Enough already with the space aliens

Not really an alien.
Alien (not really an alien) at Roswell. Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Harry Reid is a UFO bug.

He even got your federal government to spend 22 million American dollars preparing a report chronicling strange things in the sky (and elsewhere) that have made jet pilots and other folks in the military scratch their noggins.

A couple years ago, the New York Times spilled the beans on the $22 million “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.” The Times also noted that much of the $22 million went to a company owned by Robert Bigelow, Reid’s billionaire friend who’s building inflatable RVs for outer space or whatever in North Las Vegas.

Techy! Most exciting.

And last week Reid was on KNPR’s State of Nevada to muse about UFOs because hey why not?

Reid’s curiosity about mysterious phenomena is laudable, s’pose. Too bad it wasn’t on display when he voted to give George W. Bush a blank check to invade and occupy Iraq without even reading the National Intelligence Estimate that cast doubt on reports of Saddam Hussein’s WMD and warned the occupation would be a fiasco.

But no. UFOs.

Fine. Let’s play.

The Drake Equation (to super simplify) says there are billions of stars in the Milky Way so obviously there are even more billions of planets so obviously the odds are that some or even oodles of advanced civilizations have developed in just the Milky Way (let alone the billions of other galaxies). It’s very provocative and compelling.

The Drake Equation is also useless, you know, as an equation. The equation’s factors are nearly all assumptions, so depending on the values you select, the number of our galaxy’s advanced civilizations might vary from millions to just one.

That said, the Drake Equation is a fun thing that thanks maybe most of all to Carl Sagan saying “billions and billions” on TV a lot back in the 1970s has helped people commonly accept the possibility of life elsewhere in the galaxy and universe. Polling suggests nearly half the humans on this planet thinks there is intelligent life on others. In Germany, the U.K and the U.S., it’s more than half.

I too, believe that there have been other civilizations in the Milky Way and elsewhere.

But the Fermi Paradox (to super simplify) asks, If there are so many alien civilizations, then where is everybody?

One of the answers to the Fermi Paradox is of course the one Reid seems to be suggesting: that visitors from the stars are in fact already here.

If so, jeepers they’ve been mysterious about it, apparently always eluding definitive detection (unless the government already KNOWS! Or because they’re all just super secret military craft!). And yet they do accidentally or inadvertently make themselves momentarily visible to the occasional sea captain and jet fighter pilot.

Because a civilization that has overcome vast distances in space (and maybe time?) and that has been monitoring earthlings for decades without leaving any incontrovertible evidence of their presence sometimes … forgets to throw the invisibility switch? … and gets spotted by … the earthlings’ most advanced war machines. Oops!

Yeah, sounds legit.

Other answers to the Fermi Paradox are more plausible: we’re all too far apart; the universe is old and humans are not so we haven’t been around long enough to meet that special someone; they’re treating earth like a nature preserve and don’t want to disturb the native creatures or their habitat (not even to save it, sniffle); and yes, of course there have been other civilizations. And they’re all dead.

That last one’s a bummer, because one variant, or sub-variant, of it holds that once civilizations develop the technological and industrial capacity to destroy themselves they inevitably go all Nike and just do it.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. The hate-fueled rise of authoritarianism, in nations that a mere 75 years ago joined together to crush hate-fueled authoritarianism, suggests that despite stunning technical advances, we are too stupid to survive. Human-made disruption of the planet’s climate suggests the same.

Ugh! Let’s change the subject.

As fascinating as is the prospect of space aliens visiting Pahrump, there are other mysteries of the universe that are every bit as tantalizing — if not more so, by virtue of actually being there for the studying.

Up until just a couple decades ago, astronomers thought the universe, which has been expanding since the Big Bang, would eventually expand more slowly, because of gravity. Then they discovered that, on the contrary, the universe is expanding faster and faster and faster. According to known science (as opposed to Reid’s $22 million space alien book), nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, except for one thing: distant galaxy clusters. Because the universe keeps expanding more rapidly, they are travelling away from us even faster than light can.

faster & faster

The force thought to be driving the universe’s expansion is dark energy. It comprises 68 percent of all the stuff that exists in the universe. And the cool/spooky thing about dark energy: scientists don’t know what it is.

Scientists have also figured out there are particles that don’t reflect any light and are also as yet impervious to myriad other methods of detection. But the particles have mass, because if they didn’t, the stars on the outer arms of galaxies (like our sun) would just twist off into space and leave the galaxy behind. Dark matter comprises 27 percent of the universe. And the cool/spooky thing about dark matter: Scientists don’t know what it is.

Mind-bending mysteries also abound among the less than 5 percent of the universe that is not dark energy or dark matter, like atomic particles whose motions or status or properties are correlated with each other even if they are on opposite sides of the universe. Physicists today call it quantum entanglement. Einstein famously called it “spooky action at a distance.” Hated the idea, Einstein did.

Those are real, scientifically valid but super freaky-deaky phenomena that can be studied by things like the James Webb Space Telescope, a $9 billion project that NASA has trouble funding because politicians want to send humans to the moon and then Mars, which is stupid, because there is no practical reason for humans to be in space.

If there’s any money left for solar exploration after the telescopes, it should be directed to sending probes to explore the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. If Reid’s looking for hard evidence of extraterrestrial life around here, it’ll be on Enceladus, Titan, or Europa, not in the skies above the test site.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.


  1. (1/2) Hugh Jackson has written here what purports to be a column on the subject of UFOs, yet it contains not a single word of discussion about actual evidence of these anomalous phenomena — such as the visual, radar, and video data, recently widely publicized, gathered by U.S. Navy pilots entrusted with $70 million war machines. Mr. Jackson in his armchair knows better than those guys. Why should he spend days or weeks actually studying evidence for claimed aerial anomalies? After all, real devices of non-human origin would surely behave in just the manner that seems sensible to a sophisticated fellow such as himself; these UFO reports don’t conform to his stack of premises, so clearly the subject is nonsense — so reasons Mr. Jackson. Alert readers will notice that this turns the scientific method inside out — the scientific model is to examine evidence, then formulate hypotheses (or sometimes, profess ignorance), rather than employing a stack of a priori assumptions as lazy excuses to ignore actual evidence.

  2. (2/2) Odd, though, to see such dogmatism immediately followed by a paean to “dark matter,” which is purely a theoretical construct, for which there is as yet no empirical evidence. As Erik Verlinde, theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam, put it, “In a sense, dark matter is a placeholder for a thing we don’t understand yet.” Mr. Jackson would be well advised to do some serious, unbiased homework on the subject of anomalous aerial phenomena — at least as much homework as Harry Reid has done — and in the meantime, stick a placeholder there.

  3. The new evidence being released by our DoD strongly indicates that the answer to Fermi’s Paradox is “they are here”. Astrophysicist Bernard Haisch, et al, have written “current cosmological theory predicts we should be experiencing extraterrestrial visitation” (see paper “Inflation-Theory Implications For Extraterrestrial Visitation” at Haisch’s website http://www.ufoskeptic.org). Mr. Jackson, you have a lot of homework to do.

    If we can approach these beings PEACEFULLY we may discover a great many solutions to the myriad and serious problems currently facing humanity. Continuing to pursue the study of UFOs is definitely worthwhile, and I am elated that the DoD is FINALLY beginning to tell the people the truth about this. I say dump SETI, put the space telescopes on hold, and lets start up a conversation with the aliens. We will learn a lot more a lot faster, information that may be critical to the continuity of our civilization.

  4. Easily one of the most juvenile, biased, redundant additions to the discussion so far. Bravo. Was this from an adult? Oh.. Wow.

  5. These are all good comments here. Can you imagine explaining to someone 100 years ago, that “in the future” we would split this invisible thing called an “atom” and unleash a power that can vaporize a city and its people? Forget 100 years ago, in 1981 when I graduated High School, I don’t think you could have convinced me that I would hold in my hand a “smart phone”, that would allow me to access the internet (the what?) purchase and pay for things, take photographs, keep me up with Facebook (ugh), throw out your calculator, watch t.v. live, send email (huh?), text messages (what?) tune my guitar strings, have a GPS capability with a woman knowing where I am and saying “turn right in 100 ft., oh, and yeah, call people and it my hair is good, “facetime them”.

  6. I am not a UFO conspiracy believer, but I can fully understand better now, why any government would want to hide the fact of UFO visitation. First, what are they going to tell you? We have these things in the sky, we don’t know what they are, where they are from, what controls them, whether they are hostile or not, and oh ya, there is nothing we can do about them. That would be a good start. Then, the natural reaction of any government would be “hey, if we can get our hands on one of these things, and use it to our advantage, we can rule the world”, or “uh oh, what happens if our adversary gets a hold of one of these things”. The part I don’t quite understand about Mr. Jackson’s piece, is the military is now telling us that “something is there”. I suspect if they thought it was the unrestricted use of advance technology by China or Russia, they may not want to admit that. Man on the Moon, billions of stars and billions of galaxies, an infinite Universe, Dark Matter, particles smaller than atoms, Quantum Entanglement, Relativity, Fabric of Space-Time, Block Universe, Big Bang, the (stubbornly persistent) illusion of Past, Present and Future, UFO’s. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. – Hamlet (1.5.167-8), published in 1603, is as true today as it was over 400 years ago.


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