Jan 07 2009
Just finishing up some Christmastime reading last weekend and was especially enjoying an article in the British Interplanetary Society Journal (November, 2008) by Stephen Baxter who asserts that the apparent absence of pre-Marconi optical beacons from nearby extraterrestrials (ETs) shows “a deepening of the Fermi Paradox…To the ‘great silence’, we must add the ‘great darkness’.”
Of course, the Fermi Paradox refers to Nobel physicist and A-bomb scientist Enrico Fermi who in the 1940s recognized that our Milky Way Galaxy was the right size (about 100,000 light years across) so that an advanced civilization using nonrelativistic speeds could colonize the Galaxy in only a few million years. And, the fact that our Galaxy is about 13 billion years old suggests that if an ET civilization somehow appeared and got organized, they’d have had plenty of time to come here, and just ONE — the first one — could take over the entire Galaxy. So Fermi wondered, “Where are They?”
To me, Fermi’s Paradox is especially wonderful because it integrates and crystalizes the two fundamental rationales driving human expansion into the cosmos as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window: 1) the desire to explore and settle Earth-like planets (space colonization), and 2) the search for extraterrestrial life, especially intelligent life. Under Maslowian influences, the Fermi Paradox will assume increasing importance during the next decade.
Baxter’s point is that optical beacons could have been used by ETs to remotely greet humans long before radio was invented on Earth. For example, using a 7-meter Next Generation Space Telescope, ETs from 10 light years away could produce an optical beacon comparable to the brightest star (Sirius) in our sky. Using an optimistic Moore’s doubling law currently observed in high-powered laser development, Baxter estimates the power requirements (~30 terrawatts) could be attained in ~40 years. A pulsed beacon with steering capability could reduce power demands by orders of magnitude for potentially gregarious, nearby ETs.
Prior to radio waves, how would ETs find us? Ruddiman (2007) argues that detectable pre-industrial effects of humans on the atmosphere may go back at least to the Neolithic ‘farming revolution’ (8000 yrs ago) when significant greenhouse gases escaped into the air. This signal should have enticed ETs to aim their sunlight beacons at Earth, from up to 1000 light years away. Although our pre-Copernican ancesters didn’t know what they were, they did faithfully record the supernovas of 1054 and 1181, but there is “no record of anything unequivocally resembling a sunlight beacon,” according to Baxter; hence the increasing Fermi-style “silence” and “darkness” I recounted earlier.
About this time I picked up my copy of Jesse Marcel, Jr.’s The Roswell Legacy which suggests any Fermi-induced depression may be premature. Dr. Marcel is a key figure in all of UFO history because when he was 11 years old, in 1947, his dad (Major Marcel) brought home some debris from the Roswell crash site and put in on their kitchen table. It apparently was not a weather balloon because “my father knew that what he had found was something absolutely incredible… parts from a ‘flying disc’…” Jesse noticed the I-beam had the now-famous “Egyptian hieroglyphics” markings that he decided “were more like geometric symbols…” Later his dad warned him not to mention the debris to anyone else and “that this material was from an unearthly craft.”
So is he telling the truth? Having been over the book a few times Dr. Marcel comes across as a very frustrating guy: he speaks lovingly of his father; he’s a respected physician in Montana, he loves his wife and kids, he did a 13-month tour in Iraq as a flight surgeon, …I could go on. It would be easier to dismiss him if he just dated Paris Hilton or something, but he doesn’t. I’m at a loss. I can’t think of any reason not to believe him and admire him.
So where do these two stories — the Fermi Darkness and the Marcel Witness — leave us? What would happen if we took them both seriously?
The Fermi story points to the absence of ETs in our vicinity while Marcel (and much other data) suggests there’s serious evidence for the reality of some UFOs. For the moment let’s rule out Messengers of Deception — one of my favorite Jacques Vallee books — because if UFO encounters are actually being faked by humans on Earth to frighten us so we don’t have wars….well let’s just say it isn’t working very well.
How else could we explain real UFOs with no ETs? How about a self-replicating machine — i.e., a Von Neumann Probe — capable of making copies of itself from raw materials found on any moon or planet in the Galaxy? A few VNPs strategically released in ancient galactic times by ETs would exponentially increase to fill the Galaxy with a vibrant reconnaissance network. Over time, if the ETs died, left the Galaxy, or lost interest, the VNP Galactic Network would continue operating and replicating indefinitely according to their creators’ original plan.
Raw human exploration passions are accelerating the riveting search for answers to many potential Fermi/Marcel-type scenarios; they can only be attained by space colonization and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The most aggressive expeditions into the unknown occur during the twice-per-century Maslow Windows when pulses of exploration inevitably propel human expansion into the cosmos.