the 40 billion number is a mathematical extrapolation (again, it sounds better than “guess”) about how many planetary bodies there might be in the galaxy that are situated in “Goldilocks zones” — i.e., situated in orbits that, given the heat of their suns (another guess), would have surface temperatures that are not too hot and not too cold for liquid water, the essential factor for life as we know it.

It’s really hard to not look at this and call it “faith”. I don’t mind this faith statement, of course, since I have no theological objection to ET life. One might also argue that it’s reasonable faith. I have no problem with that either, since I don’t think faith and reason are incompatible. But when it comes to religion, faith is readily criticized, no matter how reasonable. “Without scientific data” we’re told, “it’s still just a belief.”

If the shoe fits ….

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I had to say something about this recent article from DeZeen: “NASA Develops 3-D Printing Factory in Space.” I just finished the draft for The Portent, and there’s a scene in it that involves the marriage of nanotechnology (and/or synthetic biology) and 3-D printing. I hinted at that scene during my interview with Art Bell a week ago.

But NASA and the military industrial complex would never contemplate anything like that.

Here’s the Rebecca-from-Sunnybrook-Farm spin from NASA about the venture:

“This radically different approach to building space systems will enable us to create antennas and arrays that are tens-to-hundreds of  times larger than are possible now, providing higher power, higher bandwidth, higher resolution, and higher sensitivity for a wide range of space missions.”

Sure. It’ll do that. It’s a great idea to make hardware in space. Why not?

The problem is that it doesn’t take too much imagination to speculate on what sort of other kinds of recipes and ingredients NASA could put into a technology like 3-D printing (“What would you like to make today . . . with organic materials?”).  Garbage in, garbage out. Organic material in …

The unpopular reality is that, if and when NASA or anyone else is able to wield synthetic biology (that’s writing new, unique DNA from the atomic and molecular level up), it would be painfully easy to fabricate non-terrestrial DNA and claim it’s alien life. That’s not debunking. It’s a frank admission that those who don’t wield such technology would have no hope of critically evaluating such a claim in a world where some people did wield that technology. And once someone achieves the ability to manufacture non-terrestrial DNA right here on earth (again, think about that one), then what’s to stop any tethering of it to 3-D technology?

In other words, in such a world, how would we tell truth from falsehood with respect to a claim that ET life had been discovered? Granted, I’m with you if you’re thinking most scientists could be trusted with such a research claim (i.e., they’d be doing honest science). But I hope no one is so gullible to think that science is never politicized, and that this particular science would never be politicized.

It’s a shame that this sort of technology has the potential to take something that’s true and undermine it with skepticism, and to take something false and celebrate it as truth. But it might not be that way had those in power in these areas for so many years been more ethical and high-minded. We reap what we sow.

 

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Is the red rain phenomena of Kerala, India, proof of extraterrestrial life? Does it contain ET DNA? Does it demonstrate a panspermia mechanism?

The answers, in order, are: no, no, and no.

The red rain issue seems to come up a lot. I want to use it as an example of how research focused on UFOs and ET life sometimes annoys me.

It takes little effort to find peer-reviewed material on red rain. Scientists are aware of it. Here is a 2006 article, published in an astrophysics journal, that angles toward an ET origin explanation, but acknowledges there is no DNA in the red rain – just molecules similar to earthly biological molecules. The gist of the argument that the material came from space is its dissimilarity to terrestrial alternatives (like dust or volcanic ejecta). Sounds good, right? Well, hold on ….

A year later this short essay was published in Analytical Chemistry (2007, 79:9, pp 3238–3238). Its focus was isotope analysis of the red rain. It’s terrestrial as far as anyone can tell, but the essay doesn’t totally rule out extraterrestrial. There’s just nothing to support an extraterrestrial conclusion to this point.

In short: scientists aren’t completely sure where the red rain particles are from, though analysis to date points to terrestrial origin. They’ll keep working on it until they can be completely sure where the stuff came from on earth (that’s what’s needed to nail it down).

What annoys me is that so many UFO “researchers” simply take pull quotes from studies that angle for the ET origin (or worse, from other UFO websites) and then steer their readers to the conclusion they prefer. That falls somewhere between incompetent and dishonest, but that’s the sort of thing you see all the time in this field, unfortunately. I’m not an astrophysicist. I’m not a chemist. It took 15 minutes out of my day to find the above resources, which are high in quality. If I can do it, others can as well. It’s not magic.

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The news of the recent experiment by Prof. Milton Wainwright of the University of Sheffield has been making news of late. In case you haven’t read about it, here’s a synopsis of the experiment (from the provided link) and why it has garnered interest:

British astrobiologists are claiming to have found alien life form in the Earth’s stratosphere. They collected a small diatom frustule that could have come from space after sending a balloon to 27 km into the stratosphere during the recent Perseid meteor shower.

“Most people will assume that these biological particles must have just drifted up to the stratosphere from Earth, but it is generally accepted that a particle of the size found cannot be lifted from Earth to heights of, for example, 27 km. The only known exception is by a violent volcanic eruption, none of which occurred within three years of the sampling trip,” explained Prof Milton Wainwright from the University of Sheffield, who is a lead author of a paper reporting the discovery in the Journal of Cosmology (full paper).

 

 The above-mentioned “diatom frustule”image_1393-alien-diatom

I will assume the comment about the volcanism is true, but other articles have mentioned at least one red flag:

The group’s findings were published in the Journal of Cosmology. We should point out, the credibility of the journal has been called into question before. Time magazine in 2011 pointed outthis scientist’s words:

Blogger and biologist P.Z. Myers puts it a little more pithily: the journal is, he writes, “the ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics.” Some of the articles that have appeared do nothing to dispel this idea include “The Origin of Eternal Life in the Multiverse” and “Sex on Mars: Pregnancy, Fetal Development, and Sex in Outer Space.”

The I’ve been on that journal’s website before, and the titles above aren’t made up. The other problem with the journal is that it doesn’t produce articles by blind peer review. Rather, authors of submitted papers themselves submit a list of people whom they presume are qualified to review the paper. It isn’t hard to see the problem with that (“I want my paper published, can I think of five friends with PhDs that like me and my ideas and who will almost certainly approve my paper”). Ouch. That’s really a problem. It tells me that the journal’s creators feared that some papers they’d want to put before the public eye in a presumably academic context might not make it. That isn’t the goal of scholarship (or shouldn’t be).1

From a layman’s perspective, one obvious problem (that may or may not be a real problem – hope someone in the science community asks) with the study is: “How does Wainwright know that his balloon didn’t pick up an organism within earth’s atmosphere on the way up to the 27 km mark?” What I mean here is that, while such particles are “generally accepted” as being incapable of floating up to that height, how do we know it couldn’t have been picked up at a lower height and brought along for the ride? (Or, for that matter, on the way down when the balloon landed). Were there foolproof safeguards against those possibilities?

It’s encouraging that they will seek to repeat the experiment in October to “coincide with the upcoming Haley’s Comet-associated meteorite shower when there will be large amounts of cosmic dust.” Hopefully that will provide the kind of data needed to rule out this layman’s concerns and the concerns of other specialists. Ideally, it would be prudent for them to publish those results under blind peer review.

Finally, note once again how far this is from certainty with respect to panspermia. If you’re finding an organism that isn’t found on earth, how could it have contributed to evolution? Answer: it couldn’t have. But the reasoning extends that other such particles that are traceable to earth by some means came here. In other words, it’s not evidence of panspermia, but it would add coherence to the extrapolation.

  1. For all the haters out there, when I list an article on my own CV under “peer-reviewed,” it’s a journal that has blind peer review – I never know who the reviewers are.

Exposing PseudoAstronomy is a podcast hosted by Stuart Robbins. (Stuart is a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy whose focus is on planetary geophysics). I highly recommend it. He just posted the latest episode:

Podcast Episode 83: David Sereda’s Claims Clip Show, Part 1

 

It’s not hard to believe there will be other parts. Here’s the blurb on the podcast episode page:

The purpose of this episode is to provide a background into how Sereda went from a UFOlogist to a more generic new-ager with a few specific claims of his own. I then go into two of his main claims (of MANY that I’ll go more into next time) and wrap up with when giving your professional background becomes an argument from authority logical fallacy. Actually, almost everything that Sereda says is a “Name that Logical Fallacy” exercise.

This episode “required” me listening to approximately 40 hours of Coast to Coast AM. I took nearly 10,000 words of notes. I think I may take up drinking …

Wow – that’s a lot of effort to put into a podcast series. I’ve long felt the same way about Sereda’s ideas, having read enough new age cosmology and metaphysics to see that David’s physics are hard to distinguish from that stuff (which is inherently religious). But since I lack a background in the hard sciences, I’m dependent on folks like Stuart who care enough to spend serious time hearing Sereda out (among others) and subjecting their thinking to relevant scientific data. I’m guessing lots of readers out there are like me in that regard.

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