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The Search for Intelligent Life
A pioneer in NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), Frank Drake, proposed an equation that calculates the number of civilizations in the galaxy. It is based on the fraction of stars with planets, the proportion of those that are inhabitable and the life of technological civilizations (Overbye 46). Optimists, using the equation, have arrived with 1 million civilizations in the milky way alone. Looking at the size of the universe and how common certain compounds are, that number shouldn’t be too far from the truth. With so much of our surroundings we haven’t seen and don’t know of, it shouldn’t be surprising that we are not alone.
Even if we don’t know if extraterrestrials exist, we can hypothesize on what type of planet they could survive on. Water is an essential compound because of its necessity towards life. It provides an area for biochemical reactions, and could exist of planets similar to earth in size and distance from the sun (Angel and Woolf 62). Those planets have a chance of containing carbon based life forms. Carbon is an extremely important compound because it is the foundation of most organisms. Its abundance in the universe and ability to form complex molecules increase the chance of it being the building block of other civilizations (Angel and Woolf 61). Gravity is necessary because it holds the planet together. It must be strong enough to hold the atmosphere and water on the planet’s surface. The size and density of the planet determines the gravity of the body (Angel and Woolf 62).
Radio waves are a better means of communication because of the possibility of vocally communicating rather than just seeing them with telescopes. The history of radio communications begins in 1969, when the idea was suggested by two physicists, Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi (Overbye 44). They were chosen because they are a more efficient and economical way to communicate. We have been broadcasting the existence of humanity for 50 years through radio and television signals, and those signals have passed more than 1000 stars (Overbye 44). All these searches are based on the assumption that life can be found within 80 light years of the sun (Henbest). The one problem of using radio waves is finding the frequency and star an extraterrestrial may try to signal from. To aid in that search, two paths have been taken. The first is the multi-channel spectrum analyzer, created by NASA, defeats the problem of trying to find the right frequency. It splits the signal into 74000 frequency channels and searches them all simultaneously (Overbye 48). The other path is the hydrogen atom frequency. Hydrogen atoms emit a radiation when the axis on which the orbiting electrons spin, flips from being parallel to the nucleus to being opposite. SETI scientists believe this frequency would be chosen by other intelligent life. Bob Dixon of Ohio State University, works full-time on searching the frequency hydrogen atoms emit(Henbest). Spectroscopy is a method that uses light coming from the body and analyzes it for any markers that help researchers determine things like temperature, atmospheric pressure, and chemical composition. Out of these markers, radio signals are the easiest to spot (Angel and Woolf 60).What if we do find a signal? Both the International Astronomical Federation (IAC) and NASA have come up with protocols on what to do if a possible E. T. signal is picked up. With the IAC protocol, the signal is verified by computers and operators, then information about it is sent through regular science and public channels (Overbye 48). The NASA protocol minimizes the chance that a false discovery or hoax could pass for a true
signal. The computer goes through a series of checks and exercises to verify the signal. Then it notifies the operator who monitors the source and takes it from there (Overbye 48).
Probably the most exciting news in the search for life is the mars meteorite that was discovered in the Allan Hills of Antarctica. It was found eight years ago and named ALH84001, after Allan Hills, where it was found (Cowen). It shows evidence that life may have existed on mars 3.6 billion years ago. Apart from containing magnetite and iron sulfide, compounds also produced here on Earth (Cowen). It carried tiny, tubular, egg-shaped structures that looked like fossils of ancient single-celled bacteria also found on Earth (Cowen). Another exciting discovery is the possibility of one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, containing life. Europa’s atmosphere is rich in oxygen, satisfying the basic characteristics. The Jovian moon is completely enveloped in water, both frozen and solid, but the core may be hot, allowing life to survive and grow in its deep waters (Broad). Fissures were found on the icy surface, suggesting oceanic currents. Plans are being made to take pictures of the moon through Galileo in February (Broad). Also, during an extended mission in 1997 and 1998, pictures will be taken from 400 miles away from the surface Europa (Broad). The discoveries of possible areas of life have excited the world and will carry its interest well into the next century, hopefully enough time for manned visits and maybe even communication.
For many years, people claimed they saw UFOs in the sky, and most of those claims sounded outrageous. But two certain events may raise some questions on truth. On April 18, 19 67, a glowing red object landed near Eureka, Utah. It was tracked by the North American Air Defense Command. The object continued flying but then disappeared from radar screens 70 miles northwest of Las Vegas. An observer says he saw an aerial explosion (Clark 93). In the 80’s investigator Kevin Randle interviewed a soldier who claimed he was taken to pick up the debris of
a craft, and said it looked like a flying saucer (Clark 93). The second incident began when ranch foreman Mac Brazel discovered debris from a strange structure spread over a field, extending
three quarters of a mile in length in Corona, New Mexico. He took it to Roswell where Sheriff George Wilcox looked at it and called Roswell Army Air Field (Stacy 34). July 8, 1947, Lt. Walter Haut from the Roswell Field Air Force Base, announces in the Roswell Daily Record that the rumors of UFOs became a reality and that they had a “flying disc.” The article circled the globe, where major newspapers were printing that UFOs were real (Stacy 36; Clark 92). The disc was taken to Eighth Air Force Headquarters in Fort Worth where General Roger Ramey announced at a press conference that it was nothing more than a weather balloon. Assistants and other officers stuck to the original statement, but the world believed the general. The Center for UFO Studies interviewed people in the Roswell area and air force officials. Some informants said alien bodies were recovered (Clark 92). The Roswell incident was just the beginning of something known as the “Cosmic Watergate.” The continuous cover-up of the governments knowledge of extraterrestrial UFOs and their activities (Stacy 36). Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist, interviewed Major Jesse Marcel, an official in the Roswell case. “He didn’t know what the material was, except it was nothing he had ever seen before and certainly wasn’t from any weather balloon” (Stacy 38). The material was featherweight, couldn’t be dented by a sledgehammer, or burned by a blowtorch (Stacy 38). The two incidents involving UFOs show how the military takes care of cases like that and how an idea of conspiracy could form; when two army officials, describing the same thing, contradict each other.
In most situations, the government has denied any allegations of extraterrestrial existence, but sometimes mistakes are made. On Oct. 20, 1969, Brig. General C. H. Bolender wrote a memo
stating, ” reports of unidentified flying objects which could affect national security… are not part of the Blue Book System (Stacy 38).” That means the significant UFO reports were not taken to
the public agencies, but somewhere else. Another controversy is the suspected top secret base in Nevada called Groom Lake and also known as Area 51. It is thought to hold UFOs and other unknown aircrafts. The air force denies its existence, but bought 3,900 acres of land bordering it to seal off two public viewing sites (Stacy 40). Many journalists have also talked to informants that worked for the government to get information. Robert O. Dean, a retired Army Command Sergeant Major, claims that back in the sixties, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe (SHAPE), a part of NATO, stated that UFOs were real, from other planets, and had visited Earth (Rayl 50). The NATO report concluded: 1.) Earth and the human race have been surveyed by several extraterrestrial civilizations , four of which have been seen. 2.) These visitations have been going on for at least 200 years. 3.) The appearances and maneuvers were just to show their capabilities. A certain plan seemed to have been followed because of the progression from just flybys to actual contact (Rayl 54). Everything that has happened to suggest possible extraterrestrial life, the government has denied, maybe as a cover-up.
Over the years, as more evidence has been turned up and more people speak out, public agencies and groups have been formed, to lengthen the debate. The air force set up one UFO investigation agency called Blue Book, which began in the late 1940s and ended in December 1969 (Stacy 38). Probably one of the hard-hitters in this area are the Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS). They are a Connecticut-based group of citizens who challenge the government and top secret UFO documents. They filed for the release of NSA documents that pertain to the UFO phenomenon. The NSA admitted the papers existed, but would not release them due to
national security. Finally through requests and lawsuits, CAUS managed to acquire large amounts of classified documents (Stacy 38). Barry Greenwood, director of research with CAUS, dealt with
the CIA about many documents. ” It’s interest and involvement in UFOs ended in 1953. After a lengthy lawsuit, the CIA ultimately released more than a thousand pages of documents” (Stacy 38). Many of the documents were just records of sightings and contained nothing revealing, but one report was a little more exciting. It was released by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and said that several military bases were put on alert status following sightings in October and November of 1975 (Stacy 40). Though the government doesn’t pay much attention to them, several public agencies still fight for the truth, gradually making progress.
The possibility that intelligent life exists on other planets is not a farfetched idea. The universe is unbelievably large and much of it is still uncharted. Other planets could mimic the conditions on Earth and life could thrive on those planets. The hopes still exist that the long trail of evidence and could lead to the discovery or contact of intelligent life outside our planet.
Angel, J. Roger P. And Neville J. Woolf. “Searching for Life on Other Planets (parts 1 and 2).”
Scientific American Apr. 1996: 60-66.
Broad, William J. “Jupiters Moon Europa Could Be Habitat for Life” New York Times Online
Clark, Jerome. “Crash Landings.” Omni Dec. 1990: 92-93.
Cowen, Ron. “Meteorite Hints at Early Life on Mars.” New York Times Online
Henbest, Nigel. “SETI: The Search Continues.” New Scientist
Overbye, Dennis. “The Big Ear.” Omni Dec. 1990: 42-48
Stacy, Dennis. “Cosmic Conspiracy: Six Decades of Government Cover-Ups.” Omni Apr.
1994: 34-40, 109-110.
Rayl, A. J. S. “Inside the Military UFO Underground.” Omni Apr. 1994: 48-59.
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