My reckoning is that there’s definitely life out there

It’s life, but not as we know it. The oldest fossil ever discovered on Earth shows that organisms were thriving 4.2 billion years ago, hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought.

The microscopic bacteria, which were smaller than the width of a human hair, were found in rock formations in Quebec, Canada, but would have lived in hot vents in the 140F (60C) oceans which covered the early planet.

The evidence we’re getting is that life turns up just about as soon as it possibly can turn up.

My guess is therefore that the fl in the Drake equation approaches 100%. fi is lower of course as Wolverhampton proves.

46 comments on “My reckoning is that there’s definitely life out there

  1. And yet we see no life on any near-by planet or moon. Even those that could theoretically support life.

    We have seen this with Mars “fossils” before – it is easy to see what you want to see. Let’s see if someone more skeptical also sees them.

  2. Perhaps there was life, but was wiped out when someone got to the Moon, dropped a large rock off the edge and caused an explosion on the Earth of several hundred megatons?

    If you think this is unlikely, this is what Brianna Wu, a future US wannabe US senator who we have discussed previously on this forum, believes is a future military threat.

    Strange that we haven’t seen this on the BBC – they are normally pretty quick to run stories mocking US politicians when they say something stupid. Oh, wait – she’s a Democrat. And a she, of course.

  3. And yet we see no life on any near-by planet or moon. Even those that could theoretically support life.

    Because the two main (Moon & Mars) and all the minor ones we’ve actually sent complex analysis equipment to are really on the “nope” to “we’d be incredibly lucky if” end of the “there might be life” scale.

    I would be quite surprised if there was life anywhere else in this solar system – although various Jovian or Saturnian moons have their fans. But, as we now know, this is one of many thousands of systems with planets. Which was one of the really big unknowns in the Drake equation.

  4. Rob,

    Gamergate clearly sets you up with the skills for complex military analysis.

    Just as a note – hitting something in the bottom of a gravity well is quite hard. Things tend to go in to orbit.

  5. Surreptitious Evil – “Because the two main (Moon & Mars) and all the minor ones we’ve actually sent complex analysis equipment to are really on the “nope” to “we’d be incredibly lucky if” end of the “there might be life” scale.”

    Mars hardly falls into the same category as Mercury or Venus. We have a reasonable expectation of seeing remains of life, if not actual life. We haven’t seen any yet.

    “I would be quite surprised if there was life anywhere else in this solar system – although various Jovian or Saturnian moons have their fans.”

    We have been to have a look at some of those moons and see no signs of life. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some, but we haven’t found any yet. It is not obvious. It is not as if they are broadcasting I Love Lucy.

    “But, as we now know, this is one of many thousands of systems with planets. Which was one of the really big unknowns in the Drake equation.”

    Indeed. I would be prepared to bet that all suns of the same type as our sun have planets. I would go further and say I would expect all suns to have planets. But that is one of the things we will have to see.

    http://www.space.com/24894-exoplanets-habitable-zone-red-dwarfs.html

  6. Rob – “If you think this is unlikely, this is what Brianna Wu, a future US wannabe US senator who we have discussed previously on this forum, believes is a future military threat.”

    Confusing Heinlein’s MiaHM with reality?

  7. We have been to have a look at some of those moons and see no signs of life. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some, but we haven’t found any yet. It is not obvious. It is not as if they are broadcasting I Love Lucy.

    Of course, two of the remaining “big unknowns” are – what %age of life-starts manage to become civilised life – fi, and what is the average length of duration of a civilisation that has developed broadcast technology – L.

    Although, interestingly, as most of our broadcasts are becoming compressed or encrypted or both, these are going to be much, much harder to differentiate from noise. Compared to, as your valid example, “I Love Lucy”.

  8. Evidence of life before the late heavy bombardment is remarkable if true. It’s also a pretty big nail in the coffin of abiogenesis.

  9. Often I can remember leaving the pub but have no idea how I got home. Aliens are the obvious answer.

  10. Although, interestingly, as most of our broadcasts are becoming compressed or encrypted or both, these are going to be much, much harder to differentiate from noise. Compared to, as your valid example, “I Love Lucy”.

    And the rise of satellite transmission means the broadcasts are facing inwards and at a much lower power.

  11. It took us a third of the existence of the Universe before we managed to broadcast anything, and we’ve only been doing it for 50-odd years at the right wavelengths, and not particularly powerfully, so I’m not sure whether that even now counts as “detectable”.

    Wolverhampton is excellent proof that fi can tend to zero and thus, by Drake’s formula, nullify any hope of us ever finding intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy.

  12. Just as a note – hitting something in the bottom of a gravity well is quite hard. Things tend to go in to orbit.

    It was a tremendously funny Twitter thread. She displayed an amazing amount of ignorance:

    i) Believing that you can “drop” something off the Moon and into the Earth’s gravity well. If you “drop” something on the Moon it lands on the Moon, albeit a bit more slowly than if you dropped it on the Earth.

    ii) If you somehow managed to get a large lump of rock off the Moon’s surface and out into space, it would, as you say, go into orbit as she forgot that the rock would have the same fucking velocity as the Moon.

    iii) It would have to be a really huge rock, as she has also forgotten about the Earth’s atmosphere. Given the gigantic amount of energy you would need to expend to get a rock big enough to leave the Moon’s gravity well, why fucking bother?

    Anyway, we need more women in Tech.

  13. “And the rise of satellite transmission means the broadcasts are facing inwards and at a much lower power.”

    Terrestrial broadcast antennas are engineered to radiate outwards rather than upwards and lose a lot of their energy from ground friction or terrain features before having a chance to radiate in to space.

    The only signals that are deliberately sent towards space are ground to air avaiation and ground to satellite.

  14. Rob – “Anyway, we need more women in Tech.”

    Well Wu is a White boy pretending to be an Asian girl so …. whatever. I am beyond caring.

    Wu clearly read Heinlein who made the same mistake.

  15. A large rock–fired along a magnetic track or even better/cheaper from a centrifuge– could certainly be set on a course to hit the Earth. Heinlein knew enough maths to know that. It would have to be big enough –or have a heatshield–not to burn up but it could hit the Earth.

  16. … could certainly be set on a course to hit the Earth. Heinlein knew enough maths to know that.

    Yes, however it is technically “hard” (as in you have to do a lot of difficult mathematics, rather than simple arithmetic, and get it right to quite difficult accuracies) and if you actually care about where you hit, harder still.

    Obviously, if it is a big enough rock, “where” you hit becomes less relevant. But then assembling the launch mechanism becomes a non-trivial engineering task.

  17. If she had read her Neal Stephenson she would know that either the moon exploding or having an enemy space ship drop large rods of metal (suitably heat shielded) on us is a greater threat.

  18. I reckon, with no real evidence or scientific training to back it up, that life is common in the galaxy. Perhaps amazingly abundant.

    But intelligence (and perhaps more importantly, long-term social cooperation) is rare.

    So there’s no Fermi Paradox. There’s no good reason to assume spiders on Mars or small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri would necessarily:

    * develop tool-using technological intelligence in the first place
    * become so smart, so rich, and so advanced as a civilisation – and maintain this status over a looong period of time, dodging the inevitable crises of war, dysgenics, disease, natural disasters and socialism – that they’d be detectable outside their own star system

    Would aliens even know we’re here? Our feeble radio waves are like ripples caused by pebbles being tossed into the Atlantic.

    It’d take God-like engineering prowess to make your solar system obviously detectable as a home of intelligent life. We’re talking Dyson spheres or the ability to artificially create gravity waves or summat here. Which may not even be technically possible.

  19. From the Washington Times:

    Ms. Wu blamed criticism of her on sexism: “that’s the danger of being a woman on the internet!” she exclaimed.

    No, that’s the danger of being a half-wit on the internet.

  20. Vernor Vinge has noted that if you transmit over interstellar distances, the combination of the necessary data compression and encryption will make your signal look increasingly like noise…

  21. BlokeInTejas, No1 son is currently working on a masters project at Manchester University building a contraption that will filter out noise from radio signals received from space and amplify the signal.

  22. SMFS: Actually, Heinlein went into quite a bit of detail on how you /couldn’t/ just chuck a rock off the moon and have it land on the earth, but trajectories and launch windows had to be calculated and kept to. One bit had the hero worrying about his transport (one of the “rocks” with passenger space) turning into a coffin in perpetual orbit.

  23. @LPT

    “If she had read her Neal Stephenson she would know that either the moon exploding or having an enemy space ship drop large rods of metal (suitably heat shielded) on us is a greater threat.”

    Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle described aliens dropping guided rocks on Earth targets in ‘Footfall’ in 1985, but Jerry Pournelle came up with the idea, albeit in a slightly different form, while working at Boeing in the 1950’s.

    https://www.quora.com/How-realistic-was-USAFs-Project-Thor-in-terms-of-implementation

  24. @The Inimitable Steve

    I (on an equally non-expert basis) agree with your assessment – lots of life, very little (if any) intelligence. But the Fermi paradox (in its modern form) runs like this:

    If progress in computing continues at anything like the rate of the last 50 years, we should within the current century be able to build machines with (at least) human level intelligence and/or transfer our ‘minds’ into them.

    Once this happens, interstellar travel (even absent warp drives, hyperspace jumps etc) becomes possible. The fact that it may take centuries to reach the next star doesn’t matter to a silicon intelligence – worst case, you can just slow the clock speed down and ‘snooze’ until you get there.

    Once there, you use the raw materials and solar power to build further replicas and send them on their way. With perfectly plausible assumptions, in this way you can reach every star in the galaxy within something like 10-100 million years, a cosmic blink of the eye.

    The fact that we haven’t encountered anything like that, suggests either we’re on our own in the galaxy, or for some reason it’s impossible to build thinking, self-replicating machines.

  25. The alternative is that they arrived here, caught an episode of Celebrity Big Brother as they crossed the orbit of Pluto, and we’ve now got the interstellar equivalent of “Danger. Lunatics at play!” Plastered all over the Oort Cloud.

  26. The fact that it may take centuries to reach the next star doesn’t matter to a silicon intelligence – worst case, you can just slow the clock speed down and ‘snooze’ until you get there.

    The integrity measures necessary to maintain state in a silicon intelligence at low clock speeds while exposed to centuries of cosmic rays are going to be non-trivial.

    Hell, the solar and cosmic radiation doses are one of the biggest concerns for manned Mars trips.

  27. “A large rock–fired along a magnetic track or even better/cheaper from a centrifuge– could certainly be set on a course to hit the Earth. Heinlein knew enough maths to know that. It would have to be big enough –or have a heatshield–not to burn up but it could hit the Earth”

    Where do you get your shit from? Dan fucking Dare? (the public information film, “Learn Your Left And Right With Dan Dare”).

    Yep, sh/it says, a rail-gun on the moon that can shoot asteroids at Earth.

    “Heinlein knew his maths.”

    “A centrifuge.”

    On the moon.

  28. ‘If progress in computing continues at anything like the rate of the last 50 years’

    Painting with a haptic stylus is cool.

    Google Maps with traffic is cool.

    GUI is cool.

    Can’t think of anything else that isn’t just faster and physically smaller. Like in my smart phone.

    Besides, excelling in computer technology doesn’t mean you’ll excel in other fields.

  29. I consider Man’s low speed capability to make interstellar travel, if not impossible, to be of no value. Why launch a ship that couldn’t possibly provide any return for 200 years? The return on investment is by definition double-ought zero.

    And why prod the Alpha Centauris? They are more likely to kill us than to help us. Eventually.

    TIS is on the right track. The trick isn’t so much to create gravity, it is to shield the spaceship inhabitants from that gravity.

  30. Meiac–Do you even know–without Google–who Heinlein was?

    As for the Dan Dare film –you should watch 100 times and it might sink in.

    A centrifuge–google it –on the Moon? What , something like the centrifuge in space shown in “2001 A Space Odyssey” all the way back in 1968?

    Or this:

    http://www.space.com/23015-slingatron-reusable-launch-system.html

    Or this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-rocket_spacelaunch

    That is enough because you are too dumb to understand them anyway.

  31. Chris – it’s a great question and I love the Bracewell Probe / von Neumann machine theory. Wouldn’t need to have AI though.

    I’m an AI-sceptic as it happens. For most of my life AI has been one of those things that’s only 20-30 years away. I reckon it’ll still be 20-30 years away at the end of this century, even if Moore’s Law holds out.

    Again, just my non-expert opinion, but I can’t see how it’s technically possible to write software that exhibits human-level intelligence. It’s not a hardware problem as such, it’s a software problem. Or maybe a human problem.

    The finest coding minds of our generation have trouble releasing a videogame without Day One patches. Our most impressive “AI” tech demos are just fancy databases with a cheap talking UI. I’m not convinced we will ever be smart enough, or understand the human brain well enough, to write an intelligent computer program.

    I reckon the problems with the von Neumann/Bracewell probe are these:

    * Gamecock’s observation: what’s the point? It’d be a non-trivial allocation of resources with zero return on investment by normal standards.

    * Self replicating machines are great in theory but likely to be troublesome in practice.

    Specifically, harvesting and refining materials in space is a huge technical challenge – the materiel is out there, but creating an autonomous machine that can a) identify, b) extract, c) refine, d) manufacture, and e) generate and store enough energy to do all this in deep space, and THEN travel to the next star system in less than a million years is hard. Solar panels are great but even getting a machine (or ecosystem of machines) to build more solar panels from scratch in space is going to be yugely difficult for the same reason scratching a Playstation 4 out of ore with a spoon is difficult.

    * It could turn out to be the galactic equivalent of a spam email, but one that eats matter and despoils valuable resources. I.e. unless there’s a foolproof way of stopping the self-replication going mental like a bunch of randy rabbits just arrived in Australia, a large percentage of the total non-stellar mass of the galaxy would eventually be turned into booping, beeping Bracewell probes.

    Aside from the ethical implications, perhaps intelligent aliens have decided it’s not worth being tracked down and beaten up by angry recipients of their messages.

  32. @SE the solar and cosmic radiation doses are one of the biggest concerns for manned Mars trips.

    They are for meatsacks. A bit of shielding is all that’s necessary for a silicon intelligence.

    Better minds than mine (not much of a challenge Mrs M tells me) have looked into the concept and concluded it’s practical based on what we know today. It may turn out that interstellar space is incredibly hostile even to silicon hardware, but there’s no evidence for it. The best explanation for the Fermi Paradox is that we actually are alone.

  33. Gamecock – “I consider Man’s low speed capability to make interstellar travel, if not impossible, to be of no value.”

    That is why I think the future of humans in space rests on the B Ark.

    Think of the benefits of loading every graduate in grievance studies on to a space ship and sending them off to Alpha Centauri? On the other hand, think of the horror of being stuck in a ship with ten thousand graduates of some form of grievance studies for 200 years?

    The interesting question would be if they could evolve intelligent life before they arrived. But on the other hand, it would be 200 years. Who cares?

  34. Everyone is quick to accept that “the find” is: 1. properly dated and 2. properly identified.

    I’ll wait just a bit before I accept it as valid. There is entirely too much wishful thinking and bad science going around to accept everything on the first announcement.

    Example: Arsenic in place of Phosphorous in DNA…. NASA
    (look it up)
    This whole idea of finding exotic “life” everywhere is a current theme …. Mars, Europa, aliens,etc. It’s almost like an agenda to promote something else.

  35. Chris Miller – “They are for meatsacks. A bit of shielding is all that’s necessary for a silicon intelligence.”

    I am curious – what else do the meatsacks need?

    Deplorable David in the US of A – “Everyone is quick to accept that “the find” is: 1. properly dated and 2. properly identified.”

    Not quite everyone.

    “This whole idea of finding exotic “life” everywhere is a current theme …. Mars, Europa, aliens,etc. It’s almost like an agenda to promote something else.”

    I am sure NASA is working on discovering which bathroom they used even as we speak. NASA used to do science. A bunch of White nerds put a man on the Moon. Around 1973 they decided to buy off Democratic objections by becoming an Affirmative Action agency. And they have done little else since. I see no reason to take anything they say seriously.

  36. “On the other hand, think of the horror of being stuck in a ship with ten thousand graduates of some form of grievance studies for 200 years?”

    Or how about being 20 years outbound from earth when you are passed by Gen 2 Interstellar Explorer?

  37. You considered this Ecks

    “A large rock–fired along a magnetic track or even better/cheaper from a centrifuge– could certainly be set on a course to hit the Earth. Heinlein knew enough maths to know that. It would have to be big enough –or have a heatshield–not to burn up but it could hit the Earth”

    And you come up with low-g emulation technology and a system for throwing small payloads into near-earth orbit.

    Throwing a rock big enough to cut through Earth’s atmosphere and also to create devastation, from the moon, would require something, mmm, a bit larger and a lot further way.

    Oh and by the way, it’s centripetal not centrifugal.

    So I’ll say it again Mr Ecks, you are a stupid cunt.

  38. what else do the meatsacks need

    A whole lot of shielding. Plus food, water, oxygen, etc etc.

  39. Meiac– you may have been googling and working the dictionary fit to burst your bollocks but long words can’t disguise the fact you are thick . As well as deeply troubled.

    “low-g emulation technology and a system for throwing small payloads into near-earth orbit.” .

    I suggest you start watching the re-runs of the “Good Old Days” on BBC whatever on Friday nights. The late Leonard Sachs uses lots of long words and if you sit there with a notebook and your dictionary who can say how far you can expand your vocabulary.

    You’ll be up for membership of the Reform Club in no time at that rate.

    In fairness desperate attempts to keep up your mask of sanity might actually do you a little bit of good but its clear you are about a dozen ECT treatments past the point of no return.

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