[CNI News thanks Skye Turell for forwarding this item, which appeared in the Daily Mail (UK) newspaper on August 14, 1997 and was posted to the United Kingdom UFO Network website. The following text is edited from a longer story written by the Daily Mail's New York correspondent Daniel Jeffreys.]
Labrador-sized, four arms, a mouth in its stomach -- and one day it'll land here.
Doctor Seth Shostak, one of the world's leading physicists and astronomers, is among those who say there are millions of aliens. And he says that when they turn up on Earth, their technological superiority will make our attempts to find them, such as the current expedition to Mars, look puny.
He publishes his analysis in a new book, "Sharing The Universe." Already his findings have been held by other scientists as the most effective argument yet for believing the universe is teaming with intelligent life forms, many of them far more ancient and advanced than us.
Shostak, who is so confident that he has even described what the aliens will probably look like, believes we would be better diverting the billions spent on space exploration to working out how to cope when the inevitable contact with extraterrestrial civilizations take place.
He estimates that there are more than 1,000 planets in our galaxy alone that house these super-smart beings, many of which would regard humanity like we regard insects or rodents. "Give me a halfway decent planet and I'll give you life," he says, fresh from a radio telescopic sweep of nearby planets.
"There are 50 billion stars in the Milky Way similar to our sun, with 1.5 billion planets that share our characteristics. Many will have intelligent life."
If aliens are on their way, humanity has never been more receptive to their arrival, so long as they treat us nicely. Books and films tend to depict aliens as either friendly or hostile. But neither of these is likely to [be true] on man's first date with visitors from the stars, [Shostak thinks].
"Our initial contact will most likely be with some sort of self-replicating machine intelligence," says Shostak, who is the director of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. "It will have travelled astronomical distances specifically to gather information, not to make friends or eat."
"We know the nearest extraterrestrial intelligent life is a long way away," says Shostak, at 46 the world's leading authority on what ETs need to thrive. "Space travel is difficult, dangerous and slow."
Experts say that it would take more than 100 years to reach the nearest solar system which SETI thinks could support life, travelling at around 40,000 miles per second.
"That's why an intelligent machine representing the alien culture is probably a first visitor," says Shostak. "It will have been built by a far superior intelligence and will be capable of rebuilding itself and clones to launch on other missions.... It will be programmed to expect an encounter with another civilization and will make efforts to communicate with us while analysing our strengths and weaknesses.
"It will be a testing time," says Shostak. "Some people will want it destroyed, fearing that aliens who know we are here will want to colonize or kill us.
"There's also the chance that contacts with a civilization much more advanced than ours will force humanity to develop an enormous inferiority complex. And that could cause human civilization to crumble because we've assumed for so long that we're the top dogs."
Collapse might be especially likely if the aliens were no bigger than a labrador with reptilian skin, four arms and a mouth in their stomachs -- something Shostak believes is quite possible.
Using a mix of laws from physics, astronomy and biochemistry, he has deduced the kind of appearance intelligent aliens will have.
"There's no reason to suppose insects or reptiles failed to develop intelligence on other planets," he says. "The dinosaurs were on their way to complex intelligence before a cataclysm wiped them out."
Shostak and his SETI colleagues agree the aliens are likely to have heads, because that's an efficient way of housing a brain, and the eyes and ears will be attached to their skulls.
"We have our hearing and sight near the brain for a reason: it minimises the length of the body's most complex nerve network," he says. "But there's no pressing reason for the mouth to be in the head. The stomach would be more efficient."
As would more than two arms. The aliens will definitely have some limbs, to allow them to manipulate tools, a necessary part of an intelligent culture. They're also likely to be smaller.
"We think Earth's gravity is unusual," says Shostak. "Most alien species will have more gravity and that means they'll tend to be compact. They will need to be at least the size of a basketball to sustain intelligence, but after that any size up to three feet will do."
Shostak thinks we will probably be surprised by the aliens' appearance. "Just go to the zoo and look at the diversity there, then magnify the species many thousands of times," he says. "Aliens across the universe will come in many different shapes and sizes, which will only intensify our anxiety when we meet them for the first time."
One alien life-form we can probably rule out is giants. Even with low gravity they are just not viable as an ancient advanced civilization. They eat too much, causing early depletion of their planet's resources, and they can barely lift a fraction of their own weight.
The most chilling aspect of Shostak's research is his claim that alien civilizations are much smarter than humans. He bases this observation on the relative age of homo sapiens. We are a young civilization, and many aliens will be much more ancient, with technology we have never dreamed of.
If Shostak is right, our chances of staying free and independent are remote. If we're lucky, we'll end up as pets; if we're unlucky, we'll go the ways of cows, mink or crocodiles.
["Sharing The Universe" will be published in the UK by Victor Gollancz in September. CNI News attempted to reach Dr. Shostak by phone at the SETI Institute for further comment, and to find out when the book will appear in the United States. We learned only that Dr. Shostak is traveling. The receptionist who took our call did not know about the book.]
Original file name: CNI - Shostak.aliens
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