Stories tagged aliens

Dec
02
2010

The shores of the alien world: Mono Lake, California, Earth.
The shores of the alien world: Mono Lake, California, Earth.Courtesy Eeek
Big news from NASA today, y'all.

NASA scientists are holding a conference at 2:00 EST today, and I hate to spoil the surprise, but word on the street is that they've discovered life on the planet Earth. Ah... but it's not what you think—word is that they've discovered life that's really different from everything else here.

Last year, I posted about the theory that this sort of thing might exist, but it wasn't until now that it has actually been discovered. Here's the gist: bacteria living in the mud of weirdo Mono Lake have been found to use arsenic as a building block of their bodies. That may not sound like much, but, if it's true, it would mean that these bacteria are different than every other living thing on this planet. Everything else that lives on this planet is made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. These creatures use arsenic instead of phosphorous.

Aside from being super cool and different, the discovery suggests that if life can exist in ways we didn't think was possible, it can exist in places we didn't think life was possible. Like other planets and moons in our own solar system.

More details after the conference, hopefully.

May
15
2009

The best questions we bury for later: We also bury the worst questions.
The best questions we bury for later: We also bury the worst questions.Courtesy Ed Fitzgerald
Ahoy, Buzzketeers! Captain JGordon here, waltzing on the poop deck of the HMS Puddleduck, pride of the Science Museum’s little navy, and harvester of the juiciest, richest random questions.

Usually.

See, when I answer random questions, it generally goes something like this: I grab the stack of question cards and shuffle through them, “Good, good, garbage, good, garbage, garbage, garbage, good, delightful, garbage.” It’s not that I think any of your questions are garbage, of course, it’s just that many of the cards consist of vulgar personal attacks against celebrities, some are illegible, and a few are just too greasy for me to touch. And sometimes there are simply too many of them for me to address, so I select the choicest questions, to construct an enjoyable and inclusive didactic experience.

But it’s springtime, and the Puddleduck is currently taking a leisurely cruise up the coast of Knowledgarnia. (Knowledgarnia is the union of the formerly independent states of The Republic of Knowledge and Narnia. Think about Czechoslovakia, only in reverse.) The water here in the warm seas off Knowledgarnia is so shallow and clear that you can see the facts swimming lazily just beneath the surface. It is… glorious. And it suits a much more lackadaisical attitude toward question selection.

Last night, in the grips of a wild upswing of Springmania (the union of the two formerly independent psychiatric disorders spring fever and bipolar disorder) I was firing my captain’s revolver randomly into the ocean. When I woke up on the deck the next morning and crawled over to the rail, I saw that a good handful of truly random questions had been shot and killed by my… enthusiasm. Perhaps an angel guided those bullets, or perhaps it was pure chance. Either way, here they are, just as I found them:

Q: Would you eat the moon if it were made of ribs?

A: Yes, but I would eat only some of it. This is partly because I would want to leave some of the moon for people to look at, but also because the moon is too big for me to eat by myself. The mass of the moon is 7.3477 x 10^22 kg. That’s… let’s see… 73,477,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg, or 161,649,400,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. Now, if a rack of ribs weighs about 2 pounds, that means that the moon should be made of about 80,824,700,000,000,000,000,000 racks of ribs. Now, if I were to live another 60 years, and eat 2 racks of ribs a day, every day, I’d be able to eat only 43,830 racks of ribs. This would not make any appreciable dent in the mass of ribs that is the moon. Plus, I think most of them would go bad before I even got there.

Q: Why are flamingos pink?

A: Ooh! Okay! Flamingos are actually born (hatched?) gray. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this ridiculous little creature. It’s the flamingos’ food that eventually turns them pink. Flamingos eat by getting beaks full of water, and then straining out all the liquid until just little shrimp and algae are left. The shrimp and algae (which are eaten) have lots of the vitamin beta carotene in them. Beta carotene is a colorful vitamin (eating too much of it can turn your skin a little bit orange), and it makes the flamingos’ feathers pink. Viola! (In zoos, though, where flamingos might not get all the beta carotene they would in the wild, the birds are sometimes fed the pigment additive canthaxanthin, which has the same effect.)

Q: The “swine flu” was named H1N1. Why did they decide to call it H1N1?

A: Another good one! We’re all about the swine flu here at the museum (It’s interesting! Really! Look here!) so I was ready for this one. See, the “swine flu” is a form of the disease influenza, which is caused by viruses. There are a bunch of different viruses that cause influenza. They’re all related, but each variety, or strain, of virus has some subtle differences in the molecules that they’re made of. Scientists use two molecules in particular to identify different strains: hemaggluten (that’s where the “H” comes from), the molecule that allows the virus to stick to our cells and infect us, and neuraminidase (that’s the “N”), the molecule that allows viruses to exit a cell to spread the infection throughout more of the body. The numbers after H and N correspond to different variation of the two molecules. So this year’s swine flu is H1N1. The bird flu, or avian flu, in Asia that people have been concerned about for the last few years is H5N1. Does that make sense?

Q: How long can you tread water before drowning?

A: Hmm. Well, if you’re asking me, the answer is about 30 seconds. I have a narrow, dense body, and I’m not very strong, so I sink like a glass rod. I suppose it sort of depends on the person, and on the water. See, salt water is more dense than fresh water, so objects in it are more buoyant—they float better. So treading water in the ocean is easier than treading water in a lake. Also, if the water is cold, your body is going to use up more energy to keep you warm, and you’ll have less energy for treading water. A powerful swimmer can tread water for hours on end, and even after your energy is gone, you could always float on your back, keeping your face above water. I suppose, at that point, it’s just a matter of staying awake and fending off the sharks.

Q: Why is it 3 levels? I spend 11 dollars for this bull ****.

A: Sir! Well I never! Perhaps you should have saved those eleven dollars to spend on soap for your filthy mouth! Seriously, though, those three levels are jam-packed. You explored the mysteries of the human body. You floated a ball on a jet of air, and watched a tornado form from steam. I mean, did you not see the dinosaurs? Realtalk, bro: what more could you ask for?

Q: Do you know anything about Area 51, or its space objects?

A: Well… is the government watching? No? OK. Let’s do this.

“Area 51” is a nickname for a military base in Nevada. It’s part of the huge piece of land that is the Air Force’s “Nevada Test and Training Range.” Civilians generally aren’t allowed on it, and the airspace around it is restricted. There are a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding Area 51 involving time travel technology, New World Order junk, energy weapons development, etc, etc, etc. The most popular theory, of course, involves “space objects,” as you put it. Or, more specifically, space aliens. Some folks are convinced that Area 51 is used to study the remains of an alien spacecraft that crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947. Unfortunately, the argument that this is Area 51’s real purpose, or if there ever actually was alien material at Roswell, is pretty much based on conjecture, some creative interpretation of government documents, and a few personal accounts of people that claimed to have worked there. It’s not a lot to go on, and an Internet search for “Area 51” will tell you as more than I can here. I just wouldn’t write any school papers on it.

But “space objects” or no, Area 51 is a pretty interesting, sneaky sort of place. And there’s probably plenty of science (of a sort) happening there, because area is used for development and testing of new weapons and aircraft. Several stealth fighter and bomber planes got their start there, and those are pretty neat, even if aliens didn’t invent them.

Q: What do you foresee in the future for humanity in regards to our evolution, and what role might technology play in that?

A: Huh. Well, how a species evolves depends on the natural pressures that are placed on it. And evolution takes place on a huge timescale—it can be millions of years before enough changes accumulate in a species for another species to emerge from it.

But what natural pressures will humans face over the next million years? Modern humans haven’t even been around that long so far (we’re a pretty young species, at about 200,000-years-old), so saying where we’re going to end up in millions of years is awfully tricky. As the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins puts it in this MSNBC article on the future of human evolution, “it’s a question that any prudent evolutionist will avoid.”

But that’s a boring answer. It’s not an answer at all, I suppose. If you want to predict how we’ll evolve, I’d learn about the principles of evolution (time, natural selection, adaptation, etc), then imagine what the world of the future will be like, and then try to think how we’d need to be different to fit into that world. Will the climate be dramatically different? If we haven’t got technology to protect us from the elements, maybe our skin will change to better protect us from solar radiation, or we’ll be harrier to deal with the cold. Maybe, on average, human body types will be taller and more slender to get rid of the heat, or shorter and thicker, to reduce mass to surface area and conserve heat. Maybe we’ll have to adapt internally to deal with more or less oxygen in the air, or our digestive systems will change to eat different kinds of foods (try eating everything a goat eats—you couldn’t, because you don’t have a four-chambered stomach). Or maybe the Earth will change faster than we can, and we’ll die out altogether. It’s a creepy thought, but mass extinction events have happened over and over again in Earth’s history, eliminating thousands of species before they even got the chance to evolve.

But your mention of technology is a good point. It seems likely at this point that people might influence their own evolution through technological means. This concept is sometimes referred to as “participant evolution.” The rate at which we’re figuring out how to integrate technological components into our bodies seems to be moving a lot faster than any natural adaptations we might be undergoing. Prosthetics are getting awfully sophisticated, as are the ways we’re able to interface them (and other technology) with our brains. I mean, we’ve got monkey brains controlling robot legs and people posting to twitter using just their brains (and some fancy equipment). It seems pretty reasonable to assume that this stuff is only going to get more advanced and more common.

But participant evolution wouldn’t be restricted to just computer chips and electric motors. There’s also biotechnology; we’ve mapped the human genome, and we’re constantly advancing our genetic engineering abilities. So augmenting human evolution with technology might not necessarily lead to dudes with robot eyes and laser fingers so much as populations that have genes that protect them from cancer, allow them to live far beyond our current lifespan, and fart clouds of lavender. (I’m hoping for the lavender thing most of all.)

It’s all sort of sci-fi stuff, but when you’re dealing with what’s going to happen thousands or millions of years in the future… why not?

Q: What shampoo do you use? Why?

A: I, um, don’t really use a lot of shampoo. Why? I ran out a couple months ago, and decided it wasn’t a huge priority.

Q: How much wood can woodchucks chuck?

A: Very little, possibly none. I guess it sort of depends on what you mean by “chuck.” If “chuck” means to, like, stand next to, then I guess a woodchuck could potentially chuck lots and lots of wood. But if “chuck” means to eat, or chew, or throw, or whatever, then I’d have to stick with “very little” as my answer.

See, the name “woodchuck” probably comes from the Algonquian (a Native American language) word for this big North American rodent, “wuchak.” It sounds a little like “woodchuck,” doesn’t it? But it’s got nothing to do with wood or chucking.

One of the animal’s other names, groundhog, is maybe a little more fitting. If you were to have asked, “how much ground can a groundhog hog if a groundhog could hog ground?” I’d have said, “A groundhog actually can hog ground, and when digging a burrow (they live underground, not in trees), groundhogs have are estimated to move about 700 pounds of dirt. So 700 pounds is your answer!”

But that’s not what you asked.

Gosh. All things considered, I think that random question session went pretty well. I’ll have to do it this way more often. Until then… avast. Or whatever. It’s lunchtime.

Mar
11
2009

The entrance to my bedroom: Inside you'll find an Xbox,  dirty dishes, and something like a bed.
The entrance to my bedroom: Inside you'll find an Xbox, dirty dishes, and something like a bed.Courtesy Rita Willaert
Unlike my bedroom, however, the Russians are frantically trying to get to the Lost World. Unless…

Oh, God! Do you think the Russians might be drilling into my bedroom? They probably want my natural resources! The thought of the Reds, bursting through my coal chute, snatching up my… clean socks, or something. Brr. It hardly bears thinking about.

But, yes, I live in a basement. “Tiempos Finales” I call it, and it bears some striking similarities to the “lost world” I read an article about recently.

There are a few key differences. The main difference, I suppose, is that the lost world the article describes is buried beneath about two miles of ice in Antarctica. Tiempos Finales is buried under 2 layers of wood flooring (and some linoleum in the bathroom) in St. Paul. Also, while a healthy person can survive almost indefinitely in the basement (assuming they have the proper protective equipment), you would suffocate, or freeze to death, or both, in Antarctica’s lost world, because it consists of sub-glacial lakes.

And while Tiempos Finales is teeming with mysterious creatures (largely arthropods—there’s rarely more than one chordate present at a time), Antarctica’s lost world only may be teaming with mysterious creatures.

But if there is anything down there, under the ice… it would be a very mysterious creature indeed. And that’s why the Russians are drilling away.

Russians and Brits are both drilling, in fact, but not together. A team of British scientists intends to drop probes into Lake Ellsworth, which they believe to be about 300 feet deep with a bottom covered in thick sediment. The Russians are drilling into the much larger Lake Vostok. Both lakes (and about 150 others) were discovered relatively recently thanks to ice-penetrating radar.

Many scientists think that it’s likely that the Antarctic lakes could hide living organisms (probably microorganisms). If that is the case, those organisms will have been isolated from the rest of the world for somewhere between 400,000 and 2 million years—ever since the ice sheet above the lake was formed. That’s a long time to spend by yourself, evolving in the cold and dark…

Cool. If any organisms are found, they’d likely be pretty different than anything else on the planet (remember my post a few weeks about aliens living among us? I knew you would. This is like that—isolated, extreme environments, etc). Also, the presence of life beneath the Antarctic ice would raise the odds that life could exist elsewhere in our solar system. Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter is the main analogy here. Europa is a frosty little moon (it’s a little bit smaller than our moon). Its surface is entirely covered with ice, but many scientists believe that a liquid water ocean could exist beneath the icy crust. The water could be kept liquid by heat generated by tidal and tectonic activity.

Organisms in the Antarctic lakes would be living under very similar conditions. With no light reaching that far into the ice, they would have to survive by consuming nutrients accumulated in the sediment millennia ago. Life on Europa might be nourished by heat and nutrients from mineral-rich hot water vents on the sea floor.

The British scientists don’t expect to break through the glacier until the Antarctic summer of 2012-2013, and when they finally do they’ll have just 36 hours to drop their probes through the 14-inch hole before it seals up again. They plan to get two probes into Lake Ellsworth. The first probe will capture video, and sample the water for living organisms, or for chemical evidence of them, and it will grab some sediment from the surface of the lakebed. The second probe will be sunk deeper into the lakebed, and will hopefully bring back several feet of sediment.

The Russians don’t plan on putting any probes into Lake Vostok—they just intend to tap into the lake to sample the water. The Russian project is somewhat controversial because their equipment is lubricated with kerosene, and is non-sterile (the British use a sterile, hot water-based drilling technique). There’s a good chance that the Russian equipment could contaminate the otherwise completely pristine lake, which, you know, slightly defeats the purpose. The Russians have had trouble with their equipment, however, and when they will break through the ice is much less certain.

So what do y’all think? Are they going to find anything? If Ellsworth and Vostok are anything like Tiempos Finales, whatever they find will be pretty depressing. Still, this is pretty cool stuff.

That wasn’t a pun.

Oct
14
2008

Cats and dogs, living together: You need more proof?
Cats and dogs, living together: You need more proof?Courtesy darkmavis
Put a star on your calendars today, Buzzketeers, because science is taking a vacation! And I don’t know about y’all, but I’ll be celebrating by eating my own head and diving into a good book. Literally!

Some of you (the sassboxes) might point out that natural laws apparently still apply, and that scientists the world over continue to fiddle around with their science-tools to learn things about the world. But the day I start paying attention to scientists is the day I give up my lifelong dream of eating my own head.

No, I’m listening to the people who have a more direct influence on my day-to-day life: bookies.

See, it seems that a bunch of bookies are concerned that there’s some chance that an alien spaceship will be landing today in the American desert. And so I’m concerned too.

The idea… Nay, the fact of the impending landing came from the Australian psychic, Blossom Goodchild.

—A little side note: I can’t believe it! My name used to be Blossom Goodchild too! I just changed it to JGordon in junior high. I can’t believe we were both born “Blossom Goodchild”! Amazing!

Anyway, Blossom Goodchild, Aussie supernatural, delivers the secrets of love, light, and laughter by channeling “a native American spirit energy” by the name of White Cloud. I’m not entirely clear on why a native American spirit energy would go to Australia for channeling, but who am I to question the ways of the spirits?

Goodchild, presumably with the help of White Cloud, has started a wave of Internet-enthusiasm by predicting the imminent arrival of a massive space ship full of aliens (or “light beings”), which will supposedly be happening today!

The enterprising residents of Earth, not wanting to be caught with our pants down by light beings, have rushed to prepare… by betting on the arrival! Betting so much, in fact, that bookmakers have had to suspend further all wagers.

There has been no evidence of the coming aliens—no radio transmissions, no detected incoming spaceships, and no precedence—except for the word of an Australian good child, and her wandering spirit. And so it would make sense that the odds are set up against the landing. Yet human gamblers aren’t into odds (who ever won something by betting on a sure thing?) or evidence, and they stand to make a lot of money if (when) the ship arrives. See, we shoot from the hip, and we follow our guts, and the bookies know it, and they’re afraid to take any more bets on the spaceship.

So today’s the day, Buzzers. Try to do something impossible. You won’t be the only one.

Jul
07
2008

God save the queen: From abduction, probing, and public ridicule.
God save the queen: From abduction, probing, and public ridicule.Courtesy .kol tregaskes
That’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? Right?

Aliens (space aliens) and America used to be like pizza and beer, adenine and thymine, Johnny and June; we were inseparable. We dissected them and hid their crash sites, and they mutilated our surplus cattle and probed our rural drunks.

And now they’ve crossed the pond to shack up with a foxier mistress with a more sophisticated accent: Lady Britannia.

Sure, there was that awesome sighting in Texas in January, but since then all aliens seem to care about is England. Apparently, it has been a crazy year for UFO sightings in Britain.

Dozens of reported UFO sightings across the country have got British extraterrestrial enthusiasts stammering, dropping their h’s, and constructing fresh tinfoil hats. Out of Cadbury egg wrappers. In their spare time, they’re working on theories for the increasing number of encounters, a favorite being aliens’ concern over global warming and what man is doing to the planet. I suppose the best way to warn humanity of the dangers of climate change is to zoom past small towns in the middle of the night, but I have a different theory—the aliens want to take over Earth, but it’s still too cold for them to comfortably inhabit the planet, so they’re idling their high-energy spacecrafts in our low atmosphere to release even more greenhouse gases. They’ve probably picked England because of the low number of firearms in the country—who needs to have the locals taking potshots at you all night?

Anyway, we’ve been dumped. Again.

Jul
01
2008

Good lookin', bad soundin': Radiowaves that get caught up in the Northern Lights are creating some annoying noises that zap out into space.
Good lookin', bad soundin': Radiowaves that get caught up in the Northern Lights are creating some annoying noises that zap out into space.Courtesy NASA
No wonder aliens want to attack the Earth with such regularity in the movies. From out in space, we sound pretty annoying, like that renter in the apartment above you who insists on playing Yoko Ono records at 2:30 in the morning.

You laugh, but new recordings from space show that Earth, our home, makes an array of nasty sounds that ring out across the universe.

Scientists have actually known about this phenomenon since the 1970s. But today we have some audio evidence of this annoying noise. So what’s happening?

There’s a bunch of radiation created high above our planet. Solar winds blow it into Earth’s magnetic field and then things start to get loud. Basically, this radiation gets sucked into the same conditions that cause the Northern Lights. While they look great, they sound horrible – sorta like Brittney Spears.

Earth’s ionosphere keeps the radio waves created in this action from coming down toward us, which is a good thing. That’s because they’re about 10,000 times stronger than any radio signals we have on our planet.

Satellites from the European Space Agency's Cluster mission, however, have now detected strong beams of these annoying radio waves out in space.

Click here to hear a sample of what this space noise sounds like. Personally, I think I’ve experienced this sound, much quieter, after eating a bad burrito.

Jun
16
2008

Where are you going?: I'm going home.
Where are you going?: I'm going home.Courtesy Mila
New tests performed on a meteorite found in Australia suggest that life on earth could have had its start in space; it’s possible that the first components of self-replicating genetic material came from outer space.

This particular meteorite only struck Earth about 40 years ago, but new studies confirm that the molecules uracil and xanthine (which are found in our RNA) were present in the meteoritic fragments before human contamination.

Uracil and xanthine are “nucleobases,” and play an important role in the replication of DNA. Some have argued that these molecules could have originally formed on Earth, but these researchers claim that the atmospheric conditions on the planet at the time the first organic molecules are thought to have appeared would have prohibited a terrestrial origin. Going even further, they state that it’s possible—assuming that there are all these vital molecules floating out there on meteors—that life, or at least the key components for life (a big difference I suppose), could be widespread in the universe.

I prefer extraterrestrial life delivery by spaceship, but I guess I’ll take what I can get. Wild.

Jun
13
2008

Junk food or junk science?: Six hours worth of advertising for Doritos chips have been beamed out in to space as a signal to other life forms that there's crispy, tasty, good times available on Earth.
Junk food or junk science?: Six hours worth of advertising for Doritos chips have been beamed out in to space as a signal to other life forms that there's crispy, tasty, good times available on Earth.Courtesy ீ ๑ Adam
We can’t escape advertising, can we? It’s there along the roadside, imbedded on the results of our web search and even on the bathroom stall wall. And now it’s off into space.

Six-straight hours of Doritos advertising have been beamed out into space from a European space station located on a Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle. The message is directed at the Ursa Major constellation, which is just 42 light years from Earth. That location was targeted as astronomers figure it has the best chances of hosting a planet that can support life forms, and potential Doritos eaters.

And while the effects of advertising are always hard to measure, these space scientists aren’t expecting the message to have a huge impact on Doritos sales. The actual advertisement has been broken down into a MPEG file that is just a series of “0s” and “1s”. The hope is that any one receiving the message will understand it as a message coming across with some intelligence and to perk the receiver’s curiosity in wanting to see where it came from.

But I ask you, is it really intelligent to try to entice an alien to come 42 light years to Earth in the hope of getting some Doritos? After all, the package expiration date doesn’t come close to lasting that long.

Actually, Doritos made a donation to the space station in exchange for having its advertisement sent into space. But I ask you, what kind of message would you send out into space to encourage intelligent life to come investigate Earth?

Jun
02
2008

This man used to sit in dark, smoky rooms...protecting us: Now look at what you've done to him. He even had to sell his cyanide capsule.
This man used to sit in dark, smoky rooms...protecting us: Now look at what you've done to him. He even had to sell his cyanide capsule.Courtesy laurenatclemson
I’m sorry if this is the wrong forum, but I think it’s about time for some grassroots action, you know what I mean? If we, concerned Buzzers and Buzzketeers, don’t do something soon, we will have allowed a great injustice to be committed, a travesty right under our noses; a massive government conspiracy will crumble on our watch, dozens of jobs will be lost, and countless dangerous secrets will spill into the grubby hands of the unwashed masses. Yuck.

So let’s get our act together, and vote “no” on the Denver extraterrestrial affairs commission ballot initiative. Assuming we live in Denver (a quick check at the window has confirmed that I, in fact, do not live in Denver, so this one has to be up to you guys).

It seems that Denver local Jeff Peckman is hot on the heels of the government’s alien cover-up division, and he’s got a hot injection of video evidence ready for when he catches it.

Five years ago either Peckman or a friend of his (The article doesn’t make this totally clear) was concerned that he may have had a peeping Tom problem. Employing a unique new method for dealing with peeping Toms, Peckman (or, again, possibly his friend) set up a video camera on a tripod in his living room, and pointed it at the window with the night vision setting turned on. Sure enough, the camera caught a sneaky little peeper. However, the little perve turned out to be something other than a mask-free human—a large, smooth, alien looking head appears in the video, scanning the room and blinking.

As of the present time, Peckman has only released a single still frame from the video (which can be seen at the link above), but the irrefutable evidence of alien incursions into the privacy of an American home has prompted him to bring the issue to the highest levels of local government. Pending the collection of 4,000 signatures, Peckman hopes to bring a ballot initiative to the people of Denver, so that they might vote to create an extraterrestrial affairs commission.

The E.A.C. would be composed of 18 members appointed by the mayor, and tasked with defending the city, in the event that aliens, “or their vehicles,” were to arrive in Denver.

Formation of the E.A.C. would be a major blow to the government conspiracy that we have all come to rely upon. Shadowy bureaucrats would be turned out on the streets, and stripped of their abilities to protect a population that, frankly, maybe no longer deserves their tender concern.

A vote for “no” is a vote to keep us all in the blissful dark. Vote “no.”

Let your ballots do the talking.

May
16
2008

A quick guide to practical mutilation: I hear it's all about lips and anus, but, really, I'm more of a sirloin kind of guy.
A quick guide to practical mutilation: I hear it's all about lips and anus, but, really, I'm more of a sirloin kind of guy.Courtesy Ysangkok
Hey, some of this post is pretty really gross, so skip it if you’re some kind of baby, okay?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never given cattle mutilation much thought. I don’t mean that I simply haven’t considered the ups and downs of mutilation, rather that I’ve barely considered it at all.

I know, I know. We’re practically wading our way to work through piles of dead, mutilated cattle, and here I am thinking about TGIF programming, archery, and mustard (or whatever—sometimes I think about other things too, just not cattle mutilation). This, people, is why the most important problems out there never get solved; because we’re all too focused on little things like traffic safety. Well, today at least, I’ll be doing my part to let y’all in the rural Da Vinci Code: cattle mutilation (of course).

What brings cattle mutilation to mind today, of all days, on this sunny Friday? Because those lousy bovine molesters have struck again, this time in sleepy, innocent Saskatchewan.

Last week, outside the village of Stockholm, Saskatchewan, a farmer awoke to find one of her cows dead and mutilated just yards away from her house. Missing its rectum, genitals, navel, udder, lips, tongue, one eye, and one ear, the unfortunate animal could perhaps best be described as “yucky.” Said farmer Harris to her husband, “you don’t even want to see this.”

Was Mrs. Harris right? My sources say no: very probably Mr. Harris did indeed want to see the horribly abused animal outside his house.

A local veterinarian believed the incisions on the cow “took a little bit of skill,” and may have been done with an electric cautery unit, as no blood was found on the scene. In addition to the lack of blood, the scene showed no evidence of a struggle, nor were there any footprints or tire tracks nearby.

What is to be made of this? Difficult to say, but it may be time look behind us. Not for sneaky cattle mutilators, but at history.

Like the Internet, cattle mutilation is a relatively new invention. It’s not certain if this is because our ancestors lacked the necessary tools, or just the imagination. Whatever the reason, this particular brand of animal abuse didn’t surface until the 1960s, when reports of grotesquely mutilated animals (mostly cows) began coming out of the states of Kansas and Pennsylvania (until this point, we had always been pretty kind to cattle). By the mid 70s, cattle mutilation was being reported in 15 states, from North Dakota to Texas, and in 1975 a senator from Colorado, Floyd K Haskell (married to Nina Totenberg, if you can believe it), contacted the FBI to look into the problem, claiming that there had been 130 mutilations in his state alone. The FBI actually did complete an investigation on cattle mutilations, dubbed “Operation Animal Mutilation,” in 1979—more on that in a moment.

The details of reported cattle mutilations vary from case to case, but certain characteristics seem to be quite consistent:

  • The removal of eyes, udders and sexual organs
  • The removal of the anus to a depth of around 12 inches
  • The removal of the tongue and/or lips
  • The removal of one ear
  • The striping of hide and flesh from the jaw and the area directly beneath the ear
  • The removal of soft organs from the lower body
  • The presence of incisions and cuts across the body that appear to have been made by a surgical instrument
  • Unexplained damage to remaining organs, but no sign of damage to surrounding area
  • A lack of predation signs (teethmarks, tearing of skin or flesh, animal footprints)on or around the carcass
  • Lack of scavenging

Mutilation of the eye, tongue, genitals, and rectum seem to be the most common characteristics. Also, the animals are often, but not always, drained of blood.

Oh, man.

Who’s mutilating these cowsies? Aliens, obviously, right? Well, if you consider the little research that’s been done on cattle mutilations, aliens are probably the least satisfying answer. What?! I know.

The 1979 FBI investigation concluded, for instance, that the mutilations were “predominately the result of natural predation, but that some contained anomalies that could not be accounted for by conventional wisdom.” “Anomalies” are kind of spooky, but mostly what the feds were talking about falls in line with the opinions of many scientists, veterinarians, and agricultural workers: missing or damaged organs are explained by dehydration, tissue contraction, and the actions of scavenging insects and burrowing parasites; missing eyes are due to bowflies and carrion birds; absence of blood is accounted for by pooling in low points in the body and insect consumption; and the “surgical incisions” are actually tears in the skin and flesh caused by bloating and/or dehydration.

Boooring.

Another school of thought is that “deviant activity” is behind the mutilations; those mutilations that cannot be explained by animal predation are likely caused by deviants who “derive pleasure or sexual stimulation from mutilating animals.” As much as we want to avoid picturing this in our minds, these sorts of attacks are pretty well documented phenomena. They are generally focused on family pets, and are usually not quite so “creative” as most cases of cattle mutilation. However, occasionally deviant attacks are directed at larger animals, like cows or horses, and individuals with sociopathic disorders are known to have mutilated animals in much more elaborate ways, sometimes using surgical instruments.

Cults have also been blamed for the phenomenon, but I feel like I’ve already written a little too much on this post, so I’m not going to get into it.

Then, of course, you have the government conspiracy theories, which are awesome. There’s some thought, by some people, that many of the mutilations occur near nuclear test sights, and that the cattle are actually dissection subjects to determine accumulated levels of radioactive materials in soft tissues. Mutilations nowhere near testing sites are, naturally, control subjects, or red herrings. Government conspiracy theories also involve black helicopters, radiation weapons, lasers, and mad cow disease. Love it, but, you know… can’t the government buy its own cows? No, forget it, whatever.

And finally, of course, aliens. We all know that it’s aliens. They’re mutilating cattle to, um, gather genetic material. It begs the question “What’s so special about cows that you’d travel across the galaxy to gather their genetic material? Because I’ve just been eating them. Also, you know you can get genetic material from anywhere on their bodies, right? You don’t have to cut out their anuses. You seriously were able to build a spaceship?”

Any strong feelings about cattle mutilation out there? Anyone want to defend the aliens? Did anyone read this whole post? Bleh.