Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Beldar, Phone for You!

From the “This Just In” Department: A new paper by Chandra Wickramasinghe of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology at Cardiff University in Wales, co-authored with Janaki Wickramasinghe in the June 2008 issue of the journal Astrophysics and Space Science suggests that the outer atmosphere of Venus may be breeding grounds for extraterrestrial life, albeit the microbial sort. According to Wickramasinghe, “The temperature and pressure there are entirely congenial to the survival of certain types of microbes.” He adds, “Microbes are known to survive in similar environments on Earth."

Further, these microbes may even be headed our way, blown towards Earth by the solar winds. Because of Venus’s close proximity to Earth, we may finally have evidence of extraterrestrial life, when the two planets align in 2012.

Such an event would be, at long last, the great put-up-or-shut-up moment for those who assume the validity of abiogenesis. Life can just pop up, all on its own, without any prodding from You-Know-Who. All you need are the basic raw materials of living matter, plus the purely naturalistic machinery to assemble those raw materials into a suitable vehicle (aka “critter”), plus maybe a flash of lightning or some sort of furnace like a thermal vent to get it going on its own. Why, say Wickramasinghe & Wickramasinghe, the cloudy layers of the Venusian atmosphere are possibly a-chock full of that very sort of thing!

In which case, all we need to do is Johnny-up a means of collecting any single one of the microbes which may be sailing our way in 2012, and we’ll finally have our proof that Mr. You-Know-Who is not at all necessary for explaining the origin of life. If it can take place on Venus, where rivers of sulfuric acid flow free, then by crackey it can take place anywhere.

Uh-huh. And, as the adage goes, if “Ifs” and “Buts” were candy and nuts, we’d have Christmas every day. Mighty big word, that “If.”

And never mind that Venus and Earth were also closely aligned in 2004, and no one spotted any extraterrestrial microbes then. We weren’t LOOKING for any Venusian microbes in 2004. Who’s to say none were ever blown Earth-wards, in 2004, or sometime earlier? Heck, maybe it’s already happened. Maybe that’s where venereal disease comes from, since “venereal” is the REAL adjective form of Venus rather than the silly and nonsensical “Venusian.”

Science journalists just LOVE reporting stories like these. I’ve lost count of all the stories beginning with “A new study suggests extraterrestrial life may be found on…” blah blah blah, or making some breathless assertion that science “may have at long last found the holy grail of modern biology” or some such. All sorts of speculation abound in the name of proving that YKN is unnecessary. We’ve looked for life on the moon; sent dozens of probes to Venus, Mars, and elsewhere; speculated incessantly how life may be found floating on some comet or asteroid; taken countless photos of all the planets of our solar system, and their moons as well; made infrared and thermal and what-have-you scans in practically every direction; and donned our headphones, listening anxiously to the heavens for some brief burst of radio emission which might at long last provide a definitive answer to the question: “Are we alone in the universe?”

NB: That always cracks me up. “We.” “Alone.” Hah!

Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t look. Of course we should. Go right ahead. Look to your heart’s content.

And now for the buzzkill: You’re not gonna find anything!

According to our best scientific guesswork: the universe got its start some fifteen billion years ago with the Big Bang; our planet was formed some six or seven billion years ago and was completely inhospitable for life; but once the planet cooled sufficiently, once it was no longer bombarded from all directions by comets, meteors, asteroids and other cosmic effluence, life got started on this planet, some three to four billion years ago.

While our planet was inhospitable, there was no life. But once it became hospitable, life got started in relatively short order—that is, sooner, rather than later. There’s even the possibility that life got its start and was later extinguished, only to start up all over again, maybe even three or four times.

This fact might support the hypothesis that life can arise abiogenically, but for one other rather annoying fact: we have absolutely zero evidence of it happening anywhere else, in our solar system, in our galaxy, or in the universe. So if life happened all on its own here (and possibly more than once), why hasn’t it happened all on its own anywhere else? The universe is rife with the same sorts of raw materials found here. And there must be countless planets out there not too awfully different from ours. So why isn’t the universe teeming with life?

All this, then, lends credence to a competing hypothesis: that maybe it isn’t quite so easy for life to pop up on its own. Maybe, just maybe, it needs a push. And maybe SOMEONE has to do the pushing.

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