Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Arecibo Message and finding worlds beyond our solar system

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. You may notice that this and future entries are shorter than usual; career, family and book deal commitments have forced me to cut back some of my projects. Now, here's today's news:
g Stars - A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows infant stars "hatching" in the head of Orion, the famous hunter constellation visible from northern hemispheres during winter nights. Astronomers suspect that shockwaves from a 3-million-year-old explosion of a massive star may have initiated this newfound birth. See article.
g Abodes - The dream of finding worlds beyond our solar system has long been a reality. In 1992, Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail announced the landmark discovery of planets orbiting a distant pulsar. Three years later, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz ended the long quest to detect a planet around a star like our own sun. The pace of discovery since then has been astounding. See article.
g Life - Several strange creatures including a psychedelic octopus have been found in frigid waters off Antarctica in one of the world’s most pristine marine environments. See article.
g Message - In 1974, astronomers sent the "Arecibo Message," a binary-coded signal that decodes to a graphic illustrating some basic characteristics of Earth. The message was intended more to demonstrate the power of the telescope than to contact distant civilizations. Cornell's 25th anniversary announcement includes a decoded explanation and more information about what the scientists were thinking. See article.

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Search4XtraLife - Click Here!!! said...

Binary signals are considered advanced for our race, but what about other alien races? Some other ways to attract attention from aliens might be to create "artificial supernovae".... or you could gravitationally pull stars into different positions.

Rob Bignell said...

Good point. Given the radical differences in technology that likely exists among alien races, I suspect more advanced civilizations use communication and computing systems that are as different from what we use as our radio is from smoke signals. If so, binary probably isn't the system of representing text or computer processor instructions that they use. Given this communication barrier, they might very well resort to some extraordinary "unnatural" method to attract attention. This, of course, is the basic idea behind SETI: That if an advanced civilization wants to talk with someone at our technical level, they'll transmit using what to them is a primitive system (radio) - and specifically they'll send a narrow band transmission with a gaussian power curve at 1420 MHz, which does not carry the signature of any known astronomical phenomenon. It achieves the same end as repositioning stars and is much more energy efficient.