Monday, October 4, 2010

Gliese 581g, Alien Angst, and the Lemming

The planetary system of Gliese 581 has been in the news again. It looks like there's a planet there - Gliese 581g - that's not much bigger and not much chillier than Earth. It's too early to tell, but there could be life there. Anything from pond scum to those groovy space aliens folks have been talking about.

Media coverage of Gliese 581 has gotten into the op-ed phase, it seems:
"Doppelganger Earths hint at a whole galaxy of trouble"
The Sydney Morning Herald (October 4, 2010)

"The discovery of an Earth-like planet may be bad news for our future.

"CAPTAIN Kirk never had trouble finding planets that were just like Earth. Even the Klingons lived on one. But astronomers have found it more difficult. After 15 years of searching star systems far, far away, they hadn't located a single one - until this week.

"Using planet Earth's biggest telescope, the Keck in Hawaii, researchers uncovered the most Earth-like planet so far. And it's orbiting a sun that, in the scheme of things, is quite close to us. Now you might think that's a good thing, but having a galaxy full of doppelganger Earths may actually be bad news for the future of humanity...."

"...One decidedly depressing resolution of the paradox is that all alien civilisations eventually destroy themselves with environmental collapse, nuclear war or some technological stuff-up well before they've had a chance to drop in on their galactic neighbours...."

Which reminds me of a cartoon: two serious-looking cavemen in the foreground; in the background, an excited crowd looking at a small fire; one serious caveman says, 'just wait - someday it'll get out of control and kill us all.'

Or words to that effect. The Lemming hasn't seen that cartoon in decades.

We've still got folks whose tagline could be "and we're all gonna die!" By the way: fire really is dangerous. Just keep an eye on the news.

That op-ed follows the familiar old 'technology kills' line. Here's something with a more psychological point of view:
"Will We Die of Cosmic Loneliness?"
Space News, Discovery News (October 4, 2010)

"Top astronomy news items last week wrestled with the question of whether we are alone in the universe.

"One story gave a dire warning that aliens are already here because they are mad at us. The other report, that inhabitable planets are everywhere in our Milky Way galaxy.

"In reality, our own civilization's biggest threat to long-term survival may be cosmic boredom, say a pair of theorists.

"Things got started in a highly publicized event at the Washington Press Club where UFO investigator Robert Hastings offered spooky testimony by several retired military officers. They described seeing flying saucers shaped like 'pregnant cigars' snooping around and sabotaging our nuclear missile bases.

"His hypothesis: aliens are upset that we are 'playing with fire.'..."

That 'playing with fire' explanation is a little more plausible that some others.
If UFOs and nuclear bases sounds familiar, maybe you read this post:The Lemming briefly discussed a few reasons that space aliens might - or might not - give a rip about humans having nuclear weapons. The alien motive cited in that Discovery News article would make them the "standard-issue benevolent and highly-evolved space aliens who are determined to help us. Whether we want it or not."

The Inevitable Upward March of Progress, Angst, and Getting a Grip

Anguished speculation on the hopelessness of it all has been popular for several decades now. The Lemming hasn't decided whether it's more or less annoying than the silly optimism of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And that's another topic. Almost.

The Lemming has become accustomed to angsty speculation about whether we're alone in the galaxy because everybody else killed themselves - AND WE'RE NEXT!!!!

There seem to be other possible explanations, though.

For one thing, it's possible that space aliens aren't human. Quite a few folks seem willing to assume that non-human people won't look quite like us. The Lemming thinks it's likely that they won't have quite the same interests and preferences, either.

Strange as it might seem, there may be entire races who would never dream of "riding a tower of explosives to an airless hell of barren rock." Or if they did, would wake up screaming.

I've discussed that before. (December 5, 2009)

Maybe the angstigators are right. Maybe civilizations everywhere are doomed, doomed, doooomed!!

Or, maybe not.

Humanity somehow survived lethal new technologies like fire, flint tools, and the bow and arrow. The Lemming suspects that we'll muddle through things like nuclear power, fluoridated water, and television remotes, too.

Related posts:More related posts, at:

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