CCNet ESSAY, 9 November 1999


Dr Michael Martin-Smith, BSc,MRCGP,FBIS
President of Space Age Associates

Copyright @1999 Michael Martin-Smith. Published by the American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Inc with permission. Released
to IAF/IAA/AIAA to publish in all forms.



Fermi's Paradox is set out, and related to Drake's Equation for the
probability of communicating Extraterrestrial civilizations. The terms
are described, leaving the lifespan of a technological civilization as
the most important. Factors affecting this term (V) are outlined, with
reference to asteroid impacts. The asteroid impact threat is discussed
in terms of its nature, and implications for Space development.
Survival strategies for particular cultures here on Earth are
described. Two extreme cases - one of isolation  - the aboriginals of
Australia, and the other, one of dispersal, dynamism, and belief in 
future Destiny - Judaism - are contrasted. It is shown that, for
advanced liberal human civilization, Diaspora works and is most likely
to ensure development. A proposed solution to the threat from Fermi's
Paradox for our emerging civilization is dispersal backed by belief in
a Cosmic Destiny for Humankind. If we are alone in the Galaxy, this is
necessary for further Evolution; if not, Humanity's contribution to an overall future Galactic
civilization requires expansion into Space. This rationale for  space
development should be adopted by the Space community. Outreach efforts
by the author and associates are described.


The issue of whether we are alone as a technological civilization in
the Universe has puzzled scientists and thinkers for many centuries,
with increasing force since the invention of the telescope.
Generally speaking, ideas about the frequency of Extraterrestrial
Intelligence have fallen into two groups- those who believe that, with
the multitude of stars (100-500 billion per galaxy) within a similar
number of galaxies (100 billions or more) we cannot be alone or even
unusual, in having attained a degree of technological competence. Such
people have usually come from a background of Astronomy.
Their opponents, usually biologists, point out that Life has taken
nearly 4 billion years on Earth to produce a potential interstellar
communicating culture, and that there have been so many individually
improbable steps required for the evolution of Man that we are, very
likely, unique or at least very rare in all the Galaxy, at least. We
can see the ebb and flow  in the development of ideas about Mars in
this century - from civilization with its canals to the bleak
craterscape of Mariner 4, with a swing back of the pendulum due to the
evidence of past water flows and possible nanobacteria in martian

In 1960, attempts to quantify the possible number of extraterrestrial
civilizations began to assume a more rigorous aspect with the work of
Drake and Bracewell, leading to the famous Drake equation.  This set
out to  relate the various factors regulating the number of potential
communicating civilizations as below.

N = R x S x P x E x L x I x C x V,  where N is the number of
communicating civilizations, R is the rate of star formation per year
in the galaxy, S is the fraction of these which are solar type, P is
the fraction of solar type stars with planets, E  is number of these
planets in the habitable zone, L is the probability of life arising on
these habitable planets , I is the fraction of these developing
intelligence, C is the fraction of intelligent species developing
communications technology, while V is the lifespan of such a developed
civilization. Most authorities have found that the most important term
is in fact the last one, V - the lifespan of a technological

Fermi, the nuclear physicist, had posed the paradox that, "If there are
so many alien civilizations with high technology, where are they? Why
do we not find their artefacts or hear their communications, if there
are so many of them?"

His paradox was principally directed at Interstellar travel, but also
applies to the question of communications, or  Search for
Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Many answers have been given to this Paradox, ranging from the
impossibility, or inconceivable difficulties, in interstellar travel on
the one hand, to the idea of a higher ethos preventing advanced races
from contaminating the development of  emerging peoples by
communications or visits. This solution presupposes that ALL
extraterrestrial civilizations are bound by the same ethics - an
improbable situation. Other solutions suggest that the desire for
communications and  interest in science declines, or an unwillingness
to become space farers sets in. Thus the historical window of
opportunity for a communicating civilization is short in relation to
the timescales of the Universe, and so our chances of suitable contacts
is low.

Given later issues in this paper, I submit this is tantamount to
stating that Drake's V term is short, since a civilization based on a
lack of curiosity and which has lost interest in science, particularly
astronomy and space sciences, is unlikely to survive.

The often cited impossibility of interstellar travel is a dangerous
doctrine, since in these past centuries much that has been held
impossible has come to pass. Although no-one can today build a
starship, some authorities can already conceive of possible routes to
such vehicles even at this infantile stage of the Space Age. Nuclear
fusion, mag-sails, laser directed energy propulsion, matter-antimatter
propulsion are all conceivable if not yet realizable (R Forward et al).
With the resources of a solar system based civilization - surely a 
possible future within 1-2 centuries, such difficulties will be much
more soluble, since major constructions  would be undertaken in Space
itself from extraterrestrial materials within a flourishing
interplanetary economy, rather than from the expensive gravity well of
the Earth.

The accessibility of the Kuiper Belt and Oort clouds as stepping stones
on the way to the nearer stars would offer further possibilities, such
as the slow moving habitats of the types described by Gerard O Neill;
these could take a few centuries rather than travelling at near light
speeds. If, at our stage, we can consider such possibilities
constructively, it is likely that other races  somewhere have achieved
as much . While we may very well elect not to develop in this way on
grounds of cost or difficulty - mass consumption of narcotics and
tribal warfare being deemed worthier goals for our peoples -  it is
unlikely that such folly is universal. It seems likely that the
resolution of Fermi's Paradox lies either in our failure to look for
Extra-Terrestrials (ET) in the right places or with the right tools, or
that unaided Nature itself cuts down emerging civilizations.


Since 1960, steps have been taken to constrain some of the terms in
this equation. Astrophysicists have now refined the S term to yield a
figure of 1 star birth per year in our galaxy. Since 1994, extrasolar
planets have been discovered at a rapid rate, such that it is becoming
likely that as many as 0.5 % of stars may have planetary systems  ( P =
0.005). In April 1999, the first discovery of a multiple solar system
(Upsilon Andromeda, 3 large planets) was announced. This system , in
orbit  around a star of almost solar type spectral class F8 - cf solar
G2, increases the eventual probability of finding earth like planets,
since the concept of a system of planets had yet to be demonstrated. At
44 light years from Earth, this implies statistically that planetary
systems are not rare.

New generation telescopes in the next 10-20 years are likely to refine
this figure to include Earth type planets, since current instruments
are operating at the edge of detection abilities.

E in our system is at least 1, and, if Mars  and Europa prove to be
homes for life, would rise to 2 or 3. The next 20 years are likely to
throw considerable light on this term. The fact that life began on
Earth only a few tens of millions of years after cooling, and that
organic precursor chemistry is known to be present in interstellar
space, and comets, raises L towards 1 for many authorities. The range
of conditions acceptable to life has, thanks to the exploration of
Atlantic sub-oceanic volcanic ridges, been stretched considerably in
recent years. Furthermore, the recent discovery of "impossible"
nano-bacteria in Australia removes one argument against the presence of
microbial fossils in the famous Martian Antarctic meteorite ALH 84001.

I and C, the likelihood of life attaining technology, and then
communications, is harder to assess; our sample of one suggests that 4
billion years may be needed. On Earth we have seen a progressive growth
in complexity and brain power, and some have indeed considered that
Cetacea and Deinonychi represent potential lines of intelligence which
either were prematurely snuffed out (Dinosauria) or which took a
direction inappropriate for technology (Cetacea). It is noteworthy that
all three candidates for intelligence have flourished in the past 100
million years only. The idea that there is a direction in the evolution
of the universe towards Mind and complexity is by its nature something
of a religious imponderable, but if so would lead to the idea that Mind
is evolving elsewhere at a comparable rate to that of Earth.
Interestingly, the 16th century Soccinian heresy posited God as an end
product of natural development rather than as an initiating Creator!

As for C, the idea that a civilization could attain Intelligence and
technology without curiosity seems far-fetched, and so, attempts at
communications would seem probable once the appropriate level had been
reached. How long such communications would persist is part of the
enigma posed by the V term.


The V term - that of the life span of a technological civilization - is
the most vexed of all, with estimates ranging from 100 years to 1
billion years, and has profound significance for us. At the height of
the Cold War many believed that this term was naturally short since
evolution towards technology and space travel was likely to be
accompanied by the same territorial expansionist and predatory traits
which mark us out; hence Fermi's Paradox had an easy solution;
civilizations do not become space farers or longterm communicators
because they destroy themselves early in their career.

Other obstacles to longterm communicating civilization may be limits to
growth, environmental breakdown, loss of interest in science and
technology, and the expense of advanced astronomy let alone space
flight. These are all anthropomorphic considerations, but it must be
remembered that we thus far have only a sample of one - Ourselves! The
sociology and psychology of Humanity is hard enough to follow at times
- how much more so those of Extra-Terrestrials.

Ecological or external limitations, thanks to the principle of isotropy
in Cosmology, whereby the Universe is held to observe the same laws
irrespective of time and space are probably easier to consider at this
stage than  sociological or motivational factors.

Variations in  stellar output, exhaustion of key resources, materials
or energy, climatic changes such as Ice Ages, or extreme volcanism, or
major epidemics of disease are likely to be threats faced by any or
most civilizations whether or not they choose to communicate across
Space. If so, these factors will surely set limits on sustainability of
such civilizations. While neither of these factors is certain to
extinguish us as a species it is clear that civilization would be
traumatically affected and may lose the cultural drive which leads to
astronomy, space sciences, Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
(SETI ) or astronautics.  


In the past two decades the world community has become aware of a more
tangible, universal threat to civilizations and species - namely the
periodic bombardment of the planets by asteroids and comets. In 1979
Alvarez presented evidence for the mass extinction of the dinosaurs and
many other species by an impacting asteroid of some 10 kms in size. The
discovery of the Chicxulub crater in 1991, followed by the break-up and
impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 at Jupiter in July 1994 removed any
doubts that civilizations on Earth face an eventual mass destruction,
possibly extinction at an uncertain future date, with as little
as 2 years warning!

Calculations from crater densities on Earth and the planets show that
impacting bodies as small as 1 km in diameter would smash the fragile
web of civilization, and can be expected at 100,000 years intervals,
statistically speaking. The threshold for global climatic change
sufficient to cause an equivalent to nuclear winter and kill 5 billions
or more, is put between 1 and 1.5 kilometres. There are believed to be
2,000 potential impactors of this order awaiting discovery.

It is beyond dispute that such an event would destroy any communicating
civilization which was foolish enough to be confined to one planet at
the time of impact.

Asteroids impact at 15-30 kms. per second, while comets can attain
50-60 kms per second. Energy is generated by the kinetics of impact -
as shock, winds of 500 kms per hour, earthquake P waves of hundreds of
kph circling the globe, and fireballs (examples of up to 2,000 kms at
24,000 degrees Kelvin were seen at Jupiter due to Comet Shoemaker Levy
9). Energy rises as the cube of the diameter of the impactor- Tunguska
a 60 metres diameter object produced 20 megatons of energy, flattening
2,000 square kilometres of forest. No city could withstand such an
impact. Impacts at sea generate tsunamis equal in height to the
diameter of the object; thus a 400 metres asteroid would, if in mid
Pacific, raise a tsunami 150 metres high 6,000 kms away - thus every
city on the Pacific Rim  and doubtless many elsewhere would be wrecked.

It is clear that detection by dedicated telescopes as proposed by the
Spaceguard Foundation is an essential first step if we are not simply
to await such a devastation like sheep. This would cost about 10-20
million dollars per year world wide., and would  detect most of the
potential trouble makers over 10-15 years.

Evidently, purely local measures such as stockpiling food or evacuating
populations to other regions or off the Earth, could be fruitless
since, the impact point would be hard to predict exactly, and, in any
case breakup on entry would make the impact sites even harder to
predict. Lead times for some impactors - Atens, new comets, or cometary
breakup fragments, would very likely be too short to put these measures
into effect.

In any event, underground P waves or massive tsunamis would make the
idea of conserving infrastructure unlikely; post-impact dislocation,
epidemics, vermin, and social breakdown make the rebuilding of a
technical civilization very problematic.

It seems sensible therefore to look beyond the Earth for a solution,
especially as the problem originates there! We can see that only a
pre-existing civilization in Space would ensure the growth and further
development of our civilization if faced with a major disaster,
especially an impact - and, moreover, offers us a constructive use for
such a threat. A potential impactor is also a source of materials for
exactly the construction of such a civilization, and so is the only
solution which makes an asset out of a potential calamity. A good
general does battle on the enemy's home ground - not his own.

Methods have been proposed for the interception and deflection or
disruption of known impactors; nuclear tipped missiles are most usually
proposed. For a larger object these could run to 50-100 megatons,
requiring a Saturn V class launcher. There are at least four issues

1/ Will an explosion deflect an asteroid or merely multiply it into 2
   or more fragments headed for Earth? Much more needs to be learned,
   in situ on composition before such a course could be recommended ?
2/ Who holds and controls the nuclear missile force - the USA, UN,
   Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic?
3/ How are the disarmament treaties so painstakingly worked out to be
   altered to allow such massive nuclear deployment and testing?
4/ Finally, with new comets and Aten class asteroids, detection is
   unlikely to give a long enough lead time for interception and 
   deflection. Comet Hyakutake was found only 2 months before closest
   passage, for example, and would have delivered 1,000 Gigatons TNT
   equivalent of energy to Earth had it collided.

Other methods include laser interception to generate local rocket
effects, or emplaced mass drivers or solar sails. These all require a
substantial capability and presence in Space - lasers would need to be
beyond the atmosphere for accurate collimation and range; the Moon
would be an obvious location for such a facility. In the words of
Professor Mark Bailey of Armagh University; faced with a major impact,
"we had better step off the planet!"- quite so.

What is truly needed is a change of attitude. Impacting asteroids are
not merely a threat - they are also, like all real challenges, an
opportunity. These objects, by definition, are near to the Earth and
are often easier to reach, energetically, than the Moon; apart from
presenting exciting scientific opportunities, asteroids and comets are
relatively accessible sources of raw materials for construction in
Space - Solar Power satellites, tourist facilities, habitats and, in
time, dispersed civilizations beyond the Earth. If we learn to look
upon Near Earth Objects as stepping stones to a Space-based future we
shall, in consuming our potential "enemy", put him to work and derive a
profit from him - what could be more humanly opportunistic? Whereas,
if, unlike our land colonizing marine ancestors, we fail to step out
into the new world, our V term will be deservedly and ingloriously

Data from the Infra-Red Astronomy Satellite (IRAS), Hubble Space
Telescope, and Extreme UltraViolet Explorer (EUVE) satellite show that
other stars are surrounded by the kind of gas and dust clouds from
which our own system with cometary Kuiper belts and planetesimals is
believed to have been formed. In 1998, two UV flashes characteristic of
the ionization of comet grazers were observed in the UV image of a
young star.

It is highly probable that other stars with or without civilizations
have asteroid belts, cometary clouds, and a pattern of impacts not
dissimilar to our own system; hence we have a possible generalized
factor in the development of Life , Intelligence and Civilizations.

At the very least, periodic mass extinctions "reload the dice" and
allow removal of old established life-forms and their replacement by
new ones. If one wished to be teleological one can see a value in
Intelligence, Science and Technology in that these traits promise an
eventual adaptation to life in a cosmic shooting gallery.

It is well recognised that the colonization of Terra Firma from the sea
by the Crossopterygian fishes, about 370 million years ago, has
accelerated the evolution of complex and more capable species -
amphibia, reptiles, dinosaurs, mammals, primates and hominids have all
resulted from this event. Long range vision, manual dexterity, flight,
and the use of fire are all direct results of the emergence of life
onto the land. Part of this is due to the principle of adaptive
radiation whereby unoccupied ecological niches are rapidly filled with
evolving life-forms of great diversity.

The settlement of Space - our own solar system at first and in time
other regions - would be a much enhanced example of adaptive radiation
in action. Exposure to various conditions of gravity, illumination, and
skylines will afford our dispersed descendants many new ecological
niches; whether on adapted surfaces such as the Moon and Mars, or
within O'Neill type habitats, our species will enjoy ecological and
cultural diversity of a type fast disappearing from Earth without that
close proximity which engenders so much conflict. As the Proconsul Ape,
in descending to the African savannah, 20 million years ago, has given
rise to the whole range of current primates, so the hominid stock's
dispersal out into Space has the chance over comparable time scales of
fathering whole new lines of evolution.

If we can allow the asteroid impact threat with its implications for V
terms, Fermi's Paradox, and our future to stimulate us positively,
contemporary doom and gloom on the subject can be transcended and yield
a life-enhancing result.


It is usual to see terrestrial civilization, in this context, described
as if it were a monolithic entity; however, there have been according
to archaeologists at least 30 major civilizations on Earth in the last
5, 000 years which have risen and fallen from a number of factors. As
examples we can take the Stone Age civilization on Rapa Nui (Easter
Island), which perished from eco-catastrophe over a single generation
after a millennium of growth. Put simply, they outgrew their local
resources and felled all the indigenous trees to move and erect their
massive stone cult statues. Some scholars see in the riddle of the
statues not evidence for ancient astronauts or Atlanteans but a warning
for our future as a whole.

By contrast, the civilizations of Mohenjo-Daru and Mexico fell to
foreign invaders, doubtless aided by epidemics, while the Graeco-Roman
was subsumed into Christianity and gradual successive tribal invasions.

In seeking survival strategies for cultures and civilizations, it is
interesting to look at two cultures on Earth of exceptional longevity
and therein seek ways of improving our very own V term; for it is often
said that a reason for interest on ETs and space sciences in general is
to learn our own place in the Universe, and how to maintain and improve
it. Further, we have enough variety of civilizations in our history to
understand some of the factors surrounding the V term.

My two chosen examples of longevity could not be more different. The
first will be known to all here, especially those who attended the IAF
Congress last year. The native Australians, aborigines or Murris, as
they prefer to be known, represent a continuous line of culture dating
back at least 50,000, or some now say, 120,000 years. These peoples
have survived virtually unchanged over this immense period; indeed
their culture knows no past nor future, speaking of the Dream Time or
eternal present, in which life and humanity follows the rhythm of the
seasons, making minimal impact on the continental environment. True,
some species of larger animals are believed to have been hunted to
extinction over these millennia, but the low impact overall of the
Murris on their environment is clear enough. Such longevity is possible
due to small numbers and this minimal impact. They are indeed part of
their environment in a way few other people can claim, and may well
have continued  thus for many more millennia, had there not been an
outside world which in the due and inevitable course of History erupted
upon them.

The second case is entirely different. The Jewish or Judaeic
civilization, born in adversity in exile in Babylon  has spread in a
unique Diaspora over much of the world, far away from its origins in
the semitic Kingdoms of the ancient East. Indeed, after a brief
reclamation of their kingdom under the Maccabees, Jewry was submerged
and dispersed for ever, it would seem, under the yoke of Rome. However,
Judaism had two unique characteristics which have a lesson for us as a
species; firstly, they came to believe themselves to be "Chosen"  to a
future destiny, and thus had unlimited faith in their own survival, and
secondly, they learned to be a people without a single country - in the
Diaspora. Many over the centuries wished that their God had "Chosen"
someone else, or that Diaspora was not their lot. However, as a
survival strategy, Diaspora and Faith in their Destiny has enabled
Judaism to take many forms in many lands - from Parthia and Babylonia,
China, mediaeval Europe and onwards to the New Worlds opened up by
discovery. Wherever the pursuits of the Mind were paramount - in Law,
Finance, Medicine and Science, and Literature - the descendants of
Jewry excelled for 2,000 years, even to the extent that, early in this
century, Nobel prizes 12% went to 0.5% of the world's population . One
has only to look at the contemporary civilizations of the Bible -
Babylon, Assyria, Media, Greece and Rome, to realise that Judaism has
been a unique survival strategy.

Indeed, far from mere survival, Judaism mutated and contributed to the
birth of whole new civilizations - Christianity, Islam, Talmudism,
Kabbalism, Capitalism, Marxism , altering those very civilizations in
which they have been unwelcome intruders! For those who would doubt
Diaspora as a survival aide, consider how many Jews would have survived
1939-45 if Heydrich had been able to locate all Jewry in one continent.

The concept of the Chosen people has been mutated and taken up by later
offshoots; from a small sect in the Middle East, the Christian Chosen
People has grown to be a Universal (Catholic Church), while the Islamic
Umma and Bahai Kingdom of Baha adopted the same idea on a Universal


We have seen that dispersal and a sense of Destiny have inspired some
of the most dynamic and progressive movements in human civilization,
and have enabled growth and diversity on a planetary scale. We can see
that our civilization  has reached a stage where it is vulnerable in a
way not true for less complex structures and societies. We have far
more people to kill, and infrastructure to destroy by natural disaster
whether from Earth or space than our simpler ancestors - and yet we
alone have the understanding and technology to communicate with, and
maybe interact directly with, other cultures across the sky. Applying
the lessons of Diaspora and Destiny, it seems clear that our own
survival as a Mindful technological civilization depends upon our
turning the Search for Extra-Terrestrial civilizations and speculation
on the causes of Fermi's Paradox on their heads; the true goal for
Humankind, in the wake of our recent discoveries in neo-Catastrophism,
is not to find civilizations in Space but to build them there.

Gerard O'Neill in "2081: a Hopeful View of the Human Future", questions
the idea of multiple Extraterrestrial civilizations and proposes that
we, against all odds, may actually be the first - after all, someone
has to be! As a solution for Fermi's paradox and to increase our own V
term in Drake's equation, I commend to the Space community the Idea of
Evolutionary Cosmic Destiny; that Humanity itself is the species chosen
by Evolution or Providence to take Life and Mind out into the Universe,
and to be the midwives to the next stage in the growth  towards a 
self-conscious Universe.

This creed, foreshadowed by Tsiolkoskii, JD Bernal, Olaf Stapledon
among others, can at the 50th anniversary of the IAF and the turn of
the Millennium become a new message of hope and purpose for Humankind.
We embrace 170,000 space professionals and enthusiasts from many lands;
if our hopes and enterprises are to survive and prosper in the
difficult times ahead, let us hold fast to our true mission  - the
realization of our Destiny and its embrace by a new generation.


Such a view of human purpose touches on many people and interests with
no current connection to the Space community - and so, attempts have
been made to communicate these ideas in various guises to many outlets.
Three organizations - Space Age Associates, the Greater Earth
Initiative, and Technology of Frontiers, have been formed on the World
Wide Web (WWW) in the past 2-3 years to act as notice boards and
campaign points for the new ideas, and aim to promote the establishment
of a small self-sustaining off-Earth population and industry within the
next 2-3 generations. Since economic benefits are likely to be in the
longer term, it is necessary to appeal to idealism and even the
religious impulse to push the concept of human settlements in Space
further. Articles on our Destiny in Space have appeared in Mensa
magazines, Freemasonry, Islamic Astronomical Journals, and have been
transmitted via the WWW to numerous religious and philosophical groups
ranging from the Vatican to the Bahaļ's. The Singapore Straits Times
has carried several articles on space events by this author in which
the underlying thesis put forward here has been alluded to in brief.

Numerous lectures and activities in schools and universities have
allowed further dissemination of this message, and it is hoped that
circulation and uptake by members and committees of the IAF will help
to spread further the idea of human Destiny in Space.
I would hope that, both out of your convictions and in regard to your
commercial interests my seed falls on fertile ground!


1/ Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Jean Heidmann
2/ Intelligent Life in the Universe, Carl Sagan and Josef Schlovskii
3/ Nemesis - the Death Star,    Richard Muller
4/ Spaceguard -UK
5/ The Asteroids: their Nature and Utilization, Charles Kowal
6/ Easter Island, Earth Island, John Flenley and David Bahn
7/ The Australian Museum , Sydney, Australia
8/ Jews, God and History,  Max I Dimont
9/  The Chosen People, John M Allegro
10/ The Holocaust, Martin Gilbert.
11/ The High frontier 2081:A Hopeful View of the Human future",  Gerard O'Neill
12/ First and Last Men, Olaf Stapledon
13/ Man, Medicine, and Space , ( Salto nella Spazio), Michael Martin-Smith
14/ Space Age Associates,
15/ The Greater Earth Initiative
16/ Technologia di Frontiera,
17/ Articles in Mensa Magazine, Journal of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space
    Sciences, Freemasonry Today, Singapore Straits Times, Journal of
    Space Policy, Quest Magazine, Amateur Astronomy and Space Sciences,
    Yorkshire Medicine, Journal Astro, 1996-99, etc

Copyright @1999 Michael Martin-Smith. Published by the American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Inc with permission. Released
to IAF/IAA/AIAA to publish in all forms.

CCCMENU CCC for 1999

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