back to article NASA: ALIENS and NEW EARTHS will be ours inside 20 years

A group of top NASA scientists told the space agency's chief yesterday that the forthcoming generation of space telescopes are likely to discover habitable Earth-like worlds and probably alien life – perhaps within 20 years. We're all someone's Sun "Sometime in the near future, people will be able to point to a star and say …

Anonymous Coward

We will never find a "new Earth" -- there will be too many chemicals, bacteria, viruses that will be deadly for humans. We will always need to wear protective suits. We've evolved to live on Earth and no where will be exactly like Earth.

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Too early to say.

Most bacteria and viruses that we encounter have co-evolved with us. They rely on our particular body parts and cellular chemistry in order to do their thing.

While its pretty unlikely that you'd be able to find something nutritious to eat on a random planet, it's not at all certain that their particular bugs would do for us.

As for toxic chemicals, well, you're not going to be able to stand on somewhere like Io. But there may be plenty of relatively harmless planets around.

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> We will always need to wear protective suits

Or "skin" as future us's might get to call it.

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Holmes

"But there may be plenty of relatively harmless planets around."

Yes, indeed, one planet in particular is already classified as "Mostly Harmless".

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Assuming that we will need physical bodies when travelling. It would be more efficient to change our form and then beetle off at the speed of light not needing ships, suits and zero-grav toilets and travel at 1G.

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Protective suits? Sure except helmets are annoying and get in the way, don't worry though just take it off I am sure it'll be fine. Didn't you watch Prometheus?

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Viruses, Bacteria, Fungus, yeasts and Food

I agree viruses are likely not a worry.

Bacteria, Fungus and Yeasts could be. Maybe even Algae could be dangerous. Some of them are not species specific and others are.

There is no reason to suppose that Plant life elsewhere is all inedible. It will have Starches /Carbohydrates/sugars/minerals. Some may have poisonous chemicals (like oxalic acid). Vitamins may be an issue. We can of course plant our own seeds and roots etc. But better be careful.

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So the little detail of travelling faster than light has already been licked?

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I doubt we'll find a "new Earth" any time soon, but it won't be because of deadly micro-organisms. The thing about viruses and bacteria is that they have to match pretty closely, to be a problem. It's like software viruses - if you're running some whole different system, they don't even know you're there, basically. We're swarming with bacteria and viruses, hardly any of which are not characterised and most of which we don't even have to react to. Viruses pretty much have to be a chip off the old block. They can't recruit cellular machinery unless they 'know' what that machinery is.

The bigger problem in regard to microbiology is getting enough of it, not too much of it. We ignore the sea of micro-organisms that thrive in us and penetrate every millimeter of everything around us, all the way down into unexplored depths of the earth's crust, and only pay any attention to the very tiny number that we know, because they're pathogenic, or useful.

We tend to regard ourselves as autonomous machines, needing only air and breakfast to survive, but we're so intimately part of our world that we take it all for granted, and don't see how precisely we are part of our world, our gravity, our day length, our radiation, our atmosphere, our microbiota.

Humans going to another planet would just 'fail to thrive', becoming sickly and weak and sterile after a few generations. If we ever wish to live on another planet, we should first send our bacteria, and give them a few hundred million years to get things set up for us.

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Joke

"..If we ever wish to live on another planet, we should first send our bacteria, and give them a few hundred million years to get things set up for us..."

So you are suggesting that our new alien overlords might be only a few years away from arrival after having sent their bacteria on ahead a few hundred millenia ago to prepare the planet for them??

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Re: Alien Overlords

Obxkcd:

http://xkcd.com/1377/

GJC

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Headmaster

Re: Viruses, Bacteria, Fungus, yeasts and Food

That was bacteria. According to Wikipedia, Viruses were suggested just a few years before TWOTW was written (I love being pedantic).

Nevertheless, to paraphrase Jeff Wayne (rather than HG Wells, who was much more long winded), across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.

All I can add to that is, if they're regarding Earth with envious eyes, I don't think I'll be booking my next holiday in Ulla-pool!

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New Earth

We will never find a "new Earth" -- there will be too many chemicals, bacteria, viruses that will be deadly for humans.

Stated on what basis? We have zero observations to choose between these possibilities:

1. Life in general is poorly able to attack alien life. Our defences will overwhelm their bacterial attackers and vice versa. The Space-opera writer's choice.

2. The reverse: their bacteria would rapidly reduce our higher life to smelly slime and vice versa, followed by a long battle between two different clades of single-celled life for supremacy or symbiosis.

3. A one-way knock-out victory: our bacteria overwhelm their biosystem in short order, or their bacteria overwhelm ours. There can be only one ....

4. Panspermia: all life in our galaxy has a common origin, so it's only invaders from Andromeda we have to fear.

5. There's only one way to do life with the physics and chemistry of this universe that's not a thermodynamic impossibility, so convergent evolution means it'll look like panspermia even though it isn't.

All of which is ignoring the extreme unlikelyhood of mankind ever reaching another star. We are too fragile and too short-lived to endure interstellar travel at a realistic (small) fraction of the speed of light.

Our Von Neumann machines have a better chance, but the last place in the universe that Silicon-based A-life would want to conquer would be planets with moist oxidizing atmospheres. Alien A-life might even be established in our Solar system, and if they don't use radio to communicate (or if they use VERY efficient coding indistinguishable from noise) we might not have noticed it!

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Windows

Re: Viruses, Bacteria, Fungus, yeasts and Food

"I agree viruses are likely not a worry."

Unless you run Windows

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@BongoJoe

If you do the maths, you'll find that if you can accelerate at 1g for a year, you're going to end up travelling pretty damn close to the speed of light anyway, so all we need is a better form of Drive.

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Re: Only thing live for now.

God is not that cruel.

god who?

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However, getting there is more of a problem in 2014 than it appeared in 1969. NASA is more interested in promulgating nonsense climate propaganda in order to maintain its umbilical link to the US federal coffers - space travel, off-world engineering, future fiction imagineering - not so much. Distinct lack of progress, wouldn't you say?

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Anonymous Coward

If you can do that, why keep bothering with the fleshy bits?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Only thing live for now.

He created *you* didn't he?

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Too early for hostile exo-Earths

It is most definitely too early to worry over exo-bacteria. Should we find an exact copy of Earth around another star, there is no known way to actually get there. Problem solved.

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" It would be more efficient to change our form and then beetle off at the speed of light not needing ships, suits and zero-grav toilets and travel at 1G."

and it will still take decades to tens of thousands of years to get there.

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Re: New Earth

Except our non-Von Neumann machines (ie. Synapse Project) will likely have a better chance.

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A copy of you is not you, even if it thinks it is. There could be any number of those, all with that illusion, of course.

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or "mackintoshes" as the less exhibitionist astronauts may call them.

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You are already a copy of you that thinks you are you. Sorry but by the age of 'you' necessary to post online every atom in your body has been replaced at least once. It seems if you do it slowly enough while replacing/destroying the original copy it's assuredly possible to maintain the fiction that you are you. It is also likely possible to maintain such a confabulation of youness while traveling at the speed of light.

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xyz

Not...

..if the neocon fundementalists of the USofA have anything to say about it they won't. Doesn't Nasa know the earth is only 5000 years old and was built by GOD for Texans?

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Re: Not...

So you're saying, Earth *is* the B-ark?

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This post has been deleted by a moderator

Megaphone

Re: Fletcher Memorial Home

"ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Reagan and Haig

Mr. Begin and friend, Mrs. Thatcher and Paisley

Mr. Brezhnev and party,

the ghost of McCarthy,

the memories of Nixon

and now, adding colour, a group of anonymous, Latin

American, meat packing glitterati"

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Re: Not... @Captain DaFt

Well, according to Douglas Adams, yes, we are the descendants of the B-Ark. Our ancestors were all management consultants and telephone sanitisers running from an enormous mutant space goat ... or twelve foot piranha bees ... or something.

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Thumb Up

Re: Fletcher Memorial Home

"ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Reagan and Haig

Mr. Begin and friend, Mrs. Thatcher and Paisley

Mr. Brezhnev and party,

the ghost of McCarthy,

the memories of Nixon

and now, adding colour, a group of anonymous

Latin American meat packing glitterati"

Not my all-time favorite Floyd album, but this was one of the good bits.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Correction, my liege!

You really are a sad, bigoted, obsessed troll. Oh sorry, did I forget RACIST?! No matter what the subject, you always find some way of blaming the Jews for something. Pathetic.

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Promises, promises

> “I think in the next 20 years we will find out we are not alone in the universe,”

So is that the same "20 years" time period by which we'll have commercial nuclear fusion?

Or is it like the "two weeks" forecast for when we'll have that software ready. I.e. soon enough to keep the hope alive and keep the boss off our backs, but far enough away that by the time the forecast / deadline arrives, there will be a new and credible reason why it'll take just another couple of weeks

As for:

> "Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life," concurred Matt Mountain, a top space telescope boffin

I think what he means is "Just imagine all the new research grants we'll get to confirm or refute the existence of extraterrestrial life (depending on which religion / industrialist is paying for it). Just imagine all the publicity we'll be able to generate and all the talk shows we'll be invited onto. I might just have to change my name to Majikthise".

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Re: Promises, promises

So is that the same "20 years" time period by which we'll have commercial nuclear fusion?

To be fair we should have commercial nuclear fusion by now. Bussard had it figured out, but the US government thought taking down Saddam Hussein was more important than his research. It's a shame we don't know how much of the process went to his grave with him.

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Trollface

Re: Promises, promises

It will also be the year of Linux on the desktop. What a year that'll be!

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Bronze badge

Re: Promises, promises

Oh yeh! Anyone else remember the "paperless office".

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Devil

Re: Promises, promises

Exactly... it's 2015 next year, where are the flying cars, the hoverboards, mr fusion?

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Re: Promises, promises

The year of linux on the desktop - that will be the year that and solar EMP wipes everything out and all we have are few government computers in bunkers unafected that run linux...

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Paris Hilton

Re: Promises, promises

> Bussard had [commerical nuclear fusion] figured out

What.

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Re: Promises, promises @ Pedigree-Pete

"Anyone else remember the "paperless office"." Well, in some cases it is getting further away: http://gizmodo.com/german-government-is-using-typewriters-to-avoid-the-nsa-1605185821

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Re: Promises, promises

> Oh yeh! Anyone else remember the "paperless office".

These days, its more of a question of who remembers a paper-run office with massive filing rooms? We may not be completely paperless, but where I work there isn't much of it around and its mostly used for proofing and signing.

The universe may be rather large, but it appears he hasn't done the stats on the probabilities of the evolution of life as we know it.

"20 years and there will be aliens"... AKA, "Funding Please!"

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Anonymous Coward

20 years + 500 years

That should be enough time for the inhabitants of Earth II to develop FTL travel and get the hell outa there before we stuff the place up.

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Re: 20 years + 500 years

There will be no FTL travel - there will be the next best thing which is endless duty free travel.

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Alien

Re: 20 years + 500 years

.... endless duty free travel with endless TLA probing.

You now know where the Event Horizon went.

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Where do I sign up..

for a holiday to Nu-Earth??? The Quartz Zone sounds Idyllic...

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Much as I love all the exciting space stuff happening in recent years, seeing these new 'Earths' will be a real kid-in-a-sweetshop-look-but-don't-touch moment. We'll be able to see all these amazing things and never* touch them. Given that, still can't wait to see :)

*never - Not in my lifetime and probably quite a few more generation's lifetimes!

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If only

It is not as this new tech will enable us to see or take pictures of these exoplanets. In fact we will never be able to make technology that is able to do that from this system. There simply isn't enough data in the photons that reach us to do that. What we are doing is that we are creating instruments that is able to pry a little more data out of the few photons that do make it here.

We are not even able to take pictures of any decent quality of most of the planets, dwarf planets and moons in our own system. We have to send out probes to do it. Take Pluto for instance that we have not yet visited. Here is the best picture we have so far:

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/multimedia/display.cfm?Category=Planets&IM_ID=10363

We can do of course is send probes, but I am sad to say that we will not be able to do that to other systems while I am alive. But we will get better pictures of Pluto next year. May 5, so clear your calender :)

So...we will be the blindfolded kid in the candy store. Dunno if that is worse or not.

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we are alone in the universe

"Only one child in the sweetshop at-a-time"

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