Into the future

Into the future

While most aliens would be the equivalent of microbes, there is also a possibility that they exist as scavengers living on massive spaceships, having used up the resources of their host planet. It is a fantastic vision but one that seems quite believable since it comes from the world’s most famous living scientist — Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking’s Universe is a four part series that will be aired on Discovery Channel in July, where Hawking showcases this possibility.

Sounds like the stuff Hollywood science fiction is made of! But not entirely unbelievable if you consider it in the light of recent Hubble revelations — in the area of space visible through the eye of a needle held at arm’s length, five thousand galaxies have been identified, which make the existence of aliens a completely believable possibility.
Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads or scavengers looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach. For instance they could collect energy from an entire star using millions of mirrors in space encircling the star and feeding the power to one single collector. Such power would make it possible to walk the fabric of space and create a wormhole, which would act as a short cut allowing them to travel huge distances in the blink of an eye.

If what Hawking says is possible then it would make sense for these space invaders to be limited only by how much power they could harness and control, which could be far more than we imagine. And they might have evolved from a species like us that is used to exploiting whatever they can find. So if these aliens are anything like us, we only have reason to fear them as well as try and stay away. It has been 20 years since Hawking wrote the groundbreaking A Brief History of Time. And this time, he offers fresh perspective on space mysteries that continue to fascinate and puzzle including aliens, time travel and the end of the universe.

The series has already been aired in other parts of the world and we can look forward to cutting edge effects, digitally enhanced NASA footage and live action which are combined to bring Hawking’s extraordinary vision of the universe to the screen. One scene in his documentary, shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another one shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point — that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he has said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.” The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.
The other interesting part of the series deals with time travel — a possibility that has been the muse of writers and film directors for years. The idea of power hungry machines that can transport a traveller with infinite courage or risk-taking ability to a place in time in the future or the past by creating a tunnel through time, using a path through the fourth dimension is not entirely impossible. Hawking and other visionaries consider the possibility of using wormholes as portals to the past and future.

 Those interested can check out the episode on ‘time travel — a walk in time’ wherein it is demonstrated that an imagined ship would reach outer planets like Neptune in one week. After two years, it would reach half the speed of light and be far outside our solar system. Another two years later, it would be travelling at 90 per cent the speed of light and passing our closest star system — Alfa Centura (about 30 trillion miles away from the earth) and four years since launch, the ship would begin to travel in time.
The completion of the documentary marks a triumph for Hawking, now 68, who is paralysed by motor neuron disease and has very limited powers of communication. The project took him and his producers three years, during which he insisted on rewriting large chunks of the script and checking the filming.
‘Stephen Hawking's Universe’ will air on  the Discovery Channel from July 5.

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