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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 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.

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  • (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.