Page 9 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - October / November 2018
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Scanning The Skies For Alien Intelligence 9

            Why We Keep Scanning

             The Skies For Signs Of

                  Alien Intelligence

            The search for alien life continues,
          but how near are we to finding life on
              other planets – and will we ever
           answer the question ‘are we alone’?

          In less than an hour, the decision was made. It
          was 2 December and Avi Loeb, an astronomy
          professor at Harvard, was with Yuri Milner, the
          Russian    billionaire   and    founder    of
          Breakthrough Listen, a $100m alien-hunting
          venture. Milner had invited Loeb, an adviser on
          the project, to his Palo Alto home to discuss the
          bizarre features of the interstellar object,
                 The first known visitor from another
          solar system, the monolithic lump appeared
          long and slender, a curious shape for a space
          rock.  The two agreed there was the slimmest    Defense confirmed that from 2007 it ran a      facility that is sensitive enough to detect the
          chance ‘Oumuamua was not what it seemed.        programme to investigate unidentified flying   equivalent of TV broadcasts on planets around
          Eleven days later, Breakthrough Listen swung    object (UFO) sightings, but dropped funding    Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth.
          the world’s largest steerable telescope, at Green  five years later in favour of more pressing  Pope believes that it is searches like these that
          Bank in  West  Virginia, into position and      concerns. Luis Elizondo, the military          will finally answer the question “are we alone?”
          scanned the 400-metre-long body for signs that  intelligence official who ran the  Advanced            Discoveries from land and space
          it was a passing spacecraft.                    Aerospace Threat Identification Program, as the  telescopes, and robotic planetary missions,
                 It was a long shot.  After 10 hours of   effort was named, resigned in October. He has  strongly suggest that life should exist
          observations the telescope, which can detect a  since joined a private venture to continue his  elsewhere. Water and organic molecules needed
          mobile phone signal at twice the distance of the  work in the field.                           for life as we know it are ubiquitous in space.
          sun, found no evidence that ‘Oumuamua was              Andrew Siemion, who leads the           And from Nasa’s Kepler mission, astronomers
          the work of an alien civilisation. By all       Breakthrough Listen effort at the Berkeley     now believe that almost every star in the galaxy
          accounts, it is a dark, skyscraper-sized lump of  Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research  has at least one orbiting planet. “Everything
          carbon, ice and dust that simply tumbled into   Center in California, is sceptical that UFOs   necessary for life to arise and thrive on this
          our solar system from, well, somewhere          have ever visited Earth. “Astronomers of all   planet exists in abundance throughout the
          beyond. But even as the search came up empty,   types spend their lives looking up at the sky  universe,” said Siemion.
          it proved a point: the riskier, more audacious  with every conceivable instrument we can               The question, then, is where has life
          hunts for life elsewhere are driven by private  build, and we do so independently, and we have  gained a foothold? “It should be on Europa, a
          money, not governments and national space       never taken a picture of a spaceship. And I can  moon of Jupiter; it should be at the bottom of
          agencies.                                       tell you every single graduate student and     Enceladus’s ocean, and it should be on Mars,”
                 Of all the methods brought to bear on    postdoc would love nothing more than to be the  said Grady. “If the processes that got life going
          the question of life elsewhere, UFO sightings   one to take that photo.”                       on Earth are universal, then some form of life
          are at the farthest end of the credibility scale.      No wonder, then, that governments       should have got going.”
          When Monica Grady oversaw Britain’s             leave the more speculative searches for alien          “The reason people are so incredibly
          meteorite collection at the Natural History     life to others.  The programmes they do fund   interested and excited is that it’s such a
          Museum in London, she received plenty of        tend to avoid all mention UFOs – the term has  profound human question.  We have a basic
          letters about alien spacecraft over Britain. Most  lost its intentional ambiguity since it was coined  desire to know what is beyond, what is out
          ended up in the bin, but one exemplified the    in the 1950s and become synonymous with        there,” said Siemion. “What we have done so
          problem many scientists have with such reports.  alien  spacecraft.   Instead,   programmes    far is very minimal. We have far more work to
          It came from a man who had photographed what    emphasise the potential threats posed by       do.” []
          he described as an alien vessel at the bottom of  unexplained aerial objects that might be the
          his garden. No-one else noticed it, he noted    secretive work of hostile nations.  When Nick           The ‘X’ Zone TV 
          ruefully, but he was adamant the spacecraft was  Pope worked on UFO sightings at the UK
          responsible for road rage, cot death and        Ministry of Defence in the 1990s, all mention of               Channel
          measles. “For me, it’s the difference between   UFOs was scrubbed in favour of the more
          astrology and astronomy,” said Grady, now       fundable UAP, or Unidentified  Aerial
          professor of planetary science at the Open      Phenomena. “The term UFO has a lot of pop
          University. “We don’t have any credible         culture baggage,” Pope told the Guardian. “It
          sightings that are more likely to be an alien   will never really lose its fringe tag.”
          spacecraft than not.”                                  While ufology struggles for credibility,
                 Few scientists would bet on finding      the search for alien transmissions is serious
          anything more exotic than extraterrestrial      science. Much of the sky has been swept for
          microbes, in our solar system at least. “We are  alien signals in the form of optical, infrared and
          not expecting to get to the bottom of           radio waves. But the searches are far from
          Enceladus’s ocean and find a whole load of      extensive. Future scans could tune into directed
          gnomes smelting metal,” said Grady, referring   energy beams used to propel craft, x-ray and
          to the tantalising subterranean water on the    gamma-ray broadcasts, or even gravitational
          moon of Saturn, which occasionally sends        radiation.  When the massive radio telescope     Is NOW CH21 on SimulTV
          geysers into space.It is not the only example.  known as the Square Kilometre Array comes
          Earlier this week, the US Department of         online in 2020 or thereabouts, it will be the first
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