If you think this economic downturn isn’t so bad, consider this. This past April, the Allen Telescope Array at UC Berkley was shut down for lack of funds.
It was a great loss. There were 42 telescopes involved. Until last April, and for many years before that, these telescopes with radio antennas scanned the sky in search of any sort of incoming messages from aliens in outer space either trying to contact us or trying to reply to messages sent out by us hopefully to them.
There are literally thousands of transmitters around the world that today send out radio messages to aliens. In essence, every one of them, and they are in 62 foreign countries at last count—says “Hello, hello, are you out there, if you are please get in touch with us.” And this is followed by a mathematical message, which would enable any smart alien to figure out where we were. [expand]
The first of these, on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, was put together by our Federal Government in 1974 largely to try to find the answer to the question posed in the 1950s by hysterical humans who said they had observed flying saucers and in some cases had been temporarily kidnapped by the people in them. The aliens were not only trying to contact us, they were already here. That center in Puerto Rico—near the city of Arecibo—was funded by the Federal Government and is still among the tens of thousands still sending stuff out there asking for a reply.
Also for a long time, the U. S. sent into space little coins, which are stamped with visual drawings and words of greeting to anyone and everyone. They used to go out in space probes. I think they still do. So far nobody has sent any reply back however.
It turns out retrieving a message sent back is a very big deal. For a long time, messages sent back could fall on deaf ears because we weren’t monitoring where they might have come from. Space is a very big place. We couldn’t monitor much of it at any one time, at least until the Allen Array was built. And so, even if a message were sent to us, it was most likely sent from a place we were not looking at and it would just pass right over us. But the Allen Array solved that. The Allen Array is able to monitor the entire visible universe all at once all the time to a distance of 100 light years. If any response came in, they would get it. (Beyond that, no. That would be too far.)
The Allen Array has founded a partnership with a private organization called SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) and the Radio Astronomy Lab of UC Berkeley. So that’s who ran out of money. After April, any aliens checking in would receive a message saying “This phone is out of service. There is no further information available. Please try your call again later.”
In any case, those running the Allen Array embarked on a giant fundraising campaign. Last week they declared it successful and went back to manning the fort. It was true that if any message came in during these past seven months they would have gone unanswered. But now they would be getting them again. Although, so far, there weren’t any sent. Just like there hadn’t been any sent before the service went down. Well, it’s just been a few days since they’re back up.
Meanwhile, the Kepler Project, which looks after the Hubble and other telescopes scanning the skies in outer space, reported very exciting new information last month. They had not sighted any aliens, but they had discovered planets where aliens could live. One planet was one and a half times the size of ours, made out of stuff that could support oxygen and water and circling a sun not too far away. The only bad thing was that this sun was a 100 times the size of ours and so the temperature on the surface of this planet was about 2,000 degrees. But maybe the temperature was lower at a time when the sun was smaller.
Then just a week ago, they reported on two other planets in the universe, which are neighbors to one another, about our size, have a sun they circle, and are about 70 degrees. On the other hand, there is no evidence of oxygen or water. Just a few hundred billion planets to go.
Why are we so interested in finding life on other planets? Are we expecting to find them, then arrange a meeting, and get together with them to kiss and hug and otherwise celebrate? Is it just that we don’t want to be alone in the universe?
I happen to be a skeptic in these matters. I think our natural tendency, if we found such aliens, would be to go to war to wipe them out, try to get rid of them before they get rid of us.
I think that although we certainly don’t want them to come here to conquer, we will have no problem going there to conquer. (I hope they are not reading this.) It will be like the movie Avatar. We will go there to subjugate them and get them to dig up the valuable eronium or whatever it is and have them hand it over to us. Thus we will spare their lives. Or maybe not.
I also think that is very old school. An alternate scenario is that we want to learn about all these livable planets because, as they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location and location. Remember the Superman model? Remember how when Superman was a boy he lived on Krypton and his parents loved him but bundled him into a rocket ship to come here because Krypton was coming apart at the seams—probably because of the pollution and nuclear wars going on there—and so they sent him off to earth to a better life.
Of course, that story was written in the 1930s by a comic book artist who did not know then what we know now about the danger the Earth is in.
What I really think is that there are smart folks out there who got our message but are holding their tongues because they don’t want anything to do with us.
As for folks out there too stupid to not hold their tongues, they probably rushed to reply, but picked up the phone just as the Allen Array went down and all they got was that message to try to call again later.
Oh well. Life is like that sometimes