Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekend Post - I saw a UFO

I saw a UFO recently. It was early evening and I saw a bright light in the sky, much brighter than any of the stars that had just appeared. It seemed to be moving very slowly but was becoming brighter and brighter as I watched. Then, very suddenly it dimmed significantly and moved quickly to the left.

That’s when it ceased to be a UFO, an Unidentified Flying Object, and became an IFO, an Identified Flying Object. It was an Air Botswana flight initially heading directly towards me and then turning to approach the airport.

The problem with the initials “UFO” is that they are consistently misused. When most people see or hear them they think “alien spaceship”, not what it actually refers to, an Object that is Flying but which is currently Unidentified.

Here’s a bold statement about UFOs. So far, without exception, not one UFO has turned out actually to be an alien spaceship. Not one. It’s just like predictions of the End Of The World. Despite some religious cult predicting the end of the world every year, not once has any of them been right. Not once has the world ended. Not once has a genuine alien spaceship been seen.

Of course there’s no shortage of books, TV programs and above all web pages devoted to alien visits to earth. If you do a Google search for “aliens on Earth” you get over 78 million hits. In fact, I suggest you do exactly that as soon as you get a chance. Visit some of the links you find and you’ll learn one sure thing although it’s not about aliens, space travel of advanced technology. You’ll learn that a sizeable proportion of the human race is utterly insane. It’s a very good way of finding web sites written entirely in capital letters (always a sign of internet psychosis), bizarre colors and some deeply peculiar beliefs.

The boring fact is that we are NOT being visited by aliens. Given that it’s estimated that there are over 3 billion cellphones with cameras in the world, why hasn’t there been one, just one, picture showing without doubt that aliens have been here? If our alien cousins have been popping over, I’d expect there to be even a little bit of evidence to prove it.

The really disappointing news is that aliens probably can’t visit. If our understanding of science is correct, and it seems so far to be, the distances between the stars are so horribly vast that the trip simply isn’t worth it. The nearest star to our solar system is over 4 light years away. In other words even travelling at the theoretical maximum speed it would take more than 4 entire years to get there and another 4 to get back. Easy to say, harder to do. The energy required to do this is almost beyond imagination. It’s calculated that to accelerate one ton of matter to just one tenth of light speed would take 125 billion kWh. That’s roughly the output of a very large power station running continuously for seven years, just for one ton of spaceship. Given also that the spaceship would have to carry it’s own fuel to accelerate and later decelerate, the energy required is cosmically vast. Given that the journey times would be measured in tens of years, if not centuries, we’d need to find a way of putting people to sleep for all that time. It’s just unbelievable.

Just in case anyone’s in doubt, the laws of physics apply to aliens as well as us.

And why would we, or aliens, do it anyway? What possible purpose would it serve? What purpose would it serve for aliens to do the same?

Of course it’s impossible to stop people fantasizing about alien visits and why should we? I like alien movies as much as anyone, but they’re movies, just fantasies, just entertainment. They’re not real.

None of this stops people making the leap from seeing a UFO to thinking it’s a space ship. In the last few months I’ve seen stories of people reporting UFOs, thinking they were alien, but which turned out to be the plant Venus, floating Chinese lanterns, insects caught in front of a camera, car headlights on a distant hill, planes near a military airbase and on one occasion the Moon. None of these false sightings of alien spaceships turned out to be real, they were all mundane, everyday things. Of course that doesn’t mean aliens won’t arrive tomorrow but I suspect it’s as likely to happen as those predictions of the end of the world, homeopathy being proved to work or a TV evangelist turning out to be honest.