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December 23, 2017
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Why in news?

  • US government recently declassified information about “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program” (AATI).
  • This has revived long subdued interests in Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO) and Alien life-forms.

What is AATI program?

  • Humanity has always been fascinated by the possibility of extraterrestrial life through unverified word-of-mouth spotting of aliens.
  • Most governments have largely been diligent in suppressing all evidences that could possibly fuel such speculative thoughts.
  • But the recent declassification of information about the AATI program and videos related to it has given good impetus for rejuvenated interest in aliens.
  • AATI was an investigative program into UFOs, that was operational between 2007 and 2012, which had documented various suspected alien movement.
  • Notably, a retired military officer who headed AATI has also come on record, stressing the need to continue investigating UFOs.

How has conspiracy theories fared?

  • Unsubstantiated conspiracy theorists are currently apleantly and overwhelmingly support the existence of aliens and their visit to the Earth.
  • UFOs got significant attention for the 1st time during the 2nd world war, when many military pilots reported sighting of saucer shaped objects.
  • Subsequently, the number of such claims increased and came from all sorts of people –  even alien abduction theories were flouted.
  • Notably, “Area 51” - a remote part of the Nevada desert in the US, that houses an Air Force base, is a darling for conspiracy mongers due to its secretiveness.
  • Most conspiracy theorists believe that the Air Base is actually a cover-up for a facility to research into aliens that have either – died on Earth, been captured alive, or have come as ambassadors.

What were some government initiated programs?

  • During the Cold War era, air forces worldwide were on an eternally alert mode for the fare of possible missile attacks.
  • The alertness provided for ample sighting of flying objects, most of which were eventually identified but some does remain as yet unidentified. 
  • While the western governents were more worried about Russians than about alien life, they nevertheless initiatited investigations on UFOs
  • Notable, US Air Force initiated “Project Blue Book” which began UFO investigations in 1947 and reviewed over 12,000 sightings till 1969.
  • While most sightings were concluded as stars, oddly-shaped clouds other terrestrial objects, about 701 of them remain unexplained.
  • Similarly, Britain convened the “Flying Saucer Working Party”, which also investigated UFOs and arrived at conclusions akin to the US project. 

What are some significant scientific works in this field?

  • The famous astronomer Frank Drake through his “Drake Equation” guesses that there could be considerable number of alien civilisations.
  • In 1961, he listed the variables for determining the number of alien civilisations capable of using radio signals in the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Drake estimated the:
  • rate of formation of suitable stars
  • number of such stars with planets in orbit
  • possible number of inhabitable planets
  • He postulated that life might exist or emerge in future in a small fraction of such inhabitable planets.
  • Further, he stressed that the possibility of emergence of intelligent civilisations capable of radio communication was an even smaller fraction of those plantes.
  • While his was essentially a guess work by extrapolation of data, advancements in telescopes has helped considerably to improvise space research. 
  • Notably, a large number of exo-planets perceivably condusive for life has been spotted to be orbiting stars but we’re still guessing about the other variables. 

What are the speculations?

  • Considering the vastness of the cosmos, alien life is indeed very much possible and it might even be humanoid and carbon-based. 
  • As thousands of exo-planets have already been identified by Kepler Space Observatory, Earth-like conditions may exist in some of these.
  • Notably, comets have been found to possess amino acids, that are key for the evolution carbon based life forms.
  • However, people like Nobel winning physist Enrico Fermi has been critical of such hypothesis, as there is no conclusive proof of their existence.  
  • While there is a possibility that aliens don’t exist, there is also a possibility that they’ve not developed intelligence or that they’re consciously lying low.
  • Also, considering the interstellar distances, if a civilisation 1000 light years away had discovered radio waves at the time we did, then their first signal would reach us around 3000 AD.

 

Source: Business Standard  

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