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Efforts To Search For, Send Messages To Extraterrestrial Life Advance In Digital Age

by Molly McCrea and Juliette Goodrich                 April 25, 2019                   (sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com)

• In 1977, NASA scientists installed a golden record on two space probes that were part of the Voyager Mission. On each copy were dozens of images, sounds from nature, and multiple greetings in 55 different languages. The record also contained music from around the world, and included classical as well as a recording of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode.” “This was a way of telling another civilization about us,” explained the legendary astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake.

• Drake and fellow astrophysicist, the late Carl Sagan, also wrote what’s known as the Arecibo Message in 1974, the first interstellar radio message sent from earth to a globular star cluster known as M13 in hopes that extraterrestrial intelligence could receive and decipher it.

• Drake and Sagan also designed what is known as the Pioneer plaques. These plaques were another kind of message from earth that scientists hoped would be intercepted by extraterrestrial beings from the 1972 Pioneer 10 and the 1973 Pioneer 11 spacecraft missions.

• In 2015, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner unveiled a project called the “Breakthrough Initiatives” to search for extraterrestrial intelligence over the span of at least 10 years. Part of the Initiatives program includes a $1M Breakthrough Message competition, where the task is to design a digital message to send to advanced civilizations. But no message has yet been sent. And some, such as Doug Vakoch who heads up: Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI), want to send the messages now and hear back from other civilizations. He explained that the messages would be sent by radio or in the near future, by lasers using very brief laser pulses.

• Not everyone agrees we should be rapidly concocting and sending messages. Stargazer Alicia Adams says, “I’ve seen Mars Attacks and that ended horribly!” Retired Professor of Astronomy Andrew Fraknoi says it’s a question over which space scientists are now grappling. “If we’re going to be deciding to advertise our presence to the universe, we should have a discussion with the rest of the world,” said Fraknoi. “Are we ready to signal out there that we on earth exist? We are barely getting along with each other. Are we ready to get along with aliens?”

• Drake thinks intelligent beings already know we’re here due to television and radio signals traveling in space. “It’s too late, folks. We’ve made our presence known big-time,” said Drake.

• A recent survey by Glocalities involving 24 countries found nearly half of all humans believe in extraterrestrials.

 

An ambitious new effort is underway to make direct contact with intelligent life beyond earth, improving upon 70s-era space missions which included attempts to bring messages from Earth to extraterrestrials.

For centuries, we’ve gazed up at the stars, and wondered are we alone? Some say it is time to move more aggressively and find out.

In early April, NASA’s newest planet hunter called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) discovered its first Earth-sized alien planet. A recent survey by Glocalities involving 24 countries found nearly half of all humans believe in extraterrestrials.

                Frank Drake

ETs are on our mind. At the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, an entire evening’s event was all about extraterrestrials. A special dance troupe performed to an eclectic mix of sounds. The sounds were excerpts taken from a famous golden record, intended for intelligent life in the universe. The 12-inch copper gold plated disk is known as the Pioneer Golden Record.

Artist Katerina Wong choreographed the performance and was thrilled to know its history.

“They were hoping if there was an opportunity to meet an ET, that they would get a little bit of understanding about what life on earth was like.” remarked Wong.

In 1977, NASA scientists installed a golden record on two space probes that were part of the Voyager Mission.

On each copy were dozens of images, sounds from nature, and multiple greetings in 55 different languages. The record also contained music from around the world, and included classical as well as a recording of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode.”

According to NASA, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Their primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn in our own solar system but now, both probes are billions of miles away from earth – carrying a message from earth on these golden records. The hope was that somewhere beyond our solar system, intelligent life or advanced civilizations will find them and be able to decipher their contents.
“This was a way of telling another civilization about us,” explained the legendary astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake.

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Could Nearby Asteroids Be Hideouts for Alien Spies?

by Eric Mack                   March 26, 2019                   (cnet.com)

• The vast majority of asteroids orbit the sun in a wide belt between Jupiter and Mars. Some wander farther into the inner solar system near Earth’s orbit. There’s a rarer type of object called a “quasi-satellite” that may spend centuries or longer making oddly shaped orbits around our planet. One example is asteroid 2016 HO3, also known as “Earth’s Constant Companion” (pictured above). These ‘co-orbital objects’ have only come to our attention in the past decade, for the most part. (watch 1:14 minute video on asteroid 2016 HO3 below)

• James Benford, a SETI enthusiast (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has authored a paper that postulates that these “co-orbital objects [are] an attractive location for extraterrestrial intelligence to locate a probe to observe Earth while not being easily seen.” Benford refers to alien spies the sky as “lurkers.” We may not have noticed anything because any sort of ancient automated alien spy system could be dead or lie dormant for long periods of time.

• James Benford’s twin brother Gregory, an astrophysicist, also weighs in saying, “Lurkers from the far past may have done their duty and slowly failed … the ruins of Lurker installations, including mining for resources on nearby orbiting sites, may be visible, even though their animating intelligences are long gone.” “This means we should consider searches over decades-long time scales.”

• SETI focuses on looking beyond our solar system and essentially listening to distant stars for signs of life. James Benford argues that it’s much easier to prove or disprove some alien construction is in a near-Earth orbit. “We can observe them, ping them with radar, transmit messages to them, send robotic probes to them and visit them with human spacecraft missions,” writes Benford.

• Douglas Vakoch, formerly of the SETI Institute and currently president of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence), which is funded in part by NASA, says, “The notion of searching for lurkers by transmitting to likely locations in our solar system provides an intriguing possibility for finding common ground in Active SETI.” “Some of the same individuals who have been cautious about Active SETI transmissions to other stars are advocates of pinging nearby aliens — on the grounds that the extraterrestrials would already know we are here.”

• The idea that an extraterrestrial spy satellite might be hidden near our planet isn’t new. The late Stanford professor Ronald Bracewell proposed in a 1960 paper that advanced alien civilizations might place artificial intelligence near inhabited planets to monitor the progress of less advanced worlds and perhaps make contact at some point.

• “What have we to lose by checking out these objects?” Benford writes. “Nobody has really looked at these co-orbitals, other than orbital calculations and faint images. We know almost nothing about them.” Benford plans to submit his paper to the Astrophysical Journal.

 

Plans are in the works to send a tiny spacecraft to another star system in search of alien life. But what if another civilization has already launched a similar mission to observe Earth without our knowledge?

James Benford, who authored the definitive book on high-power microwaves and has written about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, says in a draft paper that a “recently discovered group of nearby co-orbital objects is an attractive location for extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) to locate a probe to observe Earth while not being easily seen.”

              James Benford

In the paper, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, Benford refers to alien eyes in (or above) the sky as “lurkers.” He goes on to give several examples of co-orbital objects (all of which are probably asteroids) that could be worth checking for them.

Benford runs a company called Microwave Sciences that designs and consults on high-power microwave systems. He often collaborates on his SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) work with his twin brother Gregory Benford, a noted science-fiction author, and his son Dominic Benford, a scientist at NASA.

While the vast majority of asteroids orbit the sun in a wide belt between Jupiter and Mars, some wander farther into the inner solar system near Earth’s orbit.

There’s an even rarer type of object called a “quasi-satellite” that may spend centuries or longer making often oddly shaped orbits around our planet. One example is asteroid 2016 HO3, also known as “Earth’s Constant Companion,” which is detailed in the below video from NASA.

The idea that an extraterrestrial spy satellite might be hidden near our planet isn’t new. The late Stanford electrical engineering professor Ronald Bracewell proposed in an oft-referenced 1960 paper that advanced alien civilizations might place artificial intelligence near inhabited planets to monitor the progress of less advanced worlds and perhaps make contact at some point.

Of course, we have observatories keeping watch on the thousands of known near-Earth objects and discovering new ones almost daily. A handful of asteroids has been visited by spacecraft, including NASA’s Osiris-Rex and Japan’s Hayabusa-2 that are currently orbiting space rocks. So far, such observations have yielded no evidence of anything alien or artificial.

But the co-orbital objects that Benford said deserve more attention are relatively new discoveries, having come to our attention in the past decade for the most part. And we may not have noticed anything because any sort of automated alien spy system placed long ago could be dead or lie dormant for long periods of time, making it difficult to detect.

1:14 minute NASA video on Asteroid 2016 Ho3 – Earth’s Constant Companion

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