ValueWalk’s Q&A session with Michael Wall, senior writer at Space.com. In this interview, Michael discusses his background, potentially habitable worlds, if Earth life were alone in the universe, the theory of evolution, if UFOs are advanced military tech, investigating UFO sightings, the militarization of space, who started the space war, if there are alien carcasses at area 51, and discovering intelligent aliens in this life time.
1) Can you tell us about your background?
I used to be a biologist — I studied wildlife biology, ecology and evolution, and I specialized in reptiles and amphibians, especially lizards and snakes. But I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so I became a science journalist. I’ve been at Space.com since 2010.
2) You believe in aliens are you a "conspiracy theorist"?
I’m no conspiracy theorist; I don’t think the government is hiding evidence of alien visits from us or anything like that. Indeed, I don’t think we’ve found any firm evidence of E.T. yet. But I do think that alien life is out there — there are just too many potentially habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy and beyond for Earth to be the only place with life.
3) Are you affiliated with SETI?
No, I’m not a SETI scientist. But I do report on SETI studies and talk to SETI researchers regularly.
4) What is the scientific basis for aliens?
It’s a circumstantial case, but a strong one. In the last 10 years or so, we’ve learned that about 25% of the Milky Way’s 200 billion stars host a potentially Earth-like planet — a rocky world at about the right distance to support liquid water on its surface. So, that’s 50 billion planets just in our galaxy alone.
In fact, our own solar system has multiple potentially habitable worlds — Earth, of course, and also several moons in the outer solar system (Jupiter’s moon Europa and the Saturn satellites Titan and Enceladus, all of which harbor subsurface oceans). Mars and Venus were habitable in the ancient past, and both of those worlds may still host life today (on Mars, underground; on Venus, in the clouds).
In addition, we know that life got a foothold on Earth very early on — likely about 4 billion years ago, just about as soon as our planet cooled off enough to support liquid water. That suggests that it’s not terribly difficult for life to get going if conditions are right.
Putting all of that together, I’d be shocked if Earth life were alone in the universe.
5) By aliens do you mean any foreign life like bacteria or green beings like in the movies?
I’d guess most alien life is microbial. Life on Earth was microbe-only for about 3 billion years, which suggests that “advancing” to multicellularity is a pretty high hurdle. But given the huge number of potentially habitable worlds, I’d bet that “complex” life has evolved in multiple places as well.
6) When i was a child i deducted to myself (in my limited scientific understanding) the theory of evolution would mean there should be life elsewhere in potentially habitable worlds, what do you think about that?
The theory of evolution by natural selection explains why and how lineages change over time, but it doesn’t tell us how life got started in the first place. And we only have one known life-hosting world to work with, so it’s tough to draw any firm conclusions about origins. But the speed with which life took hold here on Earth and the huge number of Earth-like planets out there suggest to me that life should be widespread throughout the galaxy.
7) UFOs the navy has seen, could they be secret craft being developed by America or other militaries? How would we know for sure?
That’s one possible explanation; the U.S. and other powers certainly do develop advanced military tech that they don’t tell us about for a while (or at all). It’s unclear how we would figure this out; we’d probably have to get quality information from someone who worked on such projects.
8) Is the only other conclusion actual aliens or could it be some weather pattern?
There could be other explanations. Weird weather is a possibility for some sightings, as is some kind of instrument artifact. The recently reported UFO sightings came after the Navy installed new sensors on their jets, after all, so maybe there are some bugs in the instrument or its software that need to be worked out. And UFOs tend to stay right on the edge of detectability — for decades, they’ve remained blurry and mysterious even as our instruments have changed and improved. Cellphone cameras are everywhere, but we still don’t have good, clear photos of UFOs. That suggests to me that something else is going on, and the things we’re getting glimpses of in the sky aren’t alien spacecraft.
9) Reuters article said it could be a trick played on eyes, what do you think?
Yes, that’s possible as well.
10) It would be exciting to be ETs but why would they visit us and then appear in spacecraft but then hide away? Doesn't the simplest possibility say its something in this planet?
Yeah, that’s how I feel. Just because we can’t explain something doesn’t mean we should immediately jump to “It’s aliens.” That seems like the most improbable explanation. And it also seems very odd to me that aliens would visit us here, zip around for a while in our skies, and then do (apparently) nothing. They must be very advanced if they crossed the vast gulf of space — so advanced that they could certainly evade detection if they wished. And if they wanted to be detected, to make contact, you’d think they would be more clear about it.
None of this is to suggest that the Navy pilots reporting the UFOs — or anyone reporting UFOs — are dumb or naive. I think it’s good to investigate these sightings and entertain all possibilities.
11) Have army pilots actually seen UFOs like in the movies?
Military pilots have certainly reported weird, fast-moving objects that they can’t immediately explain. But these objects are usually picked up by their planes’ instruments, not seen with the naked eye.
12) Why are we hearing about Navy pilots and not USAAF or other branches?
The Navy recently changed its policy, encouraging pilots to report weird things that they’ve seen in the skies. So, that may have something to do with it. I’m all in favor of that policy, by the way — there should be no stigma attached to coming forward and saying, “I saw something I can’t explain.” The military should want to investigate such sightings — maybe the object was an adversary’s reconnaissance craft, for example.
13) What about other militaries with sophisticated space and air forces like Russia or China - have they seen?
I’m sure they have, yeah. I haven’t researched sightings by Chinese or Russian pilots, so I can’t say much about it. But historically, people from all over the world have reported seeing weird objects in the skies.
14) What do you think about the militarization of space? Is space like aircraft were to the sky around WWI?
There’s a lot of “space war” rhetoric flying around these days, and multiple nations have been developing and testing anti-satellite weapons (most recently, India). It’s a bit worrisome, and far from the ideal of space as a neutral regime that the world should explore together.
15) Who started this space war? Was it the US? Russia? China? Other?
I wouldn’t describe the current situation as a war; it’s more of a competition, and it goes all the way back to the dawn of the space age. Space has always been a hotly contested regime militarily, because it offers great views of the action below and gives warfighters access to better navigation and communication. Indeed, the United States owes a great deal of its military prowess to its highly capable spy satellites and communications satellites.
16) Has there been any shooting incidents involving UFOs?
There are reports that pilots were ordered to fire on UFOs during the Cold War (see this New York Times story, for example: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/21/world/europe/21britain.html). I’m not aware of any actual shots fired, but I haven’t read through all the Project Blue Book case files.
17) What goes on in area 51?
The Air Force uses it to test new and advanced aircraft, and to train pilots. The chances that there are alien carcasses hanging in meat lockers there are just about zero, in my opinion. That’s too valuable and important a secret to keep; somebody would have spilled the beans and gotten a million-dollar book deal already.
18) Do you think we will discover intelligent life in your lifetime?
I’m not confident that will happen; I do think intelligent aliens are out there, but the odds that we’ll make contact with one civilization in my lifetime seem pretty slim. But I am confident that we’ll find evidence of alien microbes — either long-dead or still alive — before I’m gone. And I think we’ll find these little extraterrestrials in our own solar system, on Mars, Europa, Titan or Enceladus.