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posted by martyb on Saturday October 29 2016, @07:41PM   Printer-friendly
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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  • (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.

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  • (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.

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    • (Score: 1, Redundant) by takyon on Sunday October 30 2016, @12:49AM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> 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.

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    • (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.

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      • (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.

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  • (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.