Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Stenonychosaurus on the Moon?

It may sound like science fiction, but NASA scientist Chris McKay did suggest that we dig for dinosaur relics on the moon at a SETI conference last week. Robin Hansen reports on what he heard and quotes McKay's 1996 paper, "Time for intelligence on other planets":

It is now considered probable that the dinosaurs were not the lumbering clods of urban myth but that they were biochemically and behaviorally as sophisticated as present mammals. Evidence continues to point to parentling and social behavior that is on a par wit small mammals and birds. ... [Considero] the small carnivorous dinosaur Stenonychosaurus, which stood about 120cm, weighed about 40 kg, and had [a brain size ratio] about equal to that of a possum or an octopus, and lived over 12 million years before the end of the dinosaurs. ...

One might speculate that perhaps Stenonychosaurus or her progeny did build radio telescopes, but their civilization was destroyed by some internal or external catastrophe. Perhaps the lifetime of their civilization was so short compared with the resolution of the geological record (typically millions of years) that it is simply lost without a trace in the depths of time. It is difficult to say what evidence would survive of human civilization - if it was terminated now - after 65 million years of tectonic activity, erosion, and sea level change. It is interesting to note that there is one place where the record of human technology will be preserved for times much longer than 100 million years. ... The Apollo landing sites on the Moon would bear mute testimony to technological humans.

Of course, the dinosaurs might have have even more optimistic goals (and a well-funded space program). Maybe, just maybe, they are still out there somewhere - and you can read about them:

For more about detecting alien life, see this July 2006 interview with Chris McKay in Astrobiology Magazine.

Image: Illustration from "Cosmic Cannon: How an Exploding Star Could Fry Earth"
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