Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Alien Life

Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the prospect is staggering 
 —Arthur C. Clarke, contemplating the existence of Alien Life


I occasionally think, how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. 
—US President Ronald Reagan,
United Nations General Assembly, 21 September 1987
  
I've been convinced for a long time that the flying saucers are real and interplanetary. Another words we are being watched by beings from outer space.
—Albert M. Chop, deputy public relations director, 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration,(NASA) 
and former United States Air Force spokesman for Project Blue Book.


If predictions hold true, we might be visited by aliens today, says a press release for a book written by a former United States NORAD officer:
A newly-published 352-page book by a retired Air Force officer, Stanley A. Fulham, tentatively predicts October 13, 2010 as the date for a massive UFO display over the world’s principal cities. According to the author, the aliens will neither land nor communicate on that date; they are aware from eons of experience with other planets in similar conditions their sudden intervention would cause fear and panic.
(More background on Mr. Fulham and his experiences can be found in this recent video interview)

We carry a fascination of aliens, or its more technical term, extraterrestrials, namely, life forms outside our planet. One of the reasons is explained in the Star Trek television series and its subsequent movies. For most people, aliens represent advanced beings, and as such can advance our planet and solve our problems, which are many.

So, one of the reasons that so many people believe in aliens is that it is a hope outside of ourselves and our abilities, which seem so limited. Intelligent people believe in the possibility aliens, including Stephen Hawkins, noted theoretical physicist, who says it is "perfectly rational" to assume intelligent life exists elsewhere. But in the same BBC article, he warns about making contact with alien in Stephen Hawking warns over making contact with alien:
But he warned that aliens might simply raid Earth for resources, then move on. "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," he said.
Even so, others do want to make contact, including famed astronomer Carl Sagan, who passed way in 1996. I can understand why. When I was attending Dawson College in the 1970s, studying pure and applied sciences, I became fascinated with Carl Sagan and his attempts to contact extraterrestrials using a radio telescope.

This attempt falls under the rubric of Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, or as it is commonly known in scientific circles, SETI. This is the collective name for a number of activities people undertake to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. SETI projects use scientific methods to search for electromagnetic transmissions from civilizations on distant planets. For more information, OI suggest that you visit the website of SETI Institute in California.

Arecibo Message. The Arecibo message was transmitted a single time via frequency modulated radio waves at a ceremony to mark the remodeling of the Arecibo radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico on November 16, 1974. This is the message with color added to highlight its separate parts. The actual binary transmission carried no colour information.
Credit: Arne Nordmann, 2005
On November 16, 1974, the Arecibo message was broadcast into space a single time (not repeated) via frequency modulated radio waves at a ceremony to mark the remodeling of the Arecibo radio telescope. Dr. Frank Drake, then at Cornell University and creator of the famous Drake equation, wrote the message, with help from Carl Sagan, among others.  The message consists of seven parts that encode the following:
  1. The numbers one (1) through ten (10)
  2. The atomic numbers of the elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus, which make up deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)
  3. The formulas for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA
  4. The number of nucleotides in DNA, and a graphic of the double helix structure of DNA
  5. A graphic figure of a human, the dimension (physical height) of an average man, and the human population of Earth
  6. A graphic of the Solar System
  7. A graphic of the Arecibo radio telescope and the dimension (the physical diameter) of the transmitting antenna dish
Given that it would take 25,000 years for a transmission and an equal time for a return transmission, the earliest response would be in 50,000 years.

With that in mind. Cornell University said twenty-five years later that the purpose was more to prove that such a signal could be sent, rather than make contact. "It was strictly a symbolic event, to show that we could do it," explains Donald Campbell, Cornell University professor of astronomy, who was a research associate at the Arecibo Observatory at the time. Arecibo Observatory is operated by the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, managed by Cornell University for the National Science Foundation.

Even so, the signal was sent, Wikepedia  explains:
It was aimed at the globular star cluster M13 some 25,000 light years away because M13 was a large and close collection of stars that was available in the sky at the time and place of the ceremony.
The message consisted of 1,679 binary digits, approximately 210 bytes, transmitted at a frequency of 2380 MHz and modulated by shifting the frequency by 10 Hz, with a power of 1,000 kW. The "ones" and "zeroes" were transmitted by frequency shifting at the rate of 10 bits per second. The total broadcast was less than three minutes.
I also remember attending a conference for work (for an aerospace firm) in San Francisco and being in the midst of a Star Trek Convention. Although I was not a Trekkie, I was impressed with their costumes and make-up; the verisimilitude to the show and subsequent movies was a testament to their devotion.

As whether we are alone, or other civilizations exist in our galaxy or beyond is an open, yet fascinating question. Many expect and hope that we are not alone. On that note, I will just say: "Beam me up, Scotty."

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