Dude, Where’s My Spaceship?

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“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so” – Stephen Hawking

alien_joyride

Man, my dad is going to kill me…

In all probability, most extraterrestrials want nothing to do with us.  The galactic rumor mill probably says we’re smelly, aggressive, and have no sense of humor.

Alien 1:  So I landed my flying saucer in his field, gave him a buckwheat pancake and asked for a bucket of water….
Alien 2: That’s hilarious!  What did he do?
Alien 1:  Started a cult.
Alien 2:  Jesus.  Stay away from those people.
Alien 1:  Wait. Let me tell you about what we did to the cattle…

Given how unpleasant we are to each other, even the most casual alien observer undoubtedly regards us with a great deal of trepidation.  If I was from an advanced civilization that had crawled its way out of the muck and managed to bridge enormous interstellar distances, it’s likely that bothering to interact with us is a bit like having a conversation with Forest Gump.  That is, if Forest Gump had nuclear weapons at his disposal and was continuously beaming “Life is like a box of chocolates” out into the void.  Thus I’ve come to suspect that we are only visited by drunk, obnoxious teenage extraterrestrials out for a joyride.

Admittedly, my concrete evidence for this is a bit thin.  Bizarre alien behavior could be explained by vast cultural differences, but it seems that the clearest indication is they seem to arrive in busted-up, second hand UFOs – crashing them in the desert, ruining our lawns with bad parking jobs, and accidentally irradiating us.  Sounds like somebody just got their provisional driver’s license and doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.  A classic example of this occurred on October 24th, 1885 in Maracaibo, Venezuela, the results of which were reported by Foreign Service Officer Warner Cowgill of the U.S. Consulate to Scientific American.

During the night of the 24th of October last, which was rainy and tempestuous, a family of nine persons, sleeping in a hut a few leagues from Maracaibo, were awakened by a loud humming noise and a vivid, dazzling light, which brilliantly illuminated the interior of the house. The occupants, completely terror stricken, and believing, as they relate, that the end of the world had come, threw themselves on their knees and commenced praying, but their devotions were almost immediately interrupted by violent vomitings, and extensive swellings which commenced to appear in the upper part of their bodies, this being particularly noticeable about the face and lips.  It is to be noted that the brilliant light was not, accompanied by a sensation of heat, although there was a smoky appearance and a peculiar smell. The next morning the swellings had subsided, leaving upon the face and body large black blotches. No special pain was felt until the ninth day, when the skin peeled off and these blotches were transformed into virulent raw sores. The hair of the head fell off upon the side which happened to be underneath when the phenomenon occurred, the same side of the body being, in all nine cases, the more seriously injured. The remarkable part of the occurrence is that the house was uninjured, all doors and windows being closed at the time. No trace of lightning could afterward be observed in any part of the building, and all the sufferers unite in saying that there was no detonation, but only the loud humming already mentioned. Another curious attendant circumstance is that the trees around the house showed no signs of injury until the ninth day, when they suddenly withered, almost simultaneously with the development of the sores upon the bodies of the occupants of the house. This is perhaps a mere coincidence, but it is remarkable that the same susceptibility to electrical effects, with the same lapse of time, should be observed in both animal and vegetable organisms. I have visited the sufferers, who are now in one of the hospitals of this city; and although their appearance is truly horrible, yet it is hoped that in no case will the injuries prove fatal – Warner Cowgill, U. S. Consulate, Maracaibo, Venezuela, November 17, 1886 (Cowgill, 1886, p389).

The symptoms reported were consistent with what we recognize today as acute radiation poisoning; in fact, perfectly align with the descriptions of the physicians on scene in Nagasaki after an atomic bomb was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945.  Dr. Yosisada Nakashima, a leading expert in X-rays arrived from Kyushu on September 9th and reported the symptomology of radiation sickness that we’ve since become familiar with, based on the similarity to X-ray overdoses.  “All the symptoms are similar. You have a reduction in white corpuscles, constriction in the throat, vomiting, diarrhea and small hemorrhages just below the skin. All of these things happen when an overdose of Roentgen rays is given. Bombed children’s hair falls out” (George Weller’s Nagasaki Report, 1945).  Obviously, the higher the dose of radiation absorbed, the quicker the onset of symptoms.  In fact, modern physicians use a radiation exposure algorithm based on the amount, severity, and time to onset of vomiting to determine the radiation dose received and the parts of the body that have been irradiated.

Immediate post-exposure onset of vomiting as described in the Maracaibo incident would be an indication that a dose upwards of 30 grays (“grays” are the International Standard Unit for radiation dosage, defined as the absorption of one joule of radiation energy per kilogram of matter) was absorbed.  A 30 gray dose of radiation induces vomiting within minutes in 100% of exposures (although the rates for a dose between 8-30 grays has the same effect 90% of the time).  While blistering, ulceration, and hair loss are typical with varying latency across most radiation poisoning, the moist desquamation (peeling of skin) reported nine days later at Maracaibo is these days closely associated with heavy irradiation by high energy beta particles, as observed at Chernobyl and verified by the Churchill Hospital Research Institute.

As the only report of this was in Scientific American, we do not have any indication of what ultimately happened to the unfortunate Venezuelans who found themselves unceremoniously irradiated.  Citizens of Earth, we must unite on this issue and demand emissions inspections for flying saucers or a minimum visiting age for young aliens.  Frankly we should have included instructions on Voyager.

References
Cowgill, Warner.  “Curious Phenomena in Venezuela” (Letter to the Editor). Scientific American v55 (Jul-Dec). New York: Munn & Co, 1886.