Gongol.com Archives: May 2021

Brian Gongol

May 24, 2021

Science and Technology Are UFOs visiting Earth?

In a sign that the news may be slowly returning to normal, another UFO craze seems to have landed in the media -- particularly in light of hints that a Pentagon report to Congress is about to reveal evidence not previously revealed in public. After the last year, "UFOs could be real" seems almost refreshing as a headline. ■ It seems virtually certain that there is alien life out there in the universe. We know of at least 4,000 exoplanets and the number grows all the time. Surely we're barely in the infancy of being able to count. If there truly are 1024 stars in the Universe, then even if only one in a million had a planet, then there would be 1018 planets. That's an unfathomably large number all on its own, and it's surely a wild underestimate. The odds alone make it virtually certain that life has emerged at least one other time somewhere out there. ■ But -- even if the likelihood is great that other planets exist and that at least some of them contain life, it seems far less likely that any such life would expend the tremendous resources necessary just to come here and check us out. Traveling from even some of the nearest stars would require considerable resources in terms of energy and time. ■ We measure space distances in light years, and so far, we are profoundly behind the curve in figuring out how to make solid objects go nearly as fast as the speed of light. If any life from elsewhere has made it here, it either tapped into rules we're profoundly incapable of understanding -- or it buckled in for a long, long trip. In human terms, we're looking at measuring those distances in generations. ■ Sure, we're confined by our own thinking about how quickly time passes or how long a life might be, but the distances required to hop to any known planets outside our solar system would still seem long to life forms that had life expectancies ten times ours. And certain non-biological limitations -- like our inability to find anything that travels faster than the speed of light -- suggests that it would take an extraordinary confluence of circumstances to warrant sending any living beings here. ■ Even if an alien experienced an Earth year the same way we experienced an Earth minute (like speeding up our sense of time by a factor of 525,600), then sending a message on a round trip to even our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, would still feel like an 8-minute lag between call and response. Not to project human values on hypothetical alien beings, but that would seem prohibitively isolating -- again, unless we're missing something quite extreme in either the laws of physics or the relative experience of time. ■ We shouldn't dismiss the possibility that intelligent alien life could send unpiloted vehicles across time and space to conduct investigations and report back. We fired off Voyager to go as far as possible and send back reports, too. But do consider that as Voyager 1 and 2 have gone interstellar, a bunch of their instruments have been shut down just to save power. Things could be entirely different in an alien technological world, but they would need to have cracked some pretty incredible limits to have the technology to go long distances, remain in contact with home, move around freely while checking out Earth, and then presumably move along to visit somewhere else or return home. ■ It's neat to imagine that we might be important enough to merit a visit from outer space. And it's statistically logical to conclude that there's probably something out there. But whatever unknown phenomena we encounter in our skies, we should likely hold back from assuming it's alien life coming for a visit.

Threats and Hazards Is this not terrorism?

An Irish-owned plane flying from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Belarus over a fake bomb threat, just so that a private citizen could be arrested. Is this not terrorism? ■ This much should be clear: Starting a fight aboard an airplane with the express intent of forcing an emergency landing would be grounds for arrest and prosecution virtually anywhere. Using fighter jets to force that landing has the clear hallmarks of an act of state aggression. And the target of the incident was an individual whose capture was motivated by politics. ■ Terrorism, by definition, is the use of violent or dangerous acts to achieve political ends. If this event in Belarus doesn't fit the definition, it's hard to understand why. And in this case, it doesn't take much imagination to say it was committed against not only a Belarussian citizen, but that two NATO member states (Greece and Lithuania) and one neutral but NATO-affiliated state (Ireland). So in State Department terms, the United States ought to be interested, alarmed, and prepared to respond. ■ But getting the American public to care may be an uphill climb. Clear violations of international law aren't always easy topics to pitch, and we're pretty good at giving up interest when the cognitive load of a story seems too large. This case is a matter that appears to require some understanding of civil aviation law, international airspace classifications, and the intricacies of domestic politics in a country where the language is written in Cyrillic and a dictator has been in power since 1994. Not fertile ground for sparking interest or close attention. ■ And yet, it is a flashpoint like this that can easily set the direction of the international order for a decade or more to come. Are we to become a more open world or a more closed one? If a person isn't safe going from country "A" to country "B" without being hijacked and kidnapped by the government of country "C", it's most assuredly trending more closed -- unless we do something about it. ■ Maybe, as an American, you should care because you want to take the forbidden step of criticizing China's government in a tweet saying that you stand with Hong Kong or the Uighurs. Think they're not tracking outsiders' behavior? Don't forget that China has hacked the personal data of virtually every American adult. Don't think they're not trying to use databases of personal information to influence or pressure outsiders -- it is 100% clear they already are. Governments around the world take their cues from what others get away with doing. ■ Maybe, as an American, you want to be able to travel freely without fearing your own kidnapping. You may not be a dissident and you may not even be thinking of traveling abroad anytime soon. But the rules enforced now -- or left unenforced -- have long-lasting consequences. We still remember the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro, which resulted in the murder of an American tourist. Whose passports have protective value -- if any do at all in a world where governments become the hijackers? ■ Or maybe, as an American, you find reason to care because you remember that we are just 4% of the global population. A tiny fraction. A powerful one, for sure, but not vast in number among the total of our co-Earthlings. And if we're going to share it peacefully, we have to do it with the help of rules. In the words of John McCain and his writing partner Mark Salter, "We need friends in the world, and they need us. The bell tolls for us, my friends. Humanity counts on us, and we ought to take measured pride in that." ■ Perhaps if this were spun as a television drama, it would raise the right amount of alarm: 170 people held hostage on a plane and forced to go to a place where almost none even spoke the language. But we need to care about these issues even when they're only in the abstract. The bully only sees his success and imagines the next step he can take...until the schoolyard defies him.

Weather and Disasters Science in action

(Video) A portable radar system captures a tornado from just four miles away. Compelling research, indeed.

Iowa Young Iowa artists get a virtual exhibit

Nice to get to see the work of some talented students from the comfort of home.

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