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Close Encounters of the Undead Kind

Exoplanet eclipse. Credit: Bill Lile.
Two hefeweizen-fueled scientists have completed what might be the most important scientific effort since the discovery of the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect. Yesterday, Stephen R. Kane at the Center for Global Extinction Pandemic Control in San Francisco and his colleague Franck Zelziz in the Zombie Division for the Planetary Defense Institute in Bordeaux, France reported that not only might we, in our search for extraterrestrial life, uncover an alien race overrun with the fatal disease Spontaneous Necro-Animation Psychosis (SNAP), or Zombie-ism, but that the numbers are unnervingly high.

“We have shown that there is a significantly non-zero probability that in the search for life in the universe we will also encounter large amounts of undeath [sic],” the authors report in their paper, which they have submitted for publication in the prestigious journal Necronomicon.

What you are about to read may disturb you.

More than 2,500 SNAP-contaminated planets could be within 100 parsecs, 326 light years, from us – a species highly susceptible to fatal, body-ravaging viruses like cholera, influenza, typhus and, according to such esteemed zombie experts as M. Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, Zombie-ism.

Kane and Zelziz looked at star systems that comprise the very real Hipparcos catalogues. They predict that about 10 percent of those systems could harbor at least one exoplanet that is overrun with SNAP-infected, zombified aliens.

If this were the case – the authors say that 10 percent is a conservative amount – then by using a modified version of the Drake Equation, they estimate that over 2500 of our cosmic neighbors are better off left alone, very much alone.

An unfortunate encounter.
Credit: Nick Fisher
The study is still preliminary. No one has observed anything, yet. But if someone did come across one using the highly sophisticated methods Kane and Zelziz describe, they should do the following:

“First, hyper-ventilate into a paper bag,” the authors instruct. “Second, call the person who occupies your country’s highest office whilst screaming hysterically. Neither action will help the situation but it will make you feel like you’ve actually done something useful.”

As far as we know, zombies – even alien zombies – will eventually decay like any other rotting corpse. When this happens, the decomposing and probably no-longer-walking dead will release gases. If their biochemical make-up is anything like what we have on Earth, those gases will be a bit of carbon dioxide, a dash of hydrogen sulfide, an iota of ammonia and a spritz of methane.

In theory, we can remotely detect these exoplanets by searching for signatures of these gases within an exoplanet’s atmosphere. The strength of the signature will depend on the biomass of the planet and whether the infected species has reached apocalypse-level decomposition. The scientists model how Earth’s atmosphere would look in two different scenarios: if the zombie virus infects less than 10 percent of the human and animal biomass and if it infects 90 percent.

Between humans and animals, Earth contains about 1,050 million tonnes of biomass. Even if the first scenario were to occur and less than 10 percent became infected, the shear volume of gases released into the atmosphere would impact Earth’s greenhouse warming effect and increase the average surface temperature by 14.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although the number of zombified alien exoplanets might reach into the thousands, our chances of observing gas signatures of decomposing undead are limited.

What would a necro-signature look like?
Credit: Smabs Sputzer
“Due to the animation aspect of a zombie and its desire to infect others, the corpse is invariably exposed to the elements,” the authors explain. “Additionally, conflict between the zombies and those not yet infected will produce high temperature conditions. The combination of these two environmental effects will be to accelerate the rate of decomposition and thus produce a relatively brief window in which signatures of the apocalypse may persist in the atmosphere.”

For a planet with a similar biomass to Earth, the scientists estimate that necro-signatures will linger in the atmosphere at high enough levels for us to observe for one to the three years. Therefore, we need to continuously monitor, identify and catalog any and all SNAP-contaminated planets to prevent future encounters with a zombie virus, the scientists argue.

More disturbing is that our current technology is not sophisticated enough to identify necro-signatures. When the James Webb Space Telescope is operational our chances of preventing a horrible, zombie fate improves, but it’s not enough. We need the power of at least 10 telescopes as powerful of JWST in order to be capable of monitoring all stars within the Milky Way with sufficient detail.

“Whatever the course of action, we must actively strive to address the threat and to mitigate the risk of annihilation by an exoplanet zombie infection,” the scientists conclude.

All outside experts were too shocked and terrified to comment.


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