In 1960, my friend Frank Drake launched Project Ozma, the first modern scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Frank used the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (image above) in Green Bank, West Virginia to listen for interstellar radio transmissions that might be a signature of ETs. Nearly 60 years and countless scans later, we still haven't heard anything. Why? Space is big. Massive. In a 2010 paper, the SETI Institute's Jill Tarter and her colleagues described their ongoing calculations of a “cosmic haystack" where we're searching for an extraterrestrial needle.
"If you build a mathematical model, the amount of searching that we've done in 50 years (as of 2008) is equivalent to scooping one 8-ounce glass out of the Earth's ocean, looking and seeing if you caught a fish," Tarter told NPR. "No, no fish in that glass? Well, I don't think you're going to conclude that there are no fish in the ocean. You just haven't searched very well yet. That's where we are."
Now, Penn State astronomer Jason Wright and colleagues have refined the "cosmic haystack" model to include additional factors involving likely frequencies and bandwidth along with the latest large SETI searches. Even still, they "conclude that the fraction of it searched to date is also very small: similar to the ratio of the volume of a large hot tub or small swimming pool to that of the Earth's ocean."
From Science News:
Read the rest
Converting the volume to liters for the sake of analogy, the researchers concluded that SETI has covered the equivalent of 7,700 liters out of 1.335 billion trillion liters of water in Earth’s oceans.
Researchers from extraterrestrial research initiative Breakthrough Listen, the SETI Institute, and UC Berkeley used machine learning to detect mysterious repeating radio bursts from a galaxy 3 billion light years from Earth. As of now, the source of the fast radio bursts (FRBs) is unknown and, yes, the bursts "could be the signatures of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligent life," according to the scientists. From the SETI Institute:
In August of 2017, the Listen science team at the University of California, Berkeley SETI Research Center observed FRB 121102 for five hours, using digital instrumentation at the GBT. Combing through 400 TB of data, they reported (in a paper [pdf] led by Berkeley SETI postdoctoral researcher Vishal Gajjar, recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal) a total of 21 bursts. All were seen within one hour, suggesting that the source alternates between periods of quiescence and frenzied activity.
Now, (UC Berkeley doctoral student Gerry) Zhang and collaborators have developed a new machine learning algorithm, and reanalyzed the 2017 GBT dataset, finding an additional 72 bursts that were not detected originally...
Additional FRB research may provide clues about whether or not they are signatures of extraterrestrial technology.
More at UC Berkeley news: "AI helps track down mysterious cosmic radio bursts" Read the rest
From the early days of the Russian Revolution through the space race and Cold War, a small but dedicated collection of communist UFOlogists believed in and sought out signs of extraterrestrial life, believing that discovery aligned with their goals of raising up the worker. Read the rest
Remember the fantastic attention experiment in which you have to count the times the basketball is passed? (If you don't know it, watch the video before reading the rest of this post.)
In a recent paper in the scientific journal Acta Astronautica, University of Cadiz psychologists suggest that like the gorilla experiment, "selective attention" based on our preconceptions about possible extraterrestrials and how they may communicate may cause us to overlook evidence of their existence. Over at the SETI Institute blog, BB pal and astronomer Seth Shostak likens their argument to the gorilla experiment and counters that right now, the best thing to do is what we know how to do. And that's scanning the skies with antennae listening for signals:
Read the rest
It would be heavy-duty hubris to claim that we have considered every possibility in our efforts to find aliens. We’ve certainly been myopic in the past. During the nineteenth century, European physicists suggested we could establish contact with Martians by turning gas lanterns in the direction of the Red Planet. The plan was hopeless, but not because the scientists were ignoring other possibilities. They simply didn’t know about radio or much about Mars, and proposed a reasonable experiment given the science understanding of the time.
Sure, our preconceived notions of what would be good evidence of aliens — including radio signals, flashing lasers, or megastructures — might be blinding us to clues that, like nitrogen in the air, are all around us and yet overlooked. But to quote Dirty Harry, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” The men and women searching for extraterrestrials can do no better than to go with what they know.
This is Ata, a bizarre, tiny mummified skeleton found in a deserted mining town in Chile's Atacama Desert in 2003.
Read the rest
Why would the discovery of extraterrestrial life be horrible for life on earth? Read the rest
In 2017, the big mainstream stories of "near-hits" (aka "near-misses") in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence included episodic dimming of a star caused by possible "alien megastructures," a large object tearing through our solar system, and video captured by a fighter jet of a weird object capable of incredible maneuvers in the sky (video below).
Read the rest
If you’ve ever looked around and wondered, where are all the aliens, hit Play, below. No, you won’t find an alien. But you’ll hear a luxuriously unhurried interview with British astronomer Stephen Webb. He has probably given this question more careful thought than any living person, and many (but by no means all) of his reflections can be found in his brilliant book, Where Is Everybody.
This is the eighth episode of my podcast series (co-hosted by Tom Merritt), which launched here on Boing Boing last month. The series goes deep into the science, tech, and sociological issues explored in my novel After On – but no familiarity with the novel is necessary to listen to it.
Today’s interviewee is a world-leading expert on the subject of Fermi’s paradox – which is encapsulated in his book’s title. And the paradox’s roots are quite literally as old as Earth itself.
Life arose here – presumably from dead matter – almost as soon as the collisions and volcanism of planetary formation calmed enough to permit its existence. If that’s a normal pattern, billions of planets out there should harbor some form of life. Because some of those planets are billions of years older than ours, their brainier occupants could have far surpassed today’s technology when our forerunners still had fins. Yet we see no evidence of this. And it’s not for a lack of seeking it, as there are scientists who have done little else for decades.
There isn’t just one possible solution to Fermi’s paradox. Read the rest
FRB 121102, a fast radio burst signal first picked up in 2012, was just observed emitting many new bursts of energy. Scientists from SETI and Breakthrough Listen were both very excited by the new findings. Read the rest
According to astronomer Seth Shostak, the alien intelligences we'll likely encounter someday won't be "little grey guys with big eyeballs but machines." As senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, Seth has dedicated his scientific career to seeking out evidence of ET transmissions and using that research to educate the public about our place in the universe. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Seth about hunting for aliens in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:
Please subscribe to For Future Reference: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud Read the rest
Researchers at UT Austin have analyzed a deep depression on Mars that differs from a typical crater. The Hellas depression may in fact be an ancient ice cauldron, where a glacier forms over an active volcano, creating a chemical-rich environment that could support life forms. Read the rest
Larry Decker, 77, arranged rocks into a 60 x 90 foot extraterrestrial face in his Rosmoland, California backyard "in hopes of inviting aliens" to pay him a visit. He's also installed cameras to film them when they do land.
"Aliens watch everything we do," Decker told ABC News today. "My idea was to build this thing big enough to be seen from up there, and hopefully, they'll decide to come down and check it out."
"Wouldn't it be nice to go to the porch swing and have a nice chat?" he added. "So hopefully this face will trick them to come, so we can shake hands and talk." Read the rest
"A literal reading of the Bible simply is a mistake; I mean it’s just wrong," Sagan told Studs Terkel in 1985. (Blank on Blank)
Read the rest
NASA has released recordings of weird sounds Apollo 10 astronauts heard while flying around the far side of the moon, and the crew responding to the strange phenomenon. Read the rest
In 1977 radio astronomers at the Big Ear space telescope, searching for signs of extraterrestrial life, came across a signal that wasn't just odd, it was unbelievably strong! The signal, broadcast at at 1420.456 MHz, radiated from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, and lasted just seventy-two seconds. When researcher Jerry R. Ehman came across the signal he wrote "Wow!" on the print out.
Antonio Paris, a professor of astronomy at Florida's St. Petersburg College, thinks he's figured out the source -- a pair of recently discovered comets!
Everything about the Wow! signal created huge interest. The frequency it was found on correlates strongly with the 'hydrogen line' and was believed to be a most-likely frequency to for Aliens to use when communicating with us. The intensity and sharp build-up/fall off of the signal led researchers to believe it came from a fixed point in the sky. Antonio Paris believes the signal was a sign of two comets, unidentified at the time of the recording, passing in front of the Big Ear.
Via New Scientist:
Read the rest
Comets release a lot of hydrogen as they swing around the sun. This happens because ultraviolet light breaks up their frozen water, creating a cloud of the gas extending millions of kilometres out from the comet itself.
If the comets were passing in front of the Big Ear in 1977, they would have generated an apparently short-lived signal, as the telescope (now dismantled) had a fixed field of view. Searching that same area – as subsequent radio telescopes did – wouldn’t show anything.
Stephen Bassett is the only lobbyist of his kind in Washington DC. He's working to get the government to admit that it has proof of extraterrestrials visiting our planet. “I want to see disclosure by the New Hampshire primary,” says Bassett who has been working the issue for nearly two decades. From the Washington Post:
Read the rest
...Getting appointments on Capitol Hill wasn’t easy for an advocate who believed that aliens landed at Roswell in 1947 and that the nation’s leaders created a “Truth Embargo” to keep information from getting out.
“Nobody there wanted to touch it,” Bassett said.
In 2013, unable to get anything close to a real congressional hearing, he created a fake one. With a $1 million donation from a Canadian believer, Bassett paid former members of Congress such as Alaskan senator Mike Gravel and Maryland representative Roscoe Bartlett $20,000 to spend a week at the National Press Club listening to testimony about UFOs.
The hours of testimony — from former Air Force officials who believe they saw spacecraft, or accounts of animals found dissected in pastures — led to some lighthearted stories but no movement with any current members of Congress. Then came the tweet heard round the world.
The message came from Podesta, the former top aide in Bill Clinton’s White House, as he stepped down after 11 months as special adviser for President Obama.
“My biggest failure of 2014: Once again not securing the #disclosure of the UFO files. #thetruthisstilloutthere,” he tweeted on Feb. 13.
It was retweeted thousands of times and picked up by mainstream media reporters across the country — most presenting it as a joke.