Differences between SETI, Astrobiology, UFOlogy

17 08 2010

Based on some recent feedback, I’m tempted to pose a question to the cyberverse:

  • What differences do you see, if any, between SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), Astrobiology (study of locations and potential biochemistry of extraterrestrial life), and UFOlogy (study of UFOs)?

I ask this as a general point of discussion because some have expressed concern that working toward a preconceived methodology for xenoarchaeology, like I’ve been working on, will confuse Astrobiology, SETI, and the more pseudoscientific UFOlogy in the public mind.

So, what do you think?  Just how different is your perception of SETI, Astrobiology, and UFOlogy?  How legitimate a scientific pursuit are each?  How illegitimate?

Clearly, all three concepts are related.  Without Astrobiology, SETI and UFOlogy cannot logically exist.  UFOlogy implies “ETI,” but it makes some pretty incredible assumptions that in my mind remove it from the realm of hard science, or even speculative science, for that matter.

So, have at it.  Comments welcome.





Alien archeology – now a real science?

15 05 2010

Concept sketch of Mars xenoarchaeological site from movie Total Recall. Credit: Steve Burg

Well, I’ve done it.  Making good on a promise I made to myself while presenting a poster at the Society of American Archaeology conference in 2008, I recently submitted an article to the journal Space Policy outlining a framework for a science that doesn’t quite exist yet: Xenoarchaeology.

“Xeno” is Greek/Latin for “foreign” or “stranger.”

Seriously.  I drew from SETI protocols, interplanetary geological sample return guidelines, archaeology fundamentals, and historical examples to make a call for a proactive set of xenoarchaeological guidelines.  My argument?  -The moment that we find something we think might be the real deal on another planet is the wrong moment to try and figure out how to study it correctly and credibly.  And we’ve got spacecraft and landers everywhere these days.  -It’s only a matter of time until we do cross over something that makes us double-take.

To paraphrase my general points in the paper, an archeological mindset is particularly well-suited to analyzing a site of truly unknown character, but there are planetary science landmines a regular archaeologist would be completely unprepared to dodge.  Gravity, temperature, chemistry, and electromagnetic environment can all be (and likely are) very different on another world, which will affect essentially every property of an object.  On Earth we can take all of those things for granted – the strength and effectiveness of friction, for example.  On Mars?  We had to completely redesign the drill bits used on our Mars rovers simply because the effectiveness of a cutting edge on Mars is only half what it is here on Earth because the atmospheric pressure is so low, which is in turn because the gravity is 1/3 weaker.  See what I mean?

If it walks like an arrowhead, and it talks like an arrowhead… it might not actually be an arrowhead on Mars.

So, that’s my stab at taking a scientific discipline out of the realm of science fiction and elevating it to reality.  -The paper made it favorably through editorial review, and I am waiting to hear back on comments from the peer referees.

My ulterior motive?  I really do believe it’s only a matter of time until we find something – and if I center myself in the burgeoning discipline, when we do find something (if I don’t happen to be the one who stumbles across it, myself)… they’ll have to call me.

Fingers crossed.

(NOTE, 10/2010:  The paper was accepted and published!  Find it here.)

(NOTE, 05/2011: See the follow-up post on article responses here!)








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