John Daly: 'If little green men are coming, they'll surely want to visit the Emerald Isle'
'So, anything strange?" Such is the standard greeting heard all over the country these days as the frolics of Christmas fade away in the deafening silence of our empty wallets. And the general reply during January's drab and lifeless days is invariably: "Devil a bit. Yourself?"
Well, friends, this year has the potential to be a very different story - so much so, in fact, that it might just help to blow Brexit and Trump clean off the headlines. In a nutshell, January 2019 may well go down in history as the month we discovered we are not alone. Really. Those mysterious radio signals from distant galaxies have helped lift the typical new year blues these past few days, and acted as a conversation starter supreme all over the country.
At my local farmers' market on Saturday, the usual banter around produce provenance and rising prices were completely eclipsed by expectations around the imminent arrival of UFOs - with one lady even pondering opening her B&B in the off-season. "Sure even spacemen will want to take a tour of the beautiful Wild Atlantic Way," was her judicious reasoning on the matter.
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But while radio bursts from deepest space have been regular occurrences over the past decade, a repeating signal such as that picked up last week is very rare and has already prompted inevitable comparisons with the intergalactic message that induced the spaceship Nostromo in the first 'Alien' movie to alter its course to an uncharted planet. And we all know what happened to poor John Hurt and most of the crew after that detour was made.
Yet, while scientists have been quick to attribute a variety of possible causes for the signals, including black holes, spinning neutrons and collapsing stars, most people I've bumped into are fully into the theory that dare not speak its name - extraterrestrials.
"I don't care if it's ET himself or the Boltrunians from 'Star Wars', anything that'll speed up the bloody winter is fine in my book," one young fella on a massive tractor told me. Indeed, rather than being the stuff of science fiction, many smart people are suggesting the signals are beacons from an advanced alien civilisation, possibly out there searching the vastness of space for cosmic neighbours.
As would be expected, a welter of jokes have followed. What do you call an overweight alien? An extra cholesterol. What do you call a singing Martian? Bruno Mars. Boom boom. Jesting aside, many smart people are betting that us Earthlings will encounter some form of space invader sooner than we think. John Grunsfield, associate administrator of Nasa's Science Mission Directorate, believes the search for extraterrestrial life will meet with success very soon: "I think we're one generation away in our solar system, whether it's on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation on a planet around a nearby star."
As to the possibility of little green men taking an interest in our Emerald Isle, well, that's a likelihood that may already be under way. On November 9, the pilot of a British Airways Boeing 787 passing over Ireland contacted Shannon Air Traffic Control to report an unusual phenomenon - "a very bright light" that suddenly appeared on his wing, then "disappeared at very high speed". A Virgin Airlines pilot passing across the same airspace reported "multiple bright objects following the same trajectory". Yet another pilot described the sighting as "astronomical, like Mach 2", or twice the speed of sound.
So, here we are, barely into January, and the tourist season has already begun...