If you missed part I of this series click here: http://www.ufodigest.com/article/anybody-out-there-1109
According to Drake, the average of people's “best estimates” suggested that there are about 10,000 technically advanced civilisations spread across our galaxy.
This concept gave rise to the SETI program.
The Wow Signal
During the 1960’s, spurred on by Drakes work, Soviet scientists began using unidirectional antennae to listen to a large region of sky rather than narrow regions used by the western astronomers.
In the early 1970's NASA's Ames Research Center began looking at the technology required to implement an SETI search and by the late-1970's programs had been established at both NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
In a 1955 issue of Scientific American, astronomer John Kraus described a concept to scan the cosmos for natural radio signals using a flat-plane radio telescope equipped with a parabolic reflector. Two years later his concept had been approved for construction by Ohio State University. The radio telescope built in Delaware, Ohio was called Big Ear and it later began the world's first continuous SETI program.
It was this Ohio State University SETI program that became well known when, on August 15, 1977, a project volunteer witnessed a startlingly strong signal received by the telescope. Volunteer, Jerry Ehman quickly circled the indication on a printout and writing the phrase “Wow!” in the margin. The signal did not repeat and has never been detected since.
Could the “Wow” signal have been a radio signal from an artificial, extra-terrestrial source?
Attempting to resolve this question using only the tool of science alone leaves us forever looking to eliminate “natural” mechanisms as being the source of this signal. Science cannot answer this question alone.
Anyone can attempt answer the question using other tools in the philosophical toolbox. However, if a scientist attempts this they would leave them open to making a mistake; so on the whole they simply do not attempt to make statements like this through fear of personal and professional repercussions.
A decade before the “Wow” signal, at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge, England, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell and her colleagues discovered an anomalous radio transmission:
“We did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission.”
“It is an interesting problem—if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe, how does one announce the results responsibly?”- Jocelyn Bell Burnell
The signal became known as Signal LGM-1, (“little green men”) and the hypothesis was only abandoned once a second pulsating source was discovered in a different part of the sky.
When all else fails…
A year later in 1968 astronomer Thomas Gold proposed an alternative hypothesis for the source of LGM-1 which became known as a pulsar:
“A neutron star emits two opposed beams of synchrotron radiation confined to a narrow cone about the star’s magnetic axis. We then perceive pulses as the beams swing by us if we happen to be in the cone that they sweep out.”
However, at a conference on Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI) in the Soviet Union, the well-known astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that certain radio emissions may be potential intelligently caused signals:
“The very serious current energy problems both in quasar and in gravity wave physics can be ameliorated if we imagine these energy sources beamed in our direction. But preferential beaming in our direction makes little sense unless there is a message in these channels. A similar remark might apply to pulsars.
“There are a large number of other incompletely understood phenomena, from Jovian decameter bursts to the high time-resolution structure of X-ray emission which might just conceivably be due to ETI.
“Perhaps, in the light of Doctor Marx’s presentation, we must ask if the fine structure of some fluctuating X-ray sources is due to pulsed X-ray lasers for interstellar spaceflight. But Shklovsky’s principle of assuming such sources natural until proven otherwise, of course, holds. Extraterrestrial intelligence is the explanation of last resort, when all else fails.” – Carl Sagan
Erring on the side of caution
Johannes Kepler (17th century astronomer) wrote in his novel Somnium:
“When things are in order, if the cause of the orderliness cannot be deduced from the motion of the elements or from the composition of matter, it is quite possibly a cause possessing a mind.
“If you direct your mind to the towns on the moon, I shall prove to you that I see them.
“In the spotted parts of the moon the perfectly round shape of the hollows, and their arrangement or a certain equality of the distances between them, are artificial and produced by some architectural mind. For that scooping out into the form of a circle cannot be accomplished by any motion of the elements.”
Kepler however was in error when he suggested that circles, as seen on the moon, cannot be created by natural means. Both meteor impacts and electrical discharge arcing can produce circular patterns.
Eliminating All Natural Causes
The scientific method does not allow inference to intelligent causes until all natural causes have been eliminated. However, exhausting all natural causes is a logical impossibility.
From this perspective science is not able to infer that either Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids of Giza were intelligently caused. It can only continually attempt to eliminate new natural causes as being responsible for the configuration of the stones within the structure.
Regarding Geoff Marcy’s search for “Dyson Spheres”; how does he eliminate all the possible natural causes that could account for a large astronomical object in space found to be radiating perhaps only in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum?
Whether the potential extraterrestrial artefacts under investigation are radio signals, physical objects or even alien spacecraft – a scientist would essentially need to ignore the rules and the methodology of science in order to make statements about it. Otherwise they “couldn't possibly comment”.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt up in your philosophy”
Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5
By Anthony Beckett B.Sc. (hons) M.Sc.
Anthony Beckett lives near Keighley, West Yorkshire. He studied Chemistry at Loughborough University graduating in 1997 and continuing his studies with a M.Sc. in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Huddersfield in 1998. He went on to work in the Pharmaceutical Industry as an Analytical Scientist until 2006. He is currently a software engineer and in his spare time he is the executive producer of Exopolitics Great Britain, an organisation which has been hosting the UK’s UFO Disclosure and Exopolitics Conferences since 2009.
© Anthony Beckett 2013