It seems only yesterday that we were discussing whether life as we know it could have evolved elsewhere in the universe.
Well, I don't need to tell you that we now have the answer.
Every day our probes beam back another image from the Blue Planet. And, with every fresh glimpse of its inhabitants, our excitement grows.
Yet how quickly does that excitement turn to despair! For what are we to make of this latest picture? What is the meaning of this elaborate dance?
I term it a dance, yet I am being charitable. For while some in the State Anthropological Service believe it to be mere theatre - an art form akin to ballet - many of us are convinced there is a more disturbing explanation.
What we have here is a gathering of some 200 individuals, all but two of them members of the short-haired sex. Intelligently, the majority have arranged themselves according to height, those with longer legs being towards the rear.
Many wear vestments bearing the name of a psycho-active substance, and it seems probable that they are already in a drugged state. Typically, the mouth is open, an indication either of oxygen deprivation or of violent vocal activity. And, in almost every case, the eyes are practically closed.
The most striking feature, however, concerns hand positioning. The majority have placed their hands on their heads. And, while some have covered their eyes or ears instead, it seems likely that all are performing the same sequence of actions, the deviants having simply fallen out of step with the rest.
What, then, of the foreground characters? Do they clasp their heads in response to the crowd, or do they lead them? Ae they performers or priests? Many of us in the SAS now believe them to be neither, but rather victims in a ceremony of sacrifice.
Pointing first to the central character, we would argue that he is being swallowed up by the ground. Furthermore, we believe a similar fate awaits his two head-holding companions.
See the creature with the gauntlets and half-protruding tongue? Here is the evil master of ceremonies, a demonic character who pursues his hapless victims, coralling them ever closer to the underworld while the onlookers mock and mimic their attitudes of despair.
It's a grim interpretation, and one which shows the inhabitants of the Blue Planet unworthy of the term "civilised". Yet what else are we to believe?
That something is missing from the picture - some small but vital ingredient that would bring all the elements together had it not somehow bounced out of our field of vision?
Search by all means. But I'm sorry to report that this image has been scanned a thousand times, and nobody has spotted it.
Links Since 1987, the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research, based in the sociology department at Leicester university, has researched a wide range of topics, including racism in football: www.le.ac.uksnccfr Dr Clifford Stott, at the University of Abertay, Dundee, has made a study of hooliganism at Marseilles during France 98: http:shs.tay.ac.ukaetcsTeams_amp;_Fans.htm To learn how a maths researcher at the University of Warwick used a study of crowd behaviour at Wembley to model trading patterns of City stockbrokers, visit: www.warwick.ac.uknewsprbusiness44.
Picture by: Phil Noble