DeVos: Don’t cross the universe
February 26, 2015
Both fans occasionally comment that a column would have been nicer if I hadn't droned on endlessly about things no one cares about. So, in a vivid display of my paucity of inspiration, I decided to thank the Federal Aviation Administration for preventing an invasion by monsters from outer space disguised as Amazon delivery drones.
The FAA ruled last week that operators of commercial drones have to be certified and they can fly only during daylight. The FAA also dashed Amazon's goal of instant gratification by demanding that the operator must be able to keep the drone in sight, a rule that's a bit restrictive if your business plan is based upon carrying Apples to Aspen.
People always pooh-pooh alien invasions until 12-foot bug-eyed lizards are double-parked in the driveway and shooting up the neighbors with disintegrator rays. Not near enough people worry about these things but that's starting to change.
SETI is the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. That's the fancy scientific name of a big radio telescope that's listening for Beatles tunes from outer space. Well, that's what we sent out to alien worlds, stands to reason they'd answer with a few riffs of their own. On Feb. 4, 2008, NASA's Deep Space Network broadcast "Across the Universe" on its international network of antennas. The song was pointed at the North Star, Polaris and expected to get there in about 425 years. This, presumably, will give Polarisian lizards time to assemble an FM radio.
This broadcast sort of highlighted a question scientists have been asking for decades: Since there are a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe, each containing billions of orbiting planets, "Where is everybody?" Why haven't we been approached to sell Walmart greeters to Saturn or to invest our 401Ks in intergalactic credit-default swaps?
Beaming out the Beatles began a new era of scientific inquiry. The thinking went like this: If we can't hear any lizard noises, maybe we should make bigger noises to see if the lizards can hear us. (Understand, please, that the use of the term "lizards" to describe deep space aliens is intended in a descriptive sense to enhance readers' visualization, and not at all as an insensitive racial slur. First, outer space aliens may actually be lizards for all we know, and second, they are often portrayed that way in blockbuster movies.)
So, enter METI, the term for messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence, where random signals are beamed into space in hopes it will be picked up on prime-time lizard radio.
"Hold your horses!" says physicist Stephen Hawking (actually it was a bit more technically phrased but that's what he meant) in A Brief History of Time, citing the outcome of every single instance in man's history when a culture with cannons met a culture with sticks. If you're not a history buff, the sticks always lose. Several scientists agreed, saying it was not obvious that all bug-eyed lizards blazing around on faster-than-light Star-Doos armed with city-melting disintegrator rays would be friendly.
Drones, smaller than the 55-pound limit, will soon be swarming about our heads like mosquitos. At the same time scientists are trying to attract lizards with disintegrator rays. I'm doing my best not to imagine a world that would have people rushing out open-armed, thinking they were getting the iPad they ordered nine minutes ago, only to be vaporized in a barrage of alien death rays.
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