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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Nov > Nov 26

Class Studies Aliens Through The Ages

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2007 11:58:01 -0500
Archived: Mon, 26 Nov 2007 11:58:01 -0500
Subject: Class Studies Aliens Through The Ages

Source: The Edmonton Journal - Alberta, Canada


November 26 2007

Out-of-this-world U of A Class Studies Aliens Through The Ages

Martians trump monarchs in history professor's course

Keith Gerein
The Edmonton Journal

On a clear night, when the sky is lit up with stars, it's easy
to look up and imagine distant planets teeming with life.

Although such thoughts might seem a modern fixation driven by
Star Trek movies and UFO sightings, human beings have for
centuries been consumed by debate about whether we are alone in
the universe, says University of Alberta professor Robert Smith.

Smith is currently teaching one of the more intriguing courses
on the university calendar, a history class on astronomy and

While traditional history curriculum has often dwelt on subjects
like British monarchs and French revolutionaries, Smith's
students are treated to lectures on little green men, lunar
cities and spacecraft.

A recent class was devoted entirely to aliens.

Such subjects might seem more appropriate for a sci-fi
convention than a university classroom, yet Smith suggests the
study of all things extraterrestrial can provide important
insight into how human beings have perceived their place in the

"Positions have shifted over time, but there has been a
consistent thread that it is possible for other beings to exist
out in the universe," Smith said.

"I try to entice students to put themselves in the shoes of
people of the past and get them to ask, 'What did they think and
why did they think it?' "

Smith said it's important to note that fantastic stories about
Martian invasions and men on the moon were not born out of
someone's imagination, but rather fed directly by accepted
scientific knowledge of the day. People believed such tales
because astronomers were telling them it was possible.

For example, the development of the telescope in the 17th
century triggered a radical shift in how people viewed the

Up to that point, the moon had been seen as a perfect sphere in
the sky, but when Galileo spotted mountains, valleys and craters
on the surface, that gave rise to beliefs of lunar inhabitants.

Over the next two centuries, a consensus developed among leading
European astronomers. They reasoned that since the moon and
other planets had the same form as Earth, and since Earth had
life, there must be beings on those other worlds.

Some of these scientists even suggested there were aliens living
on the sun.

Later, around the start of the 20th century, human interest
turned to Mars, based in part on the telescopic observations of
eccentric American astronomer Percival Lowell.

From his observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., Lowell created
increasingly detailed maps of Mars that showed double sets of
straight lines criss-crossing the surface.

He argued that such phenomena could not be a natural occurrence,
reasoning that the lines were actually irrigation canals tens of
kilometres wide that transported water from the polar regions to
the planet's desert areas.

"It was a global building project," Smith said. "In his mind,
Martians are superior to humans because they are co-operating to
save themselves."

How was it that Lowell came to see these lines through his

No one is sure, but Smith suggests he may have been predisposed
to see things he already believed were there.

Regardless, Lowell's arguments helped push Mars to the forefront
of public discourse the early 20th century. Popular culture
joined in, with science-fiction stories written about hostile
aliens on the red planet.

This helps to explain the mass hysteria that occurred on Oct.
30, 1938, the night Orson Welles aired his famous War of the
Worlds broadcast that suggested Martians had landed in New

"It was completely credible to more than two million people,"
Smith said. "It was feeding into a widespread belief at that
time that there is life beyond Earth and Mars is the key

Theories about canals and creatures on Mars eventually faded
away, especially after modern spacecraft visited the planet and
took pictures of the surface.

But although humans now know there is no intelligent life within
Earth's reach, the idea persists that such beings could exist
somewhere else in the universe.

Smith himself believes that humans are probably not alone,
though he's unsure what form alien life might take.

"The argument that's been quite persuasive since the 17th
century is that there are so many stars and so many planets, it
would be quite remarkable if life had arisen on only one of


[Thanks to Stuart Miller of http://uforeview.net/ for the lead]

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