Do Close Encounters Happen?

Have we been visited by aliens from outer space? One of the most monumental scientific discoveries and astonishing human experiences would be that of a confirmed alien visitation. I believe there is a part of our lonely human existence that longs for company in the vastness of space and time.  

Has an alien visitation happened or are various sightings and stories simply products of a well-placed desire to experience what would be the most profound encounter in the history of human civilization?

I always try to respect someone’s personal experience. This applies equally to UFO encounters, premonitions, and the old fashioned ghost in the attic.

By the same token, it has been said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So far, extraordinary evidence for alien visitation has been lacking. In the absence of verifiable and repeatable results in the quest for UFO confirmation, as with any conjectured topic, we are left only to consider what may be possible in some broad sense along with what comparatively is most likely.

I must clarify that an unidentified flying object is just that and the term does not necessarily imply that the object is being operated by intelligent life from outer space. It does follow all the same that the fascination with reports of UFOs is drawn from the possible inference that our planet could be visited by extraterrestrial life. Polling varies but on the average a third of the public believe in UFOs. To put this in context, this percentage is about the same as for people stating that they are baseball fans.

Is it possible that there is intelligent life somewhere else in space? Yes, it is. New information is becoming available all of the time regarding the existence of other planets that could possibly support life. The exhilarating prospect of taking this another step and suggesting that we could be visited by some other life form from space has inspired speculation about aliens in fictional works and in society as a whole.

Percival LowellAliens in pop culture can be traced in a roundabout way to the observations of Percival Lowell. I actually visited the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona some years ago. Viewed through his telescopes in the late 1890s, Lowell believed he was observing a network of canals on the surface of Mars. The word canal implies that designers and builders were involved in some sort of construction, who of course have to be intelligent. The scientific community was less than enthusiastic about the notion of intelligent life on Mars building canals, but Lowell's depiction of Mars captured the general public's imagination. Science fiction was becoming popular and H.G. Wells published “War of the Worlds” in 1898, shortly after Lowell's first Mars book. The radio performance of “War of the Worlds” terrified a large portion of the audience who mistakenly interpreted the radio show as an account of real events in 1938. Movies featuring flying saucers and aliens from just about anywhere in space became popular during the 1950s and still prove box office gold to this day.

There is no question that aliens exist in our collective imaginations. It may be evident that our human imaginations are the inspirations for most of the depictions of aliens in entertainment as well as with the descriptions of aliens by those people claiming to have encountered them because these representations of alien life most often resemble humans. We have all heard stories featuring little green men. Portions of one alleged account of an alien body recovered from Roswell, the infamous and fabled supposed alien crash site in the desert outside of Roswell, New Mexico, includes such particulars as a four foot human shaped figure with arms, bizarre four fingered hands and an over-sized incandescent light bulb-shaped head. We humans are psychologically predisposed to interacting with creatures that have similar structures as ourselves, such as a body with a head and four major extremities. Dogs, cats, and horses all fit these criteria. E.T. would not have been as endearing if the character was based on the shape of a maggot. If horses could imagine aliens might their descriptions of aliens resemble horses with exaggerated features?

This is where what is likely, or perhaps what is not likely, begins to separate from what is possible. How likely can it be that intelligent alien life would have any type of a body structure comparable to that of life existing here on Earth, let alone similar to humans or even vertebrates?

Right here on Earth when part of the general progress of life is separated from the rest of the world the development of species can be become unique. An example of this would be the life found at hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean. If these life forms can evolve to endure poison gas, heavy metals, extreme acidity, and other harsh conditions imagine what direction alien life could take on a different planet all together. To truly consider what alien life might be like we have to suspend everything about life as we know it.

We most likely can assume that any alien life we happen to find will be carbon based, although even that is not a given. This is a good possibility because carbon is proficient at making complex structures and such structures are the building blocks of life. It is after life starts up that the possibilities really become multifaceted. The potential complex combinations in the initial microbiology of these early life forms are endless and furthermore there is no way of predicting the influences under which these life forms would grow and evolve in an alien world. The very definition of intelligence, consciousness, or even morality may have to be radically modified.

In judging what is likely regarding alien visitation we also must consider the incredible distances in the vastness of space. A light year is the total distance that light travels in one year. Light travels at an approximate speed of about 186,000 miles per second. Even with the substantial speed of light, 50,000 light years is a remarkably short distance in the universe. Now, consider what this means to us on a practical level. Most people consider the signals in their phone conversations as pretty much instant. On the other hand if you were to call someone who was 50,000 light years away, their phone would ring about 50,000 years after you hit the send button. By the time they said “hello” and that signal traveled back to your phone, 100,000 years would have elapsed after you first placed the call. Taking into account my luck I would probably get voice mail.

I find it ironic that UFO enthusiasts suggest that aliens can supposedly utilize all of their advanced technology to traverse space and time, dive through worm holes, or even travel faster than the speed of light; but cannot conquer the particular challenges of navigating over the American desert.

So, is it likely that some intelligent life form resembling human beings has evolved somewhere in the cosmos, made their way through the vastness of space to visit us, and furthermore is for some reason keeping their presence a secret? I’m going to say no on that one. That is not to say it is impossible or that our own technology may not soon discover something astonishing.

There is very real science working on the possibility that other life might exist right in our own solar neighborhood. Microbial life might very well exist in our solar system including such places as the moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn. Finding these small life structures may not seem as dramatic as a movie depicting an alien invasion, but would have possibly two very significant scientific and in some cases spiritual ramifications. For one, if the life we find is something completely different than the life present on Earth we could conclude that life may well start up any number of ways throughout the universe. On the other hand, if the life we find is consistent with that of life on Earth that could mean that life may have some sort of a common origin in space.

Now, I would stay up for that late show.