They could be out there – or not. While we common folk have been busy with our everyday lives, scientists have been looking to the stars and beyond. I'm not sure if we should be intrigued or run screaming into the night.  


On one hand, a Harvard professor believes that we were visited by an alien object in 2017. “Theoretical physicist Avi Loeb lays out his theory about a peculiar-shaped object that entered our solar system. The interstellar object (named Oumuamua) was observed through the Pan-STARRS telescope at Hawaii's Haleakala Observatory.” 


Some scientists doubt the theory and explain it as natural phenomenon. Loeb counters: "What would happen if a caveman saw a cellphone? He’s seen rocks all his life, and he would have thought it was just a shiny rock." (


It might be frightening to know that aliens are watching us, but another study seems to make that a moot possibility. “Most of the alien civilizations that ever dotted our galaxy have probably killed themselves off already. That's the takeaway of a new study, published to the arXiv database, which used modern astronomy and statistical modeling to map the emergence and death of intelligent life in time and space across the Milky Way.”


Apparently, the more intelligent the “beings,” the more likely they are to self-annihilate. “Assuming life does arise reasonably often and eventually becomes intelligent, there are probably other civilizations out there. Even an extraordinarily low chance of a given civilization wiping itself out in any given century — say, via nuclear holocaust or runaway climate change — would mean that the overwhelming majority of peak Milky Way civilizations are already gone.” (


Whew, this could mean we dodged that (alien) bullet. However, you still may want to wear a helmet when you go outside. We earthlings have sent so much junk into space that some of it rains down on us every day, “When satellites burn up in the atmosphere, they don't entirely disappear. According to  the Center for Space Standards and Innovation, there are an estimated 760,000 objects larger than a centimeter now in orbit around Earth. That's in addition to 6,000 satellites, sixty percent of which no longer work. Another 15,000 satellites for communication, TV, navigation, weather forecasting, and more, expected to launch by 2028.” 


As a bald guy, I can assure you that if even one microscopic piece of space metal falls to earth, it will hit me square on the noggin. Luckily, Japan is looking for a solution. Satellites made of wood. “Sumitomo Forestry says it’s researching wood materials that are resistant to temperature changes and sunlight. Those specific materials are a secret for now, but the satellites could be ready as soon as 2023.” (


Meanwhile, back on earth, we're seeing some new technology that we ground dwellers can utilize. On the transportation front, Amazon’s self-driving vehicle company, Zoox, is taking the wraps off of its first robotaxi. 


Zoox is an electric vehicle that is fully driverless and built for ride hailing. “Four passengers face each other and there’s no space for a driver or passenger seat, since there’s no steering wheel. It has bidirectional driving capabilities and four-wheel steering, which allows it to change directions without the need to reverse and navigate in compact spaces. The car can travel up to 75 miles per hour and can run up to 16 hours on a single charge. It’s also equipped with an airbag system on all four seats.” 

This seems like something out of the Jetsons, but Zoox will likely be coming to a city near you very soon. “It’s currently testing in three cities — Las Vegas, Nevada; Foster City, California; and San Francisco, California.” (


You might be thinking that this is all well and good, but the whole electric vehicle thing is a long ways off for most of us. Consider this, however. “Norway just became the first country in the world where the sale of electric cars has overtaken those powered by petrol, diesel and hybrid engines last year. Battery electric vehicles made up 54.3 percent of all new cars sold in the Nordic country in 2020, a global record, up from 42.4 percent in 2019 and from a mere one  percent of the overall market a decade ago.” Norway may give us a glimpse into our future. (


Closer to home, the annual Consumer Electronics Show is going on in Las Vegas. C/net has identified what it says are the weirdest new gadgets at CES 2020. These are “the strangest and most surprising gadgets that stand out on the crowded CES show floor this week.” See the list at:


My favorite is a temporary tattoo printer from startup Prinker. If you've ever wanted a tattoo but didn't want it on your body forever, this is pretty cool. “The device is a small black handheld gadget that can hold black or color cosmetic-grade ink cartridges.” The reviewer on C/net said: “An employee sprayed skin primer on the spots I chose on my forearm and passed the Prinker over my arm, barely touching it -- and the tattoos appeared magically, in seconds. It felt more like light airbrushing than stamping or printing and the designs are supposed to last for one to three days. Prinker claims each (ink) cartridge is good for 1,000 tattoos.” (


Finally, in addition to the tattoo machine, there is good news for aging hippies. You are now welcome in Indiana. “For the first time in nearly forty years, LaGrange County is once again a hippie-friendly community. The county commission has rescinded its anti-hippie ordinance. (


The original law had a specific reason. It was aimed at “regulating large gatherings of more than 500 people that lasted more than 12 hours long.” The goal was to prevent an event like Woodstock — the large music festival that happened in rural upstate New York in 1969 — from ever happening in LaGrange" It will be interesting to see if hippie legalization in LaGrange leads to an influx of tie-dye tee shirt shops. 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and