Monday, 10 August 2015


8 Ways Humans Have Hunted for Aliens
By Chandra Steele,
PC Magazine, 8 August 2015.

"If they were coming, they would be here by now," my mother told me years ago when I expressed concern about a possible alien invasion. The perplexities of travel across time and distance notwithstanding, so far her theory has held up. But perhaps aliens just don't know how to contact us.

The search for intelligent life has been going on for years, and so far no luck. Is it a money problem? Russian billionaire Yuri Milner thinks so, and plans to spend US$100 million in the next decade to hunt down aliens. For Milner it's not that much money. In fact, it's the same amount he spent on his house in Los Altos. But it's the largest amount any one person has spent trying to contact extraterrestrials.

Stephen Hawking joined Milner at the announcement, but in the past he has cautioned against attempts to contact extraterrestrials because of the impact finding them may have on human life.

Even the man heading the program has his fears. "The history of weak civilizations contacting more advanced civilizations is not a happy one," Matthew Bailes, pro vice chancellor at the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University, told the Independent.

But human curiosity and a basic need not to want to be alone in the universe has won out and the search will go on. Failure has never dissuaded us, as these attempts from the 1800s to the present day show.

1. Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

Credit: NASA

Prepare to hear from extraterrestrial life in about 20 years, NASA says. A tweaked version of the Kepler telescope called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is going to be launched in 2017 and the James Webb Space Telescope will do the same in 2018. Between them, NASA expects to discover a tremendous number of planets and possibly signs of alien life.

2. Arecibo Message


When the Arecibo Radio Telescope was remodelled in 1974, it was given a new job: to communicate with possible intelligent life. Carl Sagan and astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake created a message that encompassed vital human knowledge that was sent through space via frequency-modulated radio waves. The message consists of the first 10 numbers, the atomic numbers of the elements that make up DNA, the formulas for sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA, the number of nucleotides in DNA, a graphic of the double helix structure of DNA, a drawn figure of a human, the height of an average man, the human population of Earth, a graphic of the solar system indicating which of the planets the message is coming from, and an image of Arecibo radio telescope and the dimension (the physical diameter) of the transmitting antenna dish. It still hasn't reached its destination of globular star cluster M13 and won't for another 25,000 years.

3. Pioneer Plaque


The space probes Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 rocketed into space in 1972 and 1973, respectively. Pioneer-10, or "Earth's first emissary into space," according to NASA, was the first spacecraft to fly to Jupiter, Saturn, the Milky Way Galaxy, and stars, with Pioneer 11 close behind. In case Pioneer 10 ran into any extraterrestrial beings along the way, though, Pioneer 10 was equipped with a plaque that described what humans looked like, where we were located, and the start date of the mission. The plaque was designed by Carl Sagan and SETI founder Frank Drake and drawn by Sagan's wife Linda. Pioneer 10's scientific mission ended in 1997, but it "will continue to coast silently as a ghost ship through deep space into interstellar space, heading generally for the red star Aldebaran, which forms the eye of the constellation Taurus (The Bull)," according to NASA. Aldebaran, however, is 68 million light years away, a journey of approximately 2 million years.

4. Project Ozma


The first experiment by SETI was Project Ozma. The work of Drake, the project took place for four months in 1960. During that time a radio telescope was set to receive signals from Tau Ceti in the Constellation Cetus and Epsilon Eridani in the Constellation Eridanu. No signals were found.

5. Wireless Telegraph


Gugliemo Marconi claimed to have heard from outer space. While working with the wireless telegraph he heard signals and said of them, "I believe that it is entirely possible that these signals may have been sent by the inhabitants of other planets to the inhabitants of Earth." Marconi speculated that the inhabitants may have been human beings on Mars.

6. Magnifying Transmitter


Nikola Tesla thought he may have been the first person on Earth to hear from extraterrestrials. He picked up signals on his magnifying transmitter that he believed to be communication from another planet. "Although I could not at the time decipher their meaning, it was impossible for me to think of them as having been entirely accidental. The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another. A purpose was behind these electrical signals." Afterward he honed transmitters to pick up possible alien signals.

7. Mirror


The French poet and inventor Charles Cros thought Mars and Venus might be a reflection of Earth and he wanted to prove it with a mirror. Cros believed points of light from the planets were signs of cities there. So he petitioned the French government to set up a giant mirror to signal to Mars by burning part of its desert.

8. Pythagorean Proposal


While never carried out, there were many proposals in the 1800s for carving a symbolic representation of the Pythagorean theorem into the landscape so that it would be viewable by extraterrestrial beings that people felt might inhabit the moon or Mars. The idea is commonly attributed to German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Top image: SETI - The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Credit: encouragement/Flickr.

[Source: PC Magazine. Edited. Top image and some links added.]

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