Sunday, November 1, 2009

We have met the enemy and he is us!

New Milky Way Image, a panorama created by Axel Mellinger, of Central Michigan University, melded from from 3,000 individual photographs.

I still think Monty Python's 1983 "Galaxy Song" from their movie, "The Meaning of Life" says it best:

For one of many analyses of how well Eric Idle's song has withstood scientific discoveries of the last few decades, click here.

Overall the song is still correct. We live on a corner of one continent of one planet of one galaxy that contains a hundred billion other stars -- some with orbiting planets, some without. Our galaxy swims in a void that contains at least a hundred billion galaxies more or less like ours. Still think it matters if you wax or shave?

The ending line from the Galaxy Song is: "Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space cuz there's bugger-all down here on planet earth."

That view seems at odds with optimistic Voyager I, launched in 1977, containing this message: "We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate."

Yet a different view is held by author Jared Diamond, in The Third Chimpanzee, the chapter titled "Alone in a Crowded Universe". Mr Diamond writes that astronomers who are searching so diligently for extraterrestrial life "have never thought seriously about the most obvious question: what would happen if we found it, or if it found us .... our own experience on Earth offers useful guidance .... Humans who discover technically less advanced humans regularly respond by shooting them, decimating their populations with new diseases, and destroying or taking over their habitats. Any advanced extraterrestrials who discovered us would surely treat us the same way.

"Astronomers beaming radio signals describing Earth's location and its inhabitants ... is an act rivaling the folly of the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa, who described to his gold-crazy Spanish captors the wealth of his capital and provided them with guides for the journey. If there are any radio civilizations within listening distance of us, then for heaven's sake let's turn off our signals and try to escape detection, or we're doomed."

Fortunately for us, the silence from Outer Space has, so far, been deafening!