Astroforensics: The (New) Search for Alien Life

On August 26, 2011, Professor Paul Davies published a paper in Acta Astronautica entitled, “Footprints of Alien Technology.” In it, he suggests a new approach in the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. This approach, which he calls astroforensics, consists of police-style forensics techniques…employed right here on Earth.

Who is Paul Davies?

Paul Davies is an interesting guy. He was recently hired by the U.S. National Cancer Institute to help improve America’s extremely disappointing efforts at improving cancer survival rates. But he wasn’t brought in for his background in physics. Rather, he was recruited because he’s a “disruptive agent.”

“True, his naivety sometimes makes biologists grit their teeth. (‘Aaargh! Physicists!’ wrote Paul ‘PZ’ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, in a blog response to Davies’ proposal earlier this year that tumours are a reversion to primitive genetic mechanisms that pre-date the dawn of multicellular life.) ‘But his critics don’t appreciate the value of a disruptive agent,’ says biophysicist Stuart Lindsay, who works closely with Davies at the ASU physics–cancer centre. ‘It takes someone like Paul, constantly nagging, asking disruptive questions, to get people to take a fresh look at their assumptions.'” ~ Physics Meets Cancer: The Disruptor, Nature

Astroforensics: The (New) Search for Alien Life?

He’s also a well-known figure in the search for alien life, having worked with SETI  (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) for over thirty years. Now, he hopes to revamp the way mankind is searching for aliens through the incorporation of forensics techniques. While most people of a similar mindset suggest searching the solar system for large scale evidence such as “orbiting probes, artificial structures on planetary surfaces, and astroengineering projects such as Dyson Spheres,” Davies proposes an all-out search for more subtle traces…right here on earth. In other words, he hopes to encourage scientists across the world to keep an eye open for signs of what might best be described as “palaeocontact.”

“If alien civilizations do, or did, exist, their technology will impact their environment. Some consideration has been given to the detection of large-scale astro-engineering, such as Dyson spheres. However, a very advanced technology might leave more subtle footprints requiring sophisticated scientific methods to uncover. We must not overlook the possibility that alien technology has impacted our immediate astronomical environment, even Earth itself, but probably a very long time ago.” ~ Paul Davies, Footprints of Alien Technology

Davies is not a proponent of the “ancient alien” mania that runs wild today. Instead, he believes that if aliens visited the Earth, they most likely did so prior to the emergence of mankind. Thus, he proposes searching for traces capable of surviving hundreds of millions or even billions of years. Some possibilities include: nuclear waste, scars of large-scale mining or quarrying, a shadow biosphere, or messages left behind in DNA.

The last two options represent especially intriguing possibilities. Aliens might’ve created or accidentally left behind a “shadow biosphere” of life built upon a unique form of biochemistry that we have yet to understand. Also, they might have left behind traces or messages in DNA.

“My proposals aim to spread the burden from a small band of heroic radio astronomers to the entire scientific community. Projects like genomic SETI are an attempt to complement radio SETI, not undermine it.” ~ Dr. Paul Davies

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Paul Davies presents an interesting plan to widen the search for alien life. As we speak, large amounts of data are being collected in various scientific fields. He hopes to convince scientists to use forensic techniques to examine this data for “anomalies.” In its own right, this is a significant act. It’s also brave considering the fact that the very idea of aliens is dismissed by most reputable scientists.

Interestingly enough, Paul Davies doesn’t have an opinion as to whether alien life actually exists. Indeed, he’s known for describing the search as an attempt to find a needle-in-a-haystack “without any clue as to whether there is a needle there at all, or how large the haystack may be.” However, if alien life does exist, one thing is certain…Paul Davies is determined to find it.

A UFO…from 1883?

In 1883, José Bonilla took several photographs of objects crossing in front of the sun. After more than a century of speculation, scientists believe they have finally identified these objects. Were they high flying geese? A series of old UFOs? Or was it a force of epic proportions…a force that nearly destroyed the Earth?

Chaos!

First things first. As many of you know, I released my first novel yesterday. It’s an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy of Chaos at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

 An Old UFO Sighting…from 1883?

Now, on August 12, 1883, an astronomer named José Bonilla was studying sunspot activity at the Zacatecas Observatory in Mexico. Suddenly, he noticed something strange. Dark objects seemed to be crossing in front of the sun. Bonilla worked fast and managed to take a couple photographs of the phenomenon.

In 1886, these pictures were released to the public via the magazine L’Astronomie. Taken as a whole, they were “dubbed the first photo of a UFO – a series of 447 objects that looked ‘misty’ and ‘left behind a similar misty trace.'” However, the magazine’s editor was more skeptical and attributed the images to high-flying birds, insects, or a dust cloud rather than an old UFO.

What was this Old UFO?

Recently, a team of scientists led by Hector Javier Durand Manterola at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México proposed a new theory to explain Bonilla’s strange images. Namely, they believe the objects were parts of a “highly fragmented comet.”

Using Bonilla’s observations, Manterola estimated that the objects in question measured anywhere between 151 – 2,608 feet across and passed at a distance of 334 -5,009 miles above the Earth’s surface. If true, then it means that this gigantic body “came close to hitting the Earth – with a similar mass to the object that killed the dinosaurs.” (Assuming, of course, that an asteroid or comet actually killed the dinosaurs in the first place).

“The only bodies in the Solar System which are surrounded by a bright mistiness are the comets, so it is appropriate to suppose that the objects seen by Bonilla were small comets.” ~ Hector Javier Durand Manterola, Maria de la Paz Ramos Lara, and Guadalupe Cordero

Not everyone agrees. There were no reports of a meteor shower at the time. And the annual Perseid meteor shower “was no brighter than usual.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

As far as I can determine, the evidence pointing to a comet is pretty skimpy (as is the evidence pointing to an old UFO). It appears that Manterola’s team made its determination based primarily on the “bright mistiness” of the objects. Then they proceeded to analyze the objects as such.

All in all, the theory is plausible. And I tend to think that comets have impacted Earth at a greater rate than history generally assumes (possibly even causing the Black Death). But the lack of an exceptional meteor shower raises significant questions that are difficult to answer. Regardless, if Bonilla’s 1883 sighting was a fragmented comet, we can be thankful it didn’t come any closer to Earth. Otherwise, well, we might not be here right now.