As I wrote previously , Mia (my wife) and I spent last weekend at Capricon, a Chicagoland science fiction convention. We went to most of the Capricons in the ’80’s and ’90’s, but in our first years in Minnesota the pressures of parenthood prevented us from going. Those have eased somewhat and we have been to most of the Capricons (and Windycons) since 2009. While most Capricons have been in the Chicago suburbs, this year the convention was downtown, at the Sheraton Grand Hotel.
This is a subject I have been watching from a safe distance for well over half a century, when I first read Martin Gardner’s
Fads and Fallacies
in the Name of Science (Few books have influenced me more than this one).
I met J. Allen Hynek in my last year of high school, 1967-68, when I was a student in the
(Still around although in a different
format) at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. This program was
organized and run by Hynek. Hynek was a pleasant and interesting
speaker, and a good teacher, but he never spoke to us kids about UFOs.
This has happened before in astronomy. After both Neptune and Pluto were discovered, astronomers looked at old records and found that their
predecessors had seen both bodies, but had not realized they were significant. In the case of Neptune one of those predecessors was
Yesterday I got an email from Cosmoquest about a science
press conference (“presser”) where a new discovery would be announced. With all the new distance-based
communication technology anybody could watch, rather than just those in a select room, however large. The
event was put on by the Royal Astronomical Society today. I watched it on the
Cosmoquest Twitch TV channel. I had never heard of Twitch TV before.
An international team of astronomers, led by Professor
Jane Greaves of Cardiff University,
today announced the discovery of a rare molecule – phosphine – in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, this gas is
only made industrially, or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments.
The discovery was made by spectroscopy using two different radio telescopes. The significance of this is that the production of phospine
by purely chemical processes is very unlikely in the atmosphere of Venus. The team looked at every possible chemical reaction they
could think up, and failed to find any that could come close to producing the observed amount of phospine.
Years ago I wrote something that mentioned similar issues: Extraterrestrial Intelligence: A skeptical view. This was long before the Kepler space probe. However, Taylor seems to be saying the fundamentals of the issue have not changed.
As Taylor points out, there is an ad hominem issue here. Frank Tipler, who was a forceful advocate of the no-ETs view in the early and mid 1980s, subsequently became a “crackpot” (Taylor’s word, but I agree completely). However, this does not invalidate Tipler’s earlier work.
Taylor also points out that for practical (creating life) purposes, the universe is still very young. Star formation will continue for a long time, a necessary condition for life. ETs may yet turn up, but you will need to be very patient.