Belfast Telegraph

Extra-terrestrial life but not as we know it is coming, just not soon

Welcome to the sideways world of our star columnist

By Robert McNeil

A story that we could encounter aliens in the next 10 or 20 years slowly evolved into its opposite the more our forefinger followed the words.

True, it turns out, we could find extra-terrestrial life. But it'll just be microbes. And microbes, while having larger brains than the average Ukip supporter, are still pretty small beer.

The story has its origins with Nasa, which claims to know one or two things aboot ooter space.

Ellen Stofan, chief of all the scientists in the controversial cosmic organisation, said: "I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 or 20 years."

Whoo, as it were, hoo. Aliens are the only hope left to us as the planet Earth hurtles towards hell in a handbasket.

However, Stofan went on to dampen the flames of hope with this bombshell clarification: "We are not talking about little green men. We are talking about little microbes."

These will be fascinating for scientists but, frankly, I don't give a damn. Particularly if they aren't edible.

Nasa associate administrator John Grunsfeld added: "Once we get beyond Mars, which is formed from the same stuff as Earth, the likelihood that life is similar to what we find on this planet is very low."

On the one hand, that's a good thing, obviously. On the other hand, it would help if the aliens were folk we could sit down and have a beer with. They might even be able to supply a team for the Premier League.

But not if they're ruddy microbes, for Spock's sake. It makes you wonder if there's much point to space exploration: "Look, a rock!"

That hasn't stopped various organisations vying to be first to do anything interesting since the Moon landing back in medieval times. Mars One, a Netherlands-based non-profit organisation relying largely on prayer, hopes to have folk waddling about on the Red Planet by 2029.

Nasa says this is a hopelessly unrealistic timeframe. The American organisation is aiming for something more like 2030. So we'll call it 2060.

Well, good luck and have fun with all these interesting rocks. I'm not knocking it. I believe in space exploration.

But maybe it's best if we wait till they come to us.

Sunday: Boffins have a point about chins

Many readers have chins on the end of their faces and may even be tempted to scratch them as news erupts about the peculiar feature’s evolution.

Scientists from the University of Florida, USA, say the chin emerged two million years ago when cooking made food softer, which made our teeth and jaws get smaller, leaving space for… a chin.

I’d always suspected as much. Chins vary, from the lantern

jaw of actor Kirk Douglas to the pointed appurtenance of fabulous former football commentator Jimmy Hill.

But, the scientists say, all are united by one salient fact: they serve no purpose whatsoever.

Monday: Residents say ‘let there be light’

Residents of Killough and surrounding area have seen the light — and want to keep it.

The light comes from a six-ton lamp that has beamed from St John’s Point lighthouse, Co Down, for 176 years.

Now the Commissioners of Irish Lights — great name for a band — want it replaced by a more energy-efficient LED light.

Such is progress: prosaic.

Fisherman Ross Mulhall said of the old lamp: “When you’re out at sea, it’s very cold, dark and lonely and once you can see the light, you know where you are, where home is.”

Such is protest: poetic. Let there be lamplight.

Tuesday: Asda needs to iron out the problem after dead lizard is found stuck to a jacket

Dead gecko news, and the amount of foreign objects we find in our food and clothes is getting ridiculous.

We’re used to stories about horrified shoppers finding mice corpses in bags of salad and so forth. But a dead gecko stuck to a jacket?

For a top tailor like Asda to commit such a faux pas — in a branch at Canterbury, Englandshire — is unforgivable.

Shopper Paula Dunican, who spent £25 on the baby blue jacket, reported: “I noticed the coat had a stain on the back seeping through.

“So I opened it and stuck to the lining was a shrivelled, squashed lizard. I think it must have been ironed.”

Admittedly, it was considerate of the store to iron the deceased lizard. One likes to look one’s best.

But I think it’s fair to say that most of us would consider even a pressed lizard to be an encumbrance on our clothing.

Wednesday: Life in the slow lane

The PSNI is in a right fankle over fitness. Potential recruits undergo gruelling tests that’d make a commando quail, leaving the number of women getting into the ranks low.

Now at least they’re getting a second chance if they fail first time.

However, my advice to young persons considering a career remains the same: avoid anything that involves moving rapidly.

Friday: Fayre at Greggs is yum yum

Rejoice: Greggs the bakers is at last coming to Northern Ireland, at least on a trial basis. The controversial experiment, with willing guinea pigs, will take place at a new Applegreen service station between Glengormley and Templepatrick on the M2.

Worth a trip for the yum yums alone. I don’t have shares in Greggs (or in anything) and nor have I shopped there for years (isn’t one near me now) but I do retain an affection for the cheap and cheerful chain.

When I returned to civilisation after several years in the wilderness, Greggs was one of the metropolitan delights I enjoyed most. I didn’t go for a pastry, nor even for the famous steak bakes, but for a salady sandwich (and an iced bun).

It was cheap as chips, so to say, and the rolls were lovely.

This column condemns junk food wholeheartedly. But it’s willing to make exceptions.

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