Anyone with even a mild, uninvested interest in UFOs is absolutely desperate for someone who seems legit to weigh in on the subject. Ideally, we want one of the brain geniuses from NASA in our corner. We want someone in a white lab coat with the NASA logo embroidered on the breast pocket to take us firmly (yet warmly) by the hands and say ‘Hey dude, you might be right about aliens.’ This man is here, and his name is Dr Silvano Colombano of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Colombano came into our lives this week by virtue of a white paper he published earlier this year being surfaced by Reddit. That paper, titled New Assumptions to Guide SETI Research, suggests that scientists should re-evaluate their assumptions about the likelihood of alien contact, based on our newer understanding of technology and the universe.

Colombano argues that the recent discovery of planetary systems as ancient as 10.4 billion and 11.2 billion years old (when ours is only  a measly 4.5 billion years old) should make us rethink how confidently we can judge the upper limit of what is possible with technology, especially when the scientific method has only really been a big thing here for 500 years.

Starting from here, Colombano says it’s maybe time we questioned some core assumptions about alien intelligent life — those assumptions being:

  1. Interstellar travel is impossible or highly unlikely
  2. Radio waves continue to be the major form of communication for thousands or millions of years.
  3. Intelligent civilizations would be based on carbon life
  4. We have not been, and are not being visited

Colombano challenges the first assumption by saying that we just don’t know enough to rule it out:

Clearly distance and energy are insurmountable problems for the technologies we have available and our present understanding of physics. Still we are able to fathom possibilities of achieving much greater understanding and control of matter-energy and space-time. Even if the speed of light continues to be an unbreakable barrier, over spans of thousands of years civilizations could probably make interstellar journeys, depending on what assumptions we make about the forms of life that they will comprise.

He takes on the second by suggesting that what they use might be beyond our ken, and also that even if they were using radio, it might be impossible for us to decode what they are sending.

In terms of life being carbon-based, Colombano says that, looking at where we’re going with computers, carbon-based life could just be the start in terms of the evolution of a life form:

After a mere 50 years of computer evolution we are already talking about “super-intelligence” and we are quickly becoming symbiotic with computer power. . . . I simply want to point out the fact that the intelligence we might find and that might choose to find us (if it hasn’t already) might not be at all be produced by carbon based organisms like us. How might that change the above assumptions about interstellar travel? Our typical life-spans would no longer be a limitation (although even these could be dealt with multi-generational missions or suspended animation), and the size of the “explorer” might be that of an extremely tiny super-intelligent entity.

I think we can all agree, that’s dope as hell.

Finally, Colombano says that while the large amount of nonsense involved in UFO reports and the seeming improbability of extraterrestrial visitors has kept scientists away from UFO investigation, it shouldn’t:

It seems to me that SETI has ignored (at least officially) the potential relevance of UFO phenomena for three reasons: 1) The assumption of extremely low likelihood of interstellar travel, 2) The very high likelihood of hoaxes, mistaken perceptions or even psychotic events in UFO phenomena, and 3) The general avoidance of the subject by the scientific community. I think the approach the scientific community could take, instead, is very similar to what SETI has done so far: find the signal in the noise.

In the very large amount of “noise” in UFO reporting there may be “signals” however small, that indicate some phenomena that cannot be explained or denied. If we adopt a new set of assumptions about what forms of higher intelligence and technology we might find, some of those phenomena might fit specific hypotheses, and we could start some serious enquiry.

Hell yeah, man. Hell yeah!!!

Colombano’s big recommendations are that the search for extraterrestrial life moves in a direction that considers “speculative physics“, where physicists start from our current understanding of physics but “with some willingness to stretch possibilities as to the nature of space-time and energy” thrown in the mix, and that takes the study of UFOS on earth as a serious avenue of inquiry, just one with “with very low
signal to noise ratio“.

You can read the whole paper here, it’s relatively brief and pretty easy to take in, even if you are not a humungous turbonerd.