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Our most probable first encounters of extraterrestrial intelligence: who, what, why, when, where, and how

The Rise and Fall of Star Faring Civilizations in Our Own Galaxy

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BACK to Confronting the challenges of social evolution and dangers of technology to reach an ultimate destiny of transcendence, decay, or extinction

Now that we've examined the likelihood of contact happening at all, and why, as well as what the aliens may be like, let us explore other matters related to the subject. Specifically, the who, what, when, where, and how of our first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life.

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Who among us is likely to have the first contact?

There's several groups at high probability for first contact. The typical members considered in this group would include:

*The human staff monitoring transmissions from our robotic probes and survey craft situated at various places both inside and outside our own solar system.

*The human staff monitoring transmissions from our telecommunications, weather, surveillance, and possibly military satellites orbiting the Earth.

*Our astronauts, either on a shuttle, space station, or manned mission to the Moon or Mars.

*Aircraft pilots-- mostly pilots of commercial airliners or military craft, as they log the most hours in the air. However, civilian pilots in small craft might also be involved in first contacts.

*Space and air traffic controllers at various military and civilian installations.

*Astronomers and radar specialists the world over.

Savvy aliens could follow the blast of a gamma ray burster with their own powerful signal to insure we noticed their transmission. All they'd need would be a gamma burst directly opposite the vector pointing to us to insure their own signal would be seen immediately after we detected the burst itself. Since bursts are common from all directions, they likely wouldn't have to wait long.

-- Could gamma-ray bursts lead us to ET? by Hazel Muir, From New Scientist, 8 May 1999

*World leaders, such as the President of the United States, and his peers from other nations. The United Nations as a body might be a candidate here as well.

*People living in isolated, largely uninhabited regions of the Earth, Moon, or other areas within the solar system.

There's another group that might be subject to first contact, however. A group not usually considered by the experts, but possible candidates due to reasons listed in this article. They are:

*Individuals identified by lengthy alien observations as being important or critical to our civilization's development overall, either in the present, past, or future. Advanced aliens might well have insights to our time-line that we don't-- and access as well. And yes, we do mean time travel here.

Note that although some of these critical individuals might be well-known celebrities to the public at large at some point during or after their lifetimes, it could be the majority of such individuals are not. So you or I could well be among that number.

A science fiction dream -- or nightmare-- which may someday engulf us all

The 'grandfather paradox' that scientists once considered to be an insurmountable obstacle to useful or theoretical time travel has been resolved by quantum physics. The paradox relates to time travelers possibly changing their own past history-- such as a time traveler killing their grandfather before the traveler's own biological parent (their grandfather's child) has been conceived-- thereby preventing the traveler himself from ever being born.

The resolution comes from quantum mechanics always directing time travelers back to the past of alternative timelines, rather than their own. To slightly different destination universes, or dimensions of reality, from their universe of departure.

So time travel looks to be equivalent to interdimensional travel, or journeys between alternate realities. At least where travel to the past is concerned.

Somehow arranging safe travel or communications through a wormhole in the quantum foam of spacetime is the method used by writer Michael Crichton in his novel "Timeline". Such a method-- if possible at all-- would require staggering amounts of power to achieve.

Theories speculate that natural wormholes may exist in the vicinity of blackholes and other massive objects. There may also be ways to create them artificially.

Exotic ring-shaped black holes-- or rotating black holes-- are expected by some to offer one possible avenue to real time travel. The center of the phenomenon may be a wormhole leading to other universes or faraway spots in spacetime from the anomaly's native location and moment in time.

If time travelers were already present amongst us, it might be impossible for us to detect such technologically advanced beings, or interact in any other way with them.

-- 'Timeline's' travel may not be far-fetched By MATT CRENSON, Nando Media/Associated Press, December 5, 1999,

*By-standers or spectators who happen to be on the scene of events regarded as historically significant to our alien observers.

*Passers-by or neighbors of the most long-lived monuments and historical landmarks dotting human history-- for these places may be used by advanced beings as landmarks, meeting places, and tourist attractions, just as they are by us.

*Certain seminal members of some religious groups. As many religions are based on miraculous or otherwise allegedly extraordinary events, they might sometimes record encounters with advanced beings, filtered through the perspective of primitive or ill-educated peoples.

Most Probable First Encounters Contents

Who, among all potential alien civilizations and their members, are we most likely to encounter first?

Who among the aliens (what sub-group) are most likely to make first contact with us?

None. That is, if we do make contact with intelligent life, we likely will not make first contact with them directly, but rather through an automated intermediary, such as a robot or survey craft, or through a radio signal.

-- Revisiting 'Star Wars' science By Alan Boyle; MSNBC; found or about 6-30-02 [A previous, somewhat different version of this article was published in May 1999]

Esteemed SETI astronomer Seth Shostak believed in 1999 that mankind's first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence would be with alien machines rather than alien lifeforms.

-- What Might E.T. Look Like? chat with Seth Shostak; June 30, 1999

But any alien civilization roughly equivalent to our own in temprement, and approximately matching the speculations laid out in this article, would be far from homogeneous; that is, there'd be significant diversity within the total population, making for great differences in how a first contact might go, depending on which of the aliens we meet first, either first hand, or second hand, through their robotic emissaries or transmissions.

So what kind of people will those among the aliens likely to be directly involved in contact probably be?

*Scientists, explorers, commercial or government surveyors, military scouts or intelligence agents; maybe even tourists who've wandered off the beaten track.

*Or, it could be roving bands of refugees, criminals, or con artists; aliens on the lam from other aliens, and thereby traveling this far out into the boonies to accidently run into us.

*Finally, it might just be hermits, or loners. Aliens who either can't or won't relate to their own societies, and so travel ever farther away from them, to encounter yet another unwelcome society (us).

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Why might aliens seek us out?

This is one of the hardest questions in this article to answer. Because it is simply unlikely that we would possess any quality of such importance to advanced civilizations to make it worth their while to come all this way to meet us. Unlike the basic premises of many invasion films, so far as we can tell today Earth is by no means a spectacularly rich source of rare commodities; in the TV mini series "V", reptilian aliens come to steal our water and possibly eat us; yet water is actually far more abundant in the form of ice in vast clouds of comets surrounding our solar system (and probably most others), not to mention much easier and more economical to access than the oceans found at the bottom of a planetary gravity well. As for food, advanced aliens could produce any sort of food they desired, including herds of human beings if they wanted, far cheaper and more easily at home, than traveling hundreds of lightyears for take out. No matter how tasty mankind found some delicacy among the distant stars, I doubt that we'd mount an all out effort costing hundreds of trillions of dollars to go collect the real thing. At the very most we might take a small sample on which to base production of the food at home. And we'd only do that if it were practical for other reasons; it certainly wouldn't be our sole or primary purpose in such a voyage.

Another tired science fiction theme is that of aliens wanting a new home, and the Earth being the best choice in the galaxy. Please! There has to be plenty of Earth-like worlds out there, probably many of them still pristine and serene, populated by no large land animals to fear, possessed of seas well stocked with fish, and the landscape breathtaking with vistas of vast old growth forests; in other words, there's many worlds out there which a civilization like our own would consider much closer to paradise than our presently crowded and soiled planet. So advanced aliens selecting Earth over all these others as their new home could use some heavy duty tutoring in their shopping skills.

Perhaps advanced aliens might want to steal our technology? This is even a greater stretch than the Earth-as-Paradise theory, since lightspeed or faster tech based civilizations would find little here in our wooden mousetraps and sophistocated metal sling shots (guns) that would increase their living standards or pique their curiosity.

Maybe they merely want us as slaves? Or pets? Again, they could more easily and cheaply produce us at their own home planet for such purposes, than they could to come all the way here to capture us in large numbers fully grown, and then transport us back again.

Maybe they're lonely, and just looking for a friend? Or curious? This could well be closer to the truth in many cases than anything described above. It's not too difficult to envision an advanced race wanting to meet other intelligent species simply for reasons of difference, and learning about the natural diversity of evolution on different planets. Of course, it's also true that by a certain stage most advanced civilizations will be able to construct new intelligent races on their own, without the need to search for natural-grown races like us.

Maybe they are mentally ill or unbalanced (as we would perceive them), and simply looking for someone to harm or kill or enslave? Unfortunately, given the significant chances of nomadic, displaced, and injured refugees floating about the galaxy, not to mention the warlike totalitarians looking for prizes easily taken, as well as roving 'Berserker' vessels and more, this possibility could be just as likely as that of benevolent curiosity stated before. In other words, we take great risks advertising ourselves to the stars the way we do today (circa 2000).

There's also this last point: Mankind is presently enjoying a steady increase in the astronomical observation and detection means at his disposal. Within decades we may be able to view planets in many other solar systems as well as we do those in our own today-- even without the need to venture beyond our own system with probes. And yes, we should expect more advanced civilizations to far surpass that-- to ultimately be able to do reasonably complete and accurate computer simulations of the entire galaxy or universe (including Earth and humanity) without ever leaving home (after sufficient early sampling and observation had been done to gain the proper initiating conditions of course-- otherwise chaotic systems cannot be properly projected).

But after any race comes to have such a simulator (and related technologies), why would they leave home at all?

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Why should we be interested in who (or what) is out there?

*Defense against natural calamities. Enormous comets or asteroids have collided with the Earth many times in its history, occasionally eradicating much of the life which existed on the planet at the time. We need to know about those still flying through space which might pose a risk to our survival, and we need to have the means of diverting, destroying, or otherwise escaping them. In extreme cases, nothing short of a self-sufficient Mars or Moon colony might survive such an impact upon the Earth.

*Protection of our local resources from outsiders. We'll badly need our local supply of asteroids, comets, and planets to obtain the raw materials to supply our future. Without them to fuel our efforts we could well be doomed in a variety of ways, over the long term.

Luckily, it appears no one has been digging around in our backyard while we were evolving to star farer adulthood here on Earth (so far anyway)

*Defense against belligerents. For reasons of self-defense we must be concerned with just who and what might exist within several hundred lightyears or so of us. Specifically, the spherical region defined by a seven hundred lightyear radius is especially important to us, as it contains virtually all the major threats that could impact us during our present socio-technological window of vulnerability, assuming we are faced with aliens possessing drives capable of substantial fractions of lightspeed or better. If there are aliens equipped with FTL drives within this range (Faster-Than-Light), we are at even greater risk. We may have much less to fear beyond this 700 lightyear boundary however, as our own telltale signals would require more than 700 years from origination to inform anyone there of our presence (and we might not be quite so vulnerable anymore, by that date).

But just knowing about who is in the vicinity is not enough. We also need to be well established in space ourselves, for a variety of reasons, many related to natural dangers as well as those of possibly hostile aliens.

As touched upon above, any aliens with the technological capabilities to reach us across space would also possess the ability to destroy or severely damage us in a wide variety of ways. And it might not be so easy to arrange survival from such a threat as simply setting up colonies elsewhere in the solar system, since these same aliens could easily root out and destroy or enslave those as well. No, in order for humanity to have a good chance of surviving such an alien assault it would need not only an early warning system, and possibly outposts dispersed throughout the solar system, but colonies established in a few nearby systems as well. In the worst-case/last resort scenario, we might even require a contingency colony vessel headed for a very, very distant system, largely secret from humanity as a whole to protect the ship from any alien conquerers scouring our databases in an effort to kill every last human being around.

-- Aliens: Are We Alone in the Univers? by ROBERT NAEYE; Astronomy Magazine (July 1996); found on or about 10-2-2000

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Why have we never detected any aliens up to now (if they are out there)?

For one thing, it's a big galaxy.

Aliens might not want to be detected. They might be so far away their signals are too weak. Aliens might use an entirely different means of communication than we do, and so not show up on our instruments. Our system might be in a protected development preserve or exclusion zone, where external signals are canceled out to prevent undue interference with our culture (alá the Star Trek Prime Directive).

We may not have detected alien signals because they are not using slow lightspeed transmission media over the vast distances of space (like us), but something much faster and more convenient.

-- Could We Be Wrong? [""] By Seth Shostak, Special to, March 6 2000

10-3-98 Newz&Viewz: The search for alien intelligence may be more difficult than we expected-- since aliens may act a lot like us. We will soon be squelching nearly a century of wild broadcasting into space just as a by-product of the switchover to digital communications from analog technologies. This move will serve to make Earth much quieter in the radio spectrum than before. A similar change would also do the same for alien worlds. If most or all civilizations behave in the same manner, that would mean virtually no worlds would emit radio signals for more than a century or so, after which they would effectively fall silent.

-- "The geeks and the aliens; Why are the tech industry's best and brightest so determined to spearhead the hunt for extraterrestrials?" BY JANELLE BROWN, Salon 21st Feature, May 6, 1998

SETI and other searches for extraterrestrial intelligence involving signal detection only have a reasonable chance at successfully finding such a signal if that signal was/is maintained over a lengthy period, such as thousands of years, at minimum.

If the detection program is dependent upon radio signals, then that means the signal itself must have been more or less continuously transmitted in that perhaps very primitive mode of communications for thousands of years after it may have been determined otherwise hopelessly obsolete for its owners.

Thousands of years of transmission also will usually require thousands of years of continuous survival by the same civilization initiating the signal in the first place. The odds of such continuous survival may not be as high as we would hope.

And even if they do survive, would the commitment and resources required to maintain such a signal also continue? Let's turn the case around: Do you believe humanity could and would set up such a broadcasting station and maintain it relentlessly over thousands of years without interruption? Can you name a single similar long term task that we've accomplished in the past?

-- : Part 3: Odds of Intelligence Out There By Seth Shostak, December 16, 1999,

But of course, some Earth scientists seem to assume that civilizations galaxy-wide have had the chance to develop for billions of years now-- that they've had more or less the whole history of the galaxy in which to evolve unmolested, to some exalted status, whereby they could then leisurely begin colonizing the galaxy and/or searching for signals indicating other civilizations, and possibly sending out their own broadcasts of peaceful welcome.

Gamma ray bursters prick that bubble of a concept, by possibly sterilizing the entire galaxy of higher life forms and resetting the evolutionary development game back to near zero on a fairly regular basis.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: To view further info and citations regarding gamma ray bursters, please refer to The Gamma Ray Burster Threat . END NOTE.

It may be that the frequency of these bursters has lessened only in recent galactic history, opening a 200 million year or so window of opportunity for beings such as ourselves to emerge, and dream of becoming star farers.

Our own situation may at this moment be repeating across the galaxy, with a multitude of other races now poised to leap into space, or even to other solar systems.

But most of these all for the very first time.

Maybe there's a handful that's already made it to several neighboring star systems.

If this gamma burster scenario holds true, then there could well be either zero or very, very few far advanced races out there, upon which to base claims of Earth buzzing UFOs. Random distribution about the galaxy could place such civilizations thousands of lightyears distant from Earth, making contact with them in the past, present, or near future a virtual impossibility. Even if they possessed warp drive, a visit to far away Earth would be no small task for them. But still more important, it's a virtual certainty that they would be unaware of our existence, from such a great distance away. And so they wouldn't know where to point their starships to anyhow.

Note that SETI's results to date (only silence from the void) only strengthen the argument for the burster scenario above.

As of 2000 many scientists are becoming concerned at the seemingly glaring lack of results from ongoing searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. Something seems amiss. Or else there's something fairly large missing from our current knowledge and speculations about the Universe and/or intelligence itself.

-- Scientific American: NO ALIEN RESPONSE: July 2000 [""]

And yes, humanity has been broadcasting signals of various sorts to the void, proclaiming our location, for 70 or 80 years now. But those only reach out that many lightyears-- likely far too short a distance to reach super advanced, warp drive equipped aliens, under the gamma burster scenario. No, under those assumptions, our signals may have done well to have merely reached a handful of our approximate peer civilizations-- races within a few centuries of ourselves in overall technical expertise perhaps; some of 22nd/23rd/24th century tech, others still stuck in their own Medieval times. So perhaps only a third or so of those may even be capable of detecting our passing signal.

Of the few (perhaps only one or two) detectors, I doubt any would be eager to respond in such a potentially dangerous and deceptive situation as first contact (I believe humanity itself only considers such a thing at present out of youth and naivete). At best a deep space probe or two might be sent our way-- at worst, such probes might possess Doomsday devices to harm us if we are deemed a threat of any sort to their builders.

As for them sending entire fleets of manned vessels, some huge, and of dozens of varying designs...well, sorry, but my own imagination fails to come up with a reasonable or plausible explanation for that possibility-- no matter how much the kid in me might be attracted to it.

Keep in mind that even moderate burster scenarios drain the plausibility out of the notion that there might be any nearby star faring race with a God-like headstart in development like a billion years, no matter the age of their home star (except in the case of a near-miraculous coincidence perhaps). But even if it didn't, that would only take us back to the God-like entities who can simulate the entire Universe without leaving home-- so why bother with physical transport at all?

Other reasons why we might not have found or contacted aliens yet (or they us)-- or any aliens anywhere managed to colonize the whole galaxy before humanity ever stopped swinging through the trees-- could be vast cosmic barriers of various sorts in space, of which humanity is only now beginning to get an inkling.

2-25-98 Newz&Viewz: Supercomputer predicts discoveries to come in space over coming decades/centuries.

Enormous, dense, and virtually invisible regions of space (shaped like "walls" and "filaments") which may shatter high speed spacecraft that unexpectedly encounter them? Blood-chillingly large voids of absolutely nothing for perhaps hundreds of thousands (or millions) of lightyears, too?

Of the ten mightiest supercomputers on Earth today, the "Garching T3E" is the one making these predictions of discoveries to come.

Folks, if these speculations turn out to be true, there could be even vaster wastelands in space than we can imagine today-- wastelands into which only the most suicidal of explorers might venture. And besides those immense "deserts" of emptiness (which coincidentally the original Star Trek talked about in the episode concerning the Q-like "Squire of Gothos", around 30 years ago), there's also the possibility of gargantuan dark 'barriers' so huge that even faster-than-light starships might find it impractical to try going around them(!), and giant fiber-like structures of the same material which might also damage or destroy unwary ships which encounter them.

Hmmm. I believe the fictional starships of Star Trek have entertained us with stories about things somewhat similar to these dangerous barriers and filaments for decades now, have they not?

There may be a lot depending on just how common these structures are, and their scale-- and especially their local configuration-- in our own galaxy. Like what? Like the future of the human race. What if we discover we're boxed in by an effective trap of dark matter, which prevents the practical use of starships beyond so many lightyears in every direction? Folks, Vernor Vinge in his novel "A Fire Upon the Deep" dreamed up a reality where all technology and higher life forms were dependent on varying 'zones' of potential speed of movement and thought-- so that starships and advanced computers would work only in certain regions, and elsewhere only rudimentary tools and biologicals could function. Now it seems 'Dark Matter' may make something like this a reality. For a ship physically traveling through space at significant speed might hit dark matter like a train hitting a mountain. A craft traveling much slower during the encounter might be able to make progress with little or no damage-- but the speed could be intolerably slow and impractical to maintain for any substantial distance. And yet, what if the dark matter region was something like 25,000 light years thick? And too wide to go around, too? In that case, star ships would simply be unable to do anything useful in such an afflicted region-- much less get to the other side of it.

So Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep could turn out to be eerily prophetic-- if not for us, then for some other star faring races somewhere. Niven and Pournelle also have written sci fi about sentient beings stuck in a 'trap' of sorts in space, in 'The Gripping Hand' and its predecessor ('The Mote in God's Eye' I believe is the title).

Of course, FTL (faster-than-light) ships which folded space itself, or otherwise avoided actual physical movement through the medium, might be exempt from such barriers dark matter might pose. Unfortunately, such 'warp' drives aren't yet something we can count on (and may never be).

So here again we find yet another possible reason why humanity's true star trek may be forced to proceed painfully slowly at its leading edges for centuries or millennia to come-- while paradoxically behind those leading edges we might become capable of enjoying instantaneous transport across whatever distances we care to (See the Signposts Timeline for more on this mounting potential paradox).

-- EurekAlert! [""], on or about 2-25-98

Dense but nearly invisible dark matter may make up as much as 90% of the tangible universe. In a 2000 AD survey of just a 2 square degree portion of the sky from a single observatory, elements of an immense network or web pattern of dark matter spanning the face of 200,000 galaxies was found. Researchers are attempting to map the distribution of dark matter throughout the entire universe.

In other fields some scientists are expressing concerns at the lack of evidence for any significant star faring going on anywhere-- within our own galaxy or others. Could it be that the strands of a vast, difficult-to-detect dark matter web infuse the universe, and make it impractical for starships to traverse much of interstellar space?

-- Astronomers Map 'Dark Matter' By Irene Brown, News, March 10, 2000,

Extremely lightweight but near galaxy-sized particles may fill the Universe, thereby reducing the opportunity for dwarf galaxies to have formed in the past.

These awesomely huge particles would be affected only by gravity, nothing else, and pretty much invisible until you collided with one. Yikes! Can anyone imagine a worse obstacle to practical lightspeed or slower propulsion over great distances? Could such particles also affect faster-than-light vehicles and communications?

Are such huge single particles composed of 'fuzzy dark matter'? And each particle's entire mass only about 10 to the 24th power the mass of an electron?

What exactly would happen if a spacecraft impacted such a cloud of probability? This essentially humongous single electron?

-- New Scientist: Globs in space [""] by Roland Pease, From New Scientist magazine, 26 August 2000, citing Physical Review Letters (vol 85, p 1158)

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Why might aliens want to keep their presence among us a secret (if they were already here)?

Let's assume for the moment that aliens are here among us, as some claim. This is highly improbable, as explained in this article, but not impossible. Here there's three main scenarios:

(A) Some of the apparent human beings among us are extra-terrestrials, or humans trained or conditioned by aliens as agents to live and work among us, all the while gathering information on how we think, act, and live. Your best friend or spouse could be one and you'd never know it, as agents could be routinely controlled by devices on or in their person that would never permit a slip in their disguise. It's even possible you yourself could be such an agent, but have no inkling of your participation in the program. The human mind is extraordinarily malleable, and can be made to perform all sorts of feats of self-obfuscation and other acts of reality bending.

(B) Roving alien craft are continually buzzing Earth aircraft and spacecraft, and abducting humans and animals for bizarre experiments, sampling, and examinations, as seen in popular media, circa the late 20th century.

(C) Both of the above.

In the case of (A) above, aliens would want to keep their presence a secret to protect their agents from the close scrutiny humanity as a whole might perform on themselves once the cat was out of the bag. They would also realize that revealing themselves would damage the quality of the data they were gathering through their agents, as humanity would be aware they were being watched somehow, and become more inhibited in many ways from acting as they normally would.

(B) is a much more difficult scenario to explain in any reasonable, logical fashion-- after all, if the aliens wanted to be secretive, regularly buzzing aircraft and various civilized locations, as well as abducting every 1000th person they came across, would be a very dumb way of doing it. This would be so incongruous in fact, that you really couldn't reconcile the two. Either they want secrecy, and so DON'T actually do things like this-- or they don't care for secrecy at all, and do whatever they want regardless of observation, which definitely isn't the case either, since whatever may be happening in regards to alien visitation to the Earth these days, somebody (most likely the aliens) is doing quite a bit to prevent any hard evidence from falling into the hands of the human public.

Of course, there's also the possibility that there's more than one type of aliens involved-- so that one kind goes around cleaning up all the hard evidence left behind by the messier verson. And no, merely human agents and organizations wouldn't be capable of such clean ups unless they enjoyed the same advanced level of technology as the aliens-- for the clean up jobs are simply too damn good for any purely human agency to achieve. The time frame is a problem for purely human clean up explanations too. For you see, 100% of all claimed UFO and/or alien encounters occurring worldwide over not just 50 years, but over centuries and possibly even millennia, have all worked out to be clean as a whistle so far as hard evidence is concerned. Or at least something so close to 100% clean that not a single piece of such evidence has ever managed to find its way to a credible public and scientific examination.

And yes, despite humanity's inability to so thoroughly clean up after alien visitors in terms of hard evidence, some human involvement would still be necessary to erase, distort, or discredit other human efforts to document alien-related phenomena, in order to minimize or prevent any serious and substantial efforts to investigate them. Many folks firmly believe just such an alien-human conspiracy has been in place since around the end of World War II, if not before.

But again, if real UFOs have been buzzing around humanity for centuries or millennia with anything near the frequency claimed during the late 20th or early 21st century, then conspiracy theorists must explain how any such concerted human effort at a worldwide coverup could continue unabated through not just decades but centuries and millennia of wars, revolutions, religious transformations, exploration, and scientific discovery-- not to mention tens or hundreds of different human generations. There simply isn't any plausible explanation for how such a successful coverup could be maintained for so long, by so many, without any substantial breaks or gaps in the deceptions to blow the whole thing wide open.

Just about the only thing that could explain such a successful long term conspiracy would be if humanity and the Earth themselves were nothing more than a sophistocated computer simulation, in which the mystery user may easily set a parameter making the conspiracy unbreakable, period.

-- The Simulation Argument Are You Living In a Computer Simulation? [""] by Nick Bostrom, PhD; Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University;; Philosophical Quarterly, 2003, Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255

- Edge: IN THE MATRIX: MARTIN REES [""];; accessible online 5-3-04

Perhaps we'll someday be able to prove one way or the other if reality itself is merely a simulation by research like the report below.

"In this paper strong limits on the accuracy of real-world physical computation are established."

-- Computational capabilities of physical systems. [""]; Wolpert DH.;; NASA Ames Research Center, N269-1, Moffett Field, California 94035, USA.

In other words, God would have to be responsible for it. If you think about it, there's just as much hard evidence supporting the core tenets of most world religions as there is supporting aliens being responsible for UFOs.

Some reasons why UFOs are likely not extraterrestrial in origin include too many claimed appearances compared to those required for a survey of the planet, the humanoid description usually given the crews of UFOs is unlikely to have evolved either in space or anywhere else but on Earth, alien behavior reported as part of abduction experiences bears little similarity to any truly scientific examinations an advanced race would be likely to perform, similar phenomena documented over past history shows that whatever the source, it is nothing new or unusual to the planet or humanity, and the often assumed capacity for exquisite spacetime manipulation on the part of the aliens hints at possibilities more complex and possibly wilder than straightforward extraterrestrial sources-- such as time travelers.

-- FIVE REASONS WHY UFOs ARE NOT EXTRATERRESTRIAL MACHINES From Science Frontiers Digest of Scientific Anomalies [""] #73, JAN-FEB 1991 by William R. Corliss, citing Jacques F. Vallee; "Five Arguments against the Extraterrestrial Origin of Unidentified Flying Objects," Journal of Scientific Exploration, 4:105, 1990

But still some folks insist that despite the lack of a single scrap of hard evidence from what is often claimed to be thousands of years of alien visitations to Earth, there does exist an overwhelming amount of anecdotal and/or eye-witness accounts, and various other bits of 'soft' evidence.

[For more on this topic please see An examination of the soft evidence for alien visitations to Earth in UFOs.]

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What if strange folks do command some UFOs-- but they are more closely related to us than to aliens from another star?

Is there after all no possible way to support UFO phenomena as being something unnatural and exotic in regards to its sources? Is there no reasonable explanation for how advanced aircraft or spacecraft not built by conventional human resources might be buzzing about the planet, possibly perpetrating some bizzare form of mischief only their own crews might understand?

Yes, I must admit there's a few possibilities. Some of which many laypeople might regard as even more outlandish than star farers from across the galaxy. However, many sober scientists might surprise many readers of this piece with their own opinions as to exactly which possibilities are more plausible than others.

Let's begin with the most bizzare and possibly unsettling potentialities-- those with the least scientific probability of the bunch, but still well within the same realm as real alien visitors from another star.

Time travelers. Or interdimensional travelers. Travelers who move between different universes or realities, possibly both with or without advanced craft or vessels of some sort.

Such exotic technologies and beings are increasingly theoretically possible, plus have the benefit that they might much more easily find/reach us than extraterrestrials could any time soon-- since they might all be merely from alternate Earths, and shifting realities as it were, rather than physically searching or moving across thousands of lightyears of spacetime.

I believe at least a few UFO researchers have been increasingly bringing this point up in recent years, to their credit.

To see one such scenario, you can read the online science fiction novel The Chance of a Realtime.

But we can increase UFO plausibility still more than this. More likely than time or interdimensional travelers is the possibility of either human or other sentient beings with technologies perhaps only a few centuries (or even just decades) ahead of early 21st century human technology, which keep on buzzing us mainly because they have nowhere else to go-- still being trapped like us in Sol system, due to possessing no suitable warp drives yet. If modern human in origin, they might consist of a group originally begun by a secret society of wealthy europeans or asians decades (or even centuries) ago, determined to create and maintain a separate and distinct elitist position over the rest of the planet for as long as possible. Yes, I'm describing a multi-generational grand conspiracy theme such as conspiracy theorists salivate over.

And yes, there's plenty of precedent for secret societies of elitists with dreams of world domination-- as well as numerous members of such societies being wealthy in their own right.

So why would such a group enjoying superior technologies to the rest of humankind maintain long term secrecy as to their identities, location, and capabilities? It's simple. They would be relatively small in numbers, and their true advantages over the rest of us likely somewhat fragile and few in number as well. If their existance became proven, the whole world (or at least USAmerica) would greatly accelerate research and development efforts to match or surpass the elitists' own technologies ASAP-- and so the elitists would lose their technological edge quite quickly. Being few in number and possessing only a precious few advantages over everyone else in technology, the elitists couldn't afford for the location(s) of their base(s) of operations to become known, or their individual identities revealed, as overwhelming forces from USAmerica and/or other powers would descend upon them to rob them of their edge-- via intense electronic and satellite surveillance, if nothing else. The elitists' advantages might work well enough to fend off isolated and random incursions or assaults, but be inadequate for defending against all out attacks based on accurate knowledge of locations and identities.

Such a scheme (if it existed) might now be failing or falling apart, due to humanity becoming more efficient in and accepting in general of innovation, so that we're now all 'catching up' to them rapidly.

Such an imminent loss in superior position might pose a crisis for such a group of elitists. It would seem their only alternatives would be to gradually make their own technologies available commercially in order to realize profits from same, or invest heavily in boosting their technological advantages whatever way they could (this last goal would seem to be a hopeless one, when faced with the competition of the whole rest of the planet).

Another alternative might include at least advancing their own technologies sufficiently to gain an early foothold undersea or upon other exotic real estate such as the Moon, Mars, or asteroids and comets, in order to reap a headstart over humanity as a whole once widescale space mining and construction become feasible enterprises. Such a plan could allow the elitists to leap ahead of the rest of humanity in space-based profits, and form a legacy of immense wealth which would be difficult for anyone else to ever match or surpass in the future. Such vast resources might assure the elitists' place of dominance over future political and economic decisions into perpetuity...

Of course, we're also talking the need for a critical mass population and technological base to support such a group-- and do it over the long term-- with a level of secrecy rivaling that claimed for more exotic UFO scenarios (but with the advantages of not requiring nearly as many centuries of pains-taking maintenance or the cooperation of such an immense body of people, as the standard UFO conspiracy model seems to). Given all the facts and claims to date, this explanation would remain more plausible than true extraterrestrials, time travelers, or interdimensionals.

In this scenario perhaps the most economical and efficient form would be a two or more level hierarchy in terms of access and knowledge, with perhaps only a few dozens to a few hundred elite enjoying full knowledge of the scheme and enjoying the complete fruits of the labors, with several thousand others of incomplete knowledge and access performing the bulk of the technical work, and lastly, perhaps tens of thousands of more people with no knowledge whatsover of the overall plan, openly but indirectly working on less technical elements of the project.

Such a hierarchy as described above matches pretty well the gist of operations of many multinational corporations on Earth, from the 18th century through the 21st. Thus, any single company pursuing truly exotic long term goals for itself in secret would have enjoyed the cover of hundreds of other similarly working entities on the planet. In theory, publically owned companies might be more vulnerable to suffering discovery of such plans by outsiders, than private ones-- but in practice it seems large business interests enjoy a multitude of ways in which to shield their secrets or else postpone indefinitely their exposure, no matter what form of ownership under which they operate.

Thus, in this scenario, you could actually be a small investor in a large corporation you think only builds widgets sold in discount stores, but which in fact maintains flying saucers too, for someone.

Perhaps more likely still (when all the numbers were crunched) would be an entire ancient civilization from Earth itself, whose planetary existence was erased long ago by natural or artificial means, but managed to put significant, self-sustaining elements of itself into space (or well hid them somewhere on Earth). They might lack interstellar propulsion, and so be stuck in Sol system-- or even stuck primarily on and about Earth itself-- but still enjoy some technologies decades or centuries ahead of early 21st century humanity.

There's plenty of hard evidence for the erasure of much ancient human history. The 'curtain of mystery' is sufficiently large to hide an incredible range of endeavors, lost technologies, and lost civilizations. Heck, virtually all the previous island, coastal, and riverbank situated works of humanity were permanently inundated by 325 feet of water between 15,000 BC and 4,000 BC or so, as the ice age glaciers melted. Virtually no exploration of such submerged sites has yet been done, as of mid-2000 AD. So even the best experts must admit they have little idea what might be found there.

"...More history is waiting to be discovered under the sea than in all the world's museums combined..."
-- undersea explorer Robert Ballard, circa 2000

-- Explorers-in-Residence See Gloom and Gleam in the Future By David Braun, National Geographic News;, 4-11-2000

As the glacial weight diminished on the lands, lots of volcanoes and earthquakes were unleashed-- especially in North America and Europe-- of magnitude 8 or bigger(!). So whatever wasn't sent to the bottom of the ocean, seas, lakes, or rivers was burned, melted, or shattered instead. And don't forget human salvage efforts, which also would have destroyed many ancient buildings and relics as their raw materials were repurposed by later, perhaps simpler generations, to make wholly different and less interesting items. The 1970s fad of low budget films depicting a humanity forced to begin rebuilding their technology from scratch again after some type of disaster (such as nuclear war) wasn't based entirely upon pure fantasy. Human civilization has indeed suffered setbacks in the past, and likely will do so again. There may yet be discovered evidence of a more spectacular such setback in the ancient past than we today suspect. But those historic and prehistoric setbacks we already know of or suspect are pretty imposing in their own right.

For 10,000+ years humanity was forced to restart world civilization over and over again, possibly losing tremendous amounts of knowledge and technology in the face of an ever growing scale of disasters (this may even happen to us again, in the future).

-- The Chance of Finding Aliens: Reevaluating the Drake Equation By Govert Schilling and Alan M. MacRobert (based on an original piece in Sky & Telescope; last updated July 2000; Sky Publishing Corp

One result of this is that nowadays most of us think human civilization only really began around 4000-3000 BC-- or the time sea levels finally stabilized, the ice sheets were gone, and the eruptions and earthquakes subsided.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: To see a wealth of further information and reference sources for these matters, please refer to Perspectives on 10,000 BC-2,001 BC and related pages. END NOTE.

What if an earlier human civilization arose, leapt into space to escape the Earthly upheavals of their time (or found some better refuge on Earth itself), and all previous signs of their presence on our planet were afterwards erased and forgotten? But remaining trapped on Earth (or at least within Sol system), they occasionally were observed or encountered by the rest of humanity for various reasons since? I can think of quite a few ways to neatly fit this theory to all sorts of existing UFO conspiracy ideas, as well as documented encounters, and strange accounts from ancient history.

Perhaps the only real problem with this idea in terms of standard UFO lore is the usual somewhat in-human appearance of the UFO crews in numerous eye witness accounts of encounters.

But even this could be resolved with one small tweak to the concept.

Such an early civilization wouldn't necessarily have to be exactly human.

Earth could have evolved a wholly different intelligent species before humanity.

Keep in mind humanity itself was just one of several competing humanoid species over much of the past several million years. So before we vanquished the others, there would have been two or three different variations on smart humanoids inhabiting Earth at the same time. Maybe more.

Multiple lines of competing sentient or near-sentient lifeforms, existing simultaneously, on the same planet. It's a fact.

During most of humanity's evolution we shared the planet with both close and distant cousins-- many of them also walking erect and possessing large brains like us. There may have been more than 20 different kinds of human beings in prehistoric times. This number dwindled down to just one race (us) relatively recently-- about 30,000 years ago.

Some researchers believe we killed off (or starved out) all our competitors.

-- Light on mankind's dark past [""] by ROBIN McKIE, The Mail & Guardian, February 18 2000

And if we go back a bit further, into the ape lines which preceded those variants, we find still more diversity. Perhaps splintering into dozens or more competing species of relatively large brained primates, all vying to come out on top. Some of these primates actually walked erect long before humanity's own ancestors.

What if humanity's predecessors weren't the first primates or similar beasts to walk erect, speak, and make tools? We already know some of these things are true.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: To see a wealth of further information and reference sources for these matters, please refer to the series of pages which begin with Perspectives on 15,000,000,000 BC- 60,000,000 BC. END NOTE.

What if such non-human primates evolved and developed a civilization upon a land mass highly isolated from all the rest of the world's continents, thereby minimizing the chance that much evidence of their presence would accumulate elsewhere to be discovered later by mankind? That is, their prehistoric homeland was well separated from all the continents populated today by humanity, via vast expanses of ocean water?

Then, what if their home continent catastrophically sank long before humanity evolved, taking with it practically all traces of their existence?

What if all this happened 10 million years or longer before the emergence of humanity? There's plenty of time in the evolutionary record for it.

Well, sorry to upset your worldview here, but there's a surprising amount of information available to support just such a possibility-- as far out as it may sound.

Firstly, note that once a civilization reaches a certain level of technology, there's lots of reasons to go into space and few for remaining on Earth (or any other planet, for that matter). Many of these reasons can be found in previous pages of this Contact article, as well as the long list of risks associated with being trapped upon a single planet like Earth, described in this chronology of the Earth's past, and the new threats we are discovering almost every year now, as may be found in the timeline prologue 1990 AD-2000 AD.

If the required technology platform can be achieved without exploiting the entire Earth first (which seems very possible for a civilization with a limited population and a non-democratic social hierarchy), such people would also leave the planet itself for the most part little affected with signs of their development. And ten million years of wear and tear would further aid the concealment of their original development and presence. Sink their primary lands of residence a couple kilometers under the sea--preferably in a remote and inhospitable location like somewhere off the coast of Antarctica, to discourage much investigation later on-- and you get a practically perfect scenario so far as plausibility is concerned.

But the land-based foundation for such a race to evolve and then live as a full-fledged technological civilization couldn't consist of a mere island, or even a group of islands. No, this job would call for a continent-- at least a small one. The scenario would become even more plausible (for reasons offered elsewhere on this web site) if the small continent was placed within relatively close proximity to another, much larger continent, which itself was also well isolated from the rest of the world, and during the latest million years of human dominance of the planet also remained for the most part a hidden and inhospitable land in its own right. To maintain the lost civilization's secret it would be ideal if this larger continent too had submerged under the sea along with the smaller mass. But if submergence wasn't in the cards, the next best thing would be for the bulk of the larger continent to be hidden under a kilometer or so of ice, in order to protect its mysteries from mankind for as long as possible.

Two continents fitting the description above actually exist. The sunken continent is today known as the undersea Kerguelen Plateau, while the larger ice-covered continent is Antarctica.

-- "'Lost continent' discovered" By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse, BBC News Online: Sci/Tech, 5-27-99, BBC Homepage [""]

Could the above scenario be significantly more likely than star farers from across the galaxy? Most definitely.

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Why might world governments want to keep secret a real alien presence on Earth?

This one's easy-- because acknowledgement of such presence could heavily dilute the governments' authority over their citizens, possibly usurping their powers of leadership and control. The intelligentsia might argue we should learn as much as possible from the advanced aliens, perhaps even taking our lead from them in matters political and economic, thereby enjoying a theoretical leap in education, prosperity, and governmental effectiveness all around--- to the chagrin of traditional political and economic camps. The theologians might possibly be split into two groups, one proclaiming the superior nature of any alien religion which might be discovered, the other terrified of losing their moral authority and financial base-- just as various governments would be.

So should we trust the government when they say there's no aliens among us? Of course not. They have a vested interest in stating the negative, no matter what the truth may be.

No, what we should believe instead is the evidence of hard facts, logic, and our own most plausible scientific theories.

Imagine the incredible resources it would take to keep such a secret from being divulged, on a world-wide basis. Then increase the difficulty by requiring such a global secret to be kept intact over 50 years, or even longer, throughout major changes in leadership and ideals at the top of virtually every country and organization in the world. As you see, considering the self-serving and competitive nature of all the different parties involved, it is very unlikely such an awesome secret could last this long, or even have been successfully hidden in the first place.

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When are we most likely to first contact aliens?

Never ever...

The greatest probability may well lie with us never encountering an extraterrestrial intelligence, simply for reasons of the enormous distances and expenses involved, and marginal benefits to be gained by any race in such long range ventures from their homeworld(s).


In a digital view of these possibilities, let us assume never encountering aliens to be the negative, while someday encountering them is the positive. Let us here assume the positive-- that we do someday meet with intelligent extraterrestrials. In terms of probabilities, the operative word here is someday. That someday could easily be thousands of years from today; or even hundreds of thousands of years; the galaxy and the universe are plenty big enough to make contact plausible, if we allow a long enough time frame. Disappointing as this may sound to contemporary UFO aficionados, it is never-the-less a very real possibility. So it might be best to store all the party hats in the Egyptian pyramids for safe keeping, until they're needed...

Someday soon...

Of much less probability is the scenario wherein we meet our alien counterparts sometime soon-- like within just the next few centuries. For this to occur we would almost certainly have to be either under observation by them at this very moment, or on the verge of being discovered by them, or just a few years away from detection of such beings through our own telescopes or spacecraft. For in no other way might a person reasonably cognizant of the physics involved expect such a near term encounter to be prefaced. Let us briefly examine the implications of these three contingencies:

One, we are presently under observation by aliens, and have been for some indefinite period. This is a favorite assumption of UFO conspiracists. This scenario could involve disguised alien observers (or human agents of such aliens) living among us, or working within our governments or corporations, and/or an ongoing covert war against such activities by our governments, and/or a secret agreement between our governments and an alien civilization for an exchange of various items or information.

Two, we are on the verge of being discovered by aliens. This is more plausible than the first possibility in the list, due to our seventy lightyear radius bubble of radio signals surrounding us.

Three, we are only a few years from detecting extraterrestrials via radio telescope. It could well be that we could find such beings before they found us, simply because we're actively looking and they are not (being busy with more productive activities). Plus, there's little we do today that could attract the attention of faraway intelligences, while advanced alien civilizations could be constructing enormous Dyson spheres or other artifacts that would show up like gangbusters on our own instruments-- if only we look at the right place, at the right time.

Any day now...

Of extremely low probability is the possibility that those of us around today will just happen to witness the spectacle of an alien ship landing on the White House lawn (or our own) tomorrow. The chances of this are far, far lower than those of any one of us winning a $100 million lottery today.

Of course, when you begin exploring possibilities in this extremely unlikely range of events, you're reaching deeply enough into the improbable to touch upon the strange world of quantum physics itself, which may actually allow events to be manipulated by thoughts and expectations as much as anything else. In other words, it could turn out that anything we think about long enough and hard enough could be made real, by some inexplicable threading through all the needle eyes of those physical laws we presently know, and those we don't, to weave a truly exotic fabric of events. If we expect a thing strongly enough, we may succeed at bringing it about, albeit indirectly, and in some wildly unpredictable manner. If this is the case, we would do well to dream about friendly aliens rather than hostile ones.

The new book Quantum Evolution by Dr. Johnjoe McFadden observes that the DNA of life imposes order down to the very level of the molecular structure itself. Which means that the essence of life also may reach into the strange realm of quantum mechanics.

"In quantum mechanics, everything that can happen will happen."

The quote above offers profound implications for any system based upon or interacting with the universe on the quantum level. Elementary particles like electrons and photons act as both waves and particles, and when offered a choice of paths take them all simultaneously. Only when they are measured or otherwise interfered with do their wave functions collapse, coalescing into a single particle and its determinate path in our spacetime.

It may be that there are many universes-- parallel realities to our own-- with such multiple personality particles/waves occupying them all simultaneously until forced to choose only one.

Only recently did scientists discover that objects larger than elementary particles could also participate in this strange multi-universe existence. Namely, molecules like fullerenes. The diameter of fullerene molecules is comparable to that of the double helix of DNA, or basic constituent of life itself. Thus, it appears DNA may also be able to inhabit multiple universes simultaneously.

It may be that at least some mutations in life within our reality come about due in some way to the multiversal experiences of our DNA. But if so, how exactly does the DNA slip into and out of the multiversal state? Apparently it would enter the multiverse at times when it is adequately isolated from our own reality, and exit again after it has interacted somehow with the multiverse itself.

The isolated state appears to involve at least at times some sort of desperate condition on the part of the DNA, such as stymied growth or reproduction: perhaps stemming from a shortage of food. The DNA might then go multiversal, sampling many possible genetic combinations until it finds one which will dissolve the roadblock in its native universe, then return to affect the change.

Experiments with bacteria seem to show just such preferential mutations in action-- at least in some cases.

Such preferential mutations would also offer a neat solution to the mathematics that seem to prove the probability of life arising in the universe at random to be nil. Quantum accelerated evolution could be the loophole allowing life to bypass the obstacles suggested by the math.

-- Is Quantum Evolution The New Science Of Life? [""] (Katie Minton possible author), 04-Feb-2000,

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Where in our galaxy are we most likely to find aliens-- or, where are they most likely to live?

Basically, just as with human beings, where to look depends on what sort of folk you want to find.

Here we won't attempt to guess where the God-like entities might be found-- for even if we bumped into them we might not recognize them, but instead think they were a 'quasar' or something.

Come to think of it, we may have trouble recognizing even less developed aliens, too. But let's give it the old college try, shall we?

The black voids of the introverted races

To find the truly advanced, longest lived extraterrestrial star farers, look to those regions of space which appear the emptiest. Capable of minimizing entropy to a degree unimaginable by us today, such civilizations will likely be able to reduce their energy and signal emanations to near zero, appearing to outsiders as the very emptiest of space. They may well possess numerous automated spies flying about the galaxy collecting information (while giving away little or none themselves), and defenses around their invisible corporeal base designed to appear as natural forces of cataclysmic magnitude exerted on vessels unfortunate enough to wander too near. Or, they may have none of these things, having found more elegant and still less conspicuous methods of data acquisition and security.

Of course, if these races prefer still emptier space than that described above, they might not live inside our galaxy at all anymore-- preferring instead to exist outside it, in the greatest empty spots of all-- the vast voids between galaxies. If this is the case, we might never find them-- the voids are just too damn big.

Galaxy Central, or the Cosmic Bazaar

As described in the future timeline, our galactic core offers a wealth of possible natural resources to attract intelligent star farers, such as an enormous natural fountain of anti-matter fuel, and oodles of singularities (black holes) just waiting to have their gravity wells tapped for energy generation. The core is also on our way to the opposite side of our galaxy, where a second galaxy is slowly colliding with our own. The foreign galaxy may be composed of dark matter; thus, you have there not only a completely alien galaxy to explore virtually in our own backyard (as galaxies go)-- but a tantalyzing opportunity to possibly sample some of the most exotic elements in the Universe as well.

Atop all this, the core also offers some of the oldest stars and systems in our galaxy-- and possibly a natural meeting place and transportation/navigation hub for advanced star farers from all over. Such a region may be the most logical place to find large scale star faring activity, such as commerce, communications, and transportation (See the novel "Contact" by Carl Sagan for an excellent treatment of this subject).

All these possibilities may well make the galactic core the most 'Star Trek'-like alien-mingling spot for tens of thousands of lightyears around.

-- Kathy Sawyer of the Washington Post ("Scientists find antimatter fountain gushing from center of Milky Way", 4-29-97, page A06), Philadelphia Enquirer, and Fox News (4-28-97)

-- "Scientists: Milky Way contains 24 black holes", The Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri On-Line, found on or about 7-3-99

The black hole at the core of our galaxy seems unusually subdued, compared to theoretical expectations. Note that if its power had been harnessed somehow by an advanced civilization, one effect might be an unusually low power output as detected by faraway peoples like us, compared to what our knowledge of physics would lead us to expect.

-- Chandra Detects 'Fountain of Life', Jan. 18, 2000, Associated Press/Discovery Online News Brief,

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Where in the signal spectrum are we most likely to contact aliens?

Different scientists have different opinions on this, and there's really no way to be certain what frequency of radio wave aliens will use, or even if they will use a radio wave at all. It may well be that other, far more efficient techniques for communications are available that we simply haven't found or invented yet. In the future timeline an advanced system is eventually put to use by human beings themselves offering instantaneous communications across infinite distances, but offering zero opportunities for third party eavesdropping, being utterly point-to-point-- with no detectable signals in the intermediate void between comm stations. If aliens were already utilizing such a technology, there'd be no way we could detect such ongoing communications, even after we too attain the same level of relevant technology.

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How is first contact most likely to be made?

Today, radio astronomers are generally considered to have the best chance for detecting alien signals, while those dependent on purely optical means might sight grand engineering projects underway in a far system-- if they, by some enormous cosmic accident, happen to look in the proper direction at precisely the proper moment (Sorry, but this is unlikely. Our main hope for such a sighting is to automate the process, and allow teams of powerful super computers and satellites to perform our search for us, over a period of decades at minimum, calling our attention only to those things that almost definitely cannot be considered to be of natural origin).

So far (as of early August 2002) neither of these groups (radio or optical astronomers) have found anything to indisputably indicate an intelligent presence out there.

Many claims have been made by various citizens of encounters with, and even abductions by, extraterrestrial visitors. Though a small percentage of these claims are difficult to explain (as would be expected whether the incidents happened or not, due to our remaining substantial ignorance of natural phenomena, and even of our own psyche, as well as the natural ability of many of our number to deceive the rest of us to an astonishing degree), most are easily dismissed as attempts to exploit the concept for publicity, profit, or both.

The engineering difficulties and socio-economic hardships implied in such acts (interstellar journeys), on the part of the alien society which launched them, as well as the crew who manned such vessels, would be substantial so far as we may ascertain from our present knowledge. These facts, as well as others explored elsewhere in this text, would seem to greatly diminish the plausibility of present day claims of UFO abductions, encounters, and conspiracies.

It could also be that much or all of the present small percentage of alleged alien encounters presently voiced but not easily explained could be the result of secret military or corporate experiments by our own fellow human beings. Experiments not only in aerospace technologies, but also in genetics, biological weapons, advanced computer interfaces, and new hallucinogenic or other mind altering drugs. In some cases a fictional link with alien encounters might even be encouraged in the victims by the perpetrators to divert attention away from highly illegal or unethical acts. The probability of this being the case (if there's anything to UFO claims in the first place) seems sufficiently high so as to explain perhaps all of those cases inexplicable by any other means-- especially when the other considerations listed in this article are added to the debate.

But even if all the present day hype about UFOs is just that-- hype-- there still remains the possibility that someday, somehow, real contact WILL be made for the first time. In that case, what is the most likely scenario?

Unfortunately, the most probable scenarios, based on the information in this piece, are these (in order of likelihood):

#1: Contact is never made, for the simple reason that relatively few sentient races with star faring technology exist, and these are spread so thinly throughout an imaginably vast galaxy that it simply isn't practical for far-flung cultures to communicate or visit-- plus, any race with an ounce of self-preservation instinct will tend not to directly reply to messages of unknown origin, or to actively beam out messages broadcasting their location to unknown races. In centuries to come however, we do get the consolation prize: we find worlds with lesser life forms, usually only at the level of microbes, or jelly fish floating in vast alien seas...but discover at least one world in a neighboring system with cave dwelling alien primitives and a complete alien eco-system comparable to that of Earth's during 50,000 BC or so.

#2: A few hundred to a thousand years from now, we discover artifacts of a dead or departed alien civilization equivalent to our own of 10,000 BC to 1,900 AD, via a robot probe exploring many lightyears from the nearest human occupied outpost. No sign of living inhabitants is found-- then, or for centuries following.

#3. Millennia from now we detect and possible capture a functioning long range alien probe, and we receive our first and last two-way communication with sentient aliens in our history. Their sole message? Leave us alone and we'll leave you alone-- or else.

#4. Millennia from now we get the impression that possibility three above has occurred, but it turns out the aliens did this only to put us off guard; a few centuries later some awful mega weapon or war fleet appears among our local systems and does a pretty good job of wiping us out, in a cosmic example of pest control. There's not enough left of us to retaliate, and even if there were, we'd have no idea where the enemy lived. And that's that.

Yes, the above contingencies are not nearly as romantic, adventuresome, or fun as those painted by Hollywood and generations of science fiction authors-- but they reek of practicality and probability.

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How might we defend ourselves, if the aliens prove hostile?

This question may well be moot. After all, if aliens are already here as some claim, that suggests a level of technological sophistocation we could not hope to match for perhaps centuries to come. Ergo, they may do with us as they will (to see a slightly more optimistic view, refer to the article To Whom It May Concern, which outlines ideas for handling just such a threat).

On the other hand, if the universe is as adverse to interstellar travel as our contemporary calculations make it appear, there might be very little to fear in the way of alien invasions. Indeed, it might be difficult to even communicate by radio over the distances involved, as lightspeed would necessitate delays between message and response that could be measured in decades or centuries-- sometimes even in millennia.

SETI and other searches for extraterrestrial intelligence involving signal detection only have a reasonable chance at successfully finding such a signal if that signal was/is maintained over a lengthy period, such as thousands of years, at minimum.

If technological civilizations on average last 10,000 years, then random chance would dictate that any contact we make will (by 90% probability) be with a civilization at least around 1000 years ahead of us, technology-wise.

Increase the average lifespan of such civilizations, and you also increase the likelihood we make contact with them-- and that they will be still more advanced over us than by merely a millennium.

-- : Part 3: Odds of Intelligence Out There By Seth Shostak, December 16, 1999,

So what might the technological capabilities of an alien civilization a thousand years ahead of us be like? Well, they might resemble that of our own technology circa 3001 AD-6000 AD.

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What will happen to us after contact?

What effect would advanced alien knowledge, technology, and beliefs have on our own?

Much depends on the circumstances of information transfer between our two cultures. Some of the many adverse consequences humanity might suffer from, were spelled out earlier in this article.

As for more benevolent possibilities, we might somehow put together a long term trade agreement with the aliens, perhaps never having anything but pure information flow between us due to the great distances involved. We might give them an increasingly deep and wide knowledge of ourselves and our technology, as they do the same with us in regards to their own. Perhaps the aliens would help guide us in our implementation of their technologies so that we didn't advance faster than our overall temprement could cope with. In such a case as this, humanity might enjoy a steady rise in living standards and lifespan, and progress much faster in most all matters than we might have without such help (assuming of course the aliens possess technology considerably advanced over our own).

As for possibly more ambiguous consequences, our culture might undergo a socio-technological singularity much sooner than might otherwise be the case. As Vernor Vinge himself has stated, whatever happens after such an event is likely unpredictable in the extreme.

SETI and other searches for extraterrestrial intelligence involving signal detection only have a reasonable chance at successfully finding such a signal if that signal was/is maintained over a lengthy period, such as thousands of years, at minimum.

If technological civilizations on average last 10,000 years, then random chance would dictate that any contact we make will (by 90% probability) be with a civilization at least around 1000 years ahead of us, technology-wise.

-- : Part 3: Odds of Intelligence Out There By Seth Shostak, December 16, 1999,

-- The Atlantic Monthly; August, 1988; Are We Alone?; Volume 262, No. 2; pages 25-38 by Gregg Easterbrook

-- Finding other life wouldn't shake most faiths By Todd Halvorson and Robyn Suriano; Contact: In His image and likeness. A FLORIDA TODAY Space Online special report; found on or about 11-19-99

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A reasonable expectation for a given alien civilization's sphere of robust influence and knowledge (assuming a technological level equivalent to that estimated for 24th through 60th century humanity's) might be a radius of 200-400 lightyears, or sphere some 400-800 lightyears in diameter.

The AVERAGE degrees of isolation separating possible star faring species in the Milky Way galaxy today, as estimated in this document:

The nearest alien world(s) currently possessing living microbes and possibly primitive plant and animal life, are to be found within our own solar system. Prime candidates include Mars, Venus, Uranus, Jupiter's moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, Neptune and its moon Triton, Saturn's moon Titan, Pluto and its moon Chiron.

3-6-99 Newz&Viewz: Over its lifetime, our solar system may have possessed as many as FIVE different worlds where life could develop?

The five locations include Earth, Mars, Venus, Jupiter's moon Europa, and the asteroid/planetoid Chiron near Pluto.

-- "Search For Space Life Starts Right Here On Earth" By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent, Yahoo/Reuters, 1-26-99

The moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto of Jupiter all show hints of possessing oceans. Pluto, Triton, and Titan may also sport oceans. Even Neptune and Uranus could conceivably possess oceans of some sort.

-- Oceans Could Be Common In Our Solar System And Others; 20-Dec-2001; UniSci Daily (; (citing PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE, the American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News Number 569, December 14, 2001, by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein and James Riordon.)

-- Alien ocean by Jonathan Knight; 18 December 2000; New Scientist Online News

Our nearest neighboring systems almost certainly possess planetary systems of some kind

Star systems with currently living worlds, the vast majority hosting only microbes, but a minority spawning larger, more complex animals comparable to our own dinosaurs and perhaps even pseudo-primates, may abound in the moderately metal enriched torus region of our galaxy.

The nearest alien life to Earth (such as elsewhere in the solar system) is expected to be no more complex than bacteria.

-- Microbe May be Nearest Space Neighbor, Dec. 13, 1999, Reuters,

Roughly 70 lightyears marked the furthest reach of our own radio signals as of 1999.

-- ABC Are We Alone? How SETI Works [""] By Kenneth Chang, found on or about 4-8-2000

There doesn't seem to be any sources of intelligent radio signals of a strength comparable to humanity's own Arecibo dish, in a sphere roughly 100 lightyears in diameter, centered upon Earth.

-- Scientific American: WHERE THEY COULD HIDE: July 2000 [""], by Andrew J. LePage

It looks to be around 178 lightyears to the nearest location in space (likely Lagrangian points or homeworlds) hosting significant relics from a dead or departed star faring alien civilization which disappeared within the past million years. These artifacts likely were left by civilizations roughly equivalent to humanity of 1900 AD - 2500 AD (in terms of technology).

A sphere centered on Earth of diameter 160 lightyears seems to contain none of the waste heat signatures we would expect of highly advanced civilizations (Karadashev type II or III civilizations). Such signatures of heat dissipation would seem necessary unless those super advanced civilizations have developed ways around the effects of certain physical laws we currently see as unavoidable.

-- Scientific American: WHERE THEY COULD HIDE: July 2000 [""], by Andrew J. LePage

Star faring civilizations may be classified according to the scale of energies they command, in a ranking termed as Karadashev levels or types I, II, and III. A type I civilization is able to utilize the power output of an entire planet. A type II, an entire star, type III, an entire galaxy. One estimate is that humanity itself may reach Type III status around one million AD (if it doesn't destroy itself in the meantime). As of 2000 AD humanity was estimated to rate 0.7 on the Karadashev scale, in terms of interstellar transmission capacities alone.

-- pages 291 and 312, The Millennial Project by Marshall Savage; Little, Brown, and Company, 1992, 1994, and Scientific American: WHERE THEY COULD HIDE: July 2000 [""] by Andrew J. LePage

700 lightyears may be the distance within which we should be most concerned about contacting malevolent aliens-- for they could reach us before we are able to adequately defend ourselves, or flee from them off-Earth.

There are around a million stars similar to the Sun within 1000 lightyears of our own solar system.

-- Scientific American: Feature Article: Where Are They?: July 2000 [""] by Ian Crawford

The Copernican Principle is simple: that Earth and humanity represent nothing special in the Universe. Darwinism is a similar idea applied to biological lifeforms. Using these as guides, one scientist projects that we will not find a Karadashev type III civilization anywhere within the currently observable universe.

-- "ALREADY, NOW, WE ARE FORGOTTEN ON THOSE STELLAR SHORES" From Science Frontiers Digest of Scientific Anomalies [""] #88, JUL-AUG 1993 by William R. Corliss, citing J. Richard Gott; "Implications of the Copernican Principle for Our Future Prospects." Nature, 363:315, 1993, with article title apparently taken from a Stephen Spender poem

Somewhere between 500 and 1000 lightyears is the distance between us and our nearest sentient neighbors, according to Frank Drake (the creator of the Drake Equation). This is based on a belief that there's roughly 10,000 technologically proficient civilizations in the galaxy at this time.

-- How Far is ET? By Seth Shostak;; 16 August 2001

In my own opinion and calculations, the home world of the closest chronically struggling (but still living) technological civilization is perhaps at least some 1,500 lightyears distant from our own. Significant elements of such civilizations (remote outposts, and far-reaching ships or survey craft) could possibly exist as near as 1,100 to 1,300 lightyears from us.

The nearest home system of a living 'superpower' alien civilization is likely at minimum 2,840 lightyears away. Significant elements of such civilizations (remote outposts, and far-reaching ships or survey craft) could possibly exist as near as 2,400 to 2,600 lightyears from us.

The ominous silence in the heavens circa 2009,
and its implications for our own future

As of late-2009 SETI and other searches of the heavens appear to indicate that my estimates above concerning the existence of living and technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations may be overly optimistic. That instead, most or all civilizations in our galaxy typically expire within their own 600 year gauntlet, comparable to our own period of 1,900-2,500 AD, thereby essentially leaving the galaxy devoid of advanced civilizations for much of its history, and over vast regions.

The overwhelmingly lethal 600 year gauntlet of social and technological challenges described above isn't the only possible explanation-- just the most plausible one, based on the evidence available (in my own judgment, anyway).

A few other possibilities for why our galaxy may be utterly empty of star farers (so far as we can tell), include:

A. ALL still living and technologically advanced races have gone beyond any technology currently imaginable by mankind, so that they can defy the very laws of physics themselves (as we currently understand them) and thus show no heat signatures emanating from their greatest cosmological works, plus readily travel and communicate among the stars via means utterly undetectable to our finest instruments (essentially Godhood or magic, achieved via technology).

    Note it's pretty unlikely that of multiple far-flung galactic civilizations, every single one has managed to reach the same god-like levels of technological prowess enabling them and their works to evade detection by our present instruments. And even if they had, technological progress is invariably unevenly distributed over space and time, and so sheer social and economic inertia (less advanced but 'good enough' technologies remaining in place over large regions and for many purposes) would likely result in multiple instances of alien technological works which would be far from stealthy in their emanations-- and so detectable by the likes of us.

B. Due to an astonishingly unlikely coincidence of events, virtually all civilizations galaxy-wide are only now 'awakening' technology-wise, so that basically everyone's more or less as primitive today as humanity (give or take a few decades or maybe a century or so), and the only reason we haven't seen anyone's accidental or purposeful signal yet is that the signals are too weak and/or haven't yet had time to reach us (The Star Trek TV show premise).

C. Humanity and humanity alone is the only intelligent species to ever make it even this far in the galaxy, throughout its entire history since the Big Bang (the largely religious 'we are special' dogma; also known as the anthropomorphic concept in some circles).

    The anthropomorphic concept-- that the universe was specially sculpted just to suit us-- may end up being demolished by simple randomness if it turns out there are infinite sorts of universes out there, and so of course humanity appeared in the one (or many) which allowed it by chance. Likewise would frog people appear in a very slightly different class of universes somewhere. Or cockroach people. As for religious dogma-- that the universe was created especially to house and nourish us and our ilk alone-- that too may fall by the wayside as more people gain an understanding of just how big the universe is, and its full potential for paradigm busting. I.e., it appears that 99%+ of the universe will forever be off limits to humanity, no matter how far our technologies advance. So saying this place was built just for us is like saying a 144 room mansion was designed just for one child occupant who'll never be allowed to leave their cradle-- let alone their nursery. So it would seem supporters of supreme being dogma must explain how such wasteful extravagance universe-wide can be justified, in the face of horrific suffering here on Earth, by so many innocents-- especially children-- and especially under the auspices of a God claimed to be merciful and caring.

"Deadly the only likely source of continuous selection pressure for nonstop brain argument here is that humans got really smart because we invented troubles for each other that nature did not provide for other species. By constant intergroup or interclan warfare, we created a unique evolutionary arms race and escalating feedback loop within our own species."

-- William Burger, curator emeritus, Botany Department, Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, and author of 'Perfect Planet. Clever Species: How Unique Are We?'

Note that this tendency towards conflict which may well have helped boost our intelligence could also lead to our extinction, as our weapons become ever deadlier, and we fail to adequately curb or re-direct our violent impulses. This makes for a second way Burger's conclusion that we're likely alone in the universe could prove true-- if other intelligent races preceding us fell prey to the same vulnerability.

-- Are we alone? Quite possibly 01-26-03 [""] By Doug Wyatt;

"A search for intelligent life in space has drawn a blank"

-- ET fails to 'phone home' [""] By Helen Briggs; BBC News Online; 2003/03/28

For further examination of these and related matters, please see the items below:

Civilization's best defenses against war, terrorism, technological stagnation, and economic ruin

Ragnarok: The war for our destiny

The immense risks and appalling costs to humanity of excessive military, intelligence, and security expenditures-- and how to reduce both

The enormous hidden costs to society of 'right-wing' political governance

The super-rich, the 'plain' rich, the 'poorest' rich...and everyone else

Most Probable First Encounters Contents

Forward to details of our own potential future as star farers...

All text above not explicitly authored by others copyright © 1993-2009 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.