Posts Tagged ‘habitats’

Hawking vs Alien

April 26, 2010

Stephen Hawking is in the news for reports on his comments on the inadvisability of communicating with aliens. We’ll have to wait for the full Discovery Channel series to see what he really said, and keep in mind it’s a made-for-TV statement. But it does give me an early morning hook to bang out a post instead of prepping for class.

There’s two reasons why the “hide and watch or they’ll loot us” approach is wrong. First off. The hide and watch part won’t work. It’s not the “Hello World” signals that SETItionists and other astronomers send out that will attract attention, it’s our normal human activity. First, of course, are our radio and TV transmissions. While all information in the signals will have degraded before it gets beyond much beyond the nearest stars, the carrier wave will still be there. Second is our military/aviation activities. We transmit lots of high power radar signals. We used to transmit even more, with our BMEWS and the Soviet Hen House radars. Those signals will be detectable long after “Lucy” has faded. Finally, there’s the big blue ball itself. We are getting to the point that we will soon be able to detect earth-like planets at great distances and, under special circumstances, detect signs of life, like liquid water and an oxygen atmosphere. So don’t worry about talking to the aliens, they’ll know we’re here long before we can think of what to say.

The second reason involves the looting and pillaging part of Hawking’s concerns. I am not going to talk about the morals of aliens. I suspect they will be incomprehensible to us (you know, alien). What I would argue is the old argument for having us Earthlingas establishing a space-based civilization — it’s raining soup out there and all we need is a bowl. There’s nothing in the way of resources at the bottom of the Earth’s gravity well that a space-faring people couldn’t get far more easily elsewhere. Metals? Melt down an asteroid. Petrochemicals? Go mine Titan. I seriously doubt that any race capable of interstellar viking isn’t also capable of building any long-chain organic molecule they want, using water from the outer solar system, and solar power from the inner…erm…solar…system.

That leaves lebensraum, and there you have me. A oxy-water world may be rare, and might be the target of colonization. But if you have built your civilization around living in an FTL habitat, or a generation ship for that matter, your mindset is to get the stuff you need from the Oort or the Main Belt, and leave the gravity wells alone.

The final reason I am not worried about this is my take on the Fermi Question. From everything I can see, in our Galaxy, right now, n = 1 and it’s us. I’ll have more to say about that in future. Right now I have to go prep.