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Kepler, SETI and Ancient Probes
Centauri Dreams ^ | 3/5/09

Posted on 03/05/2009 6:03:25 PM PST by LibWhacker

We’ve already speculated here that if the Kepler mission finds few Earth-like planets in the course of its investigations, the belief that life is rare will grow. But let’s be optimists and speculate on the reverse: What if Kepler pulls in dozens, even hundreds, of Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of their respective stars? In that case, the effort to push on to study the atmospheres of such planets would receive a major boost, aiding the drive to launch a terrestrial planet hunter with serious spectroscopic capabilities some time in the next decade.

Budget problems? Let’s fold Darwin and whatever Terrestrial Planet Finder design wins approval into the same package, and make this a joint NASA/ESA mission. Finding numerous Earth-like planets will be a driver, as will gradual economic recovery.

Finding Many Earths

kepler_sm

The discovery of numerous ‘Earths’ would also galvanize public interest in interstellar flight, which offers a useful educational opportunity. Even the short-lived boomlet for Gliese 581 c inspired talking television heads to ask how we might get to the place, prompting the media to look into the distances involved and the challenges of propulsion. In my conversations, the initial response is usually dismay at the magnitude of the challenge, but it’s often followed by interest. Isn’t there anything we can do?

Image: Kepler at work in the search for Earth-like planets. Credit: NASA.

As we wait for the start of the Kepler mission, still scheduled for Friday night, the question of Kepler’s impact upon our SETI views also arises. It’s one thing to be trying to detect signals from an extraterrestrial civilization in a galaxy crowded with Solar Systems like our own, but fewer terrestrial worlds would correspondingly lower the chance for contact. Yet even a single civilization that attained star-faring status at some point in our galaxy’s evolution may have been able to construct self-replicating probes to explore the galaxy robotically. If star travel is possible, Fermi’s ‘Where are they?’ still resonates even in an uncrowded universe.

Kepler and Deep Time

Let me direct you to Charles Magee, Jr.’s Fermi paradox meets the timescale, where this field geologist sees the question through the lens of deep time. “As a geochronologist, I don’t wonder where and why, I wonder when,” writes Magee, who goes on to generate fifty random alien arrival times within the approximately 4.5 billion year window since the Solar System emerged from its accretion disk. He lists them in order, the most recent of them being 125 million years ago in the era of the dinosaurs.

dinosaur-images-014-resize

That appearance in the Cretaceous is preceded by an alien visit at 270 million years ago at a time of Gondwanan glaciers, and a 352 million year old visit in the Carboniferous era of swamps and giant insects. Clearly, Magee’s aliens aren’t finding much to communicate with, but these eras would at least have been filled with enormous biological diversity. Keep going back in time and you realize what a tiny veneer our own species’ existence represents over the deep time that encrusts planet Earth.

Image: What an alien visitor might have seen in the Cretaceous. No technological cultures here! Source: Canadian Museum of Nature.

Suppose, for example, that our aliens showed up in the Late Heavy Bombardment some 3.875 billion years ago. Their take on life’s chances would be correspondingly gloomy — what could survive this — or at least tempered by the knowledge that what did develop in the aftermath would not be a technological factor for aeons to come. And so it goes, from Mesoproterozoic to Neoarchean to the colossal whack of a Mars-sized object into the Earth that would create the Moon, back in the Hadean era.

Magee’s point is clearly made:

As you can see, for aliens looking for ‘Earthlike’ planets, the actual Earth was easy to overlook for most of its history. In this simulation, there was only macroscopic life for 3 of 50 visits. From another POV, three visits were either during the Late Heavy Bombardment, or during the moon forming impact- both of which would appear (to the casual alien visitor) to make long-term viability of life on Earth pretty unlikely.

So as we start to find ‘earth-like’ planets in our sky surveys, it is important to remember that Earth has only been Earthlike for a relatively short period of time.

The Rise of Ancient Probes

I’ve often noted the frequent public misconception of interstellar distances and their true scale, but I think we’re all sometimes guilty of forgetting our own context within deep time, a context Magee brings into high visibility in this post. And, of course, no matter what Kepler finds, we’ll still be a long way from knowing whether life of any kind, much less complex life, exists on the worlds it finds. The question will still be not so much whether any other technological civilizations could arise in the same galaxy, but whether they’re numerous enough to arise at the same time.

Have a quick look at this video, produced by Claire Evans at SEED Magazine. It condenses 4.6 billion years of history into a single minute, offering a unique perspective:

So much depends upon the question of civilization lifetimes. But again, let’s assume that at least a few civilizations have found a way to get past their technological infancy, past the period when they were likely to destroy themselves with their own tools, and have expanded into nearby space. If Frank Tipler’s view is reasonably correct, then a million years is a sufficient time for self-replicating probes to work their way through the entire galactic disk. Indeed, Tipler went on in his famous 1980 paper to say that the Local Group of galaxies could be colonized within ten million years, and the entire Virgo cluster within a hundred million years.

Knowing When to Wake Up

m81_benintende_f88

You can think of places within the Solar System where an ancient probe, self-repairing and dormant, might wait for whatever it is that would trigger its awakening. We commonly assume that it is the emergence of creatures like us that would do the trick, but why? We have no galactic context in which to place ourselves. We may be numbingly rare as an intelligent species, or merely a transitional phase between biology and other forms of consciousness, a stopgap along the way to true maturity.

Image: The spiral galaxy M81 in Ursa Major. Could self-replicating probes reach every solar system in such a galaxy within a million years? Credit: Giovanni Benintende.

Why assume, in other words, that a von Neumann probe of this kind, perhaps lurking in one of the Lagrangian points, or out in the asteroid belt, or perhaps in the Kuiper Belt, would be activated by our current level of development? In the absence of such knowledge, we might well conclude no such probes exist, but it is conceivable that infrared studies of the outer system, of the sort advocated by Gregory Matloff and Anthony R. Martin, may one day turn up just the kind of anomalous signature that an artificial body would throw. It’s certainly worth the look, and a reminder that there are potential SETI venues that are closer to home than the nearest stars.

Further Reading

Two interesting places to start are twin papers by Matloff and Martin. The first is “A Proposed Infrared Search for Artificial Kuiper Belt Objects,” Journal of the British Astronomical Society 57 (November/December 2004, pp. 283-287, while “Suggested Targets for an Infrared Search for Artificial Kuiper Belt Objects,” JBIS 58 (January/February 2005), pp. 51-61 follows up on that work. Also useful is Allen Tough, “Small Smart Interstellar Probes,” JBIS 51, no. 5 (May 1998), p. 167 ff. The British Interplanetary Society needs to get some of this good material online.

And I almost forgot the Tipler paper, which is “Extraterrestrial Beings Do Not Exist,” in Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 21 (1980), pp. 267-81. Carl Sagan and William Newman’s rebuttal is “The Solipsist Approach to Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 24 (1983), p. 113, which sees self-reproducing probes as too virus-like to win the approval of extraterrestrial planners.



TOPICS: Astronomy; Science; UFO's; Weird Stuff
KEYWORDS: aliens; ancient; catastrophism; extraterrestrials; fermi; gliese581; gliese581c; godsgravesglyphs; kepler; panspermia; probes; stringtheory; telescope; ufo; xplanets

1 posted on 03/05/2009 6:03:26 PM PST by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker

for later


2 posted on 03/05/2009 6:14:36 PM PST by muir_redwoods ( O.B.A.M.A. = One Big Asinine Mistake, America)
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To: LibWhacker

We could be the least intelligent too! look at the last Election.


3 posted on 03/05/2009 6:15:07 PM PST by omega4179 (I hope he fails)
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To: LibWhacker

Intelligence isn’t really what we need to find. If you think about it what we need to find is water to drink, air to breathe and life we can eat.


4 posted on 03/05/2009 6:17:59 PM PST by cripplecreek (The poor bastards have us surrounded.)
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To: 75thOVI; aimhigh; Alice in Wonderland; AndrewC; aragorn; aristotleman; Avoiding_Sulla; BBell; ...
Charles Magee, Jr.'s Fermi paradox meets the timescale, where this field geologist sees the question through the lens of deep time. "As a geochronologist, I don't wonder where and why, I wonder when," writes Magee, who goes on to generate fifty random alien arrival times within the approximately 4.5 billion year window since the Solar System emerged from its accretion disk. He lists them in order, the most recent of them being 125 million years ago in the era of the dinosaurs. That appearance in the Cretaceous is preceded by an alien visit at 270 million years ago at a time of Gondwanan glaciers, and a 352 million year old visit in the Carboniferous era of swamps and giant insects... Keep going back in time and you realize what a tiny veneer our own species' existence represents over the deep time that encrusts planet Earth.
This is one of those rare topics which can fit in all four of the ping lists I manage. Thanks go to LibWhacker for posting it.
 
Catastrophism
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5 posted on 03/05/2009 7:40:00 PM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; 1ofmanyfree; 21twelve; 24Karet; 2ndDivisionVet; 31R1O; ...

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Thanks LibWhacker.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother, and Ernest_at_the_Beach
 

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6 posted on 03/05/2009 7:40:38 PM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: AdmSmith; bvw; callisto; ckilmer; dandelion; ganeshpuri89; gobucks; KevinDavis; Las Vegas Dave; ...
Thanks LibWhacker.

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7 posted on 03/05/2009 7:41:50 PM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: KevinDavis; annie laurie; garbageseeker; Knitting A Conundrum; Viking2002; Ernest_at_the_Beach; ...
Thanks LibWhacker.
 
X-Planets
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8 posted on 03/05/2009 7:42:17 PM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: SunkenCiv

I’ve always wondered why Earthlings think they live on the ONLY INHABITIBAL WORLD. How arrogant IS that?

I mean, we’re only one planet in a universe of billions of galaxies. The possibilities are *ahem* astronomically enormous!


9 posted on 03/05/2009 7:50:06 PM PST by Monkey Face (A flashlight is a case for holding dead batteries.)
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To: SunkenCiv

Hmmmmm . . .

supposedly we’ve already visited some such planets . . . and civilizations.

I don’t know what’s true.

I do know that God said . . .

yea though you build your nests amongst the stars, yet will I bring you down.


10 posted on 03/05/2009 8:02:06 PM PST by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: LibWhacker

Heck, you could probably start up a collection online and raise the necessary money in 10 years.

I call dibs on the first alien hottie... j/k


11 posted on 03/05/2009 8:04:55 PM PST by coconutt2000 (NO MORE PEACE FOR OIL!!! DOWN WITH TYRANTS, TERRORISTS, AND TIMIDCRATS!!!! (3-T's For World Peace))
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To: Monkey Face

“I’ve always wondered why Earthlings think they live on the ONLY INHABITIBAL WORLD. How arrogant IS that?

I mean, we’re only one planet in a universe of billions of galaxies. The possibilities are *ahem* astronomically enormous”
I agree! Gee whiz...arrogance is the word I would use


12 posted on 03/05/2009 8:49:34 PM PST by BigSkyVic
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To: LibWhacker
Anyone wishing to get a small feel for the incredible vastness of space, should download a copy of Celestia, a high-quality universe simulator. Yes, that's right I said "universe simulator", at least it's the closest thing to that, that I've ever seen. The interface is a little weird to get used to, but once you do, you can use it to tour the solar system at just about any speed you like.

I would highly recommend though, that you set it to travel at the speed of light, and get a feel for how long, even at C, it takes to go anywhere in the solar system. Here's a handy table that lists the current distances to various objects in the solar system from Earth as of the current time.

Mercury 0h 10m 20s
Venus 0h 2m 50s
Mars 0h 18m 46s
Jupiter 0h 49m 7s
Saturn 1h 9m 49s
Uranus 2h 55m 21s
Neptune 4h 17m27s
Pluto 4h 25m 26s
Voyager I 15h 8m 11s
Voyager II 12h 19m 22s
Sol 0h 8m 15s

That's just within the Solar System. When you start thinking about stars, even in our immediate vicinity, you start talking real distances. There are only 15 stars within 10 light years of us, and of those several are a part of binary/trinary systems (which I kinda doubt would have earth-like planets), so you're really only looking at 8 distinct star groups within 10 light years of us. The closest that is not a part of a multiple star system is 5  light years out. So, even if you have a ship that travels as fast as light, you're looking at a 5 year voyage, one way.

Things only get manageble when you throw out C as a cosmic speed limit. Travelling at the incredible speed of 1 AU (the distance between the Earth and Sun - approximately 93 million miles) per second, the trip to Proxima Centauri (4.26 light years distant) is still 187 days away. Of course, if we get to throw Einstein out and exceed the speed of light, we could propose possible speeds of light years/sec, which would at least make many places within the galaxy obtainable. Certainly enough to keep us busy for a while.

I bring all this up mainly because people really don't realize how vast space really is. If somehow we eventually are able to explore it though, we're going to see some amazing things.

One last note I'll leave you with... Using celestia, you can cruise out to Pluto and look back at the Sun. It's kinda cool. The Sun is barely a disk at a distance of 31.6 AU, but it does stand out from the rest of the background stars. Now, go to Betelgeuse, then zoom in to about the same distance. The star is huge. If you were standing on a planet as far from Betelgeuse as Pluto is from our Sun, you would be looking up at a star that is the size of an old silver dollar held about a foot away from your face. If you were on a planet as far away from the star as Jupiter, the star would stretch almost from horizon to horizon before you.

Pretty cool stuff.

I recommend Celestia to children from 5 to 95. It's awesome.

13 posted on 03/05/2009 10:15:13 PM PST by zeugma (Will it be nukes or aliens? Time will tell.)
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To: cripplecreek
Intelligence isn’t really what we need to find. If you think about it what we need to find is water to drink, air to breathe and life we can eat.

We have discovered alien life!

And it's delicious!

14 posted on 03/05/2009 10:26:33 PM PST by uglybiker (AAAAAAH!!! I'm covered in BEES!)
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To: zeugma

Good recommendation. I have that program and used to play with it quite a bit. One of the little “games” I used to play was to “journey” way out into the Local Group of Galaxies on a more or less random trajectory, then turn around and re-enter the Milky Way and try to find my way back to Earth (with all labels turned off). Tough, but you get better at it with practice.

I ought to download the latest version and see what changes have been made. Thanks for reminding me!


15 posted on 03/05/2009 10:42:49 PM PST by LibWhacker
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To: zeugma

I used to use Starry Night Pro.
It was pretty cool.
The program stopped working about a year ago and i dont have the install disc anymore.
I’ll try out Celestia.


16 posted on 03/05/2009 11:22:40 PM PST by mowowie
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To: BigSkyVic

Thanks!

Yah. What I said!

;o]


17 posted on 03/06/2009 6:43:13 AM PST by Monkey Face (A flashlight is a case for holding dead batteries.)
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To: Monkey Face

18 posted on 03/06/2009 7:01:29 AM PST by pabianice
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To: Monkey Face

19 posted on 03/06/2009 7:01:46 AM PST by pabianice
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To: pabianice

LOL!!

I certainly wasn’t looking when you took that photo, or I would have given you my best side!


20 posted on 03/06/2009 7:03:56 AM PST by Monkey Face (A flashlight is a case for holding dead batteries.)
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To: Monkey Face
Some do. Some think maybe there are, maybe there aren't, but that our knowledge is complete and correct, so there's no way to travel between the stars. I'm not in either category, so... ;') Here's an old favorite quote that's actually pertinent (rare for me, eh?), luckily I found it online, I first heard it on the audiobook version of "Out There":
"Empty space is like a kingdom, and earth and sky are no more than a single individual person in that kingdom. Upon one tree are many fruits, and in one kingdom there are many people. How unreasonable it would be to suppose that, besides the earth and the sky which we can see, there are no other skies and no other earths." -- Teng Mu, a Chinese scholar of the Sung Dynasty (960 -- 1280 A.D.) *

21 posted on 03/06/2009 7:27:11 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: SunkenCiv

Yepper!
I agree with you. You’re pretty darn smart!!


22 posted on 03/06/2009 7:30:09 AM PST by Monkey Face (A flashlight is a case for holding dead batteries.)
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To: Monkey Face

[singing] friendship, friendship, just a perfect blendship...


23 posted on 03/06/2009 8:26:08 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: SunkenCiv

Oh I wish I were a little bar of soap!
Oh I wish I were a little bar of soap!
I’d go slippy and a slidey
Over..

Oh...wrong genre....Sorry


24 posted on 03/06/2009 8:28:14 AM PST by Monkey Face (A flashlight is a case for holding dead batteries.)
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To: Monkey Face

You’re 99 and 44/100ths per cent pure, I can sense it. ;’)


25 posted on 03/06/2009 9:55:41 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: SunkenCiv

But of course!!!
;oþ


26 posted on 03/06/2009 9:57:12 AM PST by Monkey Face (A flashlight is a case for holding dead batteries.)
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To: Eaker

Ping for later.


27 posted on 03/06/2009 11:00:58 AM PST by Eaker (The Two Loudest Sounds in the World.....Bang When it should have been Click and the Reverse.)
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To: LibWhacker
Launch time, 10:49 PM EST. tonight, bar any problems.

Just thought I'd mention that, although I suppose everyone already knows. )

28 posted on 03/06/2009 6:07:27 PM PST by Drammach (Freedom - It's not just a job, It's an Adventure)
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To: Drammach

Yes, thank you for the reminder. I definitely want to watch it. Probably not enough interest to start a live launch thread though. Thanks again. Very exciting times we live in!


29 posted on 03/06/2009 6:22:30 PM PST by LibWhacker
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To: Monkey Face

Will Spacecraft ever Go Faster than the speed of Light?
Various - See Text | 16 FEB 2003 | Various
Posted on 02/16/2003 2:16:44 PM PST by vannrox
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/844807/posts
112 posted on 08/20/2005 11:45:51 AM PDT by SunkenCiv
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/844807/posts?page=112#112
114 posted on 06/25/2006 2:14:53 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/844807/posts?page=114#114
115 posted on 06/25/2006 2:19:34 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/844807/posts?page=115#115


30 posted on 03/06/2009 6:41:39 PM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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UFO Propulsion Systems
by Stanton T. Friedman
Considering that there are stars in our local neighborhood that are billions of years older than the sun, it would not be surprising if interstellar travel has been commonplace for billions of years. Several published papers have concluded that our Milky Way galaxy already has been colonized. Furthermore, it must be noted that travel between star systems is more likely to occur the closer the next system is. Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli are both sunlike stars that are less than three light-weeks apart. Observers on a planet around one of them could easily observe planets around the other. One would certainly expect interstellar travel to develop earlier there than in our isolated corner of the neighborhood, where the nearest star to us is one hundred times farther away than the Zeta Reticulans are from each other.

31 posted on 03/08/2009 4:16:52 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: SunkenCiv
Some years ago I read or heard a *scientist's statment that, "other civilizations may be advanced over us, as we are over the earthworm.."

*It may have been Sagen or Friedman?

32 posted on 03/12/2009 2:19:39 AM PDT by Las Vegas Dave ("Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." - Ronald Reagan)
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To: Las Vegas Dave

It’s familiar — possibly a *character* in a sci-fi novel, but I haven’t read that many; could be something said by J. Allen Hynek, who was more of a scientist than many who have claimed to be.


33 posted on 03/12/2009 5:20:43 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: Las Vegas Dave

It sounds more like Arthur C. Clarke?


34 posted on 03/12/2009 5:30:41 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/____________________ Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: SunkenCiv

I am leaning towards Carl Sagen....(for the quote).


35 posted on 03/12/2009 5:39:01 PM PDT by Las Vegas Dave ("Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." - Ronald Reagan)
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To: Las Vegas Dave

>>> Some years ago I read or heard a *scientist’s statment that, “other civilizations may be advanced over us, as we are over the earthworm..” <<<

What? Earthworm civilizations? The little buggers are civilized now, are they? Why, bless their little aortic arches!


36 posted on 03/12/2009 5:44:24 PM PDT by Poe White Trash
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