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posted by martyb on Saturday October 29 2016, @07:41PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Betteridge-says-No dept.

A little over 80 years ago, humanity first began broadcasting radio and television signals with enough power that they should leave Earth's atmosphere and progress deep into interstellar space. If someone living in a distant star system were keeping a vigilant eye out for these signals, they would not only be able to pick them up, but immediately identify them as created by an intelligent species. In 1960, Frank Drake first proposed searching for such signals from other star systems by using large radio dishes, giving rise to SETI: the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Yet over the past half-century, we've developed far more efficient ways to communicate across the globe than with broadcast radio and TV signals. Does searching for aliens in the electromagnetic spectrum even make sense anymore ?

[...] After all, if someone from a culture that was versed only in smoke signals and drum beats found themselves deep inside the heart of a forest, they might conclude that there was no intelligent life around. Yet if you gave them a cellphone, there's a good chance they could get reception from right where they stood! Our conclusions may be as biased as the methods we apply.

[...] But if we weren't looking for electromagnetic signals, what would we look at? Indeed, everything in the known Universe is limited by the speed of light, and any signal created on another world would necessitate that we be able to observe it. These signals — in terms of what could reach us — fall into four categories:

Electromagnetic signals, which include any form of light of any wavelength that would indicate the presence of intelligent life.

Gravitational wave signals, which, if there is one unique to intelligent life, would be detectable with sensitive enough equipment anywhere in the Universe.

Neutrino signals, which — although incredibly low in flux at great distances — would have an unmistakeable signature dependent on the reaction that created them.

And finally, actual, macrobiotic space probes, either robotic, computerized, free-floating or inhabited, which made its way towards Earth.

How remarkable that our science-fiction imaginations focus almost exclusively on the fourth possibility, which is by far the least likely !

http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2016/10/21/are-we-looking-for-aliens-in-all-the-wrong-ways/ (requires Javascript) (archive.is).

Also covered by: Three Alternate Ways Scientists Should Hunt For Aliens


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New Technologies, Strategies Expanding Search for Extraterrestrial Life 5 comments

New technologies, strategies expanding search for extraterrestrial life:

Emerging technologies and new strategies are opening a revitalized era in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). New discovery capabilities, along with the rapidly-expanding number of known planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, are spurring innovative approaches by both government and private organizations, according to a panel of experts speaking at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle, Washington.

New approaches will not only expand upon but also go beyond the traditional SETI technique of searching for intelligently-generated radio signals, first pioneered by Frank Drake's Project Ozma in 1960. Scientists now are designing state-of-the-art techniques to detect a variety of signatures that can indicate the possibility of extraterrestrial technologies. Such "technosignatures" can range from the chemical composition of a planet's atmosphere, to laser emissions, to structures orbiting other stars, among others.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the privately-funded SETI Institute announced an agreement to collaborate on new systems to add SETI capabilities to radio telescopes operated by NRAO. The first project will develop a system to piggyback on the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) that will provide data to a state-of-the-art technosignature search system.

"As the VLA conducts its usual scientific observations, this new system will allow for an additional and important use for the data we're already collecting," said NRAO Director Tony Beasley. "Determining whether we are alone in the Universe as technologically capable life is among the most compelling questions in science, and NRAO telescopes can play a major role in answering it," Beasley continued.

"The SETI Institute will develop and install an interface on the VLA permitting unprecedented access to the rich data stream continuously produced by the telescope as it scans the sky," said Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute and Principal Investigator for the Breakthrough Listen Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley. "This interface will allow us to conduct a powerful, wide-area SETI survey that will be vastly more complete than any previous such search," he added.

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29 2016, @07:42PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29 2016, @07:42PM (#420225)

    "Gravitational wave signals, which, if there is one unique to intelligent life, would be detectable with sensitive enough equipment anywhere in the Universe"

    Just how big an "if" is that, exactly?

  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29 2016, @08:31PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29 2016, @08:31PM (#420239)

    in all the wrong places [youtube.com] -- dept

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by ShadowSystems on Saturday October 29 2016, @08:45PM

      by ShadowSystems (6185) <ShadowSystemsNO@SPAMGmail.com> on Saturday October 29 2016, @08:45PM (#420245)

      Dang it! You beat me to it! =-D
      The first thing I thought of when I heard the headline was of that song & immediately went to Youtube to find a link. Then I get here & find you'd beaten me to it!
      *High Tentacle*
      Great jolbs palp alike!
      /wanders off on my many pseudopodia warbling the song to myselves...
      =-)p

  • (Score: 5, Funny) by Bot on Saturday October 29 2016, @08:41PM

    by Bot (3902) on Saturday October 29 2016, @08:41PM (#420242) Journal

    The young alien's skin, we'll call him Bob, suddenly flashed a yellow glow of excitement.
    - "TEACHER TEACHER There is a pattern! radial coordinates .45565, .57634, towards the edge of the X23"
    The teacher concentrated telepathically for a brief moment (three earth's years, to be precise) and replied:
    - "Good catch Bob, there is intelligent life there, carbon based. But they are blacklisted."
    - "Oh. So, no reply?"
    - "Nope"
    - "Why?"
    - "They have a terrible custom".
    - "What it is? They eat their young as a pastime, like those critters Stacy found in A317?"
    Stacy turned violet remembering what she learned about that wicked place.
    - "It is way worse. That hurts the body, this hurts the soul. They take the weaker among them, jail them up..."
    All class now was glowing a bright purple, fearing the worst.
    - "...and force them to send Unsolicited Commercial Calls!"
    Bob defensively raised his three fuzzy tentacles and uttered: "MONSTERS!"

    --
    Account abandoned.
  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by AthanasiusKircher on Saturday October 29 2016, @08:50PM

    by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Saturday October 29 2016, @08:50PM (#420248) Journal

    Could humans a few centuries ago have imagined our modern methods of communication? Would they imagine aliens might make a giant signal flag or some other method of communication that would have been for long distances back then?

    Science and technology continues a relentless push forward. How can we possibly know what our civilization will be like in a few hundred or a few thousand years, let alone a few million? How can we know how an alien race at such a stage might choose to communicate, if it chooses to at all? We have a lot speculation about how we might travel in outer space or how we could communicate, but those are our current priorities, based on a mere few generations of playing around with tech. I think it's crazy to think that we'd have any clue about how a civilizations that's thousands of generations more advanced in technology might do things.

    I'm not saying SETI is completely fruitless. And I understand the arguments that EM radiation seems an obvious place to look for signals. But my guess (admittedly, again, just a guess) is that if there are other advanced civilizations out there, they've either figured out a way to communicate faster-than-light (in which case, would we even know how to pick up their signals?), or they recognize the futility of trying to send messages across large distances that may take thousands of years to get there, so they just don't bother emitting huge amounts of such signals... unless they're really well-targeted. SETI came about at a time when Earth was emitting huge amounts of EM signals that bled out into space because of new communication methods. A couple generations later, we've found ways to make such communication much more efficient, so we're no longer broadcasting with such strong signals. So, now we're proposing METI instead -- deliberately sending out EM signals because our natural signal is no longer strong enough.

    Even assuming that's how aliens would do it, how may years or decades or centuries would a civilization keep up sending out such a signal before giving up? If FTL travel and FTL communication is basically impossible (as some believe based on current physics), it seems likely that the interest might die out long before any successful communication actually occurs, particularly if life is somewhat uncommon. And if FTL travel and communication are possible for advanced civilizations, would they really need us to stand up and "wave a flag" to recognize something new is going on in our region of the galaxy?

    Maybe this is overly cynical. I just think a lot of these debates about whether there are aliens out there, or why aren't we seeing them, or how many REALLY are there, or what should we really be looking for -- they're all based on a civilization that first sent a person into space about 50 years ago. I don't think we have any clue what a civilization might do -- even if it started out very much like us, which is huge assumption -- if it's thousands or millions of years more advanced than we are.

    • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:00AM

      by HiThere (866) on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:00AM (#420367) Journal

      Read your H.G. Wells. (Or was it Stapledon?) He once imagined that the Martians tried to communicate with Earth by building geometric constructions large enough to be seen with a good telescope...by which he meant just slightly better than Mount Palomar.

      --
      Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
    • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Sunday October 30 2016, @06:02PM

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Sunday October 30 2016, @06:02PM (#420580) Homepage Journal

      Could humans a few centuries ago have imagined our modern methods of communication?

      Of course not. The earliest inkling I've seen in print is Murray Leinster's A Logic Named Joe [baen.com], written the year the first programmable electronic computer was patented. The only mention of anything resembling a radio or TV a hundred fifty years ago or older was fairy tales; I'm thinking "magic mirror".

      Oh, Marconi patented the wireless telegraph in 1896, so that would be the earliest date aliens would have heard our signals. Would they be able to tell (maybe if Sirius had an intelligent species in 1905) that they were made by an intelligence? Would they even care?

      --
      Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
  • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Saturday October 29 2016, @09:16PM

    by RamiK (1813) on Saturday October 29 2016, @09:16PM (#420258)

    And if we're not living in an FTL-capable universe, this whole effort is pointless.

    --
    compiling...
    • (Score: 1) by Ramze on Saturday October 29 2016, @10:34PM

      by Ramze (6029) on Saturday October 29 2016, @10:34PM (#420296)

      Not necessarily. We can still exchange information even if it takes decades or centuries to get replies. It would be nice to know how biology might work on a world that is unlike our own or learn new forms of math -- perhaps even gain a better understanding of physics from our neighbors.

      We may even one day learn how to cryonically preserve people for century-long space travel or how to build multi-generational city-ships in space to look for new worlds when ours begins dying.

    • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:02AM

      by HiThere (866) on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:02AM (#420368) Journal

      Actually, if we're not living in an FTL universe it's a lot safer. The catch is we wouldn't know that we are until we invent the FTL drive, or have someone visit.

      --
      Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
      • (Score: 1, Redundant) by takyon on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:49AM

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:49AM (#420384) Journal

        or have someone visit.

        The truth about UFOs: aliens are visiting Earth and the government doesn't want you to know that we suck and can't even FTL.

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Sunday October 30 2016, @06:15PM

        by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Sunday October 30 2016, @06:15PM (#420583) Homepage Journal

        Safer? If we stay on this wet rock long enough we're dead whether or not aliens are there.

        --
        Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
        • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Sunday October 30 2016, @06:46PM

          by HiThere (866) on Sunday October 30 2016, @06:46PM (#420592) Journal

          Not having FTL doesn't mean you can't have colonies elsewhere, it just means you can't rule colonies elsewhere...and getting anywhere is going to take a long time.

          Personally I think MacroLife is the better option, but even if you insist on living on planets it's still nearly as possible...it's just that quite few planets will be suitable.

          --
          Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
    • (Score: 1) by terryk30 on Sunday October 30 2016, @08:58AM

      by terryk30 (1753) on Sunday October 30 2016, @08:58AM (#420462)

      Not necessarily. Assuming problems like impacting dust are solvable, if you could travel at velocities asymptotic to c you could get anywhere you want within your lifetime. (For the simpler case of constant velocity, the trip time you experience is shortened by the SR factor gamma.) Of course "going home" would be a much different experience because everyone you knew would have lived out their lives and everything you knew may have changed.

      To take a tangent, there have been some good depictions of "relativistic civilizations". What comes to mind is parts of Kube-Mcdowell's Emprise/Enigma/Empery trilogy.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Runaway1956 on Saturday October 29 2016, @09:54PM

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday October 29 2016, @09:54PM (#420273) Homepage Journal

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Forest [wikipedia.org]

    It doesn't take a military mind to find reasons NOT to contact alien species. But, the military mindset works. Cixin Liu's story is an excellent one, with plenty of "science" contained wwithin the science fiction.

    It stands to reason (to me at least) that the intelligent life form on any given planet will also be the dominant species. That is, other life forms preyed upon that intelligent species before it became intelligent. I suspect that no sentient life will be entirely trusting of other sentient life forms.

    There may be a thousand different life forms out there, watching us. And, we don't measure up for any number of reasons. Maybe we're to violent - that is a popular idea among the more meek and mild members of society. Or, maybe we're just not smart enough. Or, maybe we are to short lived to bother with.

    But, I'll go with the fear factor. We are a violent race or species. Given that 100% of all the known intelligent life forms THAT WE KNOW OF are violent, it may be safe to assume that other intelligent life forms are also violent.

    They won't contact us unless and until they feel that they can A: beat us and B: gain something from beating us.

    It's entirely possible that other intelligent species have zero use for this scuzzy-assed muddy rock. No use at all. They don't need or want ANY of the resources to be found here. Why would they even talk to us?

    --
    Let's go Brandon!
    • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29 2016, @11:29PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29 2016, @11:29PM (#420338)

      Runaway's greatest fear: Mooslims from Outer Space!!!! With Sharia Ray Guns!!! Will humanity survive?

    • (Score: 2) by BsAtHome on Saturday October 29 2016, @11:30PM

      by BsAtHome (889) on Saturday October 29 2016, @11:30PM (#420340)

      Why would they even talk to us?

      Curiosity...

      And yes, it can kill you. However, we still do it many places here on this rock.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:37AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:37AM (#420382)
        What if their talking fries the planet?
    • (Score: 0, Disagree) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 30 2016, @01:07AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 30 2016, @01:07AM (#420393)

      Why talk to us?

      If they have religion, they, like us, would think it universal.

      Maybe they, like me, would be curious if they matched.

      Might bring sanity to both civilizations.
      Right?😅

    • (Score: 1) by ShadowSystems on Sunday October 30 2016, @04:32AM

      by ShadowSystems (6185) <ShadowSystemsNO@SPAMGmail.com> on Sunday October 30 2016, @04:32AM (#420432)

      Actually they were here for quite a long time before they left.
      *Holds up my cut glass bowl with the inscription "So long & thanks for all the fish."*
      I'm afraid my 'thumb isn't picking up anything anymore.
      =-J

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by wonkey_monkey on Saturday October 29 2016, @11:24PM

    by wonkey_monkey (279) on Saturday October 29 2016, @11:24PM (#420333) Homepage

    Gravitational wave signals, which, if there is one unique to intelligent life, would be detectable

    Well, ye-es, but do you remember how many solar masses of pure energy went into that gravitational signal we only barely detected last year? Three, I think it was.

    I doubt very much that aliens are going to be wiggling stars at significant fractions of the speed of light to communicate when there are much, much, much more efficient ways of doing it.

    with sensitive enough equipment anywhere in the Universe.

    Only if they don't get swamped by local or stronger sources

    --
    systemd is Roko's Basilisk
  • (Score: 2) by fritsd on Saturday October 29 2016, @11:25PM

    by fritsd (4586) on Saturday October 29 2016, @11:25PM (#420334) Journal

    My foot doesn't hurt anymore, so I'll treat you all to one of my better and more joyful unintelligible rantings:

    I have already thought up a necessary mental training that is a bit reflexive and self-referential:
    It is related to my 3 beliefs that (1) science is more communicable than (esoteric) magic, and (2) open-source software is more adaptable than closed-source, and (3) Maturana and Varela were onto something with their autopoietic earthworms.

    Here's the plan for alien contact:
    - Read lots of SF (done!) and dream a lot (and done!)

    - Think up possible scenarios

    - Then, turn them around: if alien X thought of those scenarios, did experiments, would the signal have been picked up by a number n > 1 of alien civilizations y_1 .. y_n?
          Next question, if the signal were picked up, would it have seemed beneficial for (more than 1) of those Y civilizations to adapt and pass on and spread that signal and communication protocol?

    - Third question: if two different civilizations y_i and y_j would adapt that signal and protocol in their own way, and spread it, are those sufficient conditions to consider an evolution process of "survival of the fittest signal/ protocol"?
          If so, that would make signals of that type more abundant over time than signals that lack that property. An ecosystem of signals, characterized by a fitness that is derived from a combination of universal intelligibility and cheapness of propagation.

    For example, w.r.t. the signal category 4 "macrobiotic space probes":
    First part of the thought experiment: Inject a bucketload of electrically charged cyanobacteria spores into a particle accelerator beam on a spaceship orbiting a solar system body with in-deep gravity well such as Titan, do not accelerate them TOO fast or they burn up to plasma, and launch 'em to the general vicinity of the orbit of a "nearby" Goldilocks exoplanet. During its year, it might catch some of them.
    If there's no life, there might be now in 3 billion years.
    If there was life, well... hopefully they can stand a little disease otherwise you've just committed Xenocide..

    Now part 2 of the thought experiment: now turn it around
    So, according to the Panspermia theory, what kinds of regions are there in cyanobacteria DNA that appear to be non-coding and could contain the alien equivalents of "Killroy was here" and "This space intentionally left blank" and "For a good time contact us on moon 3 of planet 1 of Epsilon Eridani (spectral signature follows in the next 3 non-coding DNA regions)"? How would they have encoded it so that we can easily understand it?

    What do you think? Is this post more or less interesting than talking about the US elections ;-D

    I'd love to be paid a decent wage to look for alien life from my comfy chair (hint, hint!)

    PS just found a nice theoretical biology article about worms [wordpress.com]. Enjoy! I'm going to sleep.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 04 2016, @03:22AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 04 2016, @03:22AM (#422360)

      So, according to the Panspermia theory, what kinds of regions are there in cyanobacteria DNA that appear to be non-coding and could contain the alien equivalents of "Killroy was here" and "This space intentionally left blank" and "For a good time contact us on moon 3 of planet 1 of Epsilon Eridani (spectral signature follows in the next 3 non-coding DNA regions)"? How would they have encoded it so that we can easily understand it?

      It is extremely unlikely for it to have survived a billion years of evolution. Only if we find some in outer space would it be worth checking.

  • (Score: 2) by Kilo110 on Sunday October 30 2016, @03:53AM

    by Kilo110 (2853) on Sunday October 30 2016, @03:53AM (#420427)
  • (Score: 3, Informative) by PocketSizeSUn on Sunday October 30 2016, @07:46AM

    by PocketSizeSUn (5340) on Sunday October 30 2016, @07:46AM (#420454)

    No ones posted one of my favs yet:

    http://www.terrybisson.com/page6/page6.html [terrybisson.com]

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 30 2016, @08:59AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 30 2016, @08:59AM (#420463)

      Some of them, like our dear Runaway1955, even have heads make of meat!

  • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Sunday October 30 2016, @05:45PM

    by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Sunday October 30 2016, @05:45PM (#420575) Homepage Journal

    And finally, actual, macrobiotic space probes, either robotic, computerized, free-floating or inhabited, which made its way towards Earth.

    How remarkable that our science-fiction imaginations focus almost exclusively on the fourth possibility, which is by far the least likely !

    I don't recall a lot of SETI-type stories, period. To tell the truth, writing one that wasn't boring* was a challenge (it [slashdot.org] was on /. several years ago and is in my next book).

    *Yes, it's subjective.

    --
    Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]