A newly-shared draft document explores the possibility that extraterrestrials have reached our home planet using AI-powered probes
Many people here on Earth are devoted to detecting signs that we aren’t alone in the universe, from amateur conspiracy theorists, to the minds behind professional research centres such as SETI and the Galileo Project. But what if intelligent alien life is already watching us and learning about our civilisation without us knowing it’s even there? According to a draft document released by the head of the Pentagon’s UFO investigation arm earlier this month, that’s a very real possibility.
Authored by Sean Kirkpatrick, the director of the Pentagon’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), and Avi Loeb, the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department (and founder of the ET-hunting Galileo Project) the research report outlines the possibility that aliens have been able to travel to Earth by analysing the physical constraints of spaceflight.
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More specifically, the report comes to the conclusion that it’s feasible that alien life has already visited our home planet. Looking at the distance that their crafts would have to travel from planets orbiting distant, Sun-like stars, it notes that they could make the journey in less than a billion years. “Since most stars formed more than a billion years before the Sun,” it adds, “it is possible that other technological civilizations predated ours by the amount of time needed for their devices to reach Earth.”st-block-4
The report also outlines the methods that alien civilisations might have used to infiltrate our civilisation with their research devices. Taking inspiration from ’Oumuamua – a mysterious oblong object that recently passed through our solar system, sparking waves of speculation about its origin – the researchers speculate that an “artificial interstellar object could potentially be a parent craft that releases many small probes during its close passage to Earth”.
The researchers compare this to NASA missions that often involve parachuting technology onto, say, the surface of Mars during a flyby. Like NASA, aliens could identify distant habitable planets by examining the light they filter out when passing in front of their home stars. “Once an Earth-like planet is targeted, an interstellar device can plunge into its atmosphere,” Loeb and Kirkpatrick say. “In principle, a multitude of tiny devices can be released from a mothership that passes near Earth.”
“With proper design, these tiny probes would reach the Earth or other Solar system planets for exploration, as the parent craft passes by[...] just like ‘Oumuamua did.” What’s more, the report explains, astronomers wouldn’t be able to see the “spray of mini-probes” – or “dandelion seeds” – because they wouldn’t reflect enough sunlight for existing survey telescopes to pick up.
Does this mean that little green men have actually touched down, expelled from a craft like ‘Oumuamua as it continues its interstellar journey? Given what we know about organic life, probably not. “It is likely that any functional devices embedded in the Earth’s atmosphere are not carrying biological entities because these would not survive the long journey through interstellar space and its harsh conditions,” says the report, “including bombardment by energetic cosmic-rays, X-rays and gamma-rays.”
That doesn’t rule out an alien landing, though. The report posits that devices made to withstand the perils of space and interstellar radiation could be loaded with artificial intelligence, allowing them to self-repair or even reproduce, given the right resources and knowledge of tech like 3D printing. Using Machine Learning, they could even adapt to new circumstances without any guidance from their original creators (an idea that offers insight into future human space travel, as well).
If you think all of these ideas sound too abstract or theoretical, then it’s worth remembering Loeb is very serious about the real possibility that aliens have visited Earth, often suggesting – in interviews and scientific papers – that alien intelligence is a feasible explanation for ‘Oumuamua. That being said, his ideas have often been controversial among the astronomy community, despite his undeniable authority, and recent research suggests that ‘Oumuamua could have purely natural origins. Plus, the new Pentagon report is, after all, still under review.
In any case, it’s worth considering what Loeb calls the ‘Oumuamua Wager (a play on the philosophical argument Pascal’s Wager). In other words, maybe it’s worth believing that the strange object was an alien mothership whether it’s confirmed or not, because either way it opens our minds to the idea that intelligent life is out there, and we might even have made contact with it already.
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