As a species, we have made magnificent strides in robotic space exploration in the past decade. From exploring Pluto close-up for the first time to discovering our solar system is rife with underground liquid oceans, we now understand our little neighborhood of planets and moons better than ever before. It’s time to start talking about how we are […]
intelligence have been created, but they might not be followed.
|First came the suggestion that an “alien megastructure” had been observed around KIC 8462852, a.k.a. Tabby’s Star. Months later, people were talking about a signal seen by a Russian telescope that some thought was transmitted from the environs of a stellar cousin of|
the sun. And not long after that, the Cyclopean Arecibo antenna in Puerto Rico reported weird signals that seemed to come from the dwarf star Ross 128, a scant 11 light-years away.
These three claims purporting to show the existence of aliens haven’t panned out. But what happens if some future claim does? What preparations are in place to deal with the discovery of a radio signal or a laser flash that would prove beyond doubt that we have cosmic compeers? Does the government have a plan? Does anyone?
… Back in 1989, when a now-defunct NASA program to search for extraterrestrial intelligence was gaining steam, protocols were drafted to spell out best practices in case the search proved successful. These were later updated and streamlined by the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Committee. (Click here to see the revised protocols.)
| Don’t know about you, but I’m loving those mystery lights on Ceres as NASA’s surveillance probe, Dawn, bears down on the biggest chunk of real estate in the asteroid belt. And not because of the prospects for discovering alien activity – they’re remote, at best – but because of the opportunity to witness, again, the ritual disconnect that characterizes institutional science whenever The Great Taboo legitimately insinuates itself into a news cycle.
Let’s go back a few years when, after half a century of logging zilch in the Great ET Radio Signal Experiment, SETI pioneer Jill Tarter proposed
a new name for their endeavors, the Search for Extraterrestrial Technology (SETT). This was a tacit grudging concession that maybe radio astronomers had been working with a flawed model. In 2011, the International Journal of Astrobiology published a paper by astrophysicists Martin Elvis and Duncan Forgan proposing an even more specific tack, that maybe Earthlings ought to consider scanning the asteroid belt for evidence of ET “macro-engineering projects.” Translation: mining operations. Made sense. After all, they noted, asteroids are repositories for raw material like gold, platinum and silver, the kind of stuff you’d likely need to repair or refuel extended planetary missions.
And, as Forgan would hypothesize two years later in the IJA, ET wouldn’t even have to bend the known laws of physics to reach the rocky debris zone between Jupiter and Mars, no matter which part of the Milky Way he/she/it came from. Upon crunching the numbers, Forgan and a mathematician hypothesized that robotic technologies could have mapped this galaxy well below light speeds, in about 10 million years. On the cosmic scale of time, that’s no big deal.
So here’s what’s going on. In 2007, NASA hurls an unmanned vehicle toward the asteroid belt to look for clues to the formation of our solar system. Destination: “dwarf planets” Vesta and Ceres. Dawn enters a 14-month mapping orbit over Vesta in 2011, then moves on toward the bigger prize. In February, as it closes to within 29,000 miles of Ceres, Dawn’s cameras detect something totally off the charts – lights on the surface. Their luminosity doesn’t appear to be significantly affected by different sun angles. Two months and 25,000 miles closer, their intensity is still unblinking. Planetary scientists are stumped; at the Jet Propulsion Lab’s website, PR flacks do a very savvy thing by letting visitors vote on the most likely suspects: “volcano,” “geyser,” “salt deposit,” “ice,” “rock,” and “other.” Wonder what “other” could be. Hmm. Anyway, we’ll get an even better peek by summer’s end, when Dawn dips to within 900 miles of the surface.
No matter what those lights are all about, this sort of suspense is cool. Talk about a teaching opportunity for schools.
Now let’s review some of NASA’s recent headline-grabbing statements. In 2014, given our ongoing exoplanet transiting searches and the impending exploration of more local worlds like Europa, space agency scientists predicted Earthlings will discover ET life within 20 years. That forecast was reiterated just last week at the Astrobiology Science Conference in Chicago. In fact, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate (there’s a mouthful) and former astronaut John Grunsfeld suggested that ET civilizations might already have detected us, the same way we’re locating and confirming the existence of deep-space planets. Quote:
“We put atmospheric signatures that guarantee someone with a large telescope 20 light years away could detect us. If there is life out there, intelligent life, they’ll know we’re here.”
Left unsaid, what none in that sheltered crowd wants to contemplate: And if they discover us before we discover them, maybe they’re already a lot closer than we think. But of course, there was no room in Chicago for a discussion of UFOs. That would be a little too declasse, like farting in church. Oh, and just to make sure nobody got terribly excited, coverage of last week’s Windy City pow-wow also included a canned statement from NASA chief scientist Ellen Stefan. In April, during a discussion about Mars, she drew distinctions between the discovery of biological life and some other silly alternative like, well, the 2011 peer-reviewed paper’s “targeted asteroid mining” scenario. “We are not talking about little green men,” she insisted. “We are talking about little microbes.”
Stofan could’ve said “intelligent life.” But she went for the gag line instead. Knowing full well how much everybody loves microbes.
Hey, no one wants to look like an idiot as we approach the biggest discovery of all time, wherever that may be. The solution to the Ceres lights will likely fall far short of little green men. But the language we employ as we draw closer to the inevitability doesn’t inspire much confidence; it suggests we’re deeply conflicted in our enthusiasm for confirming The Other. Or at least the people at the top of NASA appear to be. Fortunately, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that science and politics never mix.
|Back in 1950, during a lunch break at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, several scientists were trading wisecracks about a recent spate of UFO reports when Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi offered an observation that has echoed through the decades. Given the number of places where life could exist in the vast universe, and|
the length of time it has had to evolve, the skies ought to be teeming with beings from advanced, space-faring civilizations — but nothing incontrovertible has shown up. You have to wonder, as Fermi did, “Where is everybody?”
His colleagues chuckled, but the “Fermi paradox” perfectly frames the profound absurdity of the search for life beyond Earth. Humans have beamed beacons into space, robotically visited every world in the solar system and discovered thousands of planets circling stars far from our own. Yet all we’ve encountered is a chilly void.
Still, the possibility that something is out there calls to us.
Three new books approach the mystery from distinctly different perspectives: the unlikely believer in UFOs, the visionary dedicated to rigorous investigation and the cadre of scientists who still plug away at the problem, probing the universe for an answer.
From 250 miles up, astronauts have an unparalleled view of Earth. They can also easily see the devastating effects of climate change and pollution as they ravage the planet.That’s why past and present astronauts from around the world have contributed to a new video, called “Call to Earth,” that urges world leaders to take action. It’s […]
|The first workshop of the new German SETI initiative recently convened in the southern town of Freiburg, with experts in fields ranging from social science to satellite imaging on hand to discuss how to advance the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life.|
Michael Schetsche from the University of Freiburg started things off with a talk on the possible consequences of first contact with an extraterrestrial species, and how we might prepare for such an encounter. A symposium held at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. three years ago had a similar theme, but Schetsche’s talk focused more on contact with artificial intelligence or machine-based life.
Other talks had to do with SETA, the search for extraterrestrial artifacts, which will be one subject of future research by the German research network. Hakan Kayal from the University of Würzburg outlined today’s technical state of the art in detecting and identifying objects in space ….
Scans run of thousands of distant stars looking to find traces of laser signals – which some scientists think could offer signs of advanced alien life – have turned up empty, dealing a blow to those hoping to find any interstellar neighbours in the near future. In a new study, researchers looked at light coming from 5,600 […]
You’ve heard of SETI, right? It’s the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, where astronomers point telescopes at distant stars in the hope of hearing signals from alien civilizations. But what you might not know is the person who started it all. That person is Frank Drake, now 86, who in 1960 conducted the first modern SETI […]
“Taking into account all of the different activities and missions that are specifically searching for evidence of alien life, we are on the verge of making one of the most profound, unprecedented, discoveries in history,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate during the recent congressional hearing of the committee on ‘Advances […]
This past weekend, Neil deGrasse Tyson did a reddit AMA: “I am Neil deGrasse Tyson, your personal Astrophysicist.” Naturally, with this irresistible prompt, he got numerous responses, like this one: “Do you think we will ever make contact with complex organisms within the next 50 years?” Unfortunately, for those hoping to make contact, this was his answer: Screenshot from Reddit […]
The post Neil DeGrasse Tyson Just Revealed When He Thinks We’ll Find Aliens appeared first on Alien UFO Sightings.