Silvano Colombano, a scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California, on Tuesday (Dec 4) published a white paper on the space agency’s website entitled NEW ASSUMPTIONS TO GUIDE SETI RESEARCH.
While the paper does talk about the likelihood of aliens having visited Earth and that scientists should take serious cognizance of that possibility, the essence of what Colombano was actually trying to convey may have been misrepresented by various news channels.
At least, that’s what Colombano is claiming after Fox News, Yahoo, New York Post, Russia Today, Evening Standard, The Sun, and others presented the story in a way that reflected their individual interpretations of the author’s observations.
“It is not accurately represented,” Colombano was quoted by Live Science as saying.
“My perspective was simply that reports of unidentified aerial phenomena should be the object of serious study, even if the chance of identification of some alien technology is very small,” he told the science news website.
While there is no denying the fact that Colombano is open to the idea that aliens “may” have visited us, it is, by far, not an attempt to convince people that evidence to that effect actually exists; it’s not as if he is paranoid about us being surrounded by undetectable aliens – an impression you’re likely to get from some of the articles on the internet.
All Colombano is trying to say is that it is a theoretical possibility and should, therefore, be subjected to thorough scientific investigation and scrutiny, which would either establish it as a factor or eliminate the idea altogether.
“The context was a presentation delivered last spring at a meeting of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute,” he told Live Science, adding that “the meeting was to get feedback from scientists as to future directions for the Institute’s research program.”
So, in fact, the paper was a documentary backup of his presentation at the SETI meet, which, as he said, was aimed at urging scientists to systematically research and evaluate all available data on UFO sightings and radio signals from space – and whatever else they can access – even if the work was akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
To put it another way, Colombano’s piece was not an attempt at debating whether or not extraterrestrial life forms have actually paid us a quiet visit; it was rather a reflection of his position on the subject – that even the remotest possibility of that having happened should not go unexplored.
Colombano is of the opinion that the existing guidelines on which SETI researches are based are somewhat obsolete and calls for a more robust approach.
“In light of our most recent understanding of the age of the planetary systems that might support life I discuss the set of assumptions that currently guide SETI research and make recommendations for a new, more “aggressive” approach,” he says in the paper.
Recent discoveries have identified planetary systems that are 6 billion years older than our own planet – thanks to the Kepler project.
Also, if you take into account that the beginning of some form of technology on Earth can be traced back to about 10,000 years in the past at most, and the fact that advancement in “scientific methodologies” has seen a rise only in the last 500 years, or so, it can be safely said that it’s beyond us to predict “technological evolution even for the next thousand years, let alone 6 million times that amount,” Colombano notes.
Hence, he thinks it’s imperative that scientists adopt a different approach to the four main assumptions that SETI basically works on.
“Interstellar travel is impossible or highly unlikely”
The general belief is that since our “present understanding of physics” and existing technologies are near-insurmountable problems when it comes to interstellar travel, the same may not hold true for other intelligent life forms – if at all they do exist.
He suggests that we should not be held back because of our limitations but should rather “fathom possibilities of achieving much greater understanding and control of matter-energy and space-time.”
“Engage physicists in what might be called “speculative physics”, still grounded in our most solid theories but with some willingness to stretch possibilities as to the nature of space-time and energy,” he recommends.
“Radio waves continue to be the major form of communication for thousands or millions of years”
Until we conquer the speed of light, scanning for radio signals from the outer reaches of space is the only way of going about it – as ineffective as it may be, considering the number of signals coming in and our limited ability to make sense of everything.
“I suspect that, even if the radio medium continues to be used, the packing of information inside it would be so much greater than we would not be able to recognize any “structure” and would not be able to distinguish it [from noise, unless a civilization would in fact decide to use it as a beacon,” Colombano explains.
He thinks artificial intelligence is the likely answer to this limitation and here’s what he recommends.
“Engage technologists in futuristic exploration of how technology might evolve, especially w/r Artificial Intelligence, “Evolvable Robotic Systems” and symbiosis of biology with machines.”
“Intelligent civilizations would be based on carbon life”
Colombano does not agree with the generally accepted assumption that any intelligent life that is likely to exist elsewhere in the vastness of space has to have a carbon-based origin like ours.
“Our typical life-spans would no longer be a limitation (although even these could be dealt with multi-generational missions or suspended animation), and the size of the “explorer” might be that of an extremely tiny super-intelligent entity. And how might this change our assumptions about openness or desire to communicate with other civilizations,” he says.
He recommends that sociologists should speculate on the kinds of societies likely to exist elsewhere, based on the assumption that they don’t have a carbon-based evolution, and if they do want to communicate with us what would be the likely method they would adopt.
“We have not been, and are not being… visited”
Colombano lists three reasons why SETI has not taken the UFO angle as seriously as it should have, including the assumption that interstellar travel is almost impossible; the belief that most UFO phenomena, if not all, are the result of “hoaxes, mistaken perceptions or even psychotic events”; and the scientific community’s reluctance to broach the subject.
He recommends that UFO phenomena should be considered “worthy of study” and the scientific community could take a leaf out of the SETI book and start looking for those elusive signals in the large amount of noise in UFO reporting.
He recommends” “Consider the UFO phenomenon worthy of study in the context of a system with very low signal to noise ratio, but nevertheless with the possibility of challenging some of our assumptions and pointing to new possibilities for communication and discovery.”