archive: GRBs, Active SETI, and Star Wars Science

GRBs, Active SETI, and Star Wars Science

Larry Klaes ( )
Thu, 13 May 1999 15:05:13 -0400

Celestial Explosions May Signal Incoming Alien Calls

To quote in part:

"If there really are aliens out there trying to contact us,"
Corbet said, "they would want to synchronize the message with
some large event. And gamma ray bursts are the most natural
thing to use because it's such a dramatic event."

While searching around the edges of gamma ray bursts for alien
messages may be logical in theory, it is an idea that, by
necessity, makes huge assumptions. The first, of course, is
that there is other intelligent life in the Universe. But, furthermore,
Carl Akerlof, a physicist at the University of
Michigan, points out that human logic may not necessarily mesh
with that of other life forms.

"By guessing how aliens might contact us, we are assuming that
we're on the same intellectual plane," Akerlof said. "But you
can imagine it would not be very fruitful to send a TV broadcast
to a very primitive tribe, or the other way around."

Related Web site:

Earth to Aliens: Physicists Plan to Send Second Message
Into Space

7.19 a.m. ET (1119 GMT) May 12, 1999

By Amanda Onion

NEW YORK If astronomers are busy looking for signals from
outer space, why aren't we trying to send our own signals?

We are. In fact, last January, a team of Canadian scientists announced they
plan to send a message into space from a
150-kilowatt transmitter in the Ukraine. Their suggested
22-page written message will take three hours to broadcast
and contains information about mathematics, physics, biology,
and geography. It also includes a diagram, some basic data
about our solar system, and a request that the recipients
send back a note about their own world.

The scientists also plan to take money from those who would
like to include their names on the message. That's a request
that Seth Shostak of the Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence says people at SETI receive all the time.

"I got a note the other day from a broadcast company that
wanted to collect money on the Internet and then broadcast
their names in a signal," he said. "It may be profitable,
but scientifically, it doesn't make sense."

Shostak likens the effort to going to the coast of Spain and
sticking a bottle in the ocean with a note, saying, "Please
Reply." "It's a lot of fun, but it's unlikely you're going
to discover America that way," he said.

In fact, radio and television waves have been traveling into
space since the invention of broadcast technology. As Shostak
points out, broadcasts of I Love Lucy have already reached a
few thousand stars.

While TV reruns may, in their own way, reflect aspects of
human culture, compressing the essence of human existence into
a single message can become a tricky endeavor. In 1974, an
American scientist broadcast the first condensed message into
space from the massive Arecibo telescope complex in Puerto

Frank Drake, the pioneer of SETI, composed the message to the
stars, which contained just 1,679 bits (binary digits, or
zeroes and ones) of information. The signal contained a
rectangular grid that aliens could then reconstruct to
provide a basic diagram of the solar system and of a DNA
double-helix molecule.

Drake's message is undoubtedly still heading toward distant
stars [Its ultimate goal is globular star cluster Messier 13,
24,000 light years from Earth]. As Shostak points out, one
problem with sending signals to planets hundreds of light
years from Earth is there's no point in counting on a reply
any time soon [by current human standards].

"It's bound to be a bit of a wait before you can even expect
results, let alone, get them," he said. "And not many are
interested in winning a Nobel prize 500 years from now when
the aliens finally answer."

Related Web sites:

The Science of Star Wars (aliens, hyperdrive, etc.):

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