A Nobel for looking for "dem aliens"

The Nobel prizes are being handed out again this week, though rumor has it that Obama isn’t in the running this time. The announcements did generate some interesting headlines, however, particularly when the prize for physics was announced. In a rather unusual choice, a theoretical cosmologist, an astrophysicist and an astronomer shared the award. And the reason for the honor was teased with a description saying that they had jointly moved us forward toward answering the question… are we alone? (Associated Press)

They are two of the most fundamental questions not just of science, but of humanity: How did we get here? And are we alone?

A Canadian-American cosmologist and two Swiss scientists split this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for not quite answering those universal questions, but getting closer to the cosmic truths.

Canadian-born James Peebles, 84, an emeritus professor at Princeton University, won for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology, about what happened soon after the Big Bang that eventually led to the formation of galaxies and the universe as we know it.

Swiss star-gazers Michel Mayor, 77, and Didier Queloz, 53, both of the University of Geneva, were honored for finding an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that orbits a sun-like star.

They were overselling the achievement a bit there, don’t you think?

The stargazers definitely deserve a lot of credit. Their work back in the nineties led to the confirmation of the first known exoplanet circling a yellow star like our own sun. We’ve discovered thousands of other planets since then, particularly after Kepler first went online, but very few have the combination of a rocky world in the habitable zone orbiting a star so similar to our own.

But does that have us any closer to confirming the existence of alien life? Not really. As the number of known planets continues to grow, however, the odds look better and better that we’ll eventually find something, but we’re not there yet.

The choice of the cosmologist also seemed a bit odd. There’s no question that James Peebles is highly respected in his field, but his work in developing a model of the early universe remains entirely hypothetical, as all such models are. We have no way of confirming whether that’s really what the universe looked like. I’m sure he’s got a better theory than anything most of us could cook up, but it’s still, after all, a theory. Weren’t these prizes usually given out for actual discoveries?

In any event, we may be closer to “finding dem aliens” than ever before now, thanks to the recent revelations regarding UFOs in our airspace. And if that’s the case, we won’t even need a telescope to see them. Or maybe it will just turn out to be a deeply secretive Pentagon project. Either way, whoever solves that puzzle should definitely be up for some kind of award.

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