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SETI Founder Outlines Ambitious Future Plans

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the just-send-money dept.

Space 281

Lanxon writes "'In the universe there is intelligent life, I'm confident about that,' SETI founder Dr Frank Drake (of the Drake Equation) affirmed earlier today during a talk at the Royal Society in London, 50 years after SETI was founded. One of his visions to prove this, and to show that the last five decades were not a waste of time, is to station a radio observatory not in near-Earth orbit, but on the far side of the moon. He also suggests that another craft could later be stationed 500 times further away from the Sun than the Earth, using the Sun itself as a giant magnifying lens to resolve alien worlds."

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Laudable, but misguided (5, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896112)

I personally think SETI is misguided, even though its aims are commendable. There probably is intelligent life out there, but it is a possibility that earth could have been the first planet on which it developed.

But I see two very great problems with SETI.

First is the limited range; nobody more than around 150 light years away would be able to detect intelligent life on earth.

If we do find them they're likely to be more intelligent than us, they may turn out to be hostile, and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc. They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (3, Insightful)

haruchai (17472) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896206)

They can't be so smart that we don't appear sentient - we've put men ( briefly ) on the moon.
We might be grossly inferior, but certainly sentient and, I hope, unappetizing.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896676)

Of course we'll appear sentient. So does a dog. Any argument a human could make against canine intelligence could be made a thousand fold by some theoretical more intelligent beings than us against us (whew read that 3 times fast). That's especially the case given how completely unlike us they might appear, while dogs are extremely similar to us. To some hyper intelligence we might appear to be an interesting chemical reaction as they load our planet into their fusion plant. Given any possible FTL technique and their presence might not be noticed until their gravity well wrecks our planet.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896936)

An even better comparison may be social insects or bacteria. They live in communities and they have rather elaborate ways of communicating. They sometimes build structures that are much bigger than themselves. However, neither insects nor bacteria appear sentient to most of us.

For example, we consider wasps stupid because they often end up banging their heads against our window panes. I bet there is super alien stuff where human:stuff::wasp:glass.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896242)

Well, even if other forms come before us, looking at the damage humans do to each other and the environment, I think it's fair to say that there's a good chance that other intelligent species that have already arisen may indeed be extinct if and when we discover them.

Wouldn't it be sad if we discovered a signal, and we got enough data to analyze it semantically and came up with a translation similar to, "Help; our planet is dying."

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896496)

Rings round the second gas giant. Intergalactic quarantine symbol.

Do not enter! Absolutely do not let anything out!

Re:Laudable, but misguided (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896812)

Maybe they will feel that way about Africa. If my great-great-great grandpappy knew things would turn out this way, he'd have picked his own cotton. Nigger thug bullshit is the kudzu of culture. It spreads, it's invasive, it reproduces everyplace, and soon there is nothing left of whatever constructive culture was once there. Nothing left but a bunch of morons who can't speak English, who think that drugs and abuse of women is great, and think that living in a ghetto that's full of crime and misery is really cool.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (2, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896300)

If we do find them they're likely to be more intelligent than us, they may turn out to be hostile, and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc. They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

You seem to share Hawking's delusion that more intelligence is an inevitable part of the progression of an intelligent species.

Alas, there really doesn't seem to be much evidence for that. Once you're intelligent enough, in general, to use the machines that your tiny fraction of geniuses comes up with, the impetus towards more intelligence pretty much evaporates. After all, how much intelligence does it really take to do 95+% of all the things required to make a technological civilization work?

That said, there's no particularly good reason that ET should be friendly, even if they're no more intelligent than we are. Or that they'd not find us just another tasty piece of livestock.

Note, of course, that the reverse is also true. I've heard reliable rumours that your average ET tastes like chicken....;)

Re:Laudable, but misguided (2, Insightful)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896658)

There's no reasonable explanation for why they would want to enslave us, or eat us, or otherwise exploit us.

It's conceivable that they might want to wipe us out and repurpose Earth, as it does have some useful minerals, but especially given our nuclear arsenal and the (minor) headaches that would cause, I don't see why they'd go for Earth over the many uninhabited rocks in the universe. Direct harvesting of solar energy would be far more effective than exploiting us, whatever their goals are. We're far less useful than robots.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (5, Insightful)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896758)

There's no reasonable explanation for why they would want to enslave us, or eat us, or otherwise exploit us.

It's conceivable that they might want to wipe us out and repurpose Earth, as it does have some useful minerals, but especially given our nuclear arsenal and the (minor) headaches that would cause, I don't see why they'd go for Earth over the many uninhabited rocks in the universe. Direct harvesting of solar energy would be far more effective than exploiting us, whatever their goals are. We're far less useful than robots.

I'm sure the people of South America, with all the environmental problems they were having, probably thought the same. But the Spaniards saw value in stuff that the Incas and Aztecs took for granted. Who's to say that ET won't come here and take a liking to our stocks of salt water for reasons unbeknownst to us?

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 4 years ago | (#30897094)

Because it's much easier to mine salt water from gas giants' satellites?

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896864)

There's no reasonable explanation for why they would want to enslave us, or eat us, or otherwise exploit us.

They may have no interest at all in enslaving us, eating us, or exploiting us.

Which wouldn't stop them from deciding that they could make better use of Earth than we are (better from their point of view).

On the other hand, who's to say that your average ET is "reasonable" (by human standards)? Just because YOU can't think of a reason they might want to enslave us, exploit us, or eat us, doesn't mean that THEY can't think of a perfectly good reason for doing so.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896706)

If we do find them they're likely to be more intelligent than us, they may turn out to be hostile, and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc. They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

You seem to share Hawking's delusion that more intelligence is an inevitable part of the progression of an intelligent species.

Which is clearly wrong. Crocodiles, for example are as smart as they need to be. I think early humans were trapped into a (say) software intensive architecture. They had these tools (fingers, eyes, etc) which could only be used for survival by a powerful brain. So there was selection pressure for intelligence, but only because our peripherals (so to speak) had previously developed into general purpose tools.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896896)

So there was selection pressure for intelligence, but only because our peripherals (so to speak) had previously developed into general purpose tools.

Why would there be selection pressure for general purpose tools in a creature too dumb to use it? I find it more plausible that a specialized creature initially developed intelligence because it'd make it a better specialist but slowly evolved into being more flexible than specialized.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30897058)

Alas, there really doesn't seem to be much evidence for that. Once you're intelligent enough, in general, to use the machines that your tiny fraction of geniuses comes up with, the impetus towards more intelligence pretty much evaporates. After all, how much intelligence does it really take to do 95+% of all the things required to make a technological civilization work?

Actually work tends to require much more intelligence than before, before doing manual labor was an typical way to make a living with hardly no education or intelligence. Most of that is gone, replaced by things like operating advanced tractors and lumber machines and whatnot. But there's no reproduction pressure, in fact the poorest and lowest educated (not necessarily the same as intelligence, but bright people don't usually end up that way) are the ones breeding the most.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

ViViDboarder (1473973) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896476)

Why are they "likely" to be more intelligent than us? I see there no reason that is likely.

Also, I believe range of the universe is a variable in the Drake equation, so I'm not sure if it's misguided.

About them possibly being hostile... is that any reason to be Xenophobic? Also, it'd be obvious that we are sentient if we attempted to make contact... Isn't that a behavior that only a sentient being would exhibit? Reaching out into the unknown in hopes of a response back?

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

TopherC (412335) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896868)

Two reasons why they are more likely to be "more intelligent" than us. One is that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, and the human race is probably 50 thousand years old. If we find intelligent life, and they had a vaguely similar evolution of intelligence that we did, then it's very unlikely to be less evolved than us.

The other reason is by definition. SETI has so far (I think) been looking for life that has developed the capacity for radio communication. That's an even more recent evolution for us, making it all the more unlikely that this search could find life that's less intelligent than us. I guess radio communication might be naturally evolved somehow by a species that's not very intelligent. And then there's the possibility that in the short span of a few million years, if humans still exist, we'll consider radio communication so primitive that it has no practical uses over whatever else we use for communication instead.

Also I think the major focus of SETI has so far been "just looking" -- there isn't a program that I'm aware of to broadcast to other possible civilizations. We hardly need a program to accomplish that, however, so I think it's a moot argument. People have been broadcasting by radio for just over 100 years, so anyone closer to us than 100 lightyears would be able to pick that up. If we actively broadcast to ET, our signals wouldn't get there any faster than those from 100 years ago. They'd just be stronger in certain directions.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896688)

I agree misguided, but not for your second point.

The biggest problem with SETI is that it's based on the belieg that any intelligent civilization would use the exact same tecnhology we use, and would use that technology to contact other civilizations.

It seems the height of hubris to believe that if there are intelligent aliens, they must be exactly like us (this is the same problem with the Drake equation.) "We are the most intelligent beings we know about, therefore we must be the most intelligent beings that exist."

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896774)

Or that, even if we do both use the same tech, our species will have evolved in such a closely coincidental way that we both happen to hit each other's windows for using said tech (i.e. radio waves). Earthlings have only been using them for the last 100 years or so. If a species "scanned" us for such broadcasting in the 19th century or earlier, they wouldn't have seen us. And in a hundred years in the future, we might not be using them anymore for communication. If our species were even slightly off in our concurrent technological evolution, we would completely miss one another.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

Bobfrankly1 (1043848) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896748)

I personally think SETI is misguided, even though its aims are commendable. There probably is intelligent life out there...

Screw that, we should be looking for intelligent life down here. Mankind is misguided, it's not simply limited to SETI.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896762)

If there are super-advanced aliens out there that want to kill everyone, they will do so. Might as well get it over with. If there are super-advanced aliens that want to help, let them. I want my utopia free of disease and poverty. I say: proceed with the search!

Re:Laudable, but misguided (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896770)

They'll be 8 foot tall blue skined aliens and want to mine our world for what they call Unobtainium.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896966)

Smurfs on growth hormones?

Re:Laudable, but misguided (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896844)

I'm just amazed SETI gets so much money. I know of no other projects that have burned through so much money just to produce a whole bunch of nothing by way of results.

Re:Laudable, but misguided (3, Insightful)

LUH 3418 (1429407) | more than 4 years ago | (#30897072)

>> First is the limited range; nobody more than around 150 light years away would be able to detect intelligent life on earth.

I have to agree with that one. It seems somewhat futile given the extremely low odds of detection. Furthermore, it seems hard to imagine we could really have meaningful exchanges with a civilization hundreds of lightyears away. That being said, if we ever did discover evidence of alien intelligence elsewhere in the universe, it would change alot of things here on earth. It would give a huge morale boost to many science fields, for one.

>> they may turn out to be hostile

Someone else said that "there is no reason to assume they wouldn't be hostile. I would say there is. Whenever I see the Klingon on Star Trek act in violent and barbaric ways, I wonder if it really is realistic to assume such a society could ever compete with a more "peaceful" one like the federation, on the technological level. If your society is full of violent individuals, places "being a strong warrior" above everything else, and you can get randomly killed at any time, I think that slows down scientific progress alot. In my opinion, individuals need to be "peaceful" enough for society to be rather stable in order for science to progress. Furthermore, a scientifically advanced society would probably realize that there is not much point in simply eradicating other life forms "for fun".

>> and they may discover that we are tasty, or good speceship fuel, etc.

I wouldn't worry too much about that either. If they actually are capable of getting here, it means they can get to any other nearby star. They probably have already mastered things like nuclear fusion, in which case, you know, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Energy itself, in this universe, is abundant. THE resource we have that is worth something is the earth itself, but it's only worth something to aliens, in my opinion, if they are biologically similar to us (breathe oxygen, similar temperature tolerances, etc.). Again, however, I would argue that if they have the capability of getting here, they are probably not "starved" in terms of energy. They would probably be capable of building themselves a new planet next to ours.

>> They may be intelligent enough that we don't even appear sentient to them. I'm not sure I want us to find intelligent extraterrestrials.

I find that idea rather ridiculous. We are sentient. Do you think there is something such as being "supersentient"?

Re:Laudable, but misguided (2, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30897078)

First is the limited range; nobody more than around 150 light years away would be able to detect intelligent life on earth.

I assume you're basing that on the venerable Kraus and his graphs showing how far away we could detect analog TV AM video carriers, etc.

Three problems:

1) Kraus never got into exotic modulation techniques that work at lower SNR. We can probably get a better range if we try.

2) Kraus assumed we'd continue transmitting those nice constant television AM carrier signals. We stopped some years ago. Ooops. Appears the lifetime of AM carrier transmission is vaguely around one century, not "forever".

3) Per Kraus's calculations NTSC TV AM video carriers were the strongest and most continuous transmissions. It would be VERY unreasonable to call TV "intelligent life".

In Kraus's defense, he was correct when he wrote it, his classic radio astronomy text was first published in the 60s, and hes been dead for half a decade.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Kraus [wikipedia.org]

Ziggle-Blop-Beep-Boop... (1, Informative)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896152)

...or alien for "First Post". Or, most likely second or third.

Re:Ziggle-Blop-Beep-Boop... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896194)

No, you made it. The Alpha Centaurians start counting at two, that's how they were able to discover faster than light travel.

Re:Ziggle-Blop-Beep-Boop... (1, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896214)

...or alien for "First Post".

If they are not using Linux they'll probably be modded to oblivion and never heard from again.
   

Re:Ziggle-Blop-Beep-Boop... (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896838)

Didn't you see Independence Day? Aliens are Macintosh compatible!

Lasers, Xrays, etc. (5, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896166)

I'm no expert on this, but it seems to me that radio waves may likely be obsolete to advanced civilizations. They are quite possibly using something like lasers, x-rays, gravity waves, etc. True, if they are in the same stage we are, they may be using lots of the radio spectrum, but that greatly limits the kind and number of civilizations we may detect. Looking for something like a Dyson Sphere (star-orbiting solar arrays) may be a more productive approach, or at least a good supplement.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

lazy genes (741633) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896274)

They could be using neutrinos.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896444)

We are listening for Neutrinos.

IceCube Neutrino Observatory [wisc.edu]

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

lazy genes (741633) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896836)

The MINOS experiment is a good start .

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (3, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896338)

We have a decent enough understanding of the laws of physics to have a good idea what would be a useful method of communication and what wouldn't be. For example, you list X-rays. But X-rays are much higher energy than radiowaves so are impractical. Lasers, which you also list, only work if you have a very precisely aimed beam. Unfortunately, when you are talking about distance of lightyears, a tiny bit off and your laser would be useless. (Incidentally, for technical reasons a maser rather than a laser would actually probably work better for this purpose). Even if they are using precisely aimed lasers, we won't be able to detect. Gravity waves are not going to be very good to send signals because they are incredibly hard to detect so even if you had a good way of making them, (which would also potentially lead to other cool stuff like anti-grav tech and potentially warp drive like technology) they would likely be extremely low bandwith. And we would have likely detected them by now in our searches for gravity waves.

It isn't clear how we would go about detecting things like a Dyson sphere so that suggestion is out. There are some potential signs of large scale solar system construction that we can hypothesize. However, of those we could search for, we don't see any of them. Radio waves remain our best hope for finding signs of other civilizations.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

molo (94384) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896600)

How to detect a dyson sphere? Look for the waste heat. Will be bright in the infrared.

-molo

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896672)

How to detect a dyson sphere? Look for the waste heat. Will be bright in the infrared.

-molo

Yes - completely unlike a star...

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896726)

How to detect a dyson sphere? Look for the waste heat. Will be bright in the infrared.

You mean, like a red dwarf, or a brown dwarf?

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896732)

Actually, I think a Dyson sphere should be fairly easy to detect. It would be massive enough that it should be a star, but not emitting any light. (nor absorbing so much as a black hole.

And smaller values should be discernible in the same manner that we find planets. We haven't found them, but we should be able to recognize them if they exist.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896884)

And since it doesn't loose suction, and there are no bags to replace, cleaning has never been easier!

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896968)

We have a decent enough understanding of the laws of physics to have a good idea what would be a useful method of communication and what wouldn't be. For example, you list X-rays. But X-rays are much higher energy than radiowaves so are impractical.

For us, perhaps but is there a reason why their higher energy makes them less useful? Do they disperse more readiily?

Lasers, which you also list, only work if you have a very precisely aimed beam. Unfortunately, when you are talking about distance of lightyears, a tiny bit off and your laser would be useless. (Incidentally, for technical reasons a maser rather than a laser would actually probably work better for this purpose). Even if they are using precisely aimed lasers, we won't be able to detect.

Obviously ET probably wouldn't use lasers in their own SETI programme, but using them doesn't mean you aren't sophisticated. Their characteristics will prove handy when you want covert communication too. We probably won't detect a laser/maser message from the stars, but that doesn't suggest that ET can't be using them

Gravity waves are not going to be very good to send signals because they are incredibly hard to detect so even if you had a good way of making them, (which would also potentially lead to other cool stuff like anti-grav tech and potentially warp drive like technology) they would likely be extremely low bandwith. And we would have likely detected them by now in our searches for gravity waves.

Again, just because it's difficult for us doesn't mean it is for them. You suggest that gravity wave tech. would lead to AG and other wonderful things, if that were the case I don't think a gravity wave detector would be too difficult to put together (even easier in space)

It isn't clear how we would go about detecting things like a Dyson sphere so that suggestion is out. There are some potential signs of large scale solar system construction that we can hypothesize. However, of those we could search for, we don't see any of them. Radio waves remain our best hope for finding signs of other civilizations.

Right on. Radio is probably it, and as I understand it a Dyson sphere is going to be very hard to find indeed. Perhaps that's intentional.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896366)

Lasers and x-rays are EMF; they ARE radio waves and do not travel faster than light (most lasers are visible light). The last I read they haven't proven the existance of gravity waves yet. However, maybe they've figured out how to carry a broadcast using neutrinos?

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896390)

Unless I'm mistaken - SETI would look through more than just the radio waves, but most the electromagnetic spectrum (again, not entirely certain about that).

Lasers are essentially light being modified, so that still falls into the ElectroMagnetic spectrum. Same with X-rays.

Gravity waves however, require a substantial amount of advanced technology to actually alter them to be used in forms of communication. And Einstein theorized that they travel at the same speed of light, so its not necessarily more efficient to do so than a simple laser - except for the fact that a gravity wave could move through objects, which has some serious applications.

Now I'll agree with you that it might be better to look for something else, something a little more concrete that would show proof of life. But as it stands A star orbiting solar array might not be as practical as we theorize, and thus we could be on a wild goose chase if we go looking for them.

Thats the reason we study the electromagnetic spectrum - practically all of our advanced technology is based on it in some way or another. And when we broadcast things out they go in all directions, not just the reciever*. We know that our radio signals have travelled out a hundred light years or so, so it only makes sense to keep a watchful eye for radio signals that might be heading towards us.

*This is why detecting a laser would be difficult - it's not exactly pointed at us. You can only see a laser if it's emitted light is being refracted or redirected off in a bunch of different directions. Like using a laser pointer in a classroom versus using one in the morning fog - one will produce that ray and the other will only produce the dot at the end.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896446)

I keep seeing this argument, but to me it makes no sense. If I saw smoke signals, I'd know someone was trying to communicate with me and I'd send my own smoke signals back, despite the fact that I'm "beyond" smoke signals. If there were an intelligent species out there that had moved beyond radio waves for their primary communication means, it's almost unthinkable that they wouldn't notice our communications. Unless they decided that we didn't exist or weren't worth communicating with, they'd try and communicate with us on the lowest common denominator - that is, radio. Besides, radio waves are perfectly useful for other things - radio telemetry for one (although it's feasible they've learnt all they can from radio telemetry).

My personal theory is that we either haven't been at it long enough (let's say 60 years, which means only civilisations within 30 light-years could have responded by now). Either that, or there's a very short window where species are intelligent enough to receive radio waves before they destroy themselves - we've already been close, and if you believe in AGW, we're still facing that problem.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896480)

SETI assumes that aliens will be actively trying to be found, they look at the frequencies they do because they are either A) Fundemental values that are important to physics, B) Able to penetrate the interstellar medium well, or preferably C) both. I believe the most commonly inspected frequencies have something to do with the physical properties of Hydrogen, such that they would be discovered by a technological society and also penetrate interstellar gas well.

I believe there have been a few surveys done looking for mega-scale engineering projects, obviously they didn't find anything that couldn't be explained without little green men. SETI and Fermilab have both invested computing power into anylizing the results of the infrared surveys.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

JerryLove (1158461) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896498)

My bet would be for spooky-action-at-a-distance for covering interstellar (and likely interplanetary) distances, and most likely something in the RF spectrum for "local". It's just too convienient.

Don't forget, we are using lasers to communicate too.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896710)

Despite what Mass Effect 2 tells you, "spooky action at a distance" (i.e., quantum entanglement) carries no information, and cannot be used as a communications medium.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30897006)

And the Atom is the fundamental unit of Matter.

Entanglement is useful for life-at-a-distance. Current QM is on the wrong track.

Your stupid teachers have taught you the unenlightened way of One world, when in reality there are FOUR simultaneous 24-hour days.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (1)

seriv (698799) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896520)

On of the central assumptions in SETI is that another civilization is broadcasting strong radio waves at the Earth continuously, something we don't do for anywhere. The assumption is that this other civilization will starting using radio mostly for this purpose of being found.

Re:Lasers, Xrays, etc. (2, Interesting)

pz (113803) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896890)

I'm no expert on this, but it seems to me that radio waves may likely be obsolete to advanced civilizations. They are quite possibly using something like lasers, x-rays, gravity waves, etc. True, if they are in the same stage we are, they may be using lots of the radio spectrum, but that greatly limits the kind and number of civilizations we may detect. Looking for something like a Dyson Sphere (star-orbiting solar arrays) may be a more productive approach, or at least a good supplement.

I'm not an expert at long-range radio transmission, but I have worked in signal detection. One of the basic tenets of SETI is the observation that the Earth has been a huge transmitting station for some decades now, thanks to Radio and Television, and that goldarnit, if we're inadvertently transmitting to outer space, then we ought to be able to listen to some other planet doing the same thing.

Except that if you can't focus an antenna to one very very small part of the earth, radio and television stations have a nasty tendency to interfere with each other since television stations in New York will be operating on the same frequencies as ones in Los Angeles, and although the combination of widely skewed proximity patterns and terrestrial curvature blocking line-of-sight interference allows through-the-air reception just fine on the surface of our planet, a receiver situated outside of the Solar system will get transmitters on one entire side of the Earth at a time. Those signals will tend to interfere, with the result being nothing more than a little extra noise over background, at distance. Structure in the signal is not going to be discernible.

The only way (and, to be fair, you do hear some SETI folk talking about this) we're going to be able to listen to an alien race is if they're beaming something straight at us. That presumes they have some suspicion we're here. And that means they're definitely more advanced than us, 'cause we can't even detect the presence of small, rocky planets around other star systems, yet, forget eavesdropping through the blinding radio background of their star.

Re:Lasers (1)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896928)

Would lasers work for interstellar communication?

I rather imagine it would be something like sending semaphore signals from one merry go round to someone on a different merry go round who can't read semaphore signals.

Why I left SETI... (1)

viraltus (1102365) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896200)

Cause I am SO sure there life out there that makes no point to dedicate vast amounts of computing power to just know where it is... cause anyway, it is not like you're going to have a conversation with someone 100 million years light away. So I would recommend projects like malaria@home or docking@home and the like...

Re:Why I left SETI... (5, Insightful)

Bragador (1036480) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896350)

It's not because you have faith that something exists that it does exist.

Also, the SETI institute and seti@home are two different things even though they have the same goal.

Re:Why I left SETI... (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896926)

Cause I am SO sure there life out there that makes no point to dedicate vast amounts of computing power to just know where it is... cause anyway, it is not like you're going to have a conversation with someone 100 million years light away.

The instant humanity *knows* there is other life out there is the instant we stop most infighting and work together to defend against/conquer the aliens. Didn't you read Watchmen? Drake's trying to pull a Veidt.

The fundamental problem with SETI (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896230)

The fundamental failing of SETI is that they assume other civilizations will needlessly emit EM radiation in the same fashion we do. It's as naive as assuming that life will only exist on planets that are nearly earth-like.

Re:The fundamental problem with SETI (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896258)

Starting with what you know isn't such a bad thing. We have only one proven model for the time being.

Re:The fundamental problem with SETI (1)

starglider29a (719559) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896886)

We have a model for Time Beings!? Oh, THE Time Being! I presume you are talking about Cthulhu...

Tentacles, Suction Cups, Nipple Stalks, Oh My! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896332)

The fundamental failing of SETI is that they assume other civilizations will needlessly emit EM radiation in the same fashion we do. It's as naive as assuming that life will only exist on planets that are nearly earth-like.

Just think, the variety of alien porn could be shocking and amazing. Legislators would have a field day banning all that.
   

Re:The fundamental problem with SETI (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896490)

EM radiation happens to be just about the only thing that propagates across the distances necessary to investigate even neighboring stars. If there was an alien civilization out there that did not emit EM radiation, then there is no reasonable way to detect it.

Re:The fundamental problem with SETI (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896784)

Actually, I am fairly certain that any creature capable of technological advancement will go through an EM Radiation phase. That's not a terra-centric idea. It's the most straightforward way of transmitting information.

But yeah, I think the 'goldilocks' search is just absurd. Life is just as likely to be silicon-based, or deep in the heart of a star where I suppose you're right that matter takes on properties we can't even begin to fathom.

Re:The fundamental problem with SETI (1)

ALeavitt (636946) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896880)

We look for earth-like worlds for the simple reason that water is the universal solvent. Liquid water makes possible a great deal of chemical and, ultimately, biological processes that aren't possible otherwise. We search for earth-like worlds because they are far and away the most likely to be able to support any type of life, not because of naïveté.

Mixed feelings (1)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896252)

I have mixed feelings about that 500AU telescope. Using our own sun as a gravitational lens is very clever... but 500AU... even getting a telescope out that far (within a reasonable amount of time) would be an enormous challenge. By the time we have the technology to build such a thing, and be able to aim it arbitrarily, I'm confident we'll already have sent probes to nearby stars.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896524)

By the time we can send something(s) 500AU away and can use them in tandem with the Sun, we'll have sent something 266877.442+AU away?

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896644)

'And be able to aim it arbitrarily'

As the commenter below you points out, at that distance a purely unpowered telescope would take millenia to traverse a single orbit. And that's just a single orbital plane. If you want to point this thing at an arbitrary point, and take less than a hundred thousand years to do so, you're talking a level of technology which could take you to another star easily.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

molo (94384) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896532)

500AU = 69.3 light-hours. The orbit of pluto is "only" 49.3AU at its furthest, and it takes pluto 248 years to orbit the sun. Indeed, 500 AU is quite far, and it will only be able to view stars on the opposite side of the sun. So to see much of the sky, it will have to wait for it to come into view. The orbit will take millennia.

-molo

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896680)

And that's just to view the stars on a single orbital plane.

Not the best use of resources right now... (2, Insightful)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896266)

I never thought I'd be one of the people who'd say this, but the vast resources we'd need to put a radio telescope on the far side of the moon would probably better be devoted to making sure that the Earth remains habitable. Later, when we're not at risk of drowning in our own pollutants, then let's go back to looking for aliens.

Besides, it'll be a lot less embarrassing if, when we find alien intelligence, we don't have to explain to them why we're committing collective suicide.

Re:Not the best use of resources right now... (1)

sourcerror (1718066) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896330)

... but the vast resources we'd need to put a radio telescope on the far side of the moon would probably better be devoted to making sure that the Earth remains habitable. Later, when we're not at risk of drowning in our own pollutants, then let's go back to looking for aliens.

That's why we have to colonize Mars :)

Re:Not the best use of resources right now... (1)

escay (923320) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896462)

Perhaps we may find alien intelligence that has been through what we are going through, and will be able to offer solutions on how to cope with our global problems, based on their experience?

When I think of alien intelligence, I am really thinking of the 'intelligence' part. Finding a race that is more intelligent than us is, in a way, like finding ourselves at a point in the future. We may be able to realize several notions that if left to ourselves would take us too much time, effort and irreconcilable damage due to our experimentations - like we are doing with our planet now. It is an inevitable trapping of knowledge that is largely heuristic.

Re:Not the best use of resources right now... (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896578)

FROM: HUMAN RACE, PLANET EARTH
TO: ANY ADVANCED LIFE-FORMS IN THE UNIVERSE
We have come into some big problems maintaining our biosphere. If any life-forms with experience dealing with advanced atmospheric problems in a carbon-based ecosystem would be willing to help, we would be much obliged.

FROM: [garbled]
TO: HUMAN RACE, PLANET EARTH

Solution: quit being such selfish fuckers. Was that so hard?

Idiots. Call us in 100 years if you haven't blown yourselves up.

Re:Not the best use of resources right now... (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896652)

> the vast resources we'd need to put a radio telescope
> on the far side of the moon would probably better be
> devoted to making sure that the Earth remains habitable

I think you're right, but R&D must go on.

Why is it that we (even slashdotters) tend to pit funding space exploration against funding wholesome projects like feeding the hungry or saving the environment? Why don't we argue that it would be better to spend money on space exploration than to, say, wage elective wars, or bail out failing mega corporations?

Re:Not the best use of resources right now... (2, Insightful)

ivan_w (1115485) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896670)

Earth *WILL* remain habitable (maybe not by us though) probably for at least the next 1B years. Earth has sustained numerous catastrophic life annihilating events (major meteor strikes, giants volcanoes, etc..) and *YET* life remained. I very much doubt the amounts of CO2 we release or how much we curtail biodiversity (it will recover once we are gone) will be more threatening than a global instantaneous event.

Look at how hard we try to eradicate some basic forms of life (and some say they aren't even "alive") like viruses - and fail miserably.

Life is *WAY* more resilient that you might think. However, the human race might not be (although I just read some recent study showing that the Homo family was reduced to ~18.000 individual some 1.2 M years ago and yet did manage to survive..)

--Ivan

Re:Not the best use of resources right now... (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896820)

We're trying to selectively eradicate life. Simply eradicating life would be a much easier problem to solve.

Re:Not the best use of resources right now... (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896892)

I think it would be a lot funnier if we made the huge investment, made contact, and sent them a message--only to get back the reply "Leave us alone."

Re:Not the best use of resources right now... (1)

metamatic (202216) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896998)

Besides, it'll be a lot less embarrassing if, when we find alien intelligence, we don't have to explain to them why we're committing collective suicide.

Once they look at what we're like as a species, they'll understand.

We're more likely to hear nowt... (2, Interesting)

Omnipotent_Radish (1729636) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896272)

"Then there’s the ongoing shift from broadcast (which necessarily uses a small number of very powerful transmitters) to unicast media like cellphones; there isn’t the slightest chance you could even tell there was a cellphone network on the ground from space, since the frequencies are reused on a radius of less than 25 km; from a lightyear away picking out a single base station would require an unfeasibly large aperture (which would be no good for a sky search unless you had a ridiculously long time to perform it)."

Copied verbatim from Electron Pusher, Fermi's Non-Paradox [electronpusher.org]

If wishes were horses... (2, Insightful)

Third Position (1725934) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896280)

He's certainly not lacking in ambition. But I'm wondering where he thinks he's going to get the money to finance some of these ambitious ideas. Somehow, I doubt the private sector is going to be interested in a project that will never show a profit, and the government isn't really in a position to be funding frivolous projects with marginal chances of success. Maybe he can talk the Chinese into footing the bill?

Re:If wishes were horses... (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896610)

He's certainly not lacking in ambition. But I'm wondering where he thinks he's going to get the money to finance some of these ambitious ideas.

Huh? There was funding enough for TWO giant gyroscopes. Government coalitions and one really rich dude. Someone wasn't paying attention in history class.

Re:If wishes were horses... (1)

Bobfrankly1 (1043848) | more than 4 years ago | (#30897028)

He's certainly not lacking in ambition. But I'm wondering where he thinks he's going to get the money to finance some of these ambitious ideas.

Huh? There was funding enough for TWO giant gyroscopes. Government coalitions and one really rich dude. Someone wasn't paying attention in history class.

SOMEONE has been watching too much of Jodie Foster...

Re:If wishes were horses... (1)

Vohar (1344259) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896824)

Same as anyone else with an idea--Pitch it as elegantly and emotionally as possible and hope some rich dudes like the sound of it enough to invest.

I'd hope so. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896292)

Is there any intelligent life in the universe? Maybe we'll find some on the planet that the radio observatory will be orbiting...

On the far side of the moon? (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896320)

Wouldn't that be like crossing the street?

Actually, wouldn't that be like staying on one 6 inch stretch of asphalt on a small block on a small street in a tiny neighborhood in a small city in a huge state in a huge country on a huge planet?

Re:On the far side of the moon? (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896604)

Yes, in terms of distance, but you'd immediately cut out about 99.9% of the noise, debris and other man-made junk in your way that interferes with a typical SETI search... most "hits" on SETI are man-made objects and stray signals bouncing at odd angles. A few million tons of rock in between you and the only source of confusion tends to make the signals a bit easier to spot amongst the noise.

Ambitious Plans (4, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896336)

Part of the ambitious plan is to TRIPLE the number of sentient life forms discovered by SETI with five years.

Re:Ambitious Plans (2, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896840)

And an exponential increase within 20 years. ;-)

Yeah but what if we're alone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896432)

What if we're alone, and we really can't travel faster than the speed of light eh? Ever thought of that.

Just because one grain of sand on the beach has your signature on it, doesn't mean there must be another just like it.

Believing in extra terrestrials before we have the proof seems very much like believing in God before... oh hold on.

Intelligence in galactic context means extinction (4, Funny)

viking80 (697716) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896450)

The problem with intelligent civilizations is that a few decades after they achieve a technological level where they can make powerful radios to talk to galactic neighbors, they also invariably build particle accelerators. These accelerators soon make micro black holes that eat up the planet and the not-so-intelligent civilization with it. Only 0.1% of intelligent civilizations survive by colonizing a nearby planet before the particle accelerator is turned on.

So instead of finding a strong community of star systems in a 50 lightyear radius, we will probably have to look 500 l.y. away and wait 1000 years with the hadron collider turned off.

Where would you look? (1)

DeLukas (621104) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896538)

I was going to say "Of course there is intelligent life in the universe, it's right here on Earth!" but I couldn't do it with a straight face.

LOL (1)

drkamil (1242294) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896556)

'In the universe there is intelligent life, I'm confident about that,' i am not so sure when i turn on the tv

wrong approach (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30896576)

IMO, we shouldn't be trying to prove life exists anywhere else, we should be trying to prove it doesn't exist everywhere else.

What if there is no FTL? (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896668)

If it turns out there is no possible way that we can move faster than light would there be any purpose to contact alien worlds?

Re:What if there is no FTL? (1)

bazorg (911295) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896778)

to play chess.

Re:What if there is no FTL? (3, Interesting)

Vohar (1344259) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896792)

I'd say simply answering the question "Are we alone in the universe?" would be noteworthy enough for both civilizations to make the whole thing worthwhile. It's not often you get an answer to one of the fundamental mystery questions like that.

It's up there with "What happens to us after we die?" and "Is there a God?" Sure, people have their beliefs and opinions, but to actually KNOW...

Re:What if there is no FTL? (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896814)

They are broadcasting their wikipedia so that the universe may benefit.

Re:What if there is no FTL? (1)

Bobfrankly1 (1043848) | more than 4 years ago | (#30897070)

They are broadcasting their wikipedia so that the universe may benefit.

But what are we going to do with a database of alien anime?

Re:What if there is no FTL? (1)

Skal Tura (595728) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896944)

Definitely, to exchange information and resources, ie. trade. Albeit likely in our respective cultures already ancient when it arrives to them, and vice-versa, there is still very high chance we both have something of value to exchange, even technologically.

Nevermind resources, maybe they have a severe lack of gold, but have plenty of titanium to exchange. Eventually the transport will be cheap enough to justify such an huge distance trade. And how about the chance just to understand other life forms?

Saying there won't be any purpose is a bit like hating curiosity and seeking understanding of the universe, say just like taking as an absolute truth something called creationism, or christianity.

Oblig quote/unrelated observation (2, Insightful)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896766)

"The surest sign that intelligent life exists is that none of it has tried to contact us."
--Calvin and Hobbes

Let's see here:
Believing in other power/advanced being - check
Lack of observable scientific evidence supporting it - check
Only evidence we have = legends and word-of-mouth stories about strange encounters - check
See? Religion and science can co-exist!

Even if they exist... (1)

ntipouan (870467) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896802)

Even if they exist somewhere, a very probable hypothesis if one considers the billions of galaxies with billions of stars,
how are we sure that the timing will be proper, so that we'll make a contact?

I'm afraid that even if they are somewhere, we might never learn for each others existence, if the distance which seperates us is
bigger than the time we can afford to wait without destroying our race. A similar case stands for "them".

So maybe this answers the "Fermi question", namely the simple question posed by E.Fermi :

"If they exist, where are they?" (why haven't they showed themselves?)

Maybe we'll receive a broadcast of their life,long after their extinction, but I find it improbable to get a direct contact..

Blah (1)

Windwraith (932426) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896916)

Just the result of seeing too many movies with UFOs.
And what's the reason to find that anyway? If someone is so hellbent on discovering alien life, it has to be more than discovery.
An alien fetishist? Someone who desires enslavement of Earth like in movies? What's the use of alien life?
I hope this person doesn't think that aliens are really going to help us. So selfish.
Mankind can not even get along with itself, do you expect space opera styled interplanetary relationships? Universal federations? Hah.

There are way, way more useful things in our planet that are awaiting for discovery, yet we use the power of A LOT OF PEOPLE to discover alien life, that might be useless as even if they exist, we might be unable to even communicate with them.
Those who collaborate with SETI are just neckbeards with too many scifi movies on their mind. Aliens might exist but if they do, they are too far away, because we make a lot of noise and no one noticed yet. Your best alien might be a bacteria from Mars and not a Predator.

Oh yes now someone will reply about the power of beliefs, I don't care, if I said I believed in faeries you'd say the same so shut up before saying anything about respecting other's beliefs. SETI is useless for mankind, we need to focus on something that is tangible and has a potentially useful result, not finding E.T. calling home.

Nerds. SETI should have died years ago, but people keeps that childish hope and defends it like a religion.

An idea (1)

palmerj3 (900866) | more than 4 years ago | (#30896962)

Any amateur rocket scientists want to help me launch a solar powered radio into space that simply repeats, "I am Rosie O'Donnell from the planet 61752-percion. I have come for your Cheetos. Surrender now or I'll wear sweatpants in public!"
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