Goodbye, Little Green Men

They’re big-eyed and slight of build. They’re the grim, greenish beings that every moviegoer recognizes as aliens — the inscrutable inhabitants of a distant world. Playing supporting roles in countless films and TV shows, these hairless homunculi have become iconic. But we’ve never seen a real alien. Indeed, we don’t even know if real aliens exist. However, astronomers have recently discovered several thousand planets in our galactic neighborhood. Consequently, the idea of intelligent life in space has eased from the realm of science fiction to scientific plausibility. Telescopes could receive signals at any time that would tell us they’re out there. What would they be like? Is it possible that real aliens would resemble the smooth-skinned anthropomorphs of the movies? Simple engineering arguments suggest that having two eyes, an upright…

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