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Emails Illustrate Fine Line Between the Brilliant and the Bizarre

Discussion in 'TOSAH Archive' started by Sir Ulli, 12 Aug 2004.

  1. Sir Ulli

    Hitman

    Joined: 26 Jun 2003

    Posts: 610

    [​IMG]

    There may only be a few dozen full-time SETI researchers, but millions more want to offer some part-time help. Their interest is understandable. What, after all, could be more enticing to a person of the 21st century than the thought that, despite the ingenuity of the tens of billions of humans that have strolled and lolled across this planet, he or she might be the first to discover aliens on some far-off world?

    This widespread interest in aiding the search undoubtedly accounts for the popularity of the [email protected] screen saver. It also accounts for a lot of my e-mail.

    Story by

    [​IMG]
    Seth Shostak Senior Astronomer

    There may only be a few dozen full-time SETI researchers, but millions more want to offer some part-time help. Their interest is understandable. What, after all, could be more enticing to a person of the 21st century than the thought that, despite the ingenuity of the tens of billions of humans that have strolled and lolled across this planet, he or she might be the first to discover aliens on some far-off world?

    This widespread interest in aiding the search undoubtedly accounts for the popularity of the [email protected] screen saver. It also accounts for a lot of my e-mail.

    Every day I get screenfulls of suggestions, questions, and commentary. Most are straightforward: the writer has a query about a specific aspect of SETI technology. For example, how can we recognize an extraterrestrial signal? Occasionally a correspondent will have a laundry list of questions that could more quickly be answered if they would only take a two-semester college course in either physics, astronomy, or radio engineering. My responses to such non-specific inquiries are probably unsatisfying, but I usually write something out of sympathy for those impeded by high tuition or low SAT scores.

    ...
    Then there are the folks who have privileged insight, and want to share. "Check out the Pleiades with your antennas," they will admonish. Of course, the Pleiades comprise a young stellar cluster: its member stars are pups, only a few tens of millions of years old � hardly time enough to incubate complex life.

    "The Sirius system," others recommend. "After all the Dogon (a tribe in Mali) were visited by aliens who told them about the white dwarf star that orbits Sirius A." Alas, Sirius, too, is a young star, at most a few hundred million years old. And the Dogon probably weren�t visited.
    ...
    Better Physics?

    Another category of suggestion is how to do the experiment better. "Why are you wasting your time looking for light or radio signals?" some correspondents rebuke. "Gravity waves are what the aliens will be using to communicate, because gravity waves are instantaneous." Even leaving aside the considerable difficulty of detecting a gravity wave, and the even greater difficulty in generating one (you might have to smash stars together to signal distant listeners), there�s the disappointing fact that, as far as we know, gravity waves travel at light speed, and no faster.

    A variation on this theme, and one that is fashionably erudite, is to propose that advanced societies will chat using quantum entanglement, a subtle effect that is instantaneous. But a careful look at this phenomenon will show that it doesn�t beat the light-speed rap. If you want to send information, quantum entanglement is not a scheme for doing so instantaneously.

    At least a few people each month offer the "new physics" lament. "Two hundred years ago, people were still communicating by flashing lanterns and smoke signals. Those techniques were indescribably unsophisticated. So what makes you think that advanced societies would still be using primitive [their word] electromagnetic radiation to signal?" Well, of course there�s no denying that new developments in physics might turn up communication schemes of which we are unaware � schemes that really do make light and radio seem like primitive ways to transmit messages. The problem here is that it�s gosh-darn difficult to conceive an experiment � let alone built the required equipment � when you have no idea of the physical principles involved. This is like telling Christopher Columbus to forget the wooden ships, and build a jet plane.
    ...

    read the Full and iinteresting Story Emails Illustrate Fine Line Between the Brilliant and the Bizarre

    Sir Ulli
     
  2. Dutch Guy

    Capodecina

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 24,563

    Location: Amsterdam,The Netherlands

    As always thanks for that Sir Ulli [​IMG]
     
  3. Slackworth

    Capodecina

    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 10,025

    Location: Stoke

    Cheers :) 5*