Chasing Little Green Men. What if I catch one?


As a kid, I was fascinated by the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  When I was still that kid, I decided I wanted to record my own life in much the same way—the adventures of children of the 1950s in rural America.  I jotted down notes and scribbles.  Years later, in 2001, Catho Darlington—Lessons Learned in the Space Age was finally published.  Here is an excerpt from the chapter, Strange Occurrences.  The children have left a basketball game in the gym, without parental permission, a big no-no, and are trudging through the snow, flakes flying, to Mink Hill north of town.  UFOs had been reported there (by teenagers, naturally), and these much-younger children want to get in on the action:

scan0004As they sat beneath a grove of pines atop Mink Hill, all at once there had become an unnerving stillness.  Wild animals had become suddenly mute.  The children looked about at one another.  Jerry poked Penny Lea on the arm and pointed to the night sky, above the horizon.  Then Penny poked Bubbie, Bubbie poked Catho, Catho poked Lily, Lily poked Wacky Sue—a pink glow appeared in the snowflake-filled sky.  The glow was accompanied by a humming noise, a winking white light was joined by winking blue lights and winking pink lights, whirling in a circle on the glowing pink background.  The lights seemed to be attached to an object that looked like two aluminum pie plates, glued together.  It was joined by more twirling pie plates with blinking lights.  For a short period of time, it seemed as if the pie plates were directing searchlights on Mink Hill as beams of white light shot down from the sky.  The children tried to become invisible as their teeth chattered from the cold and stark fear.

A few months back I noticed a fellow on Twitter tweeting about a course on Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life.  I started Googling.  Before long, I had the information on this course from the University of Edinburgh and offered free through Coursera.  I enrolled.  I quickly ordered a textbook before they ran out of them at Amazon—a possibility, as 35,000 people from all over the world had also enrolled.  By involving myself with discussion groups on the course site, I learned that many of those taking the course were actual scientists.  Others were interested and curious folk.  I conversed with a few that were Sci Fi writers who wanted to hone their descriptive skills.

The five-week course was divided into five realms of study. Weekly (and very difficult) quizzes would determine one’s standing in class. The subjects covered were:

  1. What is life and how is it defined?
  2. What was the environment of early Earth when life first emerged and what do we know about it?
  3. What are the prospects for life on other planetary bodies in our solar system and how do we go about searching for it?
  4. How do we search for Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars and how would we detect life on them?
  5. What are the prospects for intelligent life elsewhere?  How would we deal with contact with an extra-intelligence and what would be the impact on society?  Who would represent Earth?

You may surmise that I have been interested in this stuff since I was a gleam in my father’s eye (you are correct).  As a review, I would say it is a remarkable and well-taught course.  I am fortunate to have seen the Tweet about it and very glad, indeed, that I took it.  More and more of these Astrobiology courses are being offered, world-wide.  Hmmmm!  What would you make of it?

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