elementary-my-dear

I am a huge fan of House.

What’s not to love? It’s Hugh Laurie! A Bit of Fry and Laurie? Blackadder? Sure, House is a jerk, but he’s a jerk who’s RIGHT, and I can only dream of being able to be so snarky and get away with it because I’m brilliant/right/rich. He’s also an atheist, and pulls no punches in saying so, though atheist critics of the show often lament that he paints atheism as the belief system of cynics and curmudgeons.

I still love it, and the more I watch the more I notice the subtle hues the geeky, skeptical writers have painted onto the show. Foremost are the obvious Sherlock Holmes references, a perfect fit to House’s medical detective skills. The other references are never hammered in, sadly, but off remarks have been made about anti-vaccination ‘cranks’ and quack miracle fruit treatments. In one episode, scrawled on the blackboard and fairly quickly hidden by a projector screen, were the words “Tesla was robbed”. This show is written by our people.

Some unrelated news: Saw an article in the Telegraph with what immediately struck me as a bold and confident claim: Alien Life Deemed Impossible by Analysis of 500 Planets

Only 500? That’s like polling one guy- Not even that, it’s like polling one of his hairs, and reporting that the entire world does not like cheese based on the lack of response from the follicle. What surprised me more was that the statement was made by Harvard Astrophysicist Howard Smith.

I passed the article on to Phil Plait who then e-mailed the professor for clarification on his baseless claim. The meat of the article is that, having surveyed 500 planets, we have found no life, therefore extraterrestrial life is impossible. Alrighty Jr. Sci-ənce-tists, the article has “cheap media attention grab” written all over it, but lets humor them and take a look at the claim.

We’ve looked at 500 planets and we’ve found nothing! I GIVE UP! *pout*

  • The exoplanets, planets outside our solar system, we have found are mostly comprised of ‘Hot Jupiters’. These are large gas giants that are in very close orbits to their stars. So of course we haven’t found anything, they’re fire-blasted balls of gas. Smith is basing his conclusion on 500 (which is TINY by even galactic standards) of the planets we have seen from earth. No telling if there are other, smaller planets in these systems.
  • We haven’t gotten close enough to study the atmospheric makeups of the planets surveyed. As the possibility of methane based life grows, so does our chances of finding something completely ‘not of this earth’.
  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Even if we had surveyed all the planets in 500 solar systems, that’s still a tiny sample to completely rule out life on other planets. I know it hurts folks, but I’m sure we are not that special.

As of the writing of this post, I haven’t found any responses to the Telegraph article. I’m sure once Smith replies to Phil we’ll have some answers and a juicy Bad Astronomy post to boot!


 

I’m a fan of Hugh Laurie.

Moving right along. 500 planets? Get real. Allow me to jump in, unzip and flop my two cents on the table.

You can’t talk about extra terrestrial civilizations without mentioning the Drake equation, the equation used to estimate the probability of extra terrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way capable of radio contact, and the Fermi Paradox which asks why we haven’t seen anything yet. What the heck, in the name of fun I’m gonna throw in a link to the Matrioshka Brain too.

And I dare you to watch Carl Sagan on the Drake equation and not get excited.

The problem we have regarding interplanetary communication, let alone visitation, is the vast amount of space that needs to be overcome. Our own bubble of radio communiqués emanating from Earth since the dawn of human radio capabilities is only about 100 light years out. That’s nothing! The Milky Way is 100,000 light years across. So far we’ve only hit about 1000 stars, and that’s all gibberish from the earliest days of radio, not the science we know today. Another thing to remember is that all this talk, theorizing, conjecture and sensationalism is contained within the Milky Way. Our wildest dreams of finding evidence for life is contained within the Milky Way. But the Milky Way is only one of an estimated 80 to 170 billion galaxies in our observable universe, and the observable universe is only a tiny estimated fraction of the full universe! You’re gonna sit there and give me a conclusion based on 500 planets? (to be fair it’s really just the headline that’s at fault, but it’s still ridiculous)

Galaxies can contain up to a hundred trillion stars, and if we grant only one civilization per galaxy (which I figure by anyone’s account is unrealistically pessimistic) that still gives you ‘billions and billions’ of civilizations ‘out there’. Of course the reality of vast distances between galaxies (we’re talking millions of light years) constrains any sort of interaction, in any entertainable future, to being unrealistic. Interstellar travel is the bread and butter of sci-fi but even when we grant Warp Drives and Faster-than-Light travel we find ourselves exploring single galaxies. Star Trek and Star Wars, vastly futuristic as they were, were nevertheless contained within single galaxies.

So my hunch is, yeah, the Universe and the Milky Way is teaming with life, intelligent life and civilizations. But no, we’ll never really find ‘em, there’s just too much damn space!

But by all means keep believing in alien stories, where all the obstacles were overcome just to poke around some disreputable farmers butt. After pacing in a circle on his crops of course. Y’know, like you do.


avatar-maki-rightOh man, Nadir did it. He opened the can. Let’s also not forget that there’s a really tiny window of opportunity to be visited by an alien civilization. Modern humans have only been on the planet for around 250,000 years at the very least 400,000 at most, and most of that was spent in the ‘Ron Perlman’ days. It’s far  more probable that the aliens would come by too early, before there was any intelligent life here, or far too late, after we’ve gone. It’s the same with radio signals. We as a planet have only been broadcasting for a little over a hundred years, and we’re now quickly moving on to digital communication on all fronts. That bubble Nadir spoke of is way too short, and scientists believe will fade into background noise before reaching anybody interesting.

 

UPDATE: As of this morning, no response on the Howard Smith alien life impossibility announcement, but I did a google search for kicks and came up with…ugh. (WARNING: There is annoying audio on this site. So watch out if you’re at work) The guy follows Kabbalah, a form of Jewish Mysticism meant to explain the connection between God and his creations. We’ll open that can in another post…


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