Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Little Green Men

"Little Green Men," is the wonderful book by the political satirist, Christopher Buckley. In it, John O. Banion, a Sunday morning talk show host, similar to David Gregory who now hosts "Meet The Press," believes he's been abducted by aliens and probed. Twice.
What he doesn't find out until much later is that it was a secret U.S. government agency and normal human beings that had taken him, and in fact had been responsible for all UFO related phenomena within the country since the 1940s. The agency's main purpose being to keep funding from Congress flowing smoothly throughout the years for military and science projects.
Buckley is right. There are no little green men flying throughout our atmosphere in flying saucers. Despite all the stories, reports, photographs, videos, and other so-called evidence that vehicles originating from another planet are routinely buzzing around like hornets, abducting people and sexually molesting them, none has ever been credible. And of all the stories, reports, photographs, and videos, all can be explained as either natural phenomena misinterpreted, military related, or the result of delusion and deliberate fraud. Not one piece of credible, verifiable, or testable evidence has ever been revealed that substantiates the existence of extraterrestrial spacecraft visiting our planet. Not one! Many will say there is, or hope there is, as I do, but there isn't. If evidence is provided, it must be very compelling to be accepted. To paraphrase the late Dr. Carl Sagan, "When making an extraordinary claim, the evidence must be extraordinary."
There is a good reason why no evidence of extraterrestrial space travel to the Earth has ever been discovered. And its this... it costs too much.
As far as we currently know there is no other life in this solar system other than on this planet, certainly none that can make spaceships. Accordingly, if we were to be visited by extraterrestrial vehicles they would come from another star system.
The distance between the stars is enormous. Staggeringly so. Traveling at the speed of light (approximately 186,000 miles per second in a vacuum) it would take 4.37 years to reach our closest stellar neighbor, the binary system, Alpha Centauri. Einstein's special theory of relativity tells us that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light which began below it, despite the famous Warp Drive, of "Star Trek," fame (the physical plausibility of faster than light travel, such as the Alcubierre drive, or traversable wormholes remains uncertain). The fastest objects we have ever launched, the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft, would take thousands of years to reach Alpha Centauri, if they were pointed in that direction, which they are not. The energy required to approach relativist velocities, and then brake near the desired destination, is exceptionally prohibitive, and would require huge investments in resources, more than the total energy output of our planet.
In other words, it just costs too much to willy-nilly be traveling around the galaxy.
Slower than light interstellar travel has certainly been proposed. Interstellar ramjets, and whole worlds traversing the distance between the stars (like the rotating, 50 kilometer long boiler in "Rendezvous with Rama," by Arthur C. Clarke), but they still take thousands, and hundreds of thousands of years to reach their destinations, implying again, an immense investment in resources.
So, what are we to do if we wish to meet any little green men (or women) who may be out there?
The cheapest, fastest, and easiest way to navigate the distance between the stars is already taking place. Radio.
Man made radio waves have been propagating from the Earth for over a century. Radio waves (and other forms of electromagnetic radiation) travel at the speed of light (technically the term "speed of light," is incomplete. The cumbersome correct alternative "speed of electromagnetic radiation," is rather unwieldy). So if we ever hope to hear, or be heard, by our cosmic neighbors, if they exist, will be in the form of radio, or optical communication. It's the most economic, efficient, and logical way to convey information through the vast distances between the stars.
Why would we want to you may ask. To discover that life, intelligent life, possibly greatly advanced civilizations exist within the galaxy would in my opinion be the greatest discovery mankind shall ever make. Even if we discover a radio signal of extraterrestrial intelligence without decoding the message, that discovery alone would be of great importance. It would tell us that the possibility of civilizations existing beyond its own technological birth pangs is possible, which now, in this day of religious fanatism and nuclear weapons, remains very uncertain.
We have been searching for such signals for a relatively short amount of time, and have not been successful to date. Programs like Seti (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) still continue to search.
My computer, when I'm not using it, processes signals gathered from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico. When finishing a particular batch of information, my computer sends it to U.C. Berkeley, where it is analyzed. U.C. Berkeley runs the Seti@Home program which allows owners of personal computers to help discover the existence of life in the cosmos. Over 5 million users are currently active in this project, and one day I belive we'll find it.
This program can be downloaded at the Seti@Home web-site.
I invite you, dear readers, to help discover the little green men (and women).

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