Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for Xenology

For some reason, this kind of stuff has always fascinated me.  When given an option over which science class I wanted to take in college, I jumped at the chance to take "The Universe, The Galaxy, and Extraterrestrial Life."  And then, of course, I was even more thrilled when I found out the class would be conducted in the campus's planetarium.

For my final paper, I calculated the odds (based on a variety of variables, including but not limited to the size of the star, the position of the planet, how frequently we find planets orbiting stars, etc.) of there being extraterrestrial life in our galaxy.  I can't remember the exact number, but after compiling my data, I came up with something similar to 0.00000000034% chance of extraterrestrial life.

I know that number is very disappointing to a lot of people, but the fact of the matter is there are a LOT of variables in having a life-sustaining planet that must be met with perfect conditions if we are to assume life sprung up the way science tells us.  Now that's not to say I used all the variables in my research.  In fact, I'd have to say my studies were rather optimistic and swayed heavily in favor of good odds.  I only took into consideration star size, planet size, distance of planet from star, and odds of a Jupiter-like planet in the solar system (which is necessary as Jupiter acts like a vacuum, pulling meteors and asteroids away from us).  Based on those variables alone, the odds weren't that great.

Still, it's nice to think about, isn't it?  And there are plenty of scientists who maintain that extraterrestrial life is not just a possibility, but an undeniable fact.  I haven't always been, but I can honestly say that I am now a skeptic.  But I still like to write about it and fantasize about it much the same way I like to write about fairy tales of old.  It's an interesting study into human belief systems.  And I think more than anything, we need to nurture our creative abilities, and if that means envisioning glorious empires millions of light years away, then so be it.

So how about you?  Are you a sucker for stories about alien invasion or distant alien civilizations?  I know I am!  

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  1. I don't like invasions, but I do do do adore space operas and stories going on at some distant exotic planets with alien nations ... 'tis my favourite genre actually :)

  2. yeah... i'm a skeptic about everything, and a believer in everything... which sounds like a paradox or something, but it all comes down to this: i think that there are too many variables and opportunities for my mind to ever come to any conclusions. sure those numbers work for the confines you put them in, but who's to say that life must follow our patterns or guidelines for life. we've been wrong about our definitions before, and the very practice of defining things is a futile attempt to box it into something we can quantitate and understand, and i believe our universe is by far too vast for us to ever comprehend. so we say it's unlikely for life to form... and i believe that, but am skeptical about it. we say that there could be other interdimensional lifeforms dwelling within the same exact space as us but we are unable to percieve them... and i believe that and am skeptical about it....
    i guess i just believe in the possibility of anything, and question the validity of everything. i think i'm a little wierd.

  3. I believe there's life out there somewhere. It may look completely outside our expectations, but I'm sure it's there. I don't go for most of the alien invasion stories, but I do enjoy alien life stories when there is depth to the race, not simple killing machines that make no sense in sustainable ecology terms. Independence Day was an exception to that; I love the movie despite the aliens they faced being consumers with powerful technology. The people had real lives and motivations, and I still get goose bumps over the Independence Day speech. That is the heart of the story right there, and the sort of thing I look for.

  4. I love this stuff too! I'm addicted to the ancient aliens documentary series, have you been watching it? It's great fun to consider the possibilities.

    I love physics and history and learning all the theories that are out there about our origins and the origins of the universe.


  5. I am a skeptic when it comes to many things, but not extraterrestrial life. I positive it is out there. Probably not going to make it to Earth. We are way out on an arm of our galaxy and space travel is expensive and difficult even if we discover how to overcome the limitations of speed of light. All your factors can become irrelevant under certain conditions. Take the Jupitor-like planet. It becomes unnessary if the solar system has been swept clean of asteroids and comets. Mini black hole, ancient supernova, fluke of formation, and many more could make this possible. Anyway...I could go on and on.

  6. Charlie--Gah! I just spent 30 minutes writing a very in-depth response to you, but blogger crapped out on me. Grr... I'm not going to write the whole thing over again, but it was a good discussion. Sigh.

  7. Jaleh--Ooh! Independence Day is one of my all time favorites! I don't usually go for the invasion stories, either. I did like War of the Worlds, however (book, not movie).

  8. It ate my first comment too. I talked about the odds improving once you factor in a multiverse and a few other things. Stupid comment eating monster that roams the blogosphere.

  9. Charlie--And when the comment eating monster is about, who you gonna call? :)

    I'll give you an abridged reply that isn't nearly as good as the other one. The problem with things such as black holes and multiverses is there's really very little scientific information regarding those things. Black holes, for example, are at the center of severe scientific speculation. There are a lot of scientists who maintain we know nothing about them and can't even be sure they exist the way we think they do. And the idea behind a multiverse is the same.

    I hold to the idea that human beings don't know one millionth of one percent about anything. At this point in my life, I'm a skeptic. That's not to say I think I'm absolutely right. It just means that based on the information I have at my disposal at this moment, I think the probability of extraterrestrial life is low.

    And of course, I still love the idea of it! Obviously! LOL!


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