Feeds

Forget SETI, this is how you find aliens: Hefty prof speaks

The truth is out there. Or maybe in here, actually

Boost IT visibility and business value

"Shadow Biospheres" - the parallel-life ALIENS AMONG US

But even a superpowered radio lighthouse would need to stay operational for incalculable thousands or even billions of years to give us a decent chance of detecting it - Davies also raises the point that Sun-like stars, perhaps with attendant Earthlike worlds and civilisations, existed in the Milky Way well before our solar system even formed. There would be a major risk that any such beacon, even if built, was subsequently destroyed along with its parent civilisation and star - or was allowed to run down after its builders turned themselves into floating disembodied intelligences or whatever and forgot about it. By the time Mr Marconi got to work on newly-formed Earth, the fading pulses of long lost early-Galactic lighthouses would be lost far out in the vastness of intergalactic space.

So, what should we be doing instead of/alongside SETI?

According to Davies there are several rather more promising lines of enquiry which might help us get a handle on whether we are simply a bizarre statistical freak in a beautiful but cold and empty vastness, or in fact but one of countless civilisations scattered through time and space.

First up, there's the idea of looking into the likelihood of life developing given Earthlike conditions, which would help to put some actual numbers into the famous "Drake equation" postulated by the founder of SETI. If it is in fact reasonably likely for life to appear in liquid-water environments, Davies says, it might actually have happened several times right here on old Earth. Along with the microscopic life which eventually assembled itself into plants, animals and so forth, there might also be one or more "shadow biospheres" of microbes built along different chemical lines which have never started to organise themselves into bigger lifeforms.

Most terrestrial life is microbial, and biologists have only scratched the surface of the microbial realm. Many bizarre micro-organisms have been discovered, including the so-called extremophiles that thrive in conditions lethal to most known forms of life, but so far all of these organisms have turned out to belong to the same tree of life as you and me. However, this means little. Biologists customize their techniques to target standard life, so any microbes with a radically different form of biochemistry would tend to be overlooked.

In theory at least, the shadow-life might also be present here on Earth in larger forms - simply ones we haven't yet encountered. Various earthly environments haven't yet been much explored, for instance the deep oceans.

Then, there's the matter of intelligence. Even if the galaxy and universe beyond is hopping with biospheres containing life at various levels of organisation, it may still be that intelligence is so wildly unlikely as not to have arisen elsewhere - or indeed, it might be a counter-survival trait which tends to wipe its possessor out. Perhaps, every time intelligence arises, that species swiftly thereafter destroys itself by the use of planet-busting weaponry, or becomes enervated by spending all its time in immersive artificial game/entertainment environments and dies out because it can't be bothered to breed.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.