Cosmic Queries: Aliens

Copy of the original “Wow!” computer printout, taken several years after the arrival of the strong narrowband radio signal detected by Jerry R. Ehman on August 15, 1977 while working on a SETI project. Credit: Photo Credit: Ohio State University Radio Observatory; North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO).

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About This Episode

Could the “Wow!” radio signal recorded by a SETI researcher have been alien in origin? What laws of physics might limit the forms alien life could take? How near would alien civilizations have to be to detect life on Earth? What senses might an alien life form have beyond the ones humans possess? These are just a few of your questions that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Leighann Lord answer in this Cosmic Queries episode. You’ll find out what Dr. Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, would ask an extraterrestrial if he met one – and if he thinks we could even understand them. It’s an out-of-this-world episode filled with science, chemistry, exobiology, physics and informed speculation – whether you believe in the possibility of alien life or not.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: Aliens.

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  • perhaps there are a number of alien life forms that would be overwhelmed by the barrage of energy sources earth is bathed in from our many media forms and communication methods.

  • Lisa

    Neil……You and Michio Kaku are my new crushes…love you both….The question: what are the chances that the human race is basically the farm team for the ETs out there?

  • Mike Oakes

    I am listening to this and looking at the starfield in the background and just noticed that the star field in the background is a mirror of itself. As I recall,Dr. Tyson had an issue with the movie Titanic not just for using the wrong stars, but also for mirroring it from one side to the other, saying that it was not only wrong but lazy. What’s up with that Dr. T?

  • That comment about aliens smelling us through the galaxy like Rafiki smelling Simba made me laugh out loud, thank goodness my office door was closed.

  • ZoddTheHuman

    Woohoo Serbian.
    And as i type this you start speaking about language being just a tool for explaining ideas which could be universal in the brain.

  • NDT- Would you be an adviser for the JURBAN Google Lunar X PRIZE team? The Juxtopia® Group focuses its mission on underserved and disadvantaged populations to expose and significantly increase their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) proficiency through empirically researched interventions. We would also like to reached out to Nichelle Nichols.

    Thanks,
    Blaze Sanders
    CTO or Solar System Express

  • Cole

    The first answer you give is gold. It’s a perspective that I certainly couldn’t say I didn’t agree with, but simply never thought of it that way.

  • Mike Oakes

    The comment about aliens learning about human interactions through early episodes of The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy reminded me of the movie Explorers, with River Phoenix.

  • CuriousJ

    I always wondered if we were basically the on-going experiment of some extremely intelligent species. As far as them monitoring us or detecting us, I’m sure they would have laws of physics that we’ve barely to tap into.

  • Lauren

    Neil,

    As a nerdy poc (person of color) I’m a huge fan! So I love following tv shows you’re on, podcasts you record, articles you are in/write. I must say that I have always been impressed by the way you try to get the average person to think and see how science truly is awesome. Very Sagan. But today, I was a bit disappointed when listening to this podcast after I heard you use the ‘i word’. And by that I mean illegal alien. As both a Latina and an activist, I must say that that word causes a sharp ping in my chest when I hear it because it is a term used to indirectly say undocumented individuals are not human beings. So hopefully the next time you are about to use that term, you consider the feelings of undocumented immigrants, their family members, and their friends. That misstep aside, I still love your work and appreciate everything you do to promote science to the masses.

  • Hey Neil,

    It struck me , that looking out into space to find Aliens, i think that if they were inteligent and curious. they might send out “beacons” of information for others to find. the wow signal is completely intriguing. it might be the remnants of an effort like this. are there any new technologies to further study the ” WOW” signal ?

    Also , it would be awesome to discuss the black hole firewall subject. does this mean the end of spaghetification as we know it ? can this new insight help us make sense of quantum mechanics and relativity and get to a unified theory ? cuz that’d be pretty BADASS IF IT DID !! what if i have my own theory that a universe can exist inside a blackhole, and that the universe is a seething froth of blackholes within blackholes and lending complete credibility to the many worlds hypothesis of Hugh Everett. if you could imagine a bubble created from external forces, than the inside forces inside that bubble must be equal to the force pulling the surface outward. somehow the mass getting sucked onto the surface of the black hole makes it grow, forcing the inside volume to grow ? creating lots of virtual particles , and a spacetime ffor us to grow up into ? i dont know for sure, but i came up with this from reading about all these various physics news stories.
    so in my theory of how the universe works, the blackhole is simply a barrier between two disimilar spacetimes.
    and it is also why we see the universe accelerating outwards to reach the inside surface of the black hole our entire universe resides in.

    and as for the lost info that cannot be retrieved from a black hole, i think that just depends on which side of the black hole you are on. the cosmic microwave background might hold the secrets to the information that got sucked into whatever created our big bang, ( be it a black hole if we could see it from outside the barriers of our universe) ???? you see any reason why any of this is wrong? cuz i think it is as good as gold for the beginnings of unified theory.

  • Cass Womack

    wait a minute… Rafiki didn’t just smell the plant spores, he analyzed them under a bowl too! He used his Rafiki baboon science! 😀 sry I just wanted to point that out.

    Love the show! <3

  • Sam Thinks

    A tree is a life form that doesn’t need to scratch it’s toes.

  • Michael Neel

    Hey Neil,

    In regards to your statements about limited lifefrom size, What about 4th dimensional conscious beings? Could not a giant being that would take five years of light travel to transmit the signal operate perfectly well if it was aware of the time stream differently than we are? Additionally, it is postulated by some that the human bodies computes some “brain” functions with other cells of the the body like memories stored or processed in the stomach. Would it be possible that a being of that size could be have multiple centers of signal processing around it’s makeup? We have creatures with three hearts, multiple stomachs and far more eyes than humans. Why not “brains”. Is it completely necessary that the being would need to be aware of physical sensation at all point of their body?

    Mike

  • Maurice Frank

    Dr. Tyson, did your reply to the second question about size limits of life forms assume a central control system such as our nervous system directed by the brain in our skulls? What if the equivalent of our nervous system is decentralized and operative throughout the organism so that it can respond to a sensation where the sensation occurs. Tickle my feet? My feet respond. My brain, which is a few light years away, gets the memo. Couldn’t this be possible? My knowledge of Earthly life forms is limited, but I would not be surprised if this ability has evolved here on our planet. Thanks for another fantastic show!

  • David J

    Hey, just started listening, love it so far. I do have to say I disagree with Neil’s rationalle concerning the upper size limit of the aliens also, though I think there is an upper limit. But I think it is more a limit of the ability of the being to get enough energy and matter to replicate itself (afterall, life is replicating molecules with a lot of window dressing).

  • Vadim Platonov

    I have only discovered this podcast a few weeks ago. Now I have hours of enjoyable and informative listening.
    I wanted to comment on the upper size of a living being. Neil mentioned that something of a size of a solar system would have impractically delayed response system to any stimulus due to the time needed for a signal to travel long distances. My objection is that anything of that size would also have an enormous gravitational field. Such gravity would slow down the giant creature’s internal time dramatically: our 5 hours would become milliseconds in the creature’s realm.

  • Midav

    I have only discovered this podcast a few weeks ago. Now I have hours of enjoyable and informative listening.
    I wanted to comment on the upper size of a living being. Neil mentioned that something of a size of a solar system would have impractically delayed response system to any stimulus due to the time needed for a signal to travel long distances. My objection is that anything of that size would also have an enormous gravitational field. Such gravity would slow down the giant creature’s internal time dramatically: our 5 hours would become milliseconds in the creature’s realm.

  • Alright I just returned to this podcast because I figured out something: clear this confusion please >> At 13:43 it is mentioned of ”security clearance” — Am I the only one to thinks this instates that there is now credible evidence of life on other planet which has not yet been released to public knowledge? Why the issue of security clearance would even arise if it was already established there is no extraterrestrial life in the first place.

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