back to article Forget SETI, this is how you find aliens: Hefty prof speaks

A top alien-hunting boffin has said that current efforts seeking extraterrestrial intelligent life are unlikely ever to work - not because there couldn't be any aliens out there, but because the methods themselves are wrong. He proposes several radical new means of finding out whether we really are alone in the universe. …

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  1. Inachu

    If there is other life out there.

    If there is other life out there and religion has taken hold then I can assume that their religion makes them supreme and any other life form that can think and build things is blaspheme.

    Or maybe aliens once knew us and visited but stopped communication because of some galactic occurance.

    In either case they may regard us as cattle and will want to eat us.

  2. Smallbrainfield
    Black Helicopters

    I'm a bit worried what "shadow biospheres" might dredge up.

    "In dead Ryleh, great Cthulhu waits dreaming."

  3. Marky W
    Stop

    Plagiarist!!

    Is it just me, of has the prof just rifled through the average SF fan's bookshelf and pinched a load of the material found therein? Granted much of SF is inspired by 'proper' scientific research, but either way this guy is saying nothing (at all!) I haven't read in fiction over the years (e.g. the shadow biosphere in 'Behemoth', or the ephemeral nature of civilisations in, oooh, a shit-load of places).

    1. Marvin the Martian
      Megaphone

      Yes.

      Even Scott "Dilbert" Adams proposed one of the plans --- he remarked that "junk dna" may contain the creator's signature, so dna based life might turn out to be a show&tell project for some stellar student. [Ok Ok, junk DNA doesn't exist anymore.]

      The "beacon" approach seems to suffer from its high success rate --- if it's likely to strike a planet with the signal, it's equally likely to miss the planet hidden behind. [And the gassy giants have a good chance of covering the rocky, inhabited worlds.]

    2. jake Silver badge

      It's not just you, Marky W

      Sir Arthur Charles Clarke wrote about all of this, and more (communications satellites, anyone?), starting in the mid 1940s. Some is science fiction, but he wrote a lot of science fact, too. This cat is hoping today's yoof doesn't know about Clarke, with big dreams of making money selling his rip-off book.

      If any of you youngsters have never heard of Clarke, get to the library. While you're there, look at the rest of the science fiction/fact from the 1940s-70s ... Worth a read. Will probably put you right off today's television shows, though, when you discover it's all derivative ;-)

    3. Angus 2

      It's also quite possible

      That some of the SF writers read Davies. He has been around publishing since the 70s.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Shadow Biospheres

      I can assure you that the entity you know as Ctulhu remains effectively banished as of now but humanity as a whole still does not learn from its past mistakes.

      In the past week, we have, in fact, contained a major daemonic incursion in south-eastern Australia and are still in the process of mopping up. Said incursion is likely to have been precipitated by injudicious dalliances with the paranormal, on part of some individual, or group of individuals, usually self admitted "pagans, or witches" but we are still working on determining the exact details of the precipitant. This is marred with some difficulty, as it is believed, as it usually happens, said individuals were likely consumed in the process.

      I would warn humanity again. Do not dabble in the 'occult'. Do not attempt contacting other planes or opening any such portals. You may get a response. Without proper protection, you will be overwhelmed and may die or worse. You also make things more difficult for us, our numbers are already stretched as it is.

      And I would also warn you: if we identify you, we will find you ... if you still exist in some shape or form on this plane of existence.

      Lieutenant-General-Inquisitor X

      Ordo Malleus.

  4. Anonymous John

    "make more sense to look for such a thing on the Moon"

    Such as a monolith?

    There's nothing new in this article.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      Evidence closer to home

      Yes he's right, and the evidence has been here all along. SETI is a waste of time. Even the Appollo astronauts saw structures, and there are plenty of photos of Moon and Mars artificial structures.

      Buzz Aldrin: http://video.anomalies.net/video/205/buzz-aldrin-reveals-existence-of-monolith-on-mars-moon

      http://www.anomalies.net/object/io_1174463581917.html

      Square craters, pyramids, towers...

      http://2012changesarenow.blogspot.com/2009/05/great-moon-mars-anomalies-by-mike-singh.html

      Just some of numerous sites. Enjoy. Intergalactic civilisation is alive and well !

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    Twin cyclone.

    Glad you clarified the Dyson Sphere thing, thought it was a planetoid that was easier to manouvre around the solar system.

  6. Torben Mogensen

    Dyson spheres

    The footnote about Dyson spheres misrepresents the concept somewhat -- like many popular uses of the term. A Dyson sphere is not a uniform sphere surrounding a star with people living on the inside surface. This won't work for several reasons:

    - The inside of a hollow sphere does not have any gravitational force towards the surface. So you wouldn't "stick" to the surface.

    - Such a sphere would not be stable -- it would tend to drift relatively to the star, so the star would not stay in the center. Eventually, the star would get close enough to the surface to burn its way out.

    You can, of course, postulate pseudo-scientific technology such as artificial gravity as solutions to this, but such concepts lack foundation in real science.

    Dyson's original description of his eponymous sphere was of so large a multitude of objects orbiting the star that no visible light would escape.

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      And?

      "so large a multitude of objects orbiting the star that no visible light would escape".

      From a gravitational standpoint, that would be different from a single continuous sphere how?

      1. Torben Mogensen

        Re: And?

        "From a gravitational standpoint, that would be different from a single continuous sphere how?"

        These objects orbit the star in different orbits, so they would be in free fall. Any gravity would be from the surface of each object to its centre of mass. Alternatively, you can use rotation to emulate gravity.

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          @Torben Morgensen

          "These objects orbit the star in different orbits, so they would be in free fall. Any gravity would be from the surface of each object to its centre of mass. Alternatively, you can use rotation to emulate gravity."

          If they are in different orbits, they have different periods and would therefore not block light except on those rare and special occasions when everything just so happened to line up.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      more on dyson spheres

      Also, from my memory of the respective book, the Dyson sphere was only there to imprison a rather nasty race of aliens so they could not run amok eating up all the resources, as opposed to providing more land etc.

      1. frank ly Silver badge

        Start Small At First

        I think a 'ringworld' would be much easier to build at first (and very much easier to get planning permission for). Then you could get the builders in, to make extensions on the edges and so work your way towards a Dyson sphere.

        If the extensions were small enough, you wouldn't need planning permission for each one and so you could sneak your way to having a Dyson sphere over a long period of time.

      2. Torben Mogensen

        RE: More on dyson spheres

        "Also, from my memory of the respective book, the Dyson sphere was only there to imprison a rather nasty race of aliens so they could not run amok eating up all the resources, as opposed to providing more land etc.".

        That sounds like "Pandora's Star" by Peter F. Hamilton. In this case, the sphere was "just" an energy field generated from an orbiting satellite, so it did not have any significant mass, and hence would not be unstable, nor allow anyone to stand on its inside or outside.

    3. Smallbrainfield
      Alien

      A dyson sphere sounds like more work

      than a Klemperer Rosette. Apparently this would also be unstable, so probably wouldn't last beyond the life of the civilisation that built and maintained it.

      In his novels, Larry Niven's Ringworld got progressively more complicated as various spods came up with reasons why it needed this or that or wouldn't work because of somesuch.

      Of course, if these ascended aliens are so awesome, their artifact probably hangs in space using technology so advanced to our eyes it would be akin to magic.

    4. David Webb

      Sphere

      A Dysons Sphere is just a way to collect energy, a huge grid of satellite in space which absorb the energy from the Sun to be used on Earth, possibly at a time when our energy demands far outstrip what is available.

  7. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Alien

    F*ck yeah!

    Get Alastair Reynolds in here!

    YOU DETECTED ERADICATION WOLF IN INTERSTELLAR SPACE. FORGET GLOBAL WARMING. YOU NOW HAVE THE FOLLOWING OPTIONS:

    1. PANIC/SUICIDE

    2. DENIAL

    3. STEALTH CIVILIZATION

    PRESS ANY KEY TO CONTINUE

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Left out one

    The not too uncommon 'Life on earth is in fact the very message left by visiting aliens aeons ago'

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Grenade

    But, _if_ you find life out there...

    When the signals come from quadrant QBR 157, 052 just nuke the site!

  10. Daniel 1

    Fermi Paradox?

    There is nothing terribly paradoxical about the 'Fermi Paradox', since it starts from the assumption that interstellar travel is feasible enough to be worth doing in the first place.

    Most people who discuss traveling between stars have underestimated the scale of the problem, by mere dint of the fact that they actually discuss it. It is quite possible that a civilisation can become as advanced, as it is possible for a civilisation to have become, and still be totally incapable of interstellar travel.

    Einstein wasn't joking about that 'going faster than light' stuff, you know? All the evidence suggests that, it is not only impossible to move faster than light, but that it is impossible to *have* moved faster than light: i.e., that you cannot occupy a point, in space, more remote than your starting point, at any time sooner than it would take, for light to undertake the journey between those two points in space. Not if you still be made out of matter, at least.

    'Hyperspace', 'space-folding', 'wormholes'... These are words, written in books and spoken in movies. You may as well debate the physics of Tolkien.

  11. Pete 43
    Alien

    Lets hope we can find them soon...

    And we can borrow money off them :-)

    1. Eddie Edwards
      Joke

      Joking?

      Einstein? The "God does not play dice" guy? I'll believe his theories about causality when he explains quantum entanglement and works it into his model of gravity.

      1. Graham Dawson

        Yes...

        He may have a hard time doing that these days. I hear it's hard to think when your brain has been preserved and sliced up into wafer-thin pieces.

    2. TimeMaster T
      Megaphone

      Your forgetting something

      Current thinking in cosmology is that for the cosmic background radiation to be as uniform as it is the early univese had to have expanded faster than light propogates. Its called "Inflation".

      Einsteins equations allow for the fabric of space to expand faster than light, just not for objects to move faster than light relative to their local frame of reference. And Einstein's numbers also allow for an object to travel faster than light IF it isn't moving relative to its space-time location, that is instead of moving the ship you move the bubble of space-time AROUND the ship by expanding space on one side and collapsing it on the other. Look up " Alcubierre drive" for the details.

      So, FTL drives are not possible using current tech, but in a thousand years, who knows.

      Also, your comment makes the classic assumption that Einstein is 100% correct, which he isn't, since his theory's can't account for gravity at the quantum scale, or things like singularities without some fancy number dancing.

      Your right in the following, IF interstellar travel is impractical then the 'Fermi Paradox' ceases to be a paradox. After that you start making assumptions that are just as suspicious as those you criticize.

      1. Daniel 1

        I think you're forgetting something (or simply haven't heard about it yet)

        Alcubier was engaging in what is known as a 'thought experiment' - one which completely falls apart once you add in calculations about the quantum effects of attempting to create a warp wave, or stick anything made out of matter, inside one (in particular, the fact that the stress-energy would immediately cause any such wave to collapse).

        I say again, the evidence is growing, that it is impossible to be made out of matter and be moved - by any means that can be thought about - from one place, to another place, in this universe, faster than light can make the journey. It's not possible. You can cook up any crazy idea for how it might happen, but some other element always comes along and shows that it cannot be done. This is not just coincidence. Stuff that is made out of particles cannot be moved faster than light. Time would be better served, working out exactly why that is, than trying to find out how to evade it, because it is becoming increasingly apparent, that it cannot be evaded.

        I agree, that living in a world where there are no flying dragons is potentially much less exciting, than living in one where there are - and if you want to believe in flying dragons, all you have to do is disprove Newton's theory of Gravitation. if you want to believe in the Starship Enterprise, all you have to do is disprove Einstein. Different scientist; same approach; very similar motives.

    3. Stephen 27

      All a matter of time

      It's not really a paradox. Aliens may well have visited or may well be ready to visit, but as humans in the time scale of this planet, and even the universe, have only been here for a blink of an eye and have been looking for a femto-second of that time.

      It's all a matter of perspective, and expectation..... something I have to explain to my teenage children all the time!

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      Worm holes

      OK - I do not believe that they exist but I think that current theory has them as being possible - so 'speed of light' MIGHT mean nothing.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

      Hello honorable ET

      My name is Sir Wilhelm Schlock III, Esq, MBA. I represent a small group of humans that have came into possession of $24,093,201,932.43, through the untimely death of our father. Unfortunately we are unable to move the money off of the Earth in due the poor health of my brother-in-law, his royal highness Chief Wambat IV and illegal law that was put into place to punish my poor mother and ill sister. We believe that with your help we will be able accomplish this task. All that you would need to do is to supply your bank account number and PIN such that we can transfer the money. For your help, we will offer you a 10% finders fee. Please reply in haste.

  12. breakfast

    Concentrate the search

    We should start by focussing our effords on Alpha Centauri- if our local planning department is there it would be smart to know about any planning applications that might affect Earth.

  13. Chris Miller

    Book plug alert!

    I don't agree that SETI is a waste of time. The point of it is not to detect some broadcast beacon sending out prime numbers in the intergalactic equivalent of Morse code, but to identify anomalous radio sources, that might be associated with technologies like our own.

    An astronomer observing the solar system from alpha Centauri would be struck by the amount of radio energy being received in the 0.2MHz-2GHz frequency range - hard to account for by any natural process. He probably couldn't decode it in order to receive BBC1 (for which he would need a licence, of course) or, even worse, Fox (in which case he might well conclude that there was no intelligent life on Earth).

    He could, however, watch for Doppler perturbations and conclude that the signals were emanating from a body in orbit around the sun at 1AU. Of course, if the astronomer were 200 light years away, he'd see nothing unusual - since the results of Marconi's first experiments would not yet have reach him.

  14. Nigel 11

    Fermi paradox

    Given two caveats, the answer is very simple. They never come here because it would take them too long to get here.

    Caveat 1. We are right about special relativity, and there are no get-out clauses (warp drives, usable wormholes, etc.) They get here at a smallish fraction of the speed of light, or not at all.

    Caveat 2. Their idea of a long time is similar to ours. Chemistry is universal, which may mean that any workable biology runs at a similar rate to ours. There are get-outs we can't exclude, such as downloading their intelligence into a computer, and then clocking it five orders of magnitude more slowly to turn a 100,000-year journey into one year subjective.

    But they aren't here, so either they can't do that, or they don't want to embark on a one-way journey with no possible return.

    @zef: if life on Earth is the aliens' Von Neumann machines, we should start looking for a coded message in our DNA. Most especially, in the parts of our DNA that are common to all known forms of life.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      or maybe Hanson is right

      http://hanson.gmu.edu/greatfilter.html

    2. Sceptic Tank

      42

      "downloading their intelligence into a computer" -- I hope they remembered to make backups.

      "we should start looking for a coded message in our DNA" - What, like writing 42 everywhere?

      @ the rest: lets get out there and find that monolith before it cooks Jupiter.

      This prof sounds like he's been reading some serious science fiction.

    3. Bounty

      would they?

      "An astronomer observing the solar system from alpha Centauri would be struck by the amount of radio energy being received in the 0.2MHz-2GHz frequency range - hard to account for by any natural process."

      Would they? I was under the impression that at that distance, the amount of radio noise we make would be so small as to be indistinguishable from the background noise. Especially considering we're not aiming anything in that direction, just some random scatter bouncing around. Hence his point about needing to beam (use directional) radio.

  15. peyton?

    Odd inclusion

    This prof says SETI is doing it wrong, but then includes the 'lighthouse' theory, which would actually tie in quite nicely with the 1977 Wow! event, right?

    I also don't buy the 'can't leave a message on Earth bit'. It doesn't have to be some static monolith plopped in the ground... Then again, maybe there's some poor little rover stuck on Antarctica going "I knew I should've taken that left turn 250 million years ago"

  16. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    It is simple

    They do not visit us because we play cricket!

  17. Shane Kent

    One day...

    we will get in touch with an advanced civilization, and they will come to Earth and sue everyone for patent infringements ;-)

  18. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Think Bigger, and it's Easier when Real Good.

    "The old and excellent science fiction gag of TV broadcasts being picked up and avidly watched by aliens isn't realistic,...." To Think Not is a Powerful Misunderestimation of Alienating Virtual Reality Plays in Live Operational Virtual Environments ...........LOVE, Long Time Stay.

    "or becomes enervated by spending all its time in immersive artificial game/entertainment environments and dies out because it can't be bothered to breed." ..... With Multi Dimensional Hard XSSXXXX CoredD Porn, is that an Unlikelihood.

    "Einstein wasn't joking about that 'going faster than light' stuff, you know? All the evidence suggests that, it is not only impossible to move faster than light, but that it is impossible to *have* moved faster than light:" ....Daniel 1 Posted Wednesday 3rd March 2010 15:01 GMT

    Ah, but Einstein wasn't aware of Time Travel and Virtual TelePortation to a Place where Space is AITerminus ...... Space Travel Centre Spoke and Vital Virgin Supply Line for Core Energy Raw Source.

    It can also be considered that many beings are already here in popular diguise/humanised phorm....... and Communicating Sublime in the Registers that Chronicle and Share Posts.

    Incidentally, passports are practically an alien identity card .

  19. Pirate Dave
    Pirate

    Eh?...

    "Beaming an active-SETI radio message at these positions, speculates the prof, might awaken some aeons-dormant machine left behind by the aliens"

    Why does that have "BAD IDEA" written all over it? The good Prof assumes too much in assuming that such aliens were benevolent...

    1. TimeMaster T

      Only ...

      You have a valid point, only if they had any kind of "life hostile" outlook wouldn't they just nail the planet with some big asteroids and not bother putting the machines in the Larange points in the first place.

      And if they just wanted to keep intelligence from arising then could just set it up so the Earth got nailed by a big rock every 65 million years or so to wipe out almost everything but not destroy the planet.

      Hang on ...

  20. lukewarmdog

    Any really intelligent lifeform

    Would send a robot first.

    Any self respecting robot would look at what we're doing to rescue our Mars rover.

    I think we're boned if we're waiting for some kind of galactic benefit scheme to rescue us.

  21. Graham Marsden
    Coat

    #include.std

    Monty Python Universe Song Quote here

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    Where to look for aliens visiting Earth

    Personally, I rather like Banks' idea in "Transition". What might Earth have to offer that might tempt alien tourists to visit, of all planets they could reach with a similar amount of effort? His conclusion was that the perfect solar eclipse (due to exact ratios of Moon and Sun size and distances) is probably rare enough to qualify.

    So if you want to find aliens, look for suspicious types (or suspiciously empty-looking regions?) at solar eclipse events...

  23. asdf Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    none of the geeks got it

    >enervated by spending all its time in immersive artificial game/entertainment environments and dies out because it can't be bothered to breed.

    New keyboard sentence of the week for El Reg. Lewis takes a lot of hits about his defense opinions from loud mouth bloggers out there but he tends to be the most entertaining writer on the Reg imho.

    1. FIGJAM
      Thumb Up

      I got it

      but did not have anything to except for

      "HEY! I resemble that remark!!"

  24. Graham Bartlett

    "send a robot first"

    I remember a rather good little short story, where a couple of robots from Earth visit Jupiter to sort a peace treaty with the residents, who are building a weapon which would exterminate all life on Earth. Through various incidents and accidents, the Jupiter guys find that it's completely impossible to hurt the robots, including with the weapon they're building, and are awed enough to sue for peace. The gotcha at the end of the story is the robots saying to each other, "Do you think we should have told them we're only robots?" "Nah, don't worry about it."

    Re the Dyson sphere, a thick enough sphere certainly *would* create gravity for anyone standing on the inside surface. The stability is a problem though - although it's also worth adding light and cosmic rays into the mix, bcos those will tend to push things away harder as they get closer to the Sun, so maybe it's not quite as unstable as it looks if you only consider gravity. And whilst passive stability might not be achievable, there's nothing wrong with using active stability, assuming your civilisation stays around to maintain the systems (or creates some self-replicating robots which can do the maintenance, and of course mine the rest of the Solar System for resources to use).

    1. Adam 67
      Thumb Up

      I could be wrong

      But I think it's by Fred Saberhagen. Brilliant author.

      Some interesting points made in this thread!

    2. ratfox Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Title is "Victory Unintentional"

      By Isaac Asimov

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    What is worse?

    Finding out that we are alone in the universe? Or, finding out that we are first and have to teach all the other intelligent races that come after us?

  26. Pan Narrans
    Paris Hilton

    Intelligent life

    I have yet to see any evidence of intelligence having arisen on Earth yet, let alone elsewhere

  27. Barracoder
    Alien

    Primes

    "A more realistic hope is that an alien civilization has built a powerful beacon to sweep the plane of the galaxy like a lighthouse."

    Sounds remarkably like a pulsar to me. Especially as the idea of a star with the mass of our sun or more rotating with a period of minutes seems just a tad far-fetched, regardless of the theories thrown up to explain it.

    1. karma mechanic

      Minutes ?

      'period of minutes' ?

      Pulsar 1748-2446ad rotates 716 times a second. Now that's a lighthouse for some serious aliens...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Alien

        Scary Aliens

        ...question is...would we even want to communicate with them?

        The (theoretical) ability to create pulsars on a whim would be a pretty significant indicator of serious power. We'd have to hope we didn't do anything to piss them off. Probably best we avoid them....until we can create our pulsars anyway at least, and close the "Pulsar gap".

        Dr Strangelove? No, never heard of him.

    2. Charles Manning

      The absolute worst

      would be being discovered by an alien archaeologist trying out some ancient radio frequency kit that the aliens stopped using 20,000 years ago because they found better ways to communicate. Then getting gentrified by aliens moving in and taking over our quaint customs and lifestyle.

      If you use human history as a parallel for what alien history might be like: we've been intelligent for 10,000 or so years. We've only been making reasonable levels of RF energy for less than 100 years. That's about 1% of the time.

      So even if there is an intelligent alien population there is only a very small chance that they are doing detectable RF.

    3. Kevin Reader
      Heart

      Hah - you are the moderatrix...

      As I glanced at this post I both agreed and realised this is one of those puzzles...

      You are in fact the moderatrix and where do I get to claim my prize...

  28. solarian

    Ta

    Another marvellous article from Lewis... we're not all sci-fi drones. A couple of brilliant quotes stand out as particularly scary:

    "A more realistic hope is that an alien civilization has built a powerful beacon to [...] serve as [...] a warning"

    "it may still be that intelligence is [...] a counter-survival trait which tends to wipe its possessor out"

  29. This post has been deleted by its author

  30. Ammaross Danan
    Coat

    Cheers

    "Finding out that we are alone in the universe? Or, finding out that we are first and have to teach all the other intelligent races that come after us?"

    Just because the universe is X Billion/Trillion years old, doesn't necessitate that life has evolved prior to now. We, ourselves, could be that "ancient" alien race that went about seeding and colonizing the planets in our galaxy and beyond.

    Anyone got a few Stargates in their pocket to sprinkle around? Methinks I misplaced my coat...

  31. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Charlie Stross Alert

    Either Lewis or the Prof has been reading Charlie. Intergalatic space routers indeed.

  32. peter 5 Silver badge
    Boffin

    @Graham Bartlett

    It's called "Victory Unintentional" by Isaac Asimov.

  33. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Meat

    http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/TheyMade.shtml

  34. Steve Roper
    Boffin

    I've always said

    That projects like SETI will most likely never uncover anything, simply because any incidental radio transmissions would be too weak and obliterated by natural radio sources in any event. My reasoning is:

    1. The Inverse Square Law, which states that the intensity of radiative energy decreases as the reciprocal square of the distance from the source. So if a radio source is broadcasting such that there are 20 million photons per square metre at a distance of 1000 kilometres, then at 2000 kilometres there would be only 5 million photons per square metre, and at 3000 kilometres there would be only 1.1... million photons per square metre. By the time it gets to us over interstellar distances, we'd be lucky to be able to spot 1 photon in a million square metres. So the good prof is right when he says it would have to be a radio beam directed specifically at us or past us, which reduces the effect of the ISL; our broadcast TV and radio sources, and presumably those of alien civilisations, are omnidirectional and therefore subject to this law.

    2. What I call the Searchlight and Candle effect. In our solar system, there are two god-almighty-powerful radio sources, namely the Sun and Jupiter. To an observer at say Tau Ceti, the overwhelming noise of these two objects would drown out any signal we emit in much the same way you wouldn't be able to see a candle flickering in front of a warship's searchlight. You'd be able to separate them if you knew the exact brightness and variability of the searchlight, because you could then subtract that parameter from the total, leaving the candle; but since both the Sun and Jupiter are emitting randomly variable broadband white noise this would be all but impossible to determine. A radio engineer would call this a signal-to-noise ratio of something like 0.00000000001 - meaning the signal is indetectable from the noise.

    So the likelihood of us detecting the incidental transmissions of an extraterrestrial civilisation is vanishingly small. That leaves directed-beam sources transmitted specifically in our direction, at just the right time for it to appear in the 50-year window we've been looking for it. And I would say that the chance of such a civilisation just happening to beam a signal in our exact direction at the exact right time is also vanishingly small.

    1. Andus McCoatover

      CDMA?

      OK, I admit that your analogy of the candle and searchlight has merit.

      But, just look at the spectrum of 3G. Bizarre, but mainly noise. That's a candle (wanted signal) in the presence of a searchlight (unwanted signal). Yet, some folks on Earth actually believe it works. The twits even try to twitter on it.

      When we get to 35 ½ G, then maybe we can spam Martians.

      Oh, wait, Spirit got spammed with messages it ignored to get out of the sandpit. It should've bought some 'Meds'. Viagra (80%off today! as I'm reliably told. Repetitively.) would've shifted the fuc*ker.

  35. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alien

    First deep space message deciphered

    "Come in Number 5, your time is up"

    Jokes aside, you could tell an awful lot from a message like that.

  36. Hendala
    Alien

    My theory about intelligence,

    OK, it's probably not my own but there you go, this will be a long post.

    We're asking all the wrong questions and are looking in the wrong places.

    In effect, what we're asking is this:

    Are there other biological creatures, that evolved in complex structures, developed technology much like our own, are are speaking a language that is

    translatable into English. the answer is: maybe.

    however, if we look at intelligence as it's own, it might evolve in countless other ways, intelligence as we define it is simply a system of interactions that can process inputs and produce outputs much like our brains. but this does not have to be biological at all.

    a series of well placed crystals for example, one receiving light beams from a nearby sun and reflecting it to the others, in a complex system of diffractions and refractions to produce a variable output at the other end could be considered intelligent, and we might even be able to communicate with it if we translated English into light signals. and this can be naturally occurring, in fact systems like these are a plenty here on earth, and some of them might be intelligent and communicate-able with. I know this sounds like a load of hippie crap, but that point is that abstract intelligence may well be naturally occurring and plentiful, it's just that we're too stubborn to discover them.

    I can expand on this theory but this isn't the place for it.

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
      Boffin

      Calling Darwin

      What is the probability of such a system of crystals arising by chance? Pretty close to zero.

      BUT, if the system can produce almost exact copies, Darwinian evolution can take place... we have a system capable of processing energy and reproducing. "It's Life, Jim, but not as we know it!"

      Biologists might, in general, be too set in their ways to recognise radically different life, but there are quite a few who speculate on related topics, such as possible self-replicating molecules that may have been around before DNA/RNA became the standard. Novel self-replicating molecules might be being generated far more than we realise, but they get trashed by the installed user-base before they can build up enough complexity to compete. There, it's almost an IT angle.

  37. Bobster
    Alien

    Look deeper...

    I agree we should be looking around Earth a bit more for signs... start in Giza, there may be a Stargate or two buried there...

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    What life

    I live in England and I can tell you for a fact that in this celebrity obsessed, thieving scum politician ridden land there is no intelligent life, alien or otherwise.

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: What life

      I think people who post comments like yours should be obliged to spend a month in Zimbabwe - six weeks if they're this spuriously connected to the story in question.

      Well I mean honestly.

  39. lukewarmdog
    Gates Horns

    Re what life

    Conveniently Zuma is in Blighty right now to push for sanctions against Zimbabwe to be lifted.

    Convenient.. or a sign?

  40. edwardecl

    Pointless but...

    The chances of find an alien life form that is intelligent even if the methodology was 100% right is not likely anyway.

    Given the age of the universe even if life did exist somewhere what are the chances that is is dead now? Or what are the chances that life will exist somewhere but not at this present time?

    But you might find something else that may be useful as they don't just search for alien life I think they also look for blackholes and pulsars and other stuff. Something may be stumbled on by accident so it's not totally pointless.

  41. Count Ludwig
    Alien

    Star Trek - Prime Directive

    ...don't interfere with primitive civilisations. Also known as the Zoo / Interdict Scenario solution to the Fermi Paradox.

    BTW I think we might consider applying that scenario instead of arranging regime change in places like Iraq and Afghanistan (and Zimbabwe). It might save lives in the short term (dubious in Iraq), but they would value their new "freedom" more if they had fought for it themselves.

    Of course my friends in Bosnia & Kosovo didn't agree when I suggested it to them, and neither would any Tutsi Rwandans.

  42. R J Tysoe
    FAIL

    re: None of the geeks got it

    I think everyone got it, to the point that it wasn't worth commenting on.

  43. Janko Hrasko
    Megaphone

    obvious

    How about just trying to decrypt the static. We could have detected the signal long time ago, we just don't understand the protocol.

    Lol

  44. MyHeadIsSpinning
    Alien

    Alien probe blog

    Accessing alien galactic news blog via the internet? There should be an app for that.

  45. John70

    Alien Life

    If Alien life was detected, it would have been hushed up to avoid global panic and mass suicides.

    And all religions will realise that God/Allah/Budda/etc do not exist but have infact been worshipping aliens. Goa'uld System Lords (Ra, Apophis, Anubis) perhaps?

    Explains the birth of Jesus...

    Mary impregnated by aliens.

    The 3 "Wise" men following the light of an alien ship which then shone it's searchlight onto the stable.

    Jesus has "special" abilities, like heal people with a single touch. Alien psychic powers.

    1. Beelzeebub
      Flame

      Umm John70...

      Jesus has not been proven beyond doubt that he actually existed.

      Of course, by that method, neither do I, pffft!

  46. Lars Silver badge
    Alien

    Perhaps, better shut up

    Knowing how we used to deal with "other" civilisations perhaps we should better shut up.

    I would assume we would never have any use or understanding for an civilisation different to ours.

  47. dr_forrester
    Coat

    Dyson Spheres

    As I recall, were designed to capture 100% of a star's radiant energy, as energy, while everywhere, is also important to capture. The problem I see as most troublesome with the Dyson sphere, besides stability and gravity, which could be dealt with (spin to provide pseudo-gravity, add ramjets to compensate for wobble) is heat escape-see the Puppeteer homeworld in Ringworld.

    Before you ask how spinning is going to help with pseudo-gravity at the poles, it's quite simple. It won't. The poles are devoted to solar energy capture, in the form of photoelectric power generation, tanks of algae (or similar) producing biofuels, or whatever else the constructing civilization finds convenient. The remainder of the inner surface is terraced, so that the ground is always flat, or nearly so, rather than curving more and more steeply as latitude increases. Thousand-mile walls, with elevators built in for transport and airlock functions, keep the atmosphere from flowing down from the higher-latitude terraces to the equatorial terrace-much like the rim walls on a Niven Ring. It is possible that deep oceans with external cooling fins could be used to cool the interior, but I just don't have the thermodynamic engineering to know what-if anything-could be done to prevent the Dyson Sphere's inhabitants from boiling in their own steam.

    Not to mention what to do when the sun starts expanding into a Red Giant.

    Also unexplained is how we're meant to FIND another species' Dyson Spheres. After all, the intent of the sphere is to trap all the radiation from the sun, so one assumes it would not radiate itself. And, after all, "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space..." The galaxy is approximately 7.8x10^15 cubic light-years, while a 1AU radius Dyson Sphere is approximately 2x10^3 cubic light-minutes-and there are about 144x10^15 cubic light-minutes in a cubic light-year. This makes for a very small needle, and one humongous haystack.

    Mine's the one with the blueprints for a Niven Ring in the pocket.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Dyson Spheres are Big Engines

      "It is possible that deep oceans with external cooling fins could be used to cool the interior, but I just don't have the thermodynamic engineering to know what-if anything-could be done to prevent the Dyson Sphere's inhabitants from boiling in their own steam."

      The whole thing is an engine. The Dyson sphere itself uses the rest of the universe as a place to dump waste heat. On its way from the inside to the outside of the Dyson sphere, the heat is used to do useful work.

      Compare with a coal-fired power station. Coal is burned, and used to heat water in boilers. The superheated water, at high pressure, enters steam turbines, expanding and cooling while driving the turbines. Coming out of the turbines, the steam is cooler, and at the same pressure as the environment. In the cooling towers, the steam's remaining, waste heat is dumped into the environment, and the steam condenses back into water. The water can then be pumped back into the boilers to be used again.

      In the case of a Dyson sphere, the central star is the burning coal, the Dyson sphere is the power station, including boilers, turbines and cooling towers, and the rest of the universe is the external environment.

      "Also unexplained is how we're meant to FIND another species' Dyson Spheres. After all, the intent of the sphere is to trap all the radiation from the sun, so one assumes it would not radiate itself."

      If it's a big engine, dumping waste heat into the rest of the universe, it'll radiate, though at longer wavelengths than the star itself.

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Dyson Spheres and gravity

      Gravity is not a problem. I'm fairly sure that there is a mathematical proof that there would be real gravity on the inside of the Dyson Sphere. The field strength would depend on the mass and radius of the sphere.

      This is explained in the sciency bits at the end of one of Larry Niven's Ringworld books. The proof is based on an infinite sheet, and a large sphere would approximate an infinite sheet. It would be enough to hold the atmosphere close to the surface (on both sides!). Gravity would be perpendicular to the surface at all points, so the terracing would not be required, and in fact could not work if you were relying on spin for gravity (close to the poles, there would not be enough spin to generate pseudo-gravity. There would be no atmosphere at the poles unless the whole volume of the sphere was under pressure, but then the Sun would not work, nor would there be enough gasses to fill the HUGE volume of the interior of the sphere).

      You would have to leak energy through the shell to maintain thermodynamic equilibrium, but the way that the energy would leak would probably mostly be in the infra-red, and would be fairly low grade and difficult to detect.

      Unlike a ringworld, it would probably not be possible to steer a Dyson Sphere.

      The Ringworld needed to spin because it did not approximate an infinite sheet. They also needed rim mountains to contain the atmosphere, ramjets to correct wobble, and shadow squares to approximate day and night.

      I'm just wondering whether it would be worth having a Teela Brown around for company, or whether Tree of Life root would be categorized as a Class 1 drug!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No Internal Gravity!

        "The proof is based on an infinite sheet, and a large sphere would approximate an infinite sheet."

        Except, at any point on the internal surface of the sphere, most of the sphere is on the wrong side of you ("above" your head, like the sky). The infinite sheet is a poor approximation, since it puts all the sheet on just one side of you ("below" your feet).

        I vaguely remember, from A-level physics, that there is no gravity within a hollow sphere. If you were inside it, you'd have some of the sphere pulling you in one direction, but the rest of the sphere pulling you in the other direction. These two gravitational forces just happen to balance and cancel each other out, no matter where you are inside this hollow sphere. (Assuming the sphere is sufficiently uniform.)

  48. Daniel 1

    It has long been thought that the discovery of an alien intelligence would change us.

    I've thought about this, and come to this conclusion: no.

    We will realise that we can never reach them, that they will never come to us - that any considerations about their intentions toward us (hostile or benevolent) will be rendered irrelevant by the intervening space, between us and them - and that the gigantic fairy-story humanity has been telling itself, for over half a century, about the possibility of travelling to distant stars (or indeed, the inhabitants of such stars, coming here - regardless of their intentions) will be thrown into stark relief.

    We will hear their industry, realise that they never had any intention of communicating with us, and the futility of attempting to communicate with them. And we will come to the conclusion that the best we can do, is listen to the noise of their machines, and hope, one day, to work out what we are listening to, and replicate the machines - and then, knowing what to listen for maybe, turn our telescoes outwards, once again, and listen for the noise of others, in the galaxy, who have done like wise.

    We may end up realising, that the most useful signal we can send one another, is the noise of our machines.

  49. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Joke

    Dyson Sphere

    Withdrawn from market due to cost and warranty problems.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    First contact

    Forget "Take me to your leader" or "We come in peace". I expect the first message from our inter-galactic neighbours to be "Turn the bloody noise down, or we're calling the council."

  51. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Communications would only be one way anyhow

    So let's try to be a bit more clever than random stuff. Next time there is an 'interesting' cosmic event, let's send out a long message to the opposite direction. Now if there is (or will be) a civilisation in that direction, it will look towards us. It'll see the event, and then when it dims down, see our message. When the message arrives we will probably have died out a long time ago, but the others will have gotten a message from us, telling them that they are not alone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      That's Some Smart Thinking

      And if you can come up with that idea, then so can aliens.

      So why haven't we identified any such messages, yet?

      Now I'm starting to think about the prisoners' dilemma, and super-rationality.

  52. Steve 114
    Badgers

    God-Botherers?

    Suppose they'd visited aeons ago, and left a message in a medium only loosely-coupled to then-likely evolutions of human self-awareness. What would it feel like now? Well, 'religionism' seems pervasive in all societies, and has no evident utility, and seems to incorporate some very resilient 'memes' (about origins and morals). Not saying it's 'true', ye ken, just that it's the kind of echo one might consider.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    announcement of extraterrestrial life expected in Q3

    "We do not yet believe that we have rigorously proven there is [or was ] life on Mars." says David S. McKay, chief of astrobiology at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

    "But we do believe that we are very, very close to proving there is or has been life there," McKay tells Spaceflight Now.

    http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n1001/09marslife/

    Pint glass because when we know there is life beyond our world, we will all still be at the pub.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    I continue to find it hillarious..

    ..scientists and biologists insist that evidence of life out there must mirror our own. There must be Oxygen! There must be Radio Signals to show intelligence! There must be Water! It must be an environment composed of things we need to survive!

    Seriously. Maybe intelligent life out there is expecting us to use antimatter to fuel our hover-cars - and are searching for the energy signatures it leaves. Maybe they're looking for environments like pure nitrogen, or acidic reservoirs to keep our acidic levels just-so. Hell, maybe they're looking for evidence of telepathy to show an intelligent species exists in our galaxy!

    Biologists and scientists.. you need to realize that life doesn't need to replicate your limited view of it to exist.

  55. fiftybmg

    re "probing for the unique signatures"

    Like the inter-Galactic Pulsar Network ? Already published by Paul Laviolette.

  56. Glen Turner 666

    graffiti - can we distinguish it from nature?

    Maybe the aliens have been, and swapped the magnetism of the earth a few times to mark that "kilroy was here". That's the problem -- until we investigate more planets of our own we won't know what is to be expected and what is graffiti.

  57. jake Silver badge

    @Glen Turner 666

    "Maybe the aliens have been, and swapped the magnetism of the earth a few times to mark that "kilroy was here". That's the problem -- until we investigate more planets of our own we won't know what is to be expected and what is graffiti."

    So basically, in your mind, it's logical that aliens have visited the Earth tens of thousands of times over the last 4 billion years, with the only intention of tagging the planet?

    Can you comprehend why, exactly, this is highly unlikely, to the point of not investigating the possibility?

  58. AceRimmer1980
    Badgers

    Biologists have only scratched the surface of the microbial realm

    You don't want to do that.

    You'll get an infection.

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