TAMPA (CBS Tampa) – While we are scanning the heavens looking for signs of intelligent life in the universe, is it possible that alien life already visited Earth…and decided we weren’t smart enough to be contacted?
That’s a big worry for Neil DeGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of ‘Cosmos.’
“My great fear is that we’ve in fact been visited by intelligent aliens, but they chose not to make contact, on the conclusion that there’s no sign of intelligent life on Earth” he told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
DeGrasse Tyson says one obstacle to contact may be human arrogance. “The audacity of us to even claim we can define intelligence.”
But another problem may be the means to communicate. “It takes more than just intelligence,” said DeGrasse Tyson.
The radio signals we send into the universe and listen for would have been unimaginable just 200 years ago, because human beings had yet to discover that radio waves even existed.
So while we assume aliens would use radio to communicate, they may have moved on to some other technology we have yet to discover.
“They could be saying ‘Hey, we’re over here! Look here! Look here!’ It could be some technological thing that to them is just obvious,” DeGrasse Tyson said. And, to us, falls on entirely unintelligent ears.
Another problem is time. An intelligent species could have developed on a (relatively) nearby world when Earth was still an ocean world covered with bacteria. There would have been no reason for them to suspect that bacteria would evolve into humans.
DeGrasse Tyson explained there is plenty of organic matter in the universe. But we don’t know if how often such organic matter is turned into self-replicating life.
It’s possible that there are, right now, micro-organisms on another world that will flourish into intelligence long after we are extinct.
So where does that leave us in the search for extraterrestrial life? DeGrasse Tyson says we need to focus on our own backyard. Mars may be home to bacteria that are clinging to life just beneath its inhospitable surface.
Jupiter’s moon Europa is another neighbor to keep a close eye on. The giant planet gives off enough energy to maintain liquid water beneath the satellite’s icy crust. “I would love to go ice fishing on Europa,” said DeGrasse Tyson.
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