2359: Evidence of Alien Life

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Evidence of Alien Life
Both too cautious AND not cautious enough: "I'm skeptical that those are aliens, so I'm going to try pulling off their masks."
Title text: Both too cautious AND not cautious enough: "I'm skeptical that those are aliens, so I'm going to try pulling off their masks."


This comic depicts a table of possible responses to new information on the possibility of alien life. It is presented in table form, with the columns representing three categories of reaction to new evidence, and the rows representing the strength of new evidence, increasing down the table. Each intersection then shows a small scenario of what the response would be. The left and right-hand column scenarios are hyperbolic in either their acceptance or denial. The center column represents a reasonable course of action.[citation needed]

This comic was a reaction to the discovery of phosphine gas on Venus, which is where Ponytail's "V" figure in the second row comes from (a representation of the phosphine absorption feature). Phosphine is a molecule whose presence in the Venusian atmosphere came as a surprise. Light breaks phosphine down, meaning something must be producing it. However, there is no known abiotic mechanism on Venus that would produce the gas in the quantities observed. The phosphine could therefore be a sign of life on Venus, but more evidence is needed. Venus was also an unexpected place to find a possible sign of life — although it was a common pulp fiction setting in the early 20th-century, the arrival of the space probe era dashed hopes that the hidden surface might be, say, an exotic jungle (one of the more common pulp-fiction concepts). More recent efforts at finding life in the Solar System have mostly focused on Mars and various ice moons with suspected subsurface oceans, but life more-or-less as we know it could exist within the upper atmosphere of Venus, which has more Earth-like conditions than the surface. However, while the discovery of phosphine is interesting, it is not nearly enough evidence to claim that "life has been found" on Venus, and likewise, it is comically understated to refer to the paper as "evidence of molecules" in Venus's atmosphere.

The title text refers to an action which is simultaneously too cautious and not cautious enough: the speaker is skeptical that aliens exist, which is usually an appropriate belief, except that presumably Megan and Cueball are in the situation presented in the bottom row, where aliens have landed right in front of them. Rather than modifying his belief (presumably it's Cueball, who was the one to approach the aliens in the other panels), he expresses an intention to approach the alleged aliens and attempt to remove their masks. He believes that he will expose a human wearing a costume, perpetrating a "Scooby-Doo"-style hoax, but no matter what the outcome is, he's acting rashly. If the beings before him are aliens, he will be initiating a very aggressive first contact and will likely receive a violent response, and even if the alien is not violent, Cueball might end up removing an environmental apparatus that is protecting it from Earth's environment (or vice versa). On the other hand, even if the "aliens" really are fakes, Cueball might end up injuring someone who is just playing a harmless joke (and who'd want to keep some kind of mask on to reduce the spread of COVID-19). Also, aggressively reaching out to grab an impostor's mask and yanking on it might likewise produce a violent response.

Description of responses[edit]

In the first row, an asteroid looks like an "alien probe". The "least cautious" response immediately jumps to the conclusion that the asteroid is an alien probe. The "too cautious" response simply ignores the possible implications of the asteroid and instead diverts either into a Socratic assertion or some other less relevent form of philosophical doubt, while the "appropriately cautious" response seeks to discover more pertinent information about the asteroid. Some humor is derived from the "appropriately cautious" response including a firm and unambiguous "it's not aliens".

The "alien probe" asteroid refers to 'Oumuamua, which passed through the Solar System in 2017. 'Oumuamua's hyperbolic trajectory indicated interstellar origin. Because of the unusual elongated shape suggested by its albedo (the object was never visualized as more than a point source of light) and indications of a slight non-gravity related acceleration, there were many wild speculations about 'Oumuamua's origin, including it being an alien probe similar to the one presented in the science fiction classic Rendezvous with Rama. The image of an astronomer looking through a telescope and being alarmed by seeing "something huge" which is actually very small and very close is an old comic gag, but the difference in parallax would immediately distinguish a close asteroid from a far one.

The second row refers to the discovery of phosphine gas on Venus, with the "least cautious" response to simply conclude that there is life on Venus. The "appropriately cautious" and "too cautious" responses provide more general conclusions about "molecules" on Venus, with the latter adding nothing at all to our understanding.

In the final row, aliens have arrived on Earth. The insufficiently cautious approach is to immediately hug them. Cueball might make a new friend, but he might also be mistaken as an attacker, or perhaps the aliens are intending to make a meal of whoever approaches them. The more responsible approach is to (consider attempting to) communicate at a distance. In the final panel, the United Nations building is being vaporized by energy beams. This is technically "just" a "possible biosignature", as there are abiotic stellar events that produce energetic beams (although those are usually the size of planets or stars rather than buildings) and the beams could also be of human origin, but debating such semantics in the face of such destructive power seems excessively pedantic. For that matter, even though that panel is presented as "too cautious", it's only "too cautious" in the sense of "discussing the possibility of alien life"; Megan and Cueball are showing extreme lack of caution by remaining in the vicinity of an alien attack.

The destruction of human governmental buildings is a common trope in science fiction films, as a way of aliens removing the ability of humanity to co-ordinate a response to an attack. The United Nations building is allegedly the co-ordination centre for a worldwide response to an extraterrestrial incursion. However, since popular culture in the USA currently doesn't pay much attention to the United Nations, in American movies it is more commonly the White House or larger cities like New York or Los Angeles that get blown up by aliens. (While the United Nations Secretariat Building is in New York, it would be a general destruction of the area and only notable cultural landmarks – perhaps the Empire State Building or Chrysler Building – or the general financial/commercial/social disruption are more likely to be dwelt upon in detail.)


[The comic is laid out like a 3 by 3 grid, with the amount of evidence down the left-hand side (Weak Evidence of Alien Life/Promising Evidence/Definite Evidence) and the type of reaction across the top (Not Cautious Enough/Appropriately Cautious/Too Cautious). Each box is a combination of the row label and column label.]
[Row 1: Weak Evidence of Alien Life]
[Column 1: Not Cautious Enough]
[Cueball is looking through a telescope. There is a long, thin asteroid seen through the telescope, shown on the upper-left hand corner in the panel.]
Cueball: This asteroid is probably an alien probe!
[Column 2: Appropriately Cautious]
[Same scene as before, except the asteroid is omitted.]
Cueball: This asteroid is weird and we should take a closer look.
Cueball: It's not aliens.
[Column 3: Too Cautious]
Cueball: This asteroid appears to be far away, but it could also be nearby and just very small.
[Row 2: Promising Evidence]
[Column 1: Not Cautious Enough]
[Ponytail runs excitedly to Cueball. She carries a notepad with a V on it.]
Ponytail: They found life on Venus!
[Column 2: Appropriately Cautious]
[Same scene, except Ponytail is simply looking at her notepad.]
Ponytail: These molecules might be produced by life, or by weird high-heat chemistry.
[Column 3: Too Cautious]
[Same scene, except Ponytail's arm is slack by her side.]
Ponytail: There is growing evidence that the atmosphere on Venus contains molecules.
[Row 3: Definite Evidence]
[Column 1: Not Cautious Enough]
[There is a UFO with two aliens coming out of it. Cueball excitedly runs to the aliens, while Megan waits. There are three UFOs flying in the background.]
Cueball: I'm going to go give those aliens a hug!
[Column 2: Appropriately Cautious]
[Two aliens are on the ground, and the foreground UFO is no longer in the frame. Cueball is talking to Megan. There are three UFOs in the background.]
Cueball: Oh wow, aliens!
Cueball: Should we try to communicate?
[Column 3: Too Cautious]
[Three UFOs are shooting beams into the United Nations building, vaporizing it. Cueball and Megan are watching.]
Megan: The energy beams vaporizing the United Nations could be a possible biosignature.

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal also did a special issue this morning in honor of this announcement. Barmar (talk) 20:02, 14 September 2020 (UTC)

I don't think the bottom left panel fits. If you read it as left side is jumping to wild conclusions, center having an appropriate conclusions, and the right said as avoiding coming to any conclusions, then 8/9 panels fit. The bottom left doesn't really fit. 20:33, 14 September 2020 (UTC)mcstatz

Definite Evidence means there's no need to be leaping to wild conclusions as to their existence, it's already "definite". In this case, the wild conclusion would be the assumption that they are friendly and that touching them has no potential to be harmful. -boB (talk) 21:18, 14 September 2020 (UTC)
Even if the aliens are initially friendly, are they going to interpret a hug as a hostile action? There's no way to know without understanding their culture. 22:27, 14 September 2020 (UTC)
I travel 10 parsecs to a planet so primitive that they still think the digital watch is a neat idea and then somebody wraps their body around me, damn right I'm going to respond with force Kev (talk) 00:50, 15 September 2020 (UTC)

BOOK/TV SHOW SPOILER I wonder if the first panel (asteroid is probe) is a reference to the first season/book of The Expanse? Or maybe I'm just thinking that because I've been watching the show myself haha. As an aside, if there is a proper spoiler feature here that will hide the comment, please edit this. 23:08, 14 September 2020 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure it's a reference to this: https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/oumuamua-interstellar-visitor-1.4454180#:~:text=%27Weird%27%20rock%20Astronomers%20have%20discovered%20%27Oumuamua%20resembles%20worlds,%27Oumuamua%2C%20for%20example%2C%20has%20a%20significant%20carbon%20content. -monte 01:44, 15 September 2020 (UTC)

It's just possible that the top-right panel references the British(/Irish, by setting) sitcom Father Ted, where the eponymous Father is trying to explain to Father "Two aspects short of a Trinity" Dougal that these cows (indicates models of cows) are very small, but those cows (gesturing out of the 'holiday caravan' window) are far away.... And even if it isn't, I commend you to go and watch it anyway as it's a truly classic series... 04:22, 15 September 2020 (UTC)

Is there a category for "alien encounters"? Should we create one? 17:05, 16 September 2020 (UTC)

can someone make the explanation into a table. it is hard to understand .