Silly Headlines and Space Aliens, Serious Science and UAPs

Artist's concept; NASA, CSA, ESA, J. Olmsted (STScI), Science: Nikku Madhusudhan (IoA) Madhusudhan (Cambridge University); via 'This illustration shows what exoplanet K2-18 b could look like based on science data. K2-18 b, an exoplanet 8.6 times as massive as Earth, orbits the cool dwarf star K2-18 in the habitable zone and lies 120 light years from Earth.' (September 11, 2023)
Exoplanet K2-18 b, and artist’s concept, based on current science data. (September 11, 2023)

Monday, I wondered what I was going to write about this week.

Then I read that scientists found methane and carbon dioxide in a not-really-Earth-like planet’s atmosphere — and saw a silly headline or two.

Normally, that’d be more than enough for me to work with. But this hasn’t been a normal week for me. Actually, for me, I’m not sure that any week could reasonably be called “normal”, and that’s another topic.

Anyway, K2-18’s atmosphere is mostly on hold for now. Instead, I’ll talk about (alleged) space alien bodies, Nazca Lines and (human) mummies. And I’ll take a look at NASA’s UAP report. A quick look. It’s been one of those weeks.

Nice Weather, a Drought, and Me

U.S. Drought Monitor map: Current Drought in Minnesota. (September 12, 2023; released September 14, 2023)
Current Drought in Minnesota. (September 12, 2023)

Fact is, I’ve been feeling sub-par. Maybe it’s because we’ve had several days running of no smoke in the air, and temperatures that weren’t outrageously high.

On top of that, if my memory serves, this summer has passed with no tornado watches or warnings. Northwest of here, yes. Affecting Sauk Centre, not that I remember.

That’s — odd: maybe not where you are, but I live in central Minnesota. Our weather is not, usually, that uneventful.

Then on Wednesday, while checking news coverage of that ‘methane’ exoplanet, I saw this headline: “Two mummified alien corpses have just been unboxed in Mexico”.

I was faced with a choice.

I could either try talking about biosignatures and thermodynamic critical points.

Or I could chat about space aliens, the news, planets orbiting other stars, and NASA’s “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Report”.

It was Thursday afternoon by that time, so I didn’t really have much choice.

Although what scientists found in K2-18b’s atmosphere isn’t a sure sign that life exists on other worlds, I think it’s worth a serious look. And, just as important, it’s something I want to look at while I’m consistently staying in focus. Which I’m not this week.

So I’ll be taking a quick romp through a selection from this week’s news: including NASA’s UAP report.

Now that I think of it, though, we have had a significant weather event.

Are having, actually. This summer’s drought is still in progress.

Still, it could be worse in and around Sauk Centre. Our conditions are only “Moderate Drought”. Folks elsewhere in Minnesota are dealing with “Extreme” and “Exceptional” rain deficiencies.

Last Sunday we expressed thanks for the few drops we did get, and asked for more.

“Two mummified alien corpses…” ???

Selected Google News search results. (K2-18b) (September 13, 2023)
K2-18b in Google News: three headlines from three news sources. (September 13, 2023)

I am not making this up. When I typed K2-18b into the Google News search function, those three items were among the top results.

In fairness, much of what Google News showed me that time actually did have to do with K2-18b, exoplanets, or at least astronomy.

That “mummified alien corpses” thing, though, caught my attention. I mentioned that I’ve been having a time staying focused this week?

Seems that Dazed is a British lifestyle magazine. I’d suspected it was something along the lines of The Onion, but apparently not.1

On the other hand, just in case “Two mummified alien corpses…” wasn’t a lifestyle magazine’s spoof/satire, I looked for something from an outfit I was more familiar with.

“Experts”, Extraterrestrials, and Exclamation Marks

Henry Romero's/Reuters' photo: alleged space-alien body, displayed during an unidentified flying objects briefing at the San Lazaro legislative palace in Mexico City.(September 12, 2023) via NPR, used w/o permission.
More (alleged) space aliens: exhibited September 12, 2023, in Mexico City to a congressional UFO briefing.

A Mexican ufologist claims to show 2 alien corpses to Mexico’s Congress
Eyder Peralta, NPR (September 13, 2023)

“Mexico’s Congress heard testimony from experts who study extraterrestrials on Tuesday.

“And the hearing started with a huge surprise.

“Jaime Maussan, a self-described ufologist, brought two caskets into the congressional chambers. As Maussan spoke, two men uncovered the caskets, to reveal two bodies….

“… Maussan said they were found in Peru in 2017 and are estimated to be 1,000 years old. One of the bodies had been pregnant, he claimed….

“…Speaking under oath, Maussan claimed the bodies were nonhuman.

“Maussan and others have presented similar claims about alleged alien remains in the past. Scientists have dismissed them as either ancient Peruvian mummies or manipulated mummies.

“During Tuesday’s hearing, José de Jesús Zalce Benítez, a forensic expert and a military doctor, walked the Congress through scans of the alleged alien bodies.

“He claimed the alleged aliens had big brains and big eyes — ‘which allowed for a wide stereoscopic vision’ — and they lacked teeth, so they likely only drank and did not chew….”

First off, about “…testimony from experts who study extraterrestrials…”.

There are scientists who study conditions on other planets and in the universe in general. Some of them are learning how life might develop and grow on other worlds.

'Nouvelles découvertes dans la Lune....' A lithograph from 'Great Astronomical Discoveries', The New York Sun, translated into French. (1835) Artwork probably by Benjamin Day. Part of the 'Great Moon Hoax of 1835'. 'Lunar animals and other objects Discovered by Sir John Herschel in his observatory at the Cape of Good Hope and copied from sketches in the Edinburgh Journal of Science.' Benjamin Henry Day, Library of Congress, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.But, so far, we have not positively identified a single living critter that lives on another planet: never mind big-brained space aliens who unaccountably turned up dead in Peru.

And, by the way, Sir John Herschel did not discover humanoid bat-people on the Moon in the 1830s.

But — what if ‘they’ know space aliens exist, and are keeping it a secret? ‘They’ won’t admit that extraterrestrials exist, which proves that space aliens exist, and that there’s a vast conspiracy to keep it a secret!!!!!

Well, no. Although that sort of thing could make a good story. And has.

One of the problems I have with that particular conspiracy theory is the matter of motive.

Diorama of a Grey space alien at the Roswell UFO Museum; Roswell, New Mexico, USA; G. W. Dodson. (2011)Let’s imagine that NASA spotted an extraterrestrial vehicle landing in the American Southwest, back in the 1970s.

They promptly hustled the crew and their damaged craft into a secret underground base: and the space aliens are still there. (They’re the ones who told us how to make digital television.)

And — NASA has been keeping their existence secret for a half-century.

That narrative’s craziest part, for me, is NASA’s well-earned reputation as a publicity-minded outfit.

I don’t see them keeping quiet about what would have been a very hot news item, and knowledge that would have made space research funding a much easier sell.

Then there’s the matter of how many people would be involved in a cover-up like that, and the odds of keeping it quiet for decades.2

“Nazca Mummies” and —

Brian H. Gill's screenshot: Google search José de Jesús Zalce Benítez (21:25 UTC, September 13, 2023)
Screenshot: rapidly changing Google Search results (21:25 UTC, September 13, 2023)

A Google search for José de Jesús Zalce Benítez, forensic expert and military doctor, gave me that “It looks like the results below are changing quickly” notice. The IMDb Podcast Episode result, “MOMIAS DE NAZCA PT.3 ‘EL FINAL”, was slightly intriguing.

“Momias de Nazca…” is Spanish. In English it’d be “Nazca Mummies Pt. 3 ‘The End'”.

That’s all I learned about Dr. Benítez and the “Nazca mummies”.

Maybe they’re remains of folks who were interred in what we call the Chauchilla Cemetery. It’s south of Nazca, Peru, hasn’t been used for upwards of a millennium, and was “discovered” by outsiders in the 1920s.

A (highly) fictionalized version of the Chauchilla Cemetery features in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.

If the “Nazca mummies” Dr. Benítez discussed are from Chauchilla Cemetery, they’re very human and very dead. I don’t know how they’d feel about what’s happened to their remains. And that’s yet another topic.

If they’re the telepathic dimension-hopping aliens of that Indiana Jones film —

Well, no. I do not think so. Not at all.

Oddly enough, though, crystal skulls are real. Skulls. Plural. Allegedly from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica; possibly from Germany, starting around the mid-19th century.3

— The Skull of Doom
Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar's photo: Bill Homann, the Mitchell-Hedges skull/The Skull of Doom's current caretaker of The Mitchell-Hedges skull, also known as The Skull of Doom, on Monday, July 24, 2023, in Indiana. Homann inherited the skull from wife Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the adopted daughter of British adventurer and author F.A. Mitchell-Hedges, who claimed to have found the skull in while exploring Lubaantun with her father in 1924. (July 24, 2023) used w/o permission.
Bill Homann and “The Skull of Doom”, Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar. (2023)”

Then there’s The Skull of Doom, once owned by F. A. Mitchell-Hedges, English adventurer, traveler, and writer, who told increasingly colorful stories.4

The point is: finding verifiable, available-for-study, space alien bodies would be a huge news item. It might even, briefly, outshine the latest Washington gossip.

It’d also raise serious ethical questions. And maybe diplomatic ones, if folks related to or otherwise interested in what happened to the travelers started nosing around.

Speculation and the Nazca Lines

NASA/GSFC/MITI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team's image: Nazca Lines, seen from space. (2002)Knew I forgot something.

The Nazca Lines.

Between 2,500 and 1,500 years back, folks dug complicated line art into part of the Nazca Desert.

Since plotting out and digging those huge patterns was far more than an idle afternoon’s work, I figure they had good reasons for making them. What those reasons were is a good question.

A whole bunch of scholars came up with more-or-less-plausible answers.

And Erich von Däniken said some were landing strips set up by ancient astronauts. Others, he said, were replicas made by the locals, in case the space aliens came back.5

I don’t think so. But von Däniken’s idea has a certain appeal.

So I’ll add a bit of “ancient” lore to the Nazca story.

The reason the Nazca Lines are so complicate is that only some are ancient astronaut landing strips. Others are commercial messages: like “Eat at Zlorpfloop’s! Best Glargpoo This Side of Aozlip”.

No, I really do not think so. But it might make a good story.

K2-18b: Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and — Plankton?!

More selected Google News search results. (K2-18b) (September 13, 2023)
K2-18b in Google News: more headlines. (September 13, 2023) (“Plankton”? I am not making that up.)

K2-18 is smaller and cooler than our star. It’s 125 light-years out, in the general direction of Iota and Sigma Leonis. The star has two planets that we know of: K2-18 b and c.

We also know that K2-18 b has an atmosphere that’s mostly hydrogen, and that it’s roughly eight and a half times Earth’s mass. How scientists worked out its density, that I haven’t learned.

Yahoo/Sport’s “hints at life molecule” headline is accurate, as far as it goes, since carbon dioxide and methane are both molecules and associated with Earth’s biochemistry.

PCMag Middle East — How their reporters and/or editors came up with “plankton”, that is a question. Maybe they heard that zooplankton makes carbon dioxide: and figured that where there’s carbon dioxide there must be plankton.

Or maybe we’re seeing the start of “Great Moon Hoax: The Legend Continues”.6

Anyway, I’m planning on getting back to K2-18 b when I’ve learned more.

And I’d prefer that “science” news be taken as seriously as sports news, here in America.

If it was the other way around, I figure we’d hear sportscasters and commentators discussing home runs scored by the Atlanta Falcons, and wondering why there wasn’t a Zamboni performance during a Miami Heat game’s halftime show.

Existing UAP Reports: Acknowledging Possibilities

Screenshot from my Google News feed. (September 14, 2023)NASA released their “UAP Independent Study Team Report” and named a UAP director on Thursday.

The report has 31 pages, 36 if you include the front and back covers and pages. I’ve skimmed through it.

More accurately, I’ve skimmed the executive summary, read the main headings and read a few paragraphs on my way to “Overall Conclusions and Recommendations” and “Work Products: Discussion”.

I’m not an editor for The New York Times, so I won’t tell you what you’re supposed to know about “what the UAP Study Does and Doesn’t Say”.

Instead, I’ll quote part of the study’s last paragraph, emphasizing a few phrases. And give you a link to the study itself.

UAP Independent Study Team Report
Final Report
NASA Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team (September 14, 2023)

“…At this point there is no reason to conclude that existing UAP reports have an extraterrestrial source. However, if we acknowledge that as one possibility, then those objects must have traveled through our solar system to get here. Just as the galaxy does not stop at the outskirts of the solar system, the solar system also includes Earth and its environs. Thus, there is an intellectual continuum between extrasolar technosignatures, solar system SETI, and potential unknown alien technology operating in Earth’s atmosphere. If we recognize the plausibility of any of these, then we should recognize that all are at least plausible.
[emphasis mine]

The “UAP Independent Study Team Report” probably warrants another go-through, this time actually reading it: not just skimming for something I can quote.

I’m hoping that the UAP section of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate doesn’t fall into the upcoming presidential pig-wrestling pit.

That may depend on whether some wannabe Solon gets fans riled up over taxpayer dollars being wasted on looking for flying saucers.

I’ve talked about UAPs, UFOs, NASA and getting a grip before, back in June.

It’s Friday afternoon as I’m writing this, so here’s a quick look at why I’m not appalled that NASA and other agencies are studying UAPs.

First, I think NASA’s “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena” extension of UAP is better than “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”.

Mainly because, by definition, both are currently unidentified.

UAPs may be “aerial”, but again — they’re unidentified.

Some may not be, strictly speaking, “aerial”. We don’t know. And learning about them won’t be made any easier by deciding from the get-go that they must be aerial and/or atmospheric phenomena.

Besides, NASA’s activities have long since extended far beyond Earth’s atmosphere.7


Ball lightning entering through a chimney, from Hartwig's 'The Aerial World'. (1886)
Ball lightning, from Dr. Georg Hartwig’s “The Aerial World”. (1886)

As for acknowledging that a UAP might be a “technosignature” — tangible evidence of past or present technology — to me, that makes sense.

Insisting that the Wolfsegg Iron, AKA The Salzburg Cube, was a precision-machined perfect cube that obviously had been made by space aliens? Not only was the description I ran across in my youth factually wrong, but the conclusion was wildly unwarranted.

But taking unwarranted conclusions and outright hoaxes as a guide, and insisting that technosignatures must not exist: that does not make sense. Not to me.

I’d much rather have scientists avoid adopting a traditional “I do not understand this, so it does not exist” attitude.

Ball lightning8 may be a case in point for the folly of dismissing odd phenomena.

I’ve looked up how scientists have been studying ball lightning, and was surprised at what I didn’t find. The accounts I read don’t include beliefs that ‘ball lightning doesn’t exist and neither do thunderstorm sprites’.

Thing is, I remember that belief. Those beliefs. And so did my father. I can understand it: ball lightning, for example, was and is a rare phenomenon. I suspect it didn’t help that many witnesses were German or Russian. I’m drifting off-topic again.

Moving along.


Walt Kelly's Pogo (June 20, 1959) via WIST, used w/o permission.
Pork Pine and “a mighty soberin’ thought”. (June 1959)

XKCD: 'The world's first ant colony to achieve sentience calls off its search for us.One of the main problems with technosignatures is that there isn’t a consensus on just what one would be.

Radio signals seemed like an obvious “we are not alone” sign, but apparently that’s getting a second and may third look.

I’ll agree that modulated electromagnetic transmissions would be an effective way of communicating between stars.

But somehow, I rather strongly suspect that we haven’t learned everything there is to know about how this universe works. And maybe something we haven’t learned yet is an even easier, faster and clearer communication channel.

The big question isn’t, however, what a technosignature might or might not be. Or even if we have neighbors in this vast and ancient universe.

It’s can we have neighbors.

Based on what we’re learning, I’d say the answer is “yes”.

But must we have neighbors? Or, on the other hand, must we be the only people here?

I don’t think so, either way. Besides, the decision isn’t up to me.

“Our God is in heaven and does whatever he wills.”
(Psalms 115:3)

I’ve talked about this before, and probably will again:

1 Dazed and The Onion:

2 Science, logic and DTV:

3 Archaeology, artefacts and a movie:

4 Nifty story, dubious background:

5 Ancient and current land art, plus a nifty notion:

6 Stars, planets, microcritters, and a famous hoax:

7 UAPs and NASA:

8 A real phenomenon, a new term, and a mostly-iron lump:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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