The swamp gas is not restless

March 24th, 2009
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Readers may recall Paul Hellyer, an iconoclastic Canadian politician who over the years became too big for the major parties to hold. He then had to form his own party. Hellyer is mostly remembered for the unification of the three arms of the Canadian Armed Forces, seen now as yet another Trudeaupian boondoggle.

The face of the integration was that it seemed, in a kind of Maoist touch, everyone now had to wear green uniforms. Ironically, Mr. Hellyer has made headlines recently for a different kind of “green man”, namely extraterrestrials. Guest contributor Fred M., an astrophysicist by training, sent in this commentary on Mr. Hellyer’s musings:

Paul Hellyer, a former federal Liberal Minister of Defense has become convinced that UFO’s are real and that the proof is “irrefutable”. No scientist would ever describe a proof as “irrefutable”, that’s usually an adjective that crops up when belief is involved.

If UFO’s are actually alien spaceships then not only have they been able to overcome the extreme difficulties involving long distance space travel, but they have also been able to hide their existence quite thoroughly, except for a few sightings by UFO believers.

Let’s look at the difficulties, the first being the distances. If the sun were reduced to the size of a marble, say half an inch, then the solar system would be about 200 ft in diameter, about half a block. At this scale, the distance to the nearest star would be about 1000 miles! The distance to the centre of the galaxy, where the bulk of the stars reside, would be about two million miles. Consider that the Voyager spacecraft, launched over 30 years ago are just leaving the solar system now.

If alien beings came from a relatively nearby system, say only 1000 light years away, they would have to make ships capable of travelling very close to the speed of light. These ships would have to be extremely well protected, because if they hit any debris at that speed, it would destroy their ship. A golf ball sized rock traveling at the speed of light would have a mass close to the entire earth, resulting in a deadly collision. Any ship capable of withstanding such a collision would likely be quite large, not the car sized saucers commonly portrayed. NASA currently keeps track of thousands of pieces of orbiting space debris, down to pebble sizes. Somehow they seem to miss the mother ships and their saucer progeny. Thousands of telescopes, both professional and amateur, somehow miss the mother ships, even though they catch hundreds of meteorites and comets each year.

Even if aliens could overcome these technical difficulties, they still can’t get around the time problem. Traveling at the speed of light would allow a ship to visit anywhere in the galaxy and return, but time would still pass back home.  For example, if we sent a ship to a nearby star, say 1000 light years away, when the travelers came back several thousand years would have passed on earth. Life would be quite different. The only way around this would be travel through “wormholes”, which connect different parts of space. Although these are theoretically possible according to general relativity, they would be infinitesimally thin and require some sort of yet to be discovered “exotic” matter. This “exotic matter” doesn’t refer to certain dancers, but is matter with negative mass, whatever that means.

If aliens are actually travelling around the galaxy, they are probably using a vehicle similar to the one described in Arthur C. Clarke’s book “Rendezvous with Rama”. Even with that possibility, their home civilization would have to be somehow shielded so its transmissions and emissions are kept from going in our direction. Astronomers are constantly imaging the galaxy in all wavelengths with powerful telescopes, none on which detect any signals from intelligent aliens.

(You can watch this remarkable interview with Hellyer. Amazingly, he is [in his eighties] as sharp and articulate as any past Liberal cabinet ministers. Unfortunately, his ideas are just as credible. JW)

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By John Weissenberger, George Koch and admin