Pakistan Observer

On looking far and beyond!

Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - Ever since one can remember, humankind has been obsessed with the possibility of extra-terrestrials one day landing on this blessed Earth. H.G. Wells took the lead in promoting the concept of worlds other than our own planet populated with intelligent alien beings. Wells’ story “War of the Worlds” was an earth-shaker in more ways than one. His influence is at the base of several tomes as well as films that have dealt with the subject of alien beings landing on the planet Earth.

Fiction aside, scientific researchers have long bent their efforts towards proving once for all the existence - or otherwise - of life in outer space. To take just one instance, the various Mars probes are programmed - among other chores - to probe into the possibility of existence of life on the red planet. In a scoop, some years back, we were served with the latest in research in this direction. According to a report published at that time in the New Scientist, “ hot and massive rocky worlds called ‘super-Earths’, even those orbiting close to their stars, may provide the right conditions for life”. Apparently, new technological advances may have led to the discovery of such new super-Earths.

To add to the lore, a Ms. Lisa Kaltenegger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astro-physics in Massachusetts, USA, had reportedly asserted: “There is no reason why the different chemical cycles that are important for life on our planet wouldn’t work on super-Earths.” There you have it in a nutshell, as they say. Having said that, one may go on to reiterate the fact that men of science have been in quest of alien beings from outer space for as long as one can remember. For their part, Extra-terrestrial beings (ET’s, for short) may well be trying from their end to discover us Earthlings.

The race has been on for quite a while now. Who (or what) is ahead of the game remains to be seen? Science literature and sci-fi publications have always been way ahead of the game in their own way. There was a time when such literature – and that includes comic strips – was not taken at all seriously. They were perused and, no doubt, enjoyed by a certain cross-section of the reading public and then conveniently consigned to either the bookshelf or the dustbin depending on their resale value. But, as one said, they were hardly ever taken seriously. That remained the situation till not very long ago. However, things lately no longer remain the same. What was considered far-fetched and fanciful in days of yore is no longer so. The imagery of such writers as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells is no longer the object of ridicule or derision. Their writings are now being seen in a new light and with a certain measure of awe. This change has come about because so many of their ‘predictions’ are coming true!

While on the subject of scientific research, one may be excused for digressing a bit to convey an item of bad news – tempered though with a whiff of good news. First the bad news! We learnt some years back, courtesy of Reuters, of the imminent possibility of a massive asteroid well on its way to a collision with the Earth in the not too distant future. The good news is that – as history is witness – these asteroids have the habit of choosing strictly dinosaurs as their intended victims. With the modern world teeming as it is with dinosaurs of all ilks and genres, us lesser mortals can perhaps rest easy. Or is this being a bit over-complacent? But to get back to the subject of extra-terrestrial beings that one was dwelling on before getting derailed onto extraneous matters; the welcome tidings – again courtesy of Reuters – are that scientists searching the stars for aliens “are convinced an ET is out there”.

It is just that they (the scientists, that is) have lacked the know-how thus far to detect such a being. The last mentioned failing, we are informed, has at long last been remedied, though. Latest technological advances, one learns, have opened up the way for scientists to check millions of previously unknown star systems, “dramatically increasing the chances of finding intelligent life in outer space in the next quarter century”. For that note of optimism the world is indebted to California’s “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI)”, which has been aptly described as the world’s largest private Extraterrestrial Agency. The senior astronomer of SETI, a Mr. Shostak, put it rather graphically. “We are looking for needles in the haystack that is our galaxy, but there could be thousands of needles out there”. He added that he was convinced there is intelligent life out there. But he did put the damper on such expectations as finding “a loveable boggle-eyed ET”, a la Hollywood. Wouldn’t the reader agree that it would be certainly interesting to establish contact with extra-terrestrial beings, even if they may well have (again according to the SETI astronomer) gone light years beyond the intelligence of Man.

What intrigues one though is why such super-intelligent beings have not been able so far to get in touch with the lowly humankind. It may well be that in their intelligent state they may have considered it prudent to stay away from such primitive life form as inhabits the Earth. If one accepts this scenario, maybe the ETs have come to the conclusion that contamination of their advanced system by the stuff one finds on the Earth is not worth their while. The worst-case scenario would be that the Earth has already been discovered by Extra-terrestrials who are keeping its inhabitants under constant review, more like laboratory guinea-pigs or mice in the scientist’s maze. Their succeeding step would then depend on the results of their research. In this eventuality, one can only hope that their researchers are not as fickle-minded as their counterpart lot on this blessed Earth.
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