Is There Life In Uranus? (Or your Neptune…)

Somewhere along the line we stopped calling Uranus and Neptune “gas giants” and started calling them “ice giants”.

Their surfaces are incredibly cold frozen places with even gasses like Nitrogen wanting to condense.

BUT, they have a hot planetary core. This implies some kind of vulcanism and a layer where the water ice melts to be just water. We know now that life evolved in volcanic mud pots (the mineral ratios in life match that environment) and that chemo-synthetic life exists. So nothing prevents life from evolving inside the wet warm interior of those planets. While it might only be microbial (hard to be a large animal inside rock or mud or ice…) it ought to exist, IMHO.

Because of its great distance from the Sun, Neptune’s outer atmosphere is one of the coldest places in the Solar System, with temperatures at its cloud tops approaching 55 K (−218 °C; −361 °F). Temperatures at the planet’s centre are approximately 5,400 K (5,100 °C; 9,300 °F.

Somewhere between 9,300 F molten rock and -361 F frozen air ought to be liquid warm water. Just sayin’…

Uranus has less internal heat, but ought to still have enough at some depth as it does radiate some excess heat:

Uranus’s atmosphere is similar to Jupiter’s and Saturn’s in its primary composition of hydrogen and helium, but it contains more “ices” such as water, ammonia, and methane, along with traces of other hydrocarbons. It is the coldest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System, with a minimum temperature of 49 K (−224 °C; −371 °F), and has a complex, layered cloud structure with water thought to make up the lowest clouds and methane the uppermost layer of clouds. The interior of Uranus is mainly composed of ices and rock.
The total power radiated by Uranus in the far infrared (i.e. heat) part of the spectrum is 1.06±0.08 times the solar energy absorbed in its atmosphere. Uranus’s heat flux is only 0.042±0.047 W/m2, which is lower than the internal heat flux of Earth of about 0.075 W/m2.

So not as good a candidate, but still a possible.

I’ve not seen anyone else put forward this idea; OTOH, I’ve not looked very hard ;-)

It’s a fairly obvious set of connections to make, so I’d expect it to be made often.

So crazy talk, or a reasonable thing to expect?

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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68 Responses to Is There Life In Uranus? (Or your Neptune…)

  1. p.g.sharrow says:

    Considering the length of time life has existed on this planet, how wide spread the conditions that life exists under from cold to hot, low pressures to high even under rather sever radiation conditions. Add to this meteoric bombardment over billions of years. I would say “Life” is wide spread and fairly common through out the solar system, possibly even the Universe. I see nothing that points to life only exists here on this planet .

  2. H.R. says:

    good point, p.g.

    It’s more a question of where, not if, you’ll find krill feeding on plankton or where you’ll find someone writing a cookbook titled, To Serve Man.

  3. ossqss says:

    Interesting thoughts. Albeit, I am more interested in something closer to home. How about deep water brine currents, phytoplankton, and a climate connection? Just a thought

  4. gallopingcamel says:

    We know of one body where intelligent life exists.

    It would be a really big deal if microbial life existed inside a “Gas Giant” (aka “Ice Giant”). What about Mars? It seems likely that life will be found on Enceladus.

    The big problem is getting there to find evidence or the lack thereof. Chemical rockets won’t even give us the “Keys to the Solar System”. Real space travel requires nuclear rockets:

  5. Foyle says:

    All life is based on engines/entropy producing processes – exploiting energy gradients that exist over short distances to drive cyclic chemical processes – eg high energy visible light is absorbed and used to drive chemical process that reject energy as lower energy infra-red.

    Where would such exploitable energy gradients (known mechanisms for exploiting energy gradients and chemical energy sources include halophiles, thermophiles, alkaliphiles, and acidophiles) exist with temperatures in the -20-120°C range where life can survive in the slow convection of a gas giant? The surface of the rocky core is probably far above Venus temperatures. And pressures are incredible.

  6. Gary says:

    What I find curious is the almost universal desire to find alien life while having no evidence of such, but heaps of speculation. What lies behind what is almost an obsession with some people?

  7. E.M.Smith says:


    The desire to not be alone.

    Plus your basic boredom. Finding alien life would give an adrenaline surge to us adrenaline junkies.

    Personally, I’d love the challenge of talking with a “space alien” and getting a very very different perspective. Similarly, there are some questions about the range of chemistries suited to life processes that could be answered by very alien microbes. Things like: Can a suitable set of enzymes be built with arsenic substituting for phosphorus in arsenic rich environments? or Can a a Cadmium series of enzymes exist replacing the Zinc ones? Or even the biggy: Can there be life based on non-carbon systems? In essence: How wide a range of chemistries can support life not as we know it?

    Then the more practical: Are we the smartest kids on the block, or do we need to start preparing to deal with The Galactic Borg? (Or, more rudely: Who’s the Borg, them or us?)

  8. p.g.sharrow says:

    Atomic rockets are just another form of rocket. A bit more impulse but still a mass reaction rocket engine. Something different is needed. A photon is launched from an atom at the speed of light and travels a cross the Universe undiminished, (well maybe) . It carries information of mass/inertia as energy. .This mass/inertia energy is Every Where in all directions. True Space Travel requires us to grasp onto that as traction to propel us. A Linear traction motor to propel us through space. Then only EMF is needed to provide True Space Propulsion…pg

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    Guess I should have added. It takes 60hp or less then 50Kw to accelerate 1000lb at 1 G …pg

  10. E.M.Smith says:


    The “key” is in the fact that all matter is just a wave function of spinning photons. Figuring out how to get that into the “lock” of matter and move it is the hard bit…

    There was a recent “success” where a couple of gamma rays (very high energy photons) were combined to make a particle. We’ve now turned matter into light and light into matter. That shows they are different forms of the same thing.

    Now what is needed is to figure out what part of the change causes inertia and overcome that. A way to shield a bit of condensed photons from the pressure of all those other photons in the world pushing it around… so it goes in one direction as desired.

    A “wave function shield”. But how to create one?…

  11. philjourdan says:

    They call the inner 4 planets “the rocky ones”. But seriously, what is at the core of all the planets? Something has to be generating a gravitational force in order to keep all the gases in the gas giants (assuming for a moment that Neptune and Uranus are still in that group). What we do not know is what. Because we cannot penetrate the atmosphere.

    I suspect at the core of Jupiter and Saturn they will find something similar. Pressure does generate heat. And all 4 of those gas giants have a lot of pressure. Neptune and Uranus may be generating more heat, due to other factors. But when I comes right down to it, something has to be at the center of the planets to keep the atmosphere in. Something more than just hot air.

  12. philjourdan says:

    ” (Or, more rudely: Who’s the Borg, them or us?)”

    Or are we the cattle of the thinking machines? (Dune)

  13. p.g.sharrow says:

    In my examination of sub-atomic particles, only the Proton seems to be real. The Neutron is just a Proton with a surface charge. The Electron is a quanta of charge, it and all others seem to be different EMF signatures in our detector devices. Electrons, Photons, Neutrinos and others during collisions change their “signatures” to become one of the others. There is “nothing” there except energy in 3 dimensions of motion…pg.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    Hmmm they made an electron and positron. No protons.

    Now physicists have succeeded in doing the opposite: converting energy in the form of light into matter — in this experiment, electrons and their anti-matter equivalent, positrons.

    These folks use lasers and H to make a directed proton beam, but that isn’t creating the protons…

    Click to access thpd072.pdf

    A quick search only shows N to P or P to N changes not P creation or destruction… but I was sure I’d read of P breakdown in colliders into quarks…

    That’s all damn annoying… it implies the idea of the Proton as just a ball of energy / wave equation may “have issues”. Even the high energy accelerator stuff looks at a debris field of a LOT of junk and then creates stories about it. How can you really tell that one proton was destroyed and broken up into quarks in the absence of all other matter? Was the environment perfect? While I like to believe they “did it right” and all, it is possible there is some side path that’s the real deal.

    Has P to P collision streams in a vacuum in a collider yielding quarks, and quarks decaying into electrons…

    Top quarks in LHC proton-proton collisions
    are predominantly produced in pairs, with one top quark and one top antiquark. In order to measure the production rates of top quark pairs, ATLAS examined events with an electron, muon, and one or two jets that were likely to have originated from bottom quarks. By comparing the number of events with one bottom-quark jet to those with two bottom-quark jets, ATLAS was able to determine both the total production rate as well as the efficiency of identifying bottom-flavoured jets.

    This method was used to explore the kinematics of the electrons and muons originating from top quark decays.
    The result reaches an unprecedented level of precision, with total uncertainties ranging from 1% to 15%, providing new insights into the dynamics of top quark production and improving our knowledge of the distribution of gluons inside the proton. The result also allowed ATLAS to make a precise new determination of the top quark mass.

    So smash P into P you get quarks and “jets”, and the quarks break down into electrons and muons, then “gluons” are what again?… I never liked this particular extension of atomic particles.

    Well this is a bit of a mess. How to show the proton is not immutable and what is claimed is not just a good “story” about collision debris from some other path? I don’t really want to go down a nuclear physics rabbit hole right now… Sigh.

    Maybe I’ll just make another cup of coffee, start the BBQ for lunch, and let it all simmer in the slow lane of pondering for a day or two… Could the universe really be made of protons, a charge, and various motions and interactions of them? Hmmmm….

    In the end I think I need to find out more about “What is a quark and what is a gluon”.

  15. cdquarles says:

    Speaking of gravitational compression, though my memory may be faulty, I seem to recall speculation that Jupiter’s core may be more rocky than Saturn’s (given the relative densities … Saturn being a bit under 1 (water) and Jupiter a bit more than 1) and/or a solid solution of mostly hydrogen and helium with a bit of the rest. There even was speculation that the cores contain metallic hydrogen, that is, hydrogen so completely compressed that the molecules dissociate to atoms and the electrons occupy bands instead of discrete orbitals (and those are probability surfaces, akin to Chladni patterns).

    Hmm, @pg, when I was being taught this, they called the neutron a proton + an electron as a combination with a neutral charge. n -> p+ + e- (beta decay, if I am remembering correctly) and the reverse: p+ + e- -> n. Neutrons are real, but not stable, since they undergo reactions, unless they’re within nuclei where the forces binding them exceeds the forces, or energies, that dissociate them. Protons and electrons don’t, or, didn’t. That’s not quite the same thing as a proton with a surface charge. After all, wouldn’t the proton have a positive surface charge, to the extent a proton has a surface?

  16. p.g.sharrow says:

    oh yes a naked proton exhibits a + charge.or positive surface. A hydrogen atom exhibits a surface that is negative or – charge, A Neutron is a mini hydrogen so negative surface charge. It appears to me that we have several sizes of Hydrogen. We have plasma hydrogen, a naked proton, or it’s electron shell is outside of our detection. Atomic hydrogen that is too energetic to combine. Molecular hydrogen, about 1/3 the size of atomic hydrogen and is the one we are most familiar with .and Neutron that must be within a nucleus of protons and their electron shells to be stable…pg

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    Something to ponder while thinking about planet cores:

    At the exact center, gravity is net zero. Only at the surface is the whole planet pulling you in one direction so net high gravity.

    That means at the surface there is a high segregation force pulling heavy ions (like Uranium) down, but the closer to the center you get, the less force. Also the less tendency for heat driven convection.

    So you have the potential for a nuclear reactor in the core as U and Th head there to concentrate. Then some heat and enough convection can drive things upward (if slowly at start) and slow or stop the reaction. Then the melt proceeds to concentrate toward the core again… This will tend to form a quasi stable nuclear reactor and provide heat for millions of years.

    IMHO, at the center of each planet is, or was, a nuclear reactor; and they run out proportional to starting mass. Mars was warm and wet and with a good atmosphere right up until the reactor stopped. Then “water of hydration” in rocks got locked up, as did oxides, and the planet dried out and died. That same fate awaits us as soon as our reactor stops – which theoretically is “soon”…

  18. gallopingcamel says:

    p.g.sharrow says, 19 September 2018 at 4:08 pm
    “Atomic rockets are just another form of rocket. A bit more impulse but still a mass reaction rocket engine. Something different is needed. A photon is launched from an atom at the speed of light……”

    U235 fission produces 3,000,000 times more energy than burning coal but as “p.g.” points out that is not enough for serious space travel.

    In the attached post the “Proton Annihilation Rocket” is proposed which produces about 1,000 times more energy than U235 fission. Unfortunately that is not enough either unless you can collect fuel in flight as proposed by Bussard at NASA.

    The “Relativistic Rocket” link in the above post no longer works so you can find the GTR equations here:

  19. Simon Derricutt says:

    EM: “Now what is needed is to figure out what part of the change causes inertia and overcome that. A way to shield a bit of condensed photons from the pressure of all those other photons in the world pushing it around… so it goes in one direction as desired.
    A “wave function shield”. But how to create one?…”

    This is what Fred Alzofon worked out how to do (and had some experimental success) and what Mike McCulloch is trying to do now he’s got the money. I’m working towards a low-budget test of Alzofon’s ideas, but it takes a while to make the bits of kit needed for that. If Alzofon was right, then it’s fairly simple (in theory, anyway) to remove the inertia and gravitational attraction, and to produce what is effectively a Rindler horizon that splits off a relatively small universe from the main universe around us.

    With no inertia to worry about, then only a small force would be needed to achieve high accelerations, and it is possible that the speed of light may not be a limit in these circumstances. For sure, if this actually works then it changes a whole lot of physics, but the gains if it works are so great that it seems worth trying to run the experiment even if there’s only a small chance of it succeeding. It’s maybe worth noting that mainstream physics has theories of the structure of the universe that are based on holography (Erik Verlinde), where the boundary of a volume defines what’s inside it, and from there it’s only a short step to Alzofon’s description (and Mike McCulloch’s) where the horizons have an immediate effect here and now.

    “Something different is needed”
    Yep, there’s an outside chance that we’ll find it. Even if Alzofon was mistaken, it seems that momentum is not absolutely conserved and that something like the EMDrive can produce thrust without needing to eject stuff. There have been enough replications of the effect to think that it’s probably real (see ) and that Tajmar made a mistake in his “replication” by not understanding what was necessary. I have a different explanation as to why the EMDrive works, based on setting up a magnetic field and then using the currents in the walls of the waveguide to push on that field, and so I think that the design is not optimal and we can get a much larger force available for the same power. My estimates say that the reasonably-achievable maximum force should be around 1N per watt (maybe more if we can use superconductors), though I don’t expect to achieve that here and will be happy at around 1mN/W. To get better needs high precision, higher frequencies and a genuine RF designer rather than an amateur (me). Still, even a small amount of thrust would make the trip to Mars a whole lot shorter.

    If that 1N/W is actually achievable, then 1kW would lift around 100kg off the ground. Such an acceleration would also enable us to get to Mars in a few days and of course reduce the problems of long periods of weightlessness and cosmic radiation, as well as being a lot cheaper. That could usher in a new paradigm of visiting Uranus (or your any planet) and having enough time to actually test for life in various places. If we look at the complexity of life, it seems it ought to be a rare chance and the only reason we’re talking about it is that for the Earth we hit the jackpot. However, it seems that a lot of the basic forms seen in life (tubes of various sizes, pockets of maolcules that look a bit like cells) form spontaneously in the right conditions. It seems that molecules self-organise, and that thus some sort of life is almost certain to occur if conditions are right. However, the question of why we haven’t been contacted may be answered by the vast distances of space and the speed of light, and that it’s only in the last century or so that we’d have been able to actually receive any message. A century in a few billion years is a small sample. There’s a fair chance that another civilisation would find out about nuclear power and blow itself up, after all. We’ve been pretty close to that a few times, and the danger obviously isn’t over yet. Maybe a good reason to go and colonise Mars or find other planets rather than just stay on our home planet.

  20. gallopingcamel says:

    For real space travel you need propulsion that is at least a million time more effective than chemical rockets.

    My Proton Annihilation Rocket may be fanciful. Likewise for Simon Derricut’s inertia eliminator based on Alzofon’s imagination.

    Our grasp of physics is still primitive. We have Special Relativity and General Relativity that make useful predictions yet they don’t always gibe with observations as for example the precession of the perihelion of Mercury.

    Then there is QED (Quantum Electro-Dynamics) and QFT (Quantum Field Theory) which can make some useful predictions without dovetailing neatly with GTR (General Theory of Relativity).

    Total confusion about “Dark Matter”, “Dark Energy” and string theory. A pantheon of particles that seems to grow without limits.

    Even simple questions relating to the work of Planck and Huygens still baffle our best minds. Does light consist of particles or waves?

    Remember how wrong Lord Kelvin was when he confidently stated:
    “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

    Expect some bright spark like Albert Einstein to come up with a GUT (Grand Unified Theory) that ties some of these loose ends together.

  21. Simon Derricutt says:

    GC – “if a distinguished elderly scientist says something is impossible, he’s probably wrong. If he says something is possible that had been thought impossible, he’s probably right”. Somewhat misremembered and mangled quote from A.C.Clark, but the meaning is there.

    Alzofon was such a distinguished elderly scientist whose other work was good and well-respected, who did things that had been thought impossible before he did them. What he actually produced (life-work) was a GUT based on wave equations, and I suspect that it’s on par with Einstein. I don’t have the maths to understand precisely what he was saying, but I do understand the concepts well-enough to see that it makes sense. Like GRT bringing in the idea of curved space, which was *difficult* to accept but improves on Newton, Alzofon brings the new concept of unpredictability at a fundamental scale where light itself has jitter in its emission and reception times – also applies to particle positions of course.

    When I first came across the idea, I thought it was fanciful too. I dug a bit and found the other stuff Alzofon did, and decided I needed to take it seriously rather than dismiss it as just another UFO-drive idea. Most of the quantum theory drops out of Alzofon’s equations (though he had a habit of saying “it can thus be seen that…” and giving the relevant equation and I can’t see how he made the jump) and it trashes the need for Dark Matter and Dark Energy, especially if you add in Mike McCulloch’s ideas. It would seem to replace String Theory – instead of minute strings vibrating it envisages a waveform that for each particle reaches to the edge of the universe which may seem a little excessive but is actually what quantum theory states too. Replace that infinity with the Hubble limit (and the Rindler horizon at the Hubble limit) and you can explain the anomalous rotation of galaxies and the variation of that anomaly with the size of the Hubble limit at that time (since astronomy looks back in time to when the universe was smaller).

    At the engineering level (where I’m happiest) he gives a method that he actually tested on borrowed kit. Looking at his other work, I see it as very likely he was telling the truth, though there is a possibility of experimental errors. The chances seem so good in fact that apart from sorting out the CoM violation (EMDrive equivalent) which gives me the experience in RF I’ve lacked because I haven’t needed it before, I’m putting it at the head of the list for things to be tested. If it actually works that’s amazing, but if it doesn’t I’ve lost a bit of time and money but had some fun anyway. It’s what crackpots are for, after all. Someone has to start that snowball rolling.

    At the moment I don’t know if the theory is valid or not. First thing is to see if the experiment actually works. Could be it’s wrong, in which case things go on much as before. If it’s right (or at least closer to right than GTR), then we’ll have cheap access to space pretty soon.

    For Conservation of Momentum, though, there’s an obvious hole in the theory when it comes to EM fields, and the “problem” with non-conservation of momentum is in the textbooks (just not remarked upon by people wanting to think of CoM as absolute). As I see things, that means that it’s not a question of whether CoM can be violated, but of how large you can make the effect. Hopefully I’ve found a design that will make the effect relatively large. That at least gives us shorter times across the solar system using what is effectively textbook science. A continuous acceleration, even a relatively small one of 1/100g, adds up over a long trip and could even get us to Alpha Centauri in a lifetime (lousy trip for the astronaut, though). I thus think that interstellar travel is possible using current knowledge and theory, even if the other things don’t pan out.

    I’m pretty sure we’ll be finding that a lot of the theories we thought were good will be in future shown to have exceptions or inaccuracies. The better we measure things, the more discrepancies we’ll find and thus we’ll need to update the theory. It’s happened a lot in my life already, and I don’t see that stopping.

    Shame is, I get travel-sick watching my daughter on a swing, and on one bad boat trip I thought I was going to die (and was feeling so bad I wasn’t that worried about it – just get it over with). Maybe not the best astronaut…. Still, if I can get the gravity-control sorted (or at least CoM violation strong enough to provide at least 0.5g on a continuous basis) maybe I can get a mode of travel I can deal with. Seems a large percentage of real astronauts have problems in free fall, too. Despite that, I’d still want to go into space if I could afford it. Must be an amazing sight seeing Earthrise from the Moon.

  22. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Simon; Interesting. We look to create a real space drive and are not really interested in doing it now. I did all the travel I want to do while young. Ship, plane, land vehicle. from the smallest to the largest types. But I would be glad to move this ball forward for others. Space travel is the next step in Human Evolution and a challenge to our.abilities. The challenge is to create a real space based civilization, permanent habitation. Proving the ability to gain traction electronically, on the stuff of space, is the next tool needed. This will as so provide the tool to tame gravity as a by-product….pg

  23. Simon Derricutt says:

    pg – getting traction on the stuff of space doesn’t look too difficult. Apart from the EMDrive, there’s also Richard Banduric’s method – he can produce around 10gwt (100mN) of thrust using a few hundred watts last I heard (a couple of months ago) and is getting some interest from investors. Basically, the method is to set up a magnetic or electric field and push on it, with the proviso being getting the phasing right so that the push-back isn’t equal and opposite but equal and in the same direction. For Richard, the forces produced are opposite, but not equal. I think my design is cleaner and easier than the others I’ve seen around, and should be a lot more efficient too. Still, I miss the days that I could just send a design out and get the resultant board back in a week for testing…. Luxury. These days I have to build from scratch and make the tools to do it too.

    I think getting a space-based civilisation is pretty essential for the future of the race. All our eggs are in one basket at the moment, and we don’t have the capability to divert a planet-busting asteroid yet. Since momentum is not in truth conserved (it’s only the action = – reaction that normally makes it seem so) and it seems that momentum is quantised anyway, then some sort of space drive that isn’t reaction-based is bound to be possible (they’ve already been made and tested). Main problem is getting something into low earth orbit, and after that the energy (and thrust) requirements are relatively minor. As of now, therefore, we need rockets to get stuff up there and after that can use the exotic drives to get around. The main barrier to reactionless drives is simply belief that momentum is always conserved. Only a few people are thus working on it.

    I don’t know yet whether gravity control is really possible. It seems too wild even for me. Hopefully I’ll know within a year, and maybe by the end of this year (though that’s a long shot). Too much to learn and get right. Alzofon’s specification for the experiment is pretty precise as to equipment needed, and that kit costs way too much, but I think there are simplifications possible and corners that may be cut. If it works, then the cost to orbit will be very low, and all transport would become much cheaper too – almost no fuel needed. I’m definitely aware of how outrageous this sounds, though. It needs the experimental evidence before I’ll believe it, let alone expect others to.

    Maybe I’ll change Sir Arthur’s comment a bit – when an old engineer says it could work, he might just be right….

  24. Larry Ledwick says:

    Which brings up another interesting line of thought.

    Okay – assume life is pretty much guaranteed given correct conditions.
    If we become a legitimate space faring civilization –

    What if we are (or will be) the “ancients” other advanced civilizations allude to a million years from now?

    There are so many ways an advanced civilization can end itself or just be extinguished through no fault of their own (think Chicxulub happening now) etc etc.

    Not a serious I wonder question but just an interesting thought to ponder. Are that one in a trillion civilization that survived long enough to seriously ponder deep space travel?

  25. cdquarles says:

    About free fall, the problem isn’t free fall as such. Dive off a springboard, particularly in a parabolic ballistic arc. You will be “weightless” until you hit the water, which is a second or two, and the air drag isn’t that much. It is prolonged weightlessness that’s the problem, as I see it, since our bodies are adapted to Earth’s field. As long as there is a sufficient countervailing force, we can live with it.

  26. cdquarles says:

    One other thing. If we are honest, with ourselves and with others, we should not say that the Earth or the Universe is x time period old. We weren’t there at the beginning and all of the physical evidence that we do have places us rather late on the scene. And no, the Bible does not say 6 days. It says a series of 6 events happened with a before and an after that is analogous to evening and morning. Using a formation model and a age model, we estimate that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old +/- an estimated uncertainty that is dependent on conditional truths. We do the same for the physical universe overall. As far as we can know, the only logically necessary truth is that existence itself must exist for all other contingent beings to exist.

  27. Simon Derricutt says:

    Larry – I think if we get through the next couple of decades then we may well become the “ancients” of the far future. Basically through luck in surviving the discovery of nuclear power and being missed by large asteroids for long enough to get a foothold in space.

    There’s still a problem with consensus not being a reliable indicator of truth, as we can see with AGW, LENR, arguments over whether any particular diet is the best thing to do or the worst, and the very-obvious political split in a lot of countries over the best way to govern. I think maybe seeing the Earth from space, and maybe especially from a long way away (that little blue dot is all of humanity) would change quite a few politicians and religious authorities. Still, there’s that old viewpoint that the cake is limited and that people should grab as much as they can at the expense of others losing out, whereas we know the cake is unlimited and we should take what we need and make more cake available.

    It could still be a while before all countries get their general level of education up enough to really take part, though. Religions aren’t going to happily relinquish their power, either. Still quite a few risks before that space civilisation can really work and people would take going to space the way a lot of us regard a short-hop flight. Even today there are villages where people haven’t been far from the village in their lives. I used to live in one (Drybrook in the Forest of Dean) where a trip on the bus to Gloucester was a major event that not all people had done.

    The net has made a huge difference in how fast research goes and how fast people hear about it and can thus build on it. That’s why I think there will be some major breakthroughs in the next few years and decades, and that things we thought were impossible will become a daily task. The things I’ve brought up here do have experimental evidence after all, even if mainstream science rejects it because of a belief that current theory must be correct. I also know other people working along the same lines, and there must be a lot I don’t know of. It seems a fairly safe bet that someone will produce a commercially-viable version of them fairly soon.

    Chances of a Chicxulub this century must be pretty slight, and if it can wait another decade or two then I’m pretty certain we’d be able to divert it. New telescopes being sent into space will be able to see it earlier, too. Looks like the threat of nuclear war is diminishing again, so the chances look pretty good that we’ll survive and build that space civilisation.

  28. cdquarles says:

    I, for one, do accept that we may very well be ‘alone’, as embodied composite beings, because we are the first such reasoning beings that are chemically mediated biological organisms.

  29. Simon Derricutt says:

    Also Larry – relative to your comment at , I suspect the Chinese/Russian chess-game may be overtaken by the advances. They are seeing limited resources and the need to grab them for themselves, whereas once we’ve got almost-free energy and cheap transport around the world and the solar system, resources become unlimited and space to populate becomes unlimited too. With tunnelling, there’s more habitable space on the Moon than the Earth, even though The Moon is a Harsh Mistress….

  30. Larry Ledwick says:

    Yes it does seem that there is a window of maximum hazard as technology advances where civilizations have the capacity to relatively quickly destroy themselves or companion societies (as in WWI era) and then transition to a level of power and sophistication that allows large scale extermination over wide areas (both nuclear power and biological weapons and ill considered tinkering with biology).

    Even though risk of Chicxulub scale impact is statistically not likely we are now entering a period of maximum risk from AI and genetic engineering and wide scale travel opening up the entire world to pandemic disease. We are not out of the woods, just the trees are a bit different as technology advances. You eliminate some hazards as big risks (small pox) and open up new ones (HIV and Ebola with world wide travel)

    I think it is more a case of instead of getting past a period of maximum risk, but a case of surviving each separate class of maximum risk as technology advances.

    Take for example as we move beyond nuclear power to power sources able to produce millions of times more energy, the cost of accidents involving those power production methods will likewise scale by millions at the cube root of the energy yield. What is the power level necessary to essentially destroy a planet? Will we be smart enough to fiddle with those energy sources in a location sufficiently remote from earth that the future equivalent of a steam boiler explosion cannot vaporize a continent?

    As technology advances the risk will also climb as the power levels climb – will our caution and care increase at a comparable rate?

  31. p.g.sharrow says:

    I often considered that atom smashing to discover the secrets of the atom was akin to using a sledgehammer on a bag of colored glass marbles. Smash the marbles into sand, then classify the particles by weight, color and shape to determine what the marbles were made of.
    We know it to be Light metal oxides. This tail will describe the reality of physics research.
    Take a Large Grain of salt with any “proved” facts about modern physics.
    A researcher that published a paper in, IIRC, Scientific American in the late 1980s, said that Electrons, Photons and Neutrinos appeared to him to be interchangeable. He had examined over 10,000 “Track” photos in the Laurence Livermore.Radiation Library. His conclusion was that during collisions of these particles they would change from one to another as they exchanged energies. Discovery of “New Particles” results in Nobels and grants, No incentive there to bloat the score…pg

  32. E.M.Smith says:


    Also note that it took about 4.5 Billion Years for life on earth to reach the level of skill to do things like electronic communications. Our yellow sun is one of the slower ones. Many many suns would have already blown up and swallowed their planets by this age. Look back just a few thousand years an we had zero technical skill beyond clay pots and arrows. How many stars have stable planets in warm orbits for 4.5 Billion+ years?

    So there’s a real possibility that life evolves, but never gets this far along unless it is around a red dwarf of yellow sun. The blues and red giants just burn out too quickly.

    Then consider places like Neptune. Possible for life to evolve in the wet zone between scorching hot and frozen ice; but likely limited to single cells and at most small worms (as it isn’t much of a fluid, it is more a very dense mud under high pressure so making tunnels has an obvious problem). Highly unlikely that complex life would evolve there and functionally impossible for it to get to the surface, survive, and go to space.

    So whole classes of “too big” planets might evolve life, but not the kind that wanders under a starry sky and plots how to get to space…

    At the other end, Mars likely did evolve simple life, but burned it’s nuclear fuel too fast and when the plate tectonics ended, so did the atmosphere and water. Now dry and dusty with almost no air and just a bit of ice at the poles. So if your planet is too small, you might get life, but only for a little while.

    So to the Drake Equation of the probability of life you must add terms for the probability it would evolve in a place leading to a sky awareness and complex enough to get to space (or care about it – dolphins are very smart but don’t care about space at all…)

    In short, the galaxy could be full of life with some evolving in every solar system, but very little of it complex enough or located where it cares about the sky and space; or long lasting enough to matter.

    Oh, and one other minor point: We are alive because our planet is very very rich in elements from supernova explosions. You must wait until the first crop of stars have gone supernova a lot and that stuff reforms new stars and planets before you have all the elements you need to make life. Now this adds another problem. Near the galaxy center you get lots of that, but things are chaotic and radiation levels high. It’s a tough place for life to survive. Near the outer rim, it is much safer but a lot less “debris” to use for making element rich planets and life… So it may also be that the ‘sweet spot” is only in the middle of the galactic arms… really reducing a lot the candidates for making intelligent life and keeping it around long enough to talk to the galaxy…

    You might have a wave of “life formation and extinction” that starts near the galaxy center and spreads outward as supernova events make enough new elements, and radiation levels drop low enough, but then eventually their star novas and snufs ’em. So again there might be very high rates of life, but only a small band in any one galaxy where that life can have formed quickly enough, yet still be around right now, to talk to us.

    All, of course, made worse by the speed of light limits… As of right now our first radio signals are only about 100 light years away from Earth. (1896 for Marconi). That’s a pretty small sphere to find someone interested in us, and looking. We might only find out about it in another 100 years too… Unless, of course, that old devil inverse square makes it essentially impossible to detect a signal more than about a light year away… Look at what it takes to detect Voyager. My belief is that interstellar communications will only happen with very very tight laser beams and then only very very slowly. Anything else will spread out too fast and be too weak to detect. So that, then, will require you be looking in exactly the right direction with exactly the right kind of decoder gear to even notice the signal… Think a 2 second yellow twinkle would catch anyone’s attention in a telescope? Especially if far far more feint than any star?

    So I figure the universe is going to be very full of life, but mostly isolated to their own patch of it by time and distances and eras.

  33. E.M.Smith says:

    I lost interest in advanced physics (and real trust in it) when at UC and the (future Ph.D. Physics) student friend took us on a tour of the campus cyclotron (a little one) then started explaining some of the then brand new theories. String theory IIRC. He also launched into how cute it was that they named properties with things like “up / down” and “color” and such that really had nothing to do with the property… Seeing rampant gratuitous complication for no reason, I decided it was not for me…

    Over the years my opinion has not changed. The S.I. guys in particular offend me. Why change from Mega Cycles (a very self explanatory unit) to Mega Herz (that mean nothing until someone else explains it to you)? A huge raft of “honorific meaningless names” could be replaced with fundamental units or descriptive names and make all of physics and engineering much much easier to learn and teach (and use…). Oh Well.

  34. p.g.sharrow says:

    Back in the winter of 63-64 I was sent to a symposium being put on at Cal Berkley for budding young scientists to join their next years student body. We were given a selection of departments to go through on a show and tell. I chose the Physics Lab. and the Soils Lab.

    The Physics Lab. had a lot of cool stuff, “Giant” new cyclotron and all the latest equipment being operated by Laurence Radiation Laboratories. I found their “toys” equipment fascinating. Their bs science which they were very proud of,, mainly boring. Later at the presentation of the grad students papers, I pointed out that the conclusions drawn from one experiment could have several other causes. The grad student was not pleased that a 17 year old “hick from the sticks” would critique His science!

    The Soils Lab was quite a shock! Their science was in how to “Destroy Soil” to make it solid underlay to build on. I had spent 4 years learning how to create and husband soils for farming. Was something of an expert at it. These guys were teaching how to ruin it!
    What would you expect at Berzerkly….pg

  35. Larry Ledwick says:

    Of course the calculus of luck and conditions, timing etc. for advanced intelligent life which might be driven to explore would apply independently to each galaxy and star cluster so we might be the only jack pot winner in the milky way but Andromeda might also have a pioneer explorer species but due to distances we will not have a chance to really investigate neighboring galaxies until long after we think nothing of zipping across the space between galactic arms to visit our friends in other parts of our own galaxy.

    In that sense we may be alone only locally but across the universe it might be teeming with interstellar explorer species which won’t have the technology to venture to distant galaxies for a few million years if any of them survive the cosmic lotto of survival that long.

    In a universe of near infinite numbers of stars even the extremely unlikely will happen often, and the impossibly improbable occasionally.

  36. E.M.Smith says:


    My first year roomy from UC Davis went on to Berkeley for his last 2 years. (They had a “real” business major where at UCD I had to choose between Ag Econ – that was a quasi-business degree with agriculture emphasis – or straight Econ that was mostly theory.) But we kept in touch and I spent some time visiting him in Berkeley.

    My impression generally was that the UCD folks were far far more reality focused and interested in actual work outcomes while the Berkeley folks were far more political and fantasy theory focused with significant detachment from “facts on the ground”. I chose to stay in the well grounded Ag school and not swap to Berkeley. ( UCD started life as the UCB Ag Extension).

    Sidebar: I “audited” (or sat in on) a couple of Ag courses while deciding if I wanted to get an Ag Econ degree, or just Econ. It required some number of straight Ag courses to get an Ag Econ degree, so one I sat in on was a “Soils Structure” class. It was very detailed and very demanding, including bits of geology, chemistry, biology, hydrology and structural engineering considerations (compaction). After a week I decided it was harder than I wanted to take on! At UCD at least, the soils class was all about how to create and maintain good soil structure for growing plants. Then again, it was an Ag school…

  37. Simon Derricutt says:

    Though there’s the Drake equation, a lot of the input data is WAG (with a bit of spin to make it look scientific, so SWAG). The guesses are based on extrapolation from the single instance we currently know where life exists, and the relatively small amount of time we’ve been able to observe. Genetic records seem to show that at one point there were less than 10,000 humans surviving, probably because of some climate change at the time, so possibly it’s a slimmer chance than we estimate that a planet will be stable long enough to form a technological civilisation that can head out into space. There’s evidence of many civilisations on Earth that flourished and then died off, and some odd artifacts that seem maybe too advanced for the general level of technical expertise of the time (light-bulbs in pyramids, maybe batteries) that might be a result of serendipitous experimentation of maybe (gasp) visitations from aliens. We don’t really have much knowledge of possible civilisations of really ancient history – it’s only when we dig something up that we know anything and some may be buried really deeply in what are today unfriendly places to look. Legends persist about Atlantis and magic stuff, but then any sufficiently-advanced technology looks like magic to the uneducated/uninformed. Not too long ago a Dick Tracy wristwatch phone was unbelievable, but today they exist and there’s talk of having holographic images on phones (Star Wars sci-fi). Was there an advanced civilisation (or more than one) in really ancient times we just don’t know about, and did they self-destruct and wipe out almost all traces of their existence? Unknowable unless we find those traces that remain.

    Since the introduction to Alzofon I’ve changed my attitude to UFO stories from “hoaxes and mis-identifications” to “maybe some of them are actually true”. If the experiment works, maybe I’ll go a bit deeper into the stories – though I can easily dismiss most of the high-profile ones based on inconsistency and technical details, there are a few that can’t be easily dismissed. Some sightings seem likely to be human military tests. There is a lot of secret stuff happening, and we’d only find out about the true capabilities of our military in the event of another war between the superpowers. Small conflicts won’t use the secret stuff, after all. People I know have seen some unexplainable flying objects, and I’ve seen something definitely not normal myself (just over a year ago). Jet exhausts aren’t blue-green in colour, pointy rather than spheroidal, and they tend to be noisy too. Military test vehicle or something else?

    Given what I’ve found out in the last few years, I think we’ll be finding ways to do things that we used to think were simply impossible. Since one of those things seems to be making flying saucers and getting into space cheaply, then it seems a short hop from there to building a civilisation in space. There’s lots of material up there to build one with, and air and water can be indefinitely recycled (which is what the Earth does, after all) if there’s an energy input. Maybe it won’t get done in my lifetime, but I think I’ll see the start of it and a few habitats somewhat further away than the ISS.

  38. Simon Derricutt says:

    “pointy rather than spheroidal” should read the other way round. It was spheroidal – elliptical from my viewpoint, and subtended around 1/5 of the Moon so around 6 minutes of arc. Totally silent, too. No idea as to height or speed.

  39. E.M.Smith says:


    FWIW, my opinion is that there are local representatives of intelligent alien species, but not many. For some reason (distance? cost? low interest?) we only get a small monitoring contingent. (Or maybe someone working on their Galactic Ph.D. on primitive cultures in preserves…)

    There does seem to have been much more intervention in the past history, if legends are to be granted “truthiness”. But then legends also talk of a war between the Gods… so perhaps the local Galactic Group had a big Aw Shit and have not fully recovered enough to be more than a few folks keeping tabs… or the “winner” wanted more hands off.

    It is also quite clear that the Military Industrial Complex decided some long time ago to “bank” lots of interesting technologies. Hide them from the public. I can cite one example personally. In about 1966 to 68 I read a Popular Science or Popular Mechanics ( I got both of them then) article about a dentist who had made a plastic airplane. The only “problem” was that it didn’t show up well on radar as only the engine was metal… It promised cheap private aviation. Then the whole topic promptly disappeared.

    Decades later “stealth” was rolled out for public view – decades after it first flew. Reading up on it, the history starts with a dentist making a plastic airplane… and it getting classified.

    So what all else has been classified out of public existence? At a start, I’d say Thorium based small reactors and possibly also LENR that works (Navy has shown some skill at this one). Energy beam weapons were flown experimentally decades back about the time of Reagan and Star Wars Initiative – then went very quiet. Only now “almost ready”… (As soon as Russia fields them, we’ll have a sudden ‘breakthrough’ I’m sure…)

    Now there are rumors of the US military having things like flying saucers, anti-gravity propulsion, hypersonic craft, and more. Sometimes this is attributed to captured alien technology, but also just as possible home grown while hidden via classification. We’ll not find out until the utility of the military secret has ended. IMHO we’ve already got SSTO aerospike engine hypersonic craft. ALL the parts have been flown or demonstrated. Rockwell did the engine and ran it on a test stand – then it mysteriously got cancelled. (That’s one of my flags now: When a better tech is in test and gets cancelled for a less good one: raise big red flag about probable classification black hole.) The Shuttle demonstrated the hypersonic air frame and heat shielding.

    Oh Well. Who needs a society and economy 50 years further ahead when we can have more muddle and only advancing at the rate of our next poorer competition (unless they too are hiding things… so maybe it’s #3 or #4 or…)

    So, unfortunately, there’s no way to disambiguate “Alien Visitors” from “Covert Military Advanced Craft” and both will likely seem strange and exotic.

    Also, IMHO, were it not for the whole classification black hole we’d already have O’Neil Cylinders in space with 100,000 population sized units in self sustaining structures. Just somebody doesn’t want a lot of “stuff” hanging over their heads with a giant gravity well that lets a boulder become a heck of a bomb… Why let “just anyone” decide with a big rock to end D.C. when you can just prevent it by making space prohibitively hard to reach? Only now that both India and China are headed there are we again looking at cheaper orbital abilities… So will some new thing come along to truncate the move to space again? Or was the Trump Space Force the signal that we’re just going to become the Top Cop in space too, so it’s OK to go now? Time will tell.

  40. H.R. says:

    Simon Derricutt: “There’s evidence of many civilisations on Earth that flourished and then died off, and some odd artifacts that seem maybe too advanced for the general level of technical expertise of the time […]”

    I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that we’re just now getting to the point of surpassing the technologies of civilizations that existed prior to the beginnings of our current civilization, which I’ll throw out as starting about 6,000 or 7,000-ish years ago.

    I think it was in comments on a post E.M.did a few years ago about Egyptians using electric lights when building the pyramids or perhaps it was one of the posts of the origins and spread of the Celts. I can’t recall who it was, but someone pointed out to me that we don’t know much about early civilization because it likely would have developed on the continental shelves and all of the evidence is (relatively) far out to sea and under water.

    In the comment thread the last month or where we discussed prepping, E.M. brought up that he was preparing to match the level of technology that would exist depending on how much excrement hit the fan. 1920s ? 1830s? 1700s? 1500s? Stone age?

    If there are only a small number of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, chemists, physicists, and such that survived a catastrophe, and assuming that communications are wiped out (key idea) then the knowledge would exist to recreate satellites and iphones, but there’d be no way to put that component knowledge together and the technology would soon be lost. The knowledge of the technology would also soon degrade and would perhaps only exist a a vague memory of what was possible. That would happen in only a generation or two.

    I have often pondered a similar thought; have advanced civilizations been wiped out and only the ideas of what was technologically possible survived, but the knowledge to create that technology was wiped out?

    For example, I brought up the copper mines of Michigan a couple of weeks ago and I believe (I hope) that I mentioned there is evidence that Minoans were in Michigan mining the copper. Were those Minoans on the leading edge of navigation, mining, and transport technology of the time or were they acting on half-remembered knowledge of a prior, more advanced civilization?

    Another thought (dangerous, I know 😜): are the supposed aliens actually us and they left the planet a long time ago?

    There’s nothing much in the way of evidence for that thinking, as you pointed out, Simon. But is it because there is no evidence or because we haven’t looked at the places where the evidence exists?

    Perhaps Atlantis was a concentration of all the requisite knowledge and skills needed to produce devices capable of intergalactic space travel and one reason we can’t find the evidence is it was concentrated in one spot, and we just haven’t found that one spot. There may be a multi-thousands year old CNC machining center out there somewhere waiting to be dug up from the sea floor.

    Is living on Uranus technically trivial to a sufficiently advanced civilization? (Personally, I think it would be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. 😜)

    To those working on antigravity; perhaps you won’t be the first to have figured it out.

  41. Simon Derricutt says:

    EM – Yep, hard to disambiguate classified military stuff from alien visitations. If it turns out that Alzofon was right, then that would increase the probability of aliens, though, since it’s hard to figure the military developments remaining secret and unused since 1971 or so otherwise and there have been stories going back much further than that. The people who worked on the classified stuff wouldn’t all have remained totally silent on their death-beds and some hint would get out.

    I can’t be certain, but I’m tending more towards alien visitations and that parts of the legends may well be true, but a bit mangled because the witnesses didn’t understand what was happening. Explaining the pictures in the Atacama desert, that can only be seen from the air, gets a little difficult unless people did have a way of flying at that point.

    The military probably have a lot of advanced stuff we won’t hear about until it’s needed. However, it seems likely that it would be way too expensive to run for normal transport and thus not useful for normal civilian life. I can’t see something as world-changing as antigravity (or gravity control) being kept secret just for the hell of it. Similar reasoning says that fuel-free systems aren’t available to anybody yet. There’s simply too much profit in commercialising it once you have the technology. Miniature Thorium nuclear power plants could have been suppressed, though, since the politicians wanted Uranium to make safer bombs with that didn’t irradiate their surroundings in storage. On the other hand, the Molten Salt Thorium reactor has been around almost as long as I have – no good technical reason to not use it except that it doesn’t produce stuff to make good bombs with. Now we see that as a plus point, they seem likely to come back into favour. Likely to get mass-produced in China and India, though, rather than the USA.

    Though LENR has a lot of experimental verification, it remains fringe (normally regarded as pathological science) because there’s no accepted theory that says how it works. Basically, it’s not believed. A lot of the stuff I’ve brought up here is disbelieved too, though I haven’t had any comments that break the logic – arguments are based on belief in the inviolability of the relevant Laws, rather than finding a hole in the logic that tells me those Laws have loopholes. One of the reasons I’ve published the ideas is to see if there is a hole in the logic – crowdsourcing the reviewing. Maybe a lot of advances are blocked because they are dismissed as rubbish based on beliefs rather than showing which steps of the logic are wrong.

    The cost of sending up a big rocket is pretty high at the moment, and I think that’s the main reason the O’Neill cylinders aren’t up there. Rocket launches may now be around 99% reliable, but the record used to be a lot worse than that. Now Musk and Bezos are trying to get better value for money, the costs will go down for a launch, but they’ll want to see a pay-back for putting stuff up there so the habitats would seem to be somewhat low on the priorities. Satellites to broadcast Netflix, maybe somewhat higher.

    If we can get the cost down to the odd $100 to take a person into space, we’ll probably see those O’Neill cylinders being built. The USA might have more of a problem being Top Cop in that situation, though.

  42. Simon Derricutt says:

    H.R. – yep, a lot of interesting stuff gets brought up here, and the Egyptian light bulbs were definitely interesting.

    Since I need to make a lot of the stuff myself, I’m maybe more aware of the supply-chain for the various bits I need. It takes a lot of people doing their jobs to enable me to do mine, so a catastrophe would severely impact my ability to make stuff. For a while I could run the generator for electricity, but then there’s the fuel that comes from elsewhere, and if something wear out then I can make a new bit providing I can get the right materials and have electricity for the lathe, welding, whatever. The tool steel I use needs a lot of skill to make, and the carbide inserts need specific processes I don’t have available. Some of this is covered in Niven and Pournelle’s “Lucifer’s Hammer”, but there is an amazing amount of knowledge and experience needed even to make pretty simple stuff. A lot of interdependence, too. When you have a relatively small number of people, and they need to spend a lot of time producing food because the machines need fuel that is no longer available, then building up again takes some time.

    How long to lose the capability we’ve gained? Maybe one lifetime, since you can’t give someone the experience in running a machine if the machine isn’t there or can’t be powered. Incidentally that’s another reason to get the power-sources sized to run a house rather than have a central power station that runs a city. In SHTF moments, the grid goes down and a lot of power stations can’t self-start – they take power from the grid while starting up and can’t bootstrap themselves.

    “Another thought (dangerous, I know 😜): are the supposed aliens actually us and they left the planet a long time ago?”
    That’s possible, of course. No evidence against it, anyway. A worldwide catastrophe could easily destroy the civilisation on the planet, while those off-planet would survive and come visit now and again to maybe try to restart. Still, after a few thousand years of trying that and not getting anywhere, maybe they’d go about their own business instead and, as EM suggested, come back for their PhD studies.

    That CNC machine centre on the ocean floor would be a richer than normal collection of Iron ore by now, with maybe an interesting concentration of Molybdenum, Vanadium, and Chromium, with occasional patches of Copper oxides. Nothing to see here, move on….

    The moons of Saturn and Uranus might be interesting places to live – pretty skyscape, anyway, and good viewing condition for stars when the planet isn’t in view. If you have almost-free energy supplies, no reason to discount them as valuable real-estate. A good place to go if your knees are showing problems, anyway.

    Antigravity is slightly the wrong term. A better one is gravity control, since antigravity seems to imply applying a (reactionless) force whereas what is actually happening is removing the reason that gravity sucks. That’s if the theory is correct, of course. Maybe it was discovered earlier (maybe very much earlier) and we’re simply re-discovering it. A friend of mine from a long time back was very much into Atlantis stories, and told me that they used sound to move things around (such as lifting big stones to build things). Interesting thing is that gravity-control seems to need audio-frequency chopping of the microwaves, and that this can be heard as a sound, and that thus it could be a description by someone who said what they saw/heard but didn’t understand what was actually happening. Like oracular utterances, maybe you can only make sense of the legends once you know the technology in use.

  43. jim2 says:

    RE: Detection of Alien Life, and a potential flaw in the Drake approach, from the article:

    But these individual large groups will accelerate away from one another thanks to dark energy, and so will never have the opportunity to encounter one another or communicate with one another for very long. For example, if we were to send out signals today, from our location, at the speed of light, we’d only be able to reach 3% of the galaxies in our observable Universe today; the rest are already forever beyond our reach.

  44. p.g.sharrow says:

    Interesting, most of the above commenters above seem to have about the same opinions on civilizations and extraterrestrials as well as governmental secrets.
    It is said there are 5 civilized races among the Pleiades Group, we are the most distant from the rest. From the configuration of their space ships, I would say at least 2 technologies. Evidence indicates visitations may go back a very long time. Natural disasters would befall all civilizations from time to time and space is a VERY LARGE place. A habitable planet a tiny island in a vast ocean of nothing. The “war of the gods” seems to have established the concept of Ethical treatment of other sentience races and ended exploitation and colonization of inhabited worlds. So we are under quarantine until we control our warlords and are permitted to attain true space travel technology. Back in the 1970s a high ranking Air Force General was asked by members of Congress about UFOs, he said; “They are not ours and they are of no danger to us.”. A few years later Soviet pilots under orders, shot down UFOs to acquire the technology. A bit later the Soviet space launch center was destroyed. Then the Soviet Union collapsed. The Russians have been much more cooperative.
    We can’t join the big boys until we grow up!
    From what I have seen government people do not understand the technology that they have gathered over the years because of “secret compartmentalization” and the use of “top of their class” trained scientists. No one that is allowed to to see the whole can understand what they are looking at. We must first grasp the underlying physics, physics that is not recognized among the educated as being valid..
    I think Trump and his people are paying attention, We will see how they set up the proposed “Space Force” and how they pursue their divestiture of government only space travel…pg

  45. H.R. says:

    Simon Derricutt: “That CNC machine centre on the ocean floor would be a richer than normal collection of Iron ore by now, with maybe an interesting concentration of Molybdenum, Vanadium, and Chromium, with occasional patches of Copper oxides. Nothing to see here, move on…. “

    Maybe someone has already found one of those interesting lumps and did not realize what they were looking at. If you know what the evidence should look like many, many thousands of years later and not the day it was made, then you have a shot at finding something, assuming you are looking in the right place. Somebody should go digging around Doggerland looking for funny iron lumps.

    One would think that some small piece of an ancient analogue to some bit of today’s technology would have survived, being passed down as a talisman or holy relic from generation to generation. So far, no one has found and iphone wrapped in a mummy, but what about something like a doorknob surviving? That would have all sorts of implications pointing to a more advanced prior civilization, but would be dismissed as ‘just a doorknob’ with no one inquiring any further.

    Maybe there is more evidence than we realize, but because it is not in a form the finder was expecting, it is never ‘discovered.’

    What I do believe is that legends of ‘magic’ are the best evidence that there were ancient equivalents to some of today’s technology, and that perhaps some ancient devices were superior to some of today’s technology.

  46. E.M.Smith says:


    I have often pondered a similar thought; have advanced civilizations been wiped out and only the ideas of what was technologically possible survived, but the knowledge to create that technology was wiped out?

    Absolutely. It was not until the 1800s that we re-discovered how to make Roman Cement (and even longer than that before we made it as strong and durable). That’s just one example. There are very many more. The giant megalithic stone foundations scattered around the globe where we can’t make or move similar stones. (My favorite theory is that they were “liquid stone” and we’re only now figuring out how to do that with the “new” geopolymer tech — that is documented on an ancient Egyptian stele… )

    BTW, yes, I’m the one who said we need to dig up the continental shelf (or just wait for the ice to return in depth ;-) and discussed ways to make the Egyptian Lightbulb work. (Batteries, chopper wheel with copper on wood, transformer, gas discharge where even atmospheric discharge can work. There’s also an outside chance they discovered some wide band gap LED compounds but that’s for another speculation…)

    It is VERY clear that there are still skills and methods of the known Ancients we are still working to rediscover, and many clearly documented as having been rediscovered. The unknown bit is just how many of that “Many have been the destructions of mankind” told to Solon by the Egyptian Priest were in fact advanced technical societies. There’s evidence for some archaic sites being destroyed by nuclear weapons (or a very strange meteor…) and we have written records of what look like nukes and directed energy weapons in the Vedas.

    BTW, I don’t hold out hope for finding much advanced kit in the mud and dirt. Too much of it is based on materials of a very limited lifetime in air or when wet. Pretty much all metals are like that while plastics oxidize, break down in UV, and are thermally unstable. That’s why pretty much everything found in the dirt is either a ceramic (including fired clay tablets) or a persistent plant based material in non-oxidative conditions (swamps, mud). How much of modern tech is written down on ceramics or wood? In immutable carvings? (I’ve proposed making a printer to “print” on clay tiles then fire them as a generational archive. Basically recreate with modern tools the clay tablet lifespan that lets us know about the Babylonians… for just that reason.)


    For the O’Neil Cylinders I’m pretty sure I remember most of the material was to be sourced from space. So making a steel / aluminum / titanium refinery and glass factory on the moon or near the asteroids, not ship all those tons up the gravity well. I’d also point out you don’t need to ship up the whole 100,000… just 100 and wait ;-0

    I loved Lucifer’s Hammer! It is probably part of why I’ve had a lifelong fixation on “bootstrapping”. I’ve got a collection of 1/2 dozen books that are my “restart civilization” books. One is a Henley’s (or someones…) book of formulas, processes and trade secrets. Another is my CRC Handbook – that isn’t just chemical stuff but also interesting “how to” guidelines for chemistry and gear. Another one I found at the local used book store – a “how to” guide for setting up a foundry. From refining metals to making tools for casting and all. Based on late 1800s tech. Then another is about a 1940s? book on making engines – including detail engineering drawings – for both old style Diesel engines and some steam engines. Then my basic chemistry book… and a couple of radio and antenna books (and an RCA Tube Handbook ;-) Oh, and also an interesting book describing the technology of the Hittites… in case I need to restart from waaaayyy back ;-) Though I’ve realized I need to add a book on cement and geopolymers. I do have one on setting up a one-man smithy with some chapters on the history with things like billows instead of electric blowers.

    But yeah, it’s been a minor “project” of mine over the years to assemble a minor library of “restart civilization” books. The Hard Bit is how to preserve it and enough understanding of what it means and why it has value, through that transitional period where not getting clubbed to death and finding your next meal matters the most. A new Library Of Alexandria does no good if the site gets burned yet again as it isn’t in keeping with the Koran… (The Library Of Alexandria was burned several times, often at Arab Muslim hands, as were many many other libraries. Similar to what the Vatican did for some books, but on a larger scale, and similar to other book burnings.)


    That’s THE big problem. It simply isn’t possible to reach or even talk to most of the universe unless we can get a great deal faster than the speed of light.

    Then the inverse square law really puts a damper on communications by light or EM waves.


    Rational minds given similar information will arrive at similar conclusions. Logic only works one way.

    I suspect there was some kind of local cluster thin society, it had a war, and collapsed. So we get stories of “Lucifer” falling from grace and being cast out… and a vengeful God going at it with him. But who was really the right one? The authoritarian God or the “fallen angel” who basically said “go enjoy yourself and here’s knowledge”? Eh? Not so easy phrased that way.

    Then, a long time later, the remnants in space get back to us, and find that after a few thousand years we’re way different and much more technical than before… and they are not as stable as before… so decide to watch and wait instead of set up shop as “Gods” again.

    It fits all the known facts as much as the rest of the explanations.


    There’s a lot of reports of “Out Of Place Artifacts” from all over the planet. Now some of the “things found in very old stones” may just be nature forming “old” stone a lot faster than we think is possible (part of my interest in Geopolymers – how fast could nature make sandstone around a discarded hammer from sand / tannic acid / whatever being washed over it by rain? Then how do you know it is old? Or young? There’s even been a strange shaped spark plug found in a rock.

    But if you dredge up a spark plug from the ocean floor (they have ceramic after all…) do you think “Oh, look, evidence of Ancient Life!” or do you think “No fish, just this trashy spark plug” and toss it back?

    IMHO there’s a lot of “narrative shaping the evidence” in archaeology.

  47. jim2 says:

    At some point someone here linked to some videos made by a kid in, I believe it was, Australia. He made ceramics from clay. In one of them, he made a blower from fired clay that used a wheel and crank to fire a charcoal fire. He also made roof tiles, and all sorts of stuff. A waterfall powered hammer for pulverizing, I don’t remember it all, but it was made from materials gathered on site and was very impressive .

  48. H.R. says:

    E.M.: “But if you dredge up a spark plug from the ocean floor (they have ceramic after all…) do you think “Oh, look, evidence of Ancient Life!” or do you think “No fish, just this trashy spark plug” and toss it back?”

    Yes. That’s the problem I was getting at. There’s a good chance that a whole lot of evidence of ancient technology has just been tossed aside, not recognized for what it is.

    I have seen a few of those videos of out-of-place technology found in rocks. It’s either a localized acceleration of a geologic process or a real find. I dunno.

    Also, I was going to bring up liquid stone and some of the ancient wonders after p.g. mentioned his sandstone recipe, but I hesitate because there is corresponding evidence of quarrying at varying distances from the various sites where ‘impossible’ stone blocks have been found.

    I do think there’s a likelihood that there are lost recipes for various types of liquid stones besides sandstone. The other technology I’ve seen (can’t recall where) is plant juice mixtures that soften stone to where it can be easily worked. I think what I’m recalling was related to ‘impossible’ holes drilled in rocks in South America or Central America and as an explanation for some of the detailed relief carvings on stones when stone tools were the only known technology. Which is the more advanced technology; a CNC machine with diamonds bits that will carve whatever you want on a slab or a bowl of handy goo-juice that softens stone so that kids can scribble in it with a stick?

    Oh, and wooden machines. Think of all the machines that could be made from wood – lathes, drill presses, surface grinders, planes, etc. – that have not survived because of termites or people in need of firewood or a few near net size lintels and beams for that house they were building.

  49. Larry Ledwick says:

    Other examples of hints at advanced development are the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism. Far more complex that we assumed they were capable of at the time, and the understanding of the planetary motions was quite advanced.

    If you look at past climatic optimums there are multiple going back thousands of years, so far back that essentially nothing of the previous civilizations would remain.

  50. E.M.Smith says:


    The “goo” was oxalic acid from plant juice high in it. In beer making, oxalates will form on some of the pots and is a bugger to remove as it is essentially stone. It is called “beer stone”…

    I bought a jug of oxalic acid at the hardware store too and it’s in “that box somewhere” from the move…


    While I do think the last 10,000 years has some high points we’ve not figured out were as smart as they were, IMHO the “biggy” was back at the end of the glacial period.

    Think about it for a bit: There was close to 100,000 years of more or less stable climate. The ice did advance a little every year, but not a lot. The tropics were still a great place to live (as evidence all the plants there that have zero frost tolerance – they have never seen a frost in their evolution to that state…) and there was a lot of fine continental shelf land for crops and wonderful fishing as all those ice melt rivers drain into the oceans.

    So that’s where I think we need to look. Where those ancient rivers entered the seas.

    And how was Atlantis described? As a city built as a giant port.

    Now, play that forward:

    Almost all your crops and ports and pastures and manufacturing and libraries are at or near sea level. Then the ice starts to melt and almost overnight you must relocate everything. To where? Upslope still has a lot of local ice on mountain tops. The mid zone is semi-wild or full wild lands (assuming smaller populations than now, more like during the Roman Empire). Crops fail as the rate of change of weather exceeds your adaptations. With no ports, large ships are a waste of time to maintain. Essentially, you have a lot of folks running away from all the capital stock, then standing around going “Wha?”. What happens 6 months later when folks are hungry and cold and there are no houses or food? Who survives? Perhaps the folks who lived in those remote areas as hunters and gatherers?

    Nomadic hunting and gathering works better in times of rapid change. Given the change continued for about 2000 years, it’s not going to be conducive to rebuilding stable societies any time soon.

    Then consider that Solon was told there had been collapses over the prior 30,000 years and Atlantis had been lost about 12,000 years ago and it all sort of fits.

  51. Simon Derricutt says:

    History seems largely to be presented as a gradual rise of improvements, and though there are the rise and fall of empires and some bits of Dark Ages it tends to be assumed that once we know something (for example how to produce various metals) then we don’t forget. As such, today is the pinnacle of knowledge and we now know more than we ever did before.

    Then there’s the use of Gold nanoparticles to colour stained glass (red with direct light, but green off-axis), which we find in some Roman glassware as well as the mediaeval church windows. We don’t know how they did that. It can be done using modern processes, of course, but how did they do it?

    The idea of some technological civilisation having existed many thousands of years ago, but all evidence being under the sea, has some nice points in that it explains the legends of magicians, gods and maybe dwarves, elves, and other creatures. Hard to prove unless we find evidence, though, and things don’t tend to stay together well under the sea. We might expect to find patches with excess radioactivity if they used fission, but if they used fusion then it seems unlikely that any trace would remain. Even with fission, I was using today’s examples of nuclear reactors, but they may not have been that centralised – it seems it’s possible to use triggered fission (that’s the power-source of the Papp engine, and we haven’t found the key to that yet) and that would leave small quantities of various Lead isotopes in various places, so not identifiable. The reactor itself would only need to be shoe-box size to run a house.

    pg stated that “It is said there are 5 civilized races among the Pleiades Group, we are the most distant from the rest. From the configuration of their space ships, I would say at least 2 technologies.” Interesting…. A bit difficult to confirm, though. A lot of the UFO stories seem to have been made-up, but as usual it’s hard to decide which ones might be true and have useful information. If true, though, it implies that FTL travel is possible.

    In the discussion with Arend about scalar waves, he’s certain that the velocity is FTL. Until the measurements are in, that’s just theory. Hopefully he’ll get those measurements and settle the question. Still only 1.5c or so, so not that much better to send signals to something light-years away. However, could be we could get there first in a spacecraft that used the Alzofon technology. The reason is that the light-speed limit is because the momentum (inertia) of an object reaches infinity at the speed of light. Alzofon’s theory says that we can remove the inertia of an object (reduce it to zero), in which case you don’t get that infinite inertia at c, and there becomes no limit to velocity. Relativity is more about what we see and measure to happen rather than about what is actually happening, so if we were watching (and measuring) a FTL ship we’d think it was going backwards in time. Could be we’ll thus get to visit the other civilisations in the Pleiades group and not suffer the future-shock of arriving back home after a few weeks of travel to find the Earth has experienced a few hundred or thousand years in the meantime.

    Oh well, we can dream…. Stuff is arriving for the experiments, and the CoM test is almost ready to fire up.

  52. cdquarles says:

    Hmm, okay, lets talk chemistry. Nearly every chemical process that I am aware of, when sampled over time, looks like a logistic curve. From flowing glass (verryyyyy slow) to gas chromatography (time = distance and reactivity dependent flow rate) to explosions (verrryyyy fast). So here we are, observing these from their tail end, making assumptions that the processes as we see them today have always proceeded as we see them today …. think about that for a bit.

  53. E.M.Smith says:

    Unless the Pleiades occupants moved in recently, it is unlikely to have evolved intelligent life:

    The Pleiades (/ˈplaɪ.ədiːz, ˈpliːə-/, also known as the Seven Sisters and Messier 45), are an open star cluster containing middle-aged, hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky.

    The hot B-type stars tend to burn out fast… Oh, and the “Seven Sisters” is named Subaru in Japanese – and the Subaru badge image… I like my Subaru ;-)

    In Japan, the constellation is mentioned under the name Mutsuraboshi (“six stars”) in the 8th century Kojiki. The constellation is now known in Japan as Subaru (“to unite”). It was chosen as the brand name of Subaru automobiles to reflect the origins of the firm as the joining of five companies, and is depicted in the firm’s six-star logo.

    meanwhile back at their age:

    The cluster is dominated by hot blue and luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years.

    100 million years might not even be enough time to evolve primitive single cells…

    It is remotely possible there are some older starts, more feint, in the 40+ ones that show up no closer inspection, but unlikely. Star clusters tend to form as a group from a cloud of “stuff” about the same time. Or, more metaphorically, someone might have said there were civilizations in the region between Earth and the Pleiades and that got turned into “Pleiades Cluster” or similarly imprecise description. (Earth isn’t exactly close to them… in all cases over 100 parsecs):

    Measurements of the distance have elicited much controversy. Results prior to the launch of the Hipparcos satellite generally found that the Pleiades were about 135 parsecs away from Earth. Data from Hipparcos yielded a surprising result, namely a distance of only 118 parsecs by measuring the parallax of stars in the cluster—a technique that should yield the most direct and accurate results. Later work consistently argued that the Hipparcos distance measurement for the Pleiades was erroneous. In particular, distances derived to the cluster via the Hubble Space Telescope and infrared color-magnitude diagram fitting (so-called “spectroscopic parallax”) favor a distance between 135 and 140 pc; a dynamical distance from optical interferometric observations of the Pleiad double Atlas favors a distance of 133–137 pc. However, the author of the 2007–2009 catalog of revised Hipparcos parallaxes reasserted that the distance to the Pleiades is ~120 pc and challenged the dissenting evidence. Recently, Francis and Anderson proposed that a systematic effect on Hipparcos parallax errors for stars in clusters biases calculation using the weighted mean and gave a Hipparcos parallax distance of 126 pc and photometric distance 132 pc based on stars in the AB Doradus, Tucana-Horologium, and Beta Pictoris moving groups, which are all similar in age and composition to the Pleiades. Those authors note that the difference between these results can be attributed to random error. More recent results using very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) (August 2014) and a preliminary solution using the Gaia satellite (September 2016), determine distances of 136.2 ± 1.2 pc and 134 ± 6 pc respectively. Although the Gaia team is cautious about their result, the VLBI authors assert “that the Hipparcos measured distance to the Pleiades cluster is in error”.

    puts a parsec at about 3 1/4 light years “One parsec is equal to about 3.26 light-years ” so we’re talking about somewhere between 325 light years and 450 light years. Not exactly close. From the same parsec link:

    The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is about 1.3 parsecs (4.2 light-years) from the Sun. Most of the stars visible to the unaided eye in the night sky are within 500 parsecs of the Sun.

    So Proxima Centauri is 100 times closer and they are 1/5 of the way to our limit for visible stars.

    Sidebar: Note that thanks to inverse square light decay, even a full on superbright star is only visible to the eye out to 500 parsecs or about 1600 light years. It is going to be darned hard to communicate with any energy subject to inverse square decay given a full sun worth fades out in that distance…

    So, the point:

    For even a relatively local star cluster to have cultures interacting with us will require an FTL drive and some kind of FTL communications. Otherwise, any message sent “home” only gets there a few hundred years later (IF they can detect it at all…)

    So that’s my whole hang-up on any claim of a significant local presence of Space Aliens. Size, distance, and time all are huge problems. It essentially requires Faster Than Light to be viable. (MAYBE Proxima Centuri could work without FTL, but only if significan fraction of light speed can be managed… At 1/4 light it would be a 16 year trip, 32 year round trip. Royal PITA, but possible.

    Back at the Pleiades wiki:

    A faint reflection nebulosity around the brightest stars was thought at first to be left over from the formation of the cluster (hence the alternative name Maia Nebula after the star Maia), but is now likely an unrelated foreground dust cloud in the interstellar medium, through which the stars are currently passing.

    Computer simulations have shown that the Pleiades were probably formed from a compact configuration that resembled the Orion Nebula. Astronomers estimate that the cluster will survive for about another 250 million years, after which it will disperse due to gravitational interactions with its galactic neighborhood.

    So 250 million years to watch it, then it’s gone off elsewhere in bits…

    Another way of estimating the age of the cluster is by looking at the lowest-mass objects. In normal main-sequence stars, lithium is rapidly destroyed in nuclear fusion reactions. Brown dwarfs can retain their lithium, however. Due to lithium’s very low ignition temperature of 2.5 × 106 K, the highest-mass brown dwarfs will burn it eventually, and so determining the highest mass of brown dwarfs still containing lithium in the cluster can give an idea of its age. Applying this technique to the Pleiades gives an age of about 115 million years.

    That they even looked at the brown dwarfs and found them young also says the whole cluster is fairly new and it isn’t just a few new blue starts with some old dwarfs that might have ancient life evolution. Essentially one must postulate an intelligent species moving into the cluster from somewhere else…

    So there are ways to make it work as the Pleiades having intelligent life in them, and them visiting here; but it is pushing a rope up hill compared with the possibles for life nearer from older systems.


    So the notion of life in the Pleiades, or it visiting us, largely hinges on FTL and what you can make happen (or what they could make happen ;-)

    No FTL? Then it can not have happened. With FTL (and a lot faster than light too…) it could happen. Maybe.


    Which processes that we are looking at are the ones you reference? Life forming? FTL travel? ??

    If life, well, yes!. Took a few Billion years to get to the “take off point” of multicellular life, then the world rocketed up in types and species adn intelligence… and it will eventually flatten that growth / enhancement rate as an apex (predator?) species dominates the planet. ATM looking like us, but give it another Million years ;-) and maybe it will be Morlocks…

  54. Larry Ledwick says:

    The other challenge to FTL travel if we ever crack the nut of physical speed is the red /blue shift of electromagnetic radiation along the axis of travel. IFF you could get a shp to go faster than light, normal visible light would be blue shifted into hard x-rays in the forward direction and behind you x-ray sources would be shifted toward the red into the visible light spectrum.

    Then there is that pesky problem about what happens when your FTL ship runs into some microscopic particle of dust at faster than light speeds? So we not only need to come up with a FTL propulsion system but a shielding system or deflector system that would protect the occupants and hardware from the consequences of high energy collisions and blue shift radiation vaporizing or ablating the front of the ship.

    That implies that FTL travel will first be possible with unoccupied drone like probes as it will take a while (barring some sudden leap in understanding) to solve the shielding/deflector problem.

  55. H.R. says:

    @Larry: Another problem I see with FTL travel is collision avoidance with large objects. Would the debris shield be permeable to the detection signal sent forward and to its return?

    And if it’s some sort of light-based system, it would go forward at the FTL speed, plus c but would it bounce back at FTL + c or just return at c? How easy is it to maneuver a space at FTL speed to avoid a collision? What type of output would be necessary to guarantee a return input to an avoidance system?

    If traveling through the known neighborhood of a galaxy, a course could be plotted to avoid any major obstacles. What does one do when traveling through an unknown neighborhood?

    Everyone likes to stomp on the accelerator, but what about the steering wheel and the brakes?

  56. cdquarles says:

    @EM, well, about chemical processes, I was talking about all of them that I am aware of. I am not aware of FTL being a chemical process, though, that’s possible. FTL sounds like an engineering problem to me. Once you have the knowledge and the technology, that’ll be solved; if a solution exists. Hmm, come to think of it, if that situation is, or can be, sampled over time …., maybe it’d look like a logistic curve, too.

    That life took a billion years, though, isn’t known. It is an estimate based on an age model and a formation model, with us looking at it from the tail end, and only able to see the tail end. Change the assumptions, change the processes, change the premises, well, all of that changes the results.

    About collision avoidance, that’s a good question, H. R. The good thing about outer space is that it is mostly empty and the objects you can see with EMR are all large and distant. On the other hand … going FTL, depending on how that would work, yeah, the small and dim stuff could kill you. Speed does not kill. Absorbed energy kills.

  57. E.M.Smith says:


    A lot will depend on the nature of it. Do you end up with relativistic mass increase so that grain of dust hits with the mass of a planet? Or do you have space / time warp so your “real” speed is only 1000 mph and every mass stays the same?

    If the former, then even the non-visible microdot sized dust in space will kill you.
    If the latter, good to go (modulo that big planet that suddenly fills your forward viewer ;-)

    So Sci-Fi shows have dealt with this by asserting some kind of up-front compute a safe course process. So, OK… how will you get perfect knowledge of the state of ALL objects in your part of the galaxy AND solve the N body problem for very large N?

    My intuitive sense of it is that there will not be a FTL drive possible. (If anything, maybe some kind of quantum tunneling from one place to another… but there’s no idea how to make that go).

    IMHO, inverse square radiation dissipation and Speed Of Light hard limit are the Universe saying we can’t go mess up our neighbors or even talk with them; and the BORG can only mess up one solar system and then they are stuck… Systems inside a couple of light years of each other MIGHT be able to have a couple of R&D or Scout ships visit and take notes (but even that has issues with energy / mass to get to 10 – 20% of light speed… )

    Yeah, of course that could be entirely wrong just because “you don’t know what you don’t know” and maybe there’s some trivial cosmic trick we’ve just not figured out exists – yet.

    But if I had to make a hard money bet on “who are the aliens?” I’d bet it was some mix of a couple of very local star exploratory ships and some humans who made it to space (either as a prior high tech society 12k years ago, or as some folks given a lift to space by the alien researchers…). I’m just not seeing either a method or evidence for a lot of alien space ships wandering around the area. (We have a LOT of big telescopes looking outward all the time, yet no pictures of little green men on the moon doing selfies… so either a perfect stealth operation or just not much there there. At most you could keep a half dozen ships relatively hidden from observation by “credible sources” – or they own the global governments…) Just the energy costs to move a fleet of a 1000 ships 20 light years is crazy huge, so I’m just not seeing a way… One or two, maybe.

  58. E.M.Smith says:


    We keep finding life started far earlier than we used to think, so now it looks like maybe the panspermia idea of bacteria floating in from space might have legs; however:

    We very clearly know when complex life evolved out of the bacterial goo and when that complex life got enough brains & experience to invent the radio. (That last part being about 4.5 billion years, or 200 years ago…).

    So sure, at 100 M years the Seven Sisters might well have some planets with bacterial life. So? The question is “are we the far side members of 5 intelligent life clusters centered in the Seven Sisters?” which presumes intelligent life there – which doesn’t form in 100 M years. So either came from somewhere else, or the thesis is busted.

  59. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and on the flip side of the “can’t get there” argument, there’s the generational ship approach:

    The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years radius (and a lot thinner). Say a very intelligent race evolved that could make the equal of nuclear powered O’Neil Cylinders and started sending them out toward other parts of the Galaxy. (Maybe even with collection of hydrogen along the way to keep a fusion reactor going indefinitely and producing power).

    Now the speed of light is about 300,000 km / second. IF they could only get to 1/100 th that speed, or about 3,000 km / second (that doesn’t seem all that impossible with modest thrust over decades), then it would take 100,000 x 100 or 10,000,000 years to reach all sides of the galaxy assuming a start somewhere near the center (where life ought to have evolved first IMHO). 10 Million Years is a very very long time, but in terms of geology or evolution it’s a blink of an eye.

    So it IS quite possible that once a truly space faring species evolves, it (or what it evolves into after 10 million years…) could easily be found all over the galaxy. To that extent, I could easily see 4 or 5 such ships arriving scattered places in the Seven Sisters and here; perhaps one even stopping when it got here 200,000 years ago and “people” suddenly show up and then “shit happened” as impact events caused a social reboot.

    Now, who would be the aliens? Us, the newer arrivals (perhaps after a bit of genetic pot stirring to survive on this rock as our ship had unrecoverable problems)? The Neanderthals who were here? Our “cousins” (who evolved a bit differently on their journey to the Seven Sisters and are now a bit smaller and some grey, some green)? Etc.

    It’s a long shot, but very much a possible that such an ‘adaptive radiation’ could happen to fill a galaxy with intelligent species inside a very short (geological / evolutionary) time scale.

  60. Larry Ledwick says:

    Of course we can always hold out the hope of a Sci-Fi solution like a jump to a parallel universe and back to just leap outside of time and space to a new location. There may be some “back door” method that side steps all these apparent hurdles. Maybe at relativistic speeds matter will just pass through without interacting like a light photon passes through window glass.

    If that sort of out side the box solution exists then all our assumptions about time and distance for space exploration evaporate (unless there is a new gottcha that results from that method like you get home a million years after you left)

  61. jim2 says:

    If we arose from alien life, what of other life on Earth? Our DNA is 90+ % similar to chimps. So also similar to other apes and many other species. So was the alien space ship an Alien Ark?

  62. H.R. says:

    Larry L.: “Maybe at relativistic speeds matter will just pass through without interacting like a light photon passes through window glass.”

    I considered something along those lines when thinking about “stuff in the way when you are going at a totally insane speed.”

    I suppose things get a tad weird when you’re going FTL, so it should be no surprise that other rules don’t necessarily remain the same, either.

    Maybe our current understanding of physics is only a knowledge of suggestions, and we haven’t really run into the rules yet.

  63. H.R. says:

    jim2: “So was the alien space ship an Alien Ark?”

    Nah. The way we behave, it was probably a prison ship. Instead of incarcerating their bad boys or capital punishment, they just loaded them up and shot them the heck off to anywhere else but their world.

    Maybe it’s something we should consider.

  64. cdquarles says:

    Ah, quantum tunneling, that’s how Stargate the movie and the series Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe did it. Into the wormhole we go. That series also had us being the second evolution of human morphology.

    Ah, yes, also remember that evolution is a tautology. Any thing that is mutable will have a before and an after. What, specifically, does descent with modification mean? Okay, not all modifications will be sufficiently neutral with respect to survival to sexual maturity for sexually reproducing … er, maybe that should be sexually propagating species. Survival of the fittest applies to our breeding operations, whether crude or specific. Here, an intelligent actor is making the decisions, and that actor has a goal in mind to be reached in the future. For the rest of embodied life, it appears to not work that way. Again, there is a lot more in-built variability than many realize. Survival of the fittest does not apply in the wild. Survival of the fit enough does. Then we add viruses, which help ensure that the total information in the system never gets lost, because they make sure bits get shuffled around, more or less intact.

    Another analogy, this time a computing one. Can a computer start itself up, when the energy is supplied, without some kind of a stored bootstrapping program?

  65. Simon Derricutt says:

    Lots of ideas talked about yesterday.

    I think pg was more talking of group roughly centred on the Pleiades, rather than living in orbit around those stars. Visits from anywhere that distance would imply FTL travel, though, since either we’d be talking about generational ships or a severe passage of time on the home world while you were away.

    Removal of inertia, and having a Rindler horizon around the shell of the spacecraft where inertia simply doesn’t apply, would seem to enable FTL travel with a very small actual thrust required (anything non-zero, in fact), since with zero inertia to start with we don’t reach infinite inertia at the speed of light. In development of the Standard Model in physics, explaining inertia proved to be difficult. Higgs produced the idea of the Higgs field (and the Higgs particle) to explain inertia. Still a bit of a hack, as I see it, but it’s standard theory now. Explaining the reason for inertia remains a little difficult, which was why “finding” the Higgs particle was celebrated. Mike McCulloch tied inertia into the Hubble radius and the current size of the accessible universe, and though it doesn’t seem intuitively easy to understand in that something so far away has an immediate effect here and now, that’s been in quantum mechanics for a long time. Things don’t have to match what’s intuitively right in order to be actually true (though it helps). Mike’s theory however predicts anomalies that are measured to happen, and does so much better than Dark Matter or MoND. I thus think there’s a better truth there. It also implies that various fundamental constants are probably slowly changing as the Hubble radius gets bigger and the universe expands. Quantised Inertia may not seem intuitive, but it fits the data nicely and also gives a reason for inertia. Alzofon gives almost the same reason for inertia, but missed the idea of it being quantised. Adding the two explanations together and making the wave-function of a particle end at the Hubble horizon gives us both a reason for inertia and the quantisation of it, and maybe also gives us a way to remove inertia as well.

    The problem of hitting something when you’re at (or above) light speed seems tricky. However, if the field (Rindler horizon) extends beyond the shell of your spacecraft, then any atoms the are within that field will also have no inertia and thus won’t cause a problem. They would simply have their direction changed without giving an impulse to the spacecraft. Though this is also an idea that seems *difficult*, we’re not used to dealing with a zero-inertia situation. I would however expect that the velocity of the object would be suddenly changed and could be extremely high, so we’d see a trail of radiation from the odd atoms and space-dust along the track of the spacecraft. For FTL craft we’d see Cherenkov radiation (equivalent, anyway) from the odd stuff it encountered. Since we’ve worked out that momentum is not conserved, and that also implies that energy is not conserved either, and we see some pulses of very high-energy radiation in cosmology, then maybe those are from the passage of such spacecraft. Yep, long shot, but may be true.

    Larry’s idea of Döppler shifts of the radiation may however be a bit more critical. However, a Rindler horizon is also a node for EM waves and thus I expect it would look like a perfect mirror if we were close to one. The radiation thus shouldn’t affect the spacecraft. Sending out robot probes to measure it before we put humans in there would however seem to be a good precaution.

    Whereas I used to think the speed of light was a hard barrier, because the inertia would reach infinite levels, maybe that’s not the case if we can control inertia. There may be some gotchas we don’t know about yet, but making the spacecraft into a small self-contained universe separate to the one outside it might do the trick and solve all the problems.

    Since the method for a reactionless drive is pretty close to Alzofon’s experiment, then it’s possible that Alzofon measured the thrust (from CoM violation) as a weight loss and that he made a mistake. That’s why I’m designing the experiment more to measure reduction of inertia instead. If that shows inertia to be reduced or removed, then maybe he was near-enough right to give us working flying saucers and cheap space-travel with FTL a possibility. If not, then we still have the CoM violation but are limited to below light speed, but since we don’t need reaction-mass then travel in space becomes a whole lot more practical and cheaper.

    On energy costs to move spacecraft around, once you’re out of the gravity well it’s bugger-all. The main cost is getting into space. As EM says, we have a lot of telescopes pointing out, so I’d expect to have records of spacecraft. Still, it’s actually going to be pretty hard to see them unless they occult a star, and we sometimes have a few hours notice of a meteor/asteroid on a close encounter with Earth, so maybe a few spacecraft would be missed if they chose their paths well. Or maybe they have been seen and it’s in secret records somewhere. Maybe some of the stories are true.

    Jim2’s point about DNA is that it seems all the life we’ve looked at on Earth seems to have the same ancestry. That might also imply that it was seeded from somewhere else, of course. Hey, this planet looks hopeful, so let’s give it life…. Alternatively, H.R’s idea of us being the Botany Bay of the local galactic group might apply too. If we do get FTL travel and get to talk with aliens, then maybe they’ll fill us in on the history we’ve missed.

  66. Simon Derricutt says:

    CDQ – “Can a computer start itself up, when the energy is supplied, without some kind of a stored bootstrapping program?”

    It would depend on the structure. For the sort of computers we design it seems it couldn’t happen. On the other hand, where a random structure is put together where certain parts can randomly flip their output and those outputs can affect other parts, and a loop can thus spontaneously form, then maybe yes. Maybe such a section of structure can propagate and program similar accreted parts to run in synchrony and produce something that looks purposeful. It seems after all that’s what gave rise to our brains. Might take a particularly small-probability chance for the first one to happen, but with enough time and enough tries it’s going to happen.

  67. E.M.Smith says:


    Were I the civilization sending out those civilization ships, I would send out ahead of them a lot of smaller capsules filled with bacteria from my world (and maybe some other spores and such that survive being freeze dried). These would be for the purpose of “seeding” acceptable planets with life compatible with my biochemistry. (That way you don’t need to fight silicon based dinosaurs or deal with arsenic happy bacteria when you arrive). They would be sent much faster (being smaller and taking less energy) so as to arrive millions of years before the “colonists” (who would then have many places to choose from).

    You could make these things about the size of a coffee pot and have them travel much faster to many more destinations. Design them to zero in on planets “of a certain sort” and deorbit, then open when wet…

    Now the interesting “possible” given that scenario:

    Was the prototype “home world” the result of velociraptor like creatures evolving to major intelligence with grasping hands? (“Greys”) and That was the model? Then, here on Earth, the natural order of things was disrupted by arrival of a big space rock and the “food mammals” evolved into the top niche instead… The Greys arrive and say “Oh Shit! The planet is run by intelligent lunch meat!! Damn it.” but go ahead and observe, maybe even taking a sample into space to study and contemplate the ethics involved… (Kind of like us vs dolphins & whales – very few folks like the idea of eating a lunch that knows what you did to it…)

    At any rate, that “seeding” idea gets you past a lot of the biochem compatibility issues. Though sometimes you need to assume extra bits for a given scenario – like maybe Greys turning apes into humans for a bit of mining and then it gets out of hand… before the main ship can arrive.

    Is Science Fiction fun? ;-)

    Per FTL Problems:

    It might be possible that at FTL your “wave function” just can’t interact with a stationary wave function until after you have passed it. Would be a nice way out of the problems…

    Been watching Feynman videos on Quantum Mechanics and the biggest takeaway I’ve got so far is that the world you think you know is not the world you have; and what really happens is just strange beyond our intuitive grasp. If you are not “solving the equations” you don’t know squat.


    Variability: That’s one of my pet peeves. The whole “community medicine” thing is based on the notion that if you kill of 100 to save 1000 it’s a net win, so do it. Incidentally we are selecting strongly against certain genetic types. Those outliers who don’t tolerate vaccines well or actually get polio from the vaccine (a good friend was one of those and spent her life in a wheel chair as a consequence). I don’t tolerate LED lighting well, so while the selection against me for my tobacco intolerance is letting up with less smoking, the LED issue is pushing harder.

    We are selecting for a central type, insensitive but not necessarily high performing, who has the advantage that they don’t just outright die and do have a lot of sex. Did anyone of us decide to do that?


    See you covered the “seed” idea too…

    “However, if the field (Rindler horizon) extends beyond the shell of your spacecraft, then any atoms the are within that field will also have no inertia and thus won’t cause a problem.”

    Oh what a great problem hack! Then the “mirror surface” when at speed covers being spotted as it just looks like a “glowy thing” and when stopped maybe they just do the same kind of stealth we do. Dark pebbly surface and you just don’t reflect in any one direction enough of anything to be noticed. It doesn’t need to be bright chrome with portholes and corner reflectors for radar… I’m pretty sure I could make a stealthy enough surface to not be seen at 10 AU.

    Per the self boot question:

    Clearly. We exist. Baby animals even down to bugs “self start”.

    Now one could argue that it is just a boot program stored in gates instead of in magnetic bits… but so? I’ve seen computers boot from holes punched in paper tape. Is ANY bit pattern storage media forbidden in this puzzle? If so, then no, you can’t reliably self boot in less than way-too-long times. OTOH, my first program for an Altair MITS 8800 was about 10 lines of assembly long. (It copied itself from low mem through all mem and ended – the computer on power up just executed whatever was in first low mem location). I could design a computer that had a random fill of low mem with bits then reboot. Given enough tries one of them would boot to something useful. (There are better ways too).

    So yes it can be done… but why bother when there are so many ways to store something once it works?

  68. cdquarles says:

    Two things. Baby animals and bugs both have stored programs and are living beings that propagate from living beings. Remember random means lots of causes and lots of effects whose states can’t be predicted because we don’t or can’t know enough to be able to predict them. While we know about chemically embodied life, we still don’t know what life is. I am of the firm opinion that life is more than physics -> chemistry -> biology. What in logic requires life to be physical only? /rhetorical

    Recall that modern biology had a long debate over spontaneous generation. Once started, nothing in logic requires that evolution (change over time) be impossible, that I am aware of. It is the getting it started that is the $64,000 question, at least as I see it.

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