Hopscotching with Aliens?

There is a new initiative in the area of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Although the SETI program has history of listening for deliberate (or accidental) messages from any potential advanced civilizations dating back more than 50 years now, we knowingly transmit messages less than 1% of that time.

Indeed some long wavelength transmissions such as TV programs do manage to leak into space, but they are too faint to decipher across interstellar distances. In all that time we have never received a message from aliens. There is also no evidence at all that aliens have ever visited us. Space appears to be empty.

Does this mean other intelligent creatures do not exist at all? The struggle to answer that question has motivated a new initiative called the Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (METI). The aim is to take action to send messages in the direction of known planetary systems. Most people at this point ask, "Is this exciting?, or Should we be worried by the possible alien response?"

It seems that fewer people consider a third question, which is, "What is the statistical likelihood of a response?" Let us imagine that planets around other stars do often cradle life. If so, then even if life first emerged on another planet 3.5 billion years ago as it did on Earth, what if the most advanced life form is still only a bacterium, or maybe a tree?

On the other side of the coin, what if 4 billion years is sufficient time for intelligent life to emerge at a faster than it did on our humble planet, resulting in an alien civilization that by now really cannott be bothered to talk to such lowly creatures as humans. We humans cannot even manage interstellar travel after all, making us potentially no better than the common potato bug. Lastly, what if there is intelligent life out there but they prioritize spending government money as well as private endowments activities other than sending and receiving messages into space?

The takeaway is that the odds of finding an alien civilization at the right age to want to play hopscotch with us requires that they be in our same child-like state of evolution. Maybe there are other intelligent 'children' out there. If so, is there a great human need to try to find them? What do you think?

Dr. Brenda Frye

About Dr. Brenda Frye

Brenda L. Frye is an observational cosmologist at the Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory, University of Arizona. She earned her Ph. D. in Astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, assisted by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Her thesis work involved measuring the concentration of the total mass of visible plus dark matter in the fields of massive galaxy clusters, a program requiring the use of some of the largest telescopes in the world.

Moving a mile from her Ph. D. institution, she assumed a postdoctoral position with the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory under the direction of Professor Saul Permutter.

She then treked across the country to take a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Princeton Council on Sciences and Technology Fellowship both at Princeton University.

Moving further east, she became a Lecturer in Physics at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, where a number of European collaborations were formed.

From there she crossed back across the pond to the west coast of the U. S. to become a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of San Francisco.

Her travels have now landed her at her Alma Mater in Tucson, where she teaches and does research. The aims of her research continue to be to use gravitational telescopes in space as 'lenses' to study the properties of dark matter and those of distant galaxies back to when the universe was <900 million years old.

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Hopscotching with Aliens? — 5 Comments

  1. Or perhaps we have no reference systems in common, making meaningful communication next to impossible.

    I recall a perfectly marvelous science fiction story written way back in 1934 – A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum. The hero of that short story is lost on Mars, and encounters a whole series of intelligent beings, but doesn’t manage to communicate with any of them. And it wasn’t a matter of not knowing their languages, but rather of their very thought processes being so.. well, alien that there was no possibility of mutual understanding.

  2. More advanced than earth populations should statistically exist. Perhaps they are removed from our physical universe after traversing some intelligence and/or spiritual threshold. That would be biblical.

  3. Pingback: Hopscotching with Aliens? – The Catholic Astronomer – Astrónomos Jesuitas del Observatorio astronómico del Vaticano

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