Dot dot dot-dash dash dash-dot dot dot. Dear readers, do you know what that is? It is SOS in Morse Code. All radio operators know this. It is an understood code that crosses all language barriers. The gringa, fascinated with all things space, then has to ask, does this include extra-terrestrials? Well, who knows?!
Now, the SETI Institute (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent Life) doesn’t really make it a practice to emit signals in their search for ETs, rather, they listen to outer space “noise”. NASA’s search for extra-terrestrial life isn’t so much for little green men to have a conversation with, but, rather, the origins of life such as amino acids, ribonucleotides (RNA) and certain gases such as oxygen, methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and, of course, water.
However, Earthlings have been inadvertently sending out all sorts of signals into space for over five decades. As technological devices fill the Earth, transmission signals fill the heavens: radio broadcasts, television signals, radar blips and bleeps, etc. So, why do we not purposely send a message designed to create a favorable first impression rather than let all this mish-mash represent humankind? Does NASA and SETI believe that no one exists, thus no one is listening or do they believe there may be inherent danger in seeking out contact? Evidently the reason is because there is no consensus, yet, within the scientific community. The professionals are ARGUING. Hmph.
Douglas Vakoch, a researcher with SETI, thinks that it may be time to have an international discussion on the subject and let the public’s opinion on the matter be heard. He is on the pro-sending signals side of the argument. He proposes transmitting radio signals to hundreds of stars within eighty-two light years of our home planet. This can be accomplished with the radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
Renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking, on the other hand, thinks this is a bad idea. By sending out so many signals to every Tom, Dick and Harry alien out there, we could communicate with the good, the bad and the ugly. He believes we should be much more cautious in our approach.
So, it seems that, although there is no consensus within the scientific community on whether or not we should initiate communication, there is a consensus that somewhere out there is intelligent life that would not only receive the signals, but would be capable of responding, perhaps in person. The gringa says, “Hmmm.”
Now, the telescope at Arecibo has already sent a space message back in 1974. Consisting of an intricate code, it was transmitted to a cluster of stars 25,000 light years away.
The Crimeans sent out four messages to the cosmos from 1999 until 2008. They were transmitted from the Yevpatoria RT-70 radio telescope at Crimea’s Center for Deep Space Communications. Their ET messages were entitled: “Cosmic Call”, “Teen Age Message”, “Cosmic Call 2”, and “A Message From Earth”. The messages were made up of binary code, repeating signals, musical compositions, photographs, whale songs, etc.
Scientists believed that it is important to purposely beam thoughtful messages into deep space rather than let ETs believe all Earthlings are like the Kardashians, or the Zodiac killer, or Archie Bunker. Although Earthlings have been flooding outer space with signals since the beginning of the television era, most of our daily technologies do not have signals that are sufficiently strong enough to be picked up by our nearest living ET neighbors’ light years away. Although, if they are advanced enough, they have probably detected something by now.
So, if SETI and the Crimeans have already sent out some transmissions, the gringa then wonders, “What’s the big deal about sending more?” And, if our own daily barrage of digital signals and radio waves have the possibility of already being detected, what’s the point of “laying low”? If an ET civilization is super advanced to the point they could easily dominate us, yet they haven’t shown up and taken over, why be so worried? It seems they could care less.
The gringa thinks the real reason why the scientists can’t stop arguing and just get to the business at hand is an age old reason. Power struggle. Tsk, tsk. How disappointing. The gringa believed that surely, of all human beings, scientists were above such nonsense. As scientists consider the possibility of the most ground-breaking and historical event EVER playing out, they eye one another suspiciously and wonder just who is going to get the credit. Yes. Exactly who gets to devise the message, approve it and send it as the representative of the entire Earth?!
So, although there are researchers who want to open up the subject to public debate, that also opens it up to the general host of problems that goes along with human nature. Venturing into the area of communicating with an alien race would mean the establishment of protocols. Who gets to decide who we Earthlings talk to and what we talk about?
Although SETI wants to actively transmit in hopes of communicating with extra-terrestrials, the official policy of the institute is that the final decision belongs to the people of Earth. Such a decision affects all humans. It could be the single-most life affecting decision for mankind. Therefore, it should be left in the hands of all the people and not just a few “experts”.
Many other leaders in the space exploration community are in agreement, such as former Senior Scientist for Astrobiology in NASA’s planetary protection office, John Rummel and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk. Pioneering American astronomer, Geoff Marcy, who has discovered many “extrasolar” planets, believes it is important that every culture, even deep jungle indigenous peoples, upon Earth have the opportunity to have their voices heard in such a decision that will affect every person worldwide.
The discussion on this issue will probably continue to heat up because, recently, some interesting radio signals have been detected by astronomers who have been left scratching their heads and wondering if they could, perhaps, be a signal from intelligent beings, seeing that, like one of our own repeated signal transmissions, this signal also repeated itself.
If a repeating signal has been detected in deep space, could it have other origins than intelligent beings purposely transmitting? Canadian scientist Paul Scholz finds the mystery rather exciting and believes this to be an important discovery and wants to know if the signals originated with living, breathing ETs or if a star just went “kaplooie” and it’s just a “coincidence” that it created a shockwave noise that mimics a man-made (or little green man-made) artificial, repeating signal.
Until the signals began repeating, scientists theorized the rapid bursts of radio signals resulted from a star that went supernova and exploded or, perhaps, a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. But, now that the signals are identical and repeating, the same scientists don’t quite know what to think.
In addition to a repeating pattern, there are other singular differences that set the signals apart from other space “noise”. When studied further, the signals are “brighter” and in a different “spot” on the “spectrum” of other fast radio burst signals (FRBs). These details are all well and good, but all the gringa wants to know is, “Are we alone or not?”
The closest I can get to a straight answer is what a Cornell University astronomy professor has to say. According to Professor James Cordes, whatever charge is powering the signal, it is powerful enough to repeat the signal cycle within minutes. The energy packed behind the transmission must be impressive because they are extraordinarily bright, thus enabling us to see them from very, very, very, very, far away. And, the power source must also be incredibly secure and amazingly strong and durable because it is not destroyed by the transmission of an exploding-star-scale blast and is capable of repeating the exploding-star-scale blast.
To put all of this in a nutshell, five fast radio burst signals were captured by the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia. Rather than just be a single burst of energy, these are double bursts, two bursts separated by 2.4 milliseconds, consistently. They repeated five times. The origins of the signals could be as far away as several billion light years beyond the Milky Way Galaxy, our home turf in the cosmos.
The gringa has no answer and remains intrigued. And my vote is that we send our own signals.
Sources: http://www.ewao.com, http://www.seti.org, http://www.nasa.gov
Image Source: www.dailymail.co.uk