Saturday, July 25, 2015

Are we alone?

"I read the news today oh boy," The Beatles asked in the song, "A Day in the Life."

In between all the usual crime and mayhem, and the Donald Trump-isms, the space beyond our world was making a lot of headlines this week.

There was NASA's successful fly-by of Pluto, giving us our first close-up look at that distant mini-planet.

Then the announcement that "Earth's cousin" had been discovered a mere 14 light years away, and the probability billions more just like it remained to be found.

And how about that ongoing juicy mystery over those lights on Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Just crater haze, or something more?

But the topper may have been this announcement, as reported on the website, "Science Recorder:"

"A Russian entrepreneur named Yuri Milner has recently announced a financial partnership with famed scientist Stephen Hawking, in an operation the two have dubbed ‘Breakthrough Listen’. This $100 Million dollar investment – according to a recent report – will produce both software and hardware designed to plumb the depths of space in search of telltale disturbances on the radio frequency potentially indicative of sentient life."

SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) has been going on for some time. In fact, according to Wikipedia, "As early as 1896, Nikola Tesla suggested that an extreme version of his wireless electrical transmission system could be used to contact beings on Mars." All around the world, giant radio telescopes are constantly monitoring the skies, searching 24/7 through millions of frequencies for proof we aren't alone.

In fact, China is furiously working on construction of what will be the largest radio telescope in the world, 500-meters (equivalent to 30 football fields, the preferred standard of measurement in this country), which will dwarf the Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico. The bigger the better for detecting messages from space.

Some believe we have heard from our alien brothers. What Robert Gray recorded in the summer of 1977 from a radio telescope in Ohio has come to be known as the "Wow" message. A vertical sequence of six numbers and letters that Gray thinks fits the MO of a cosmic text message. So much so he wrote "Wow" beside it.

Experts agree actually having indisputable proof of intelligent life beyond our planet would trigger a seismic shift in Mankind's history. Governments, religions, our whole world order would be shaken to its very foundations.

To be sure, there are those who advise we should stop looking. As in, what if there are aliens and they don't come in peace? It brings to mind an old issue of "Mad Magazine" where the aliens gave Earth an ultimatum: "People of Earth, we acknowledge your accomplishment of Telestar, but if you keep sending us reruns of 'The Gale Storm Show,' we have no choice but obliterate your planet."

Even though we may be looking harder, the odds seemed to be stacked against us. What if there are billions of planets like ours out there, and a fair percentage of those harbor life -- maybe even civilizations thousands or millions of years advanced beyond our own. The fact is, our universe is insanely big, and that's just the part we can see. Objects in it do obey a speed limit. It just doesn't seem very likely our receivers and their transmitters will line up.

But that won't stop us from asking, just as our ancestors who gazed into the same starry blackness did, "Are we alone?"

We'll keep our listening devices pointed at the Heavens. Waiting. And wondering.

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