Kind of Fun

I used to have the SETI at Home screensaver on my desktop until it crashed. It was pretty. It would be very cool if SETI actually caught a message from the depths of space, but most likely we’ll just have to solve our own problems down here. Unless the Rapture comes.

I’d bet that the odds of extra-terrestrial radio contact are a little better than the Rapture, and SETI thinks so too. They are planning a 50th anniversary re-check of some of the closest stars.

In a vast cosmic experiment equivalent to hitting “redial,” astronomers in a dozen countries are aiming telescopes to listen in once again on some of the stars that were part of the world’s first search for alien life 50 years ago.

The coordinated signal-searching campaign began this month to mark the 50th anniversary of Project Ozma, a 1960 experiment that was christened the world’s first real attempt in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence – or SETI.

Like Project Ozma, which got its name from a character in L. Frank Baum’s series of books about the Land of Oz, the new search is called Project Dorothy.

A lot has been learned in fifty years, including where some extrasolar planets are. The SETI astronomers might not find alien intelligence, but they’re sure to come up with something good.

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2 thoughts on “Kind of Fun

  1. It is amazing that it has been so long that the SETI project has been around, but equally interesting is the fact that the only “aliens” we know about are not the other world variety, but those streaming across from Mexico. The late Carl Sagan wisely pronounced that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and so it is with other worlds. The “proofs” for demonstrating life exists elsewhere must be extraordinary. Of course, the pursuit of “aliens” has become a significant economic factor in my part of the world, and Roswell, New Mexico can be viewed as the headquarters of those who believe, or want to believe, or those who just like the group parties.

    Certainly, a lot could have happened on other worlds in fifty years, and perhaps we will find that development now. Reviewing some of the happenings on our own little dot in the universe, the fifty years from 1900 to 1950 are perhaps instructive. In 1900, the Wright brothers had not flown; radio or television did not exist; there were no antibiotics and women could not vote. By 1950, the world had seen two world wars and started a third war in Korea; nuclear weapons were developed and used; jet airplanes and rockets were developed for war and peace; we began broadcasting television and radio programs into space; radio astronomy and giant observatories came into use, and so much more. Perhaps intelligent life on a world of a nearby star went through similar technological revolutions and we will now find them.

    The opposite may well be true–living things may well be very, very rare occurrences in the universe, and something that passes for intelligence may be still more unusual (does intelligence exist on Earth is a question that we can debate), and anything that resembles a technological civilization may be almost nonexistent. After all, there is no “rule” of development that makes technology a certainty. Looking at our own world, most cultures never became “technological” on their own, and the diffusion of technology has not always been welcomed by cultures, nor I suggest, has technology been universally beneficial to cultures or the natural environment.

    There are other questions as well. For example, we may not be able to recognize life elsewhere as being “alive.” The evolution of life on our world is certainly unique in that the the pathways of evolution over the 4.6 billion year history of our world has been such a random series of events that it is impossible that life followed the same pathways elsewhere. Worlds and stars have limited lifespans, and so it will be with our star and world. If indeed the spark of life on our world is unique, and if the survival of life is important, I would suggest that our need to go to the stars is as great as wondering if anything else alive is out there.

  2. I used to think we would have a moon base by now, but we do have an international space station. Science for its own sake, just for curiosity, has brought us so much.

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