Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Alien Probe Flies Past Mercury

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As if on cue, just in time to segue from yesterday’s post, NASA has released pictures taken by the MESSENGER Probe as it flew by the planet Mercury. I thought they weren’t going to release the pictures until later this month, so this was a nice surprise. MESSENGER is the first Earth probe to visit Mercury in over three decades, Mariner 10 made three flybys in 1974 and 1975. It sent back tantalizing images, but how much could they do with 1970s technology? The cameras Mariner had could only resolve objects about 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) across, MESSENGER will be able to see objects as small as 18 m (60 ft) across.

Even better, if all goes well MESSENGER will be inserted into orbit around Mercury in 2011. Mercury is a very tricky planet to get probes too, and it’s going to take three flybys of the planet to slow the probe down enough to get into orbit. Until then though, these flybys are amazing enough in their own right. And hell, operating this close to the sun is an incredibly harsh environment, let’s all hope the probe continues to function and is able to complete its mission. Read about the probe’s recent flyby here, and here is another cool new picture showing parts of Mercury never seen before.

Mercury isn’t a very well known planet, it’s pretty much like the Moon in many respects, airless and covered with craters. One odd feature is that Mercury always keeps the same face toward the sun, the same as the Moon only shows one side from Earth. This means Mercury ranges from very cold (-180 c) on the dark side to over 400c on the sunlit side. It’s is entirely possible that some of the never-in-sunlight craters near the poles contain water ice, this is one of the things the MESSENGER will be investigating.

However, back to the alien probe idea. I noticed something in the above picture that is kind of unusual. Note the three overlapping craters, just to the right of them is a curious barber’s pole feature, which I have enlarged here:


Granted this is just some sort of geological feature no doubt, but it is a oddly regular line of hillocks or what not. Cue Twilight Zone music…

Now as I pointed out in an earlier comment, space probes appear to be the wave of the future. It’s vastly easier to send a robotic probe out to do your exploration than send humans. Heck, space travel for humans is looking increasingly unlikely in the near future, space and weightlessness is simply too much stress on the human body, we weren’t designed for it. There is work on interstellar probes being done, and it’s possible that the children of today will see the first pictures sent back from nearby stars when they are old people. Heck, at some point it will make sense to send out hundreds or thousands of probes to investigate nearby stars and their planets, the cost is trivial and the knowledge gained is almost unfathomable. Assuming of course we don’t blow each other up first or turn our planet into a uninhabitable pressure cooker…but I digress.

And since for logical and engineering reasons it seems someday we will be sending out fleets of probes, why then aren’t we seeing any alien probes visiting Earth? Granted it gets pretty conjectural here, since we are assuming aliens are enough like us that they will want to explore the cosmos. The first reason being that with the size and age of the cosmos, visitors to our unremarkable little star may be few and far between. Secondly, assuming they are far more advanced than us, such probes might be very small and almost impossible to detect. IE there’s no point advertising yourself, what if humans were a violent and hostile race? Who knows what minor asteroid flying around the inner solar system is actually packed with alien surveillance devices. It’s not like we have looked at very many of them, or are ever likely to take a look at the smaller ones.

This also suggests that there is a scenario for the celebrated Roswell case that might actually involve aliens. No, not actual living aliens, that is absurd for several reasons. It is remotely possible however that some sort of alien interstellar probe crash landed and that’s what the Air Force recovered. And if such a probe was even a few hundred years more advanced than our science, it would have proved basically useless to us. If one gave Da Vinci a laptop for example, he might have been able to figure out how to operate it, but fixing it or duplicating it would have been utterly beyond even his brilliant mind. Even charging the battery would have been impossible with the technology of the day, and he was a brilliant human who only lived a few centuries ago.

Does the Air Force have bits of an alien probe filed away in a warehouse somewhere? I doubt it. Still, the whole alien mythology that has grown during the last century is pretty wild when one considers it is based on zero actual evidence. We’re an imaginative bunch that’s for sure, I just wish we’d try to imagine how to live with each other in peace instead of imagining how to blow each other up and blame the victims at the same time. That kind of imagination may be just why the aliens aren’t contacting us, nu?

(The above images of Mercury are a product of NASA and its partners, and may be freely copied and used so long as they are not used in a way that implies NASA is endorsing a product or person. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. And yes, MESSENGER is capitalized for a reason, it is the most tortured acronym ever invented. MESSENGER stands for The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging probe. Even some scientists have too much time on their hands.)

Written by unitedcats

January 17, 2008 at 11:04 am

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