Did you ever wonder where ET might be hiding? What he might look like? When we might find him? What the ‘real ET’ might say to us, and us to him, if we made contact? What would be the likely consequences on Earth from ET phoning us?
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This week’s contributors:
Professor Andy Shearer, Director of the Centre for Astronomy at NUI Galway acts as our celestial guide as we voyage into the vastness of space. Andy explains that even at light speed it would take 4 years for a signal to reach Earth, even from our nearest Star, Alpha Centauri. From other more distant parts of our Galaxy, it would take a signal, again travelling at light speed, hundreds of thousands of light years to reach us here.
Then, beyond that, there exists hundreds of billions of other galaxies, some of which would take hundreds of billions of years for light to reach. This is not even including the strong possibility that our Universe is just one of many more Universes that are in existence.
Dr Jerry Ehman an astronomer working at the Big Ear Telescope in Ohio discovered a radio message, apparently from deep space a few days after it was received by the telescope close to midnight on the 15th August 1977. This became the now legendary ‘Wow signal’.
According to Dr Ehman, an astronomer working with the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life Programme) this had ‘all the attributes of a signal from an extra-terrestrial civilization’.
The signal arrived in at 1420 megahertz – a frequency that has little natural interferences – and lasted for 72 seconds before disappearing again.
The now retired Dr Ehman talks here, almost 37 years after his famous discovery. He says the signal still today cannot be explained by any man-made, or natural sources and it has remained mysterious.
Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute explains how the search for ET has progressed over the decades and what the prospects are now for finding ET.
Seth believes that a signal from ET will be found in the next few decades thanks to science’s growing ability to search faster and more accurately.
He is often asked at parties whether ET might just NOT be out there. His replay is that this is akin to proclaiming – after searching 1 square mile of Africa and finding no elephants – that there are no elephants in Africa.
Professor Paul Davies is a British astronomer based in Arizona. He believes one of the reasons why the search for ET has yielded nothing but ‘An Eerie Silence’ (the title of one of his books) is because we don’t know what to look for.
The likelihood, according to Paul, who is Director of the Beyond Centre at the University of Arizona, is that ET might be post-biological. In other words and advanced civilization might have cast off the shackles of biology, and become some kind advanced, non-living, super-intelligent system.
We have been looking for ET in our own image, says Paul, and that’s a mistake, as we have to imagine the imaginable to successfully find ET.
Paolo Nespoli, a highly experienced Italian astronaut, who has spent a lot of time on the International Space Station (I.S.S.) describes what life is like in space..
This is a weird world, in which micro-gravity has a marked effect on the body, causing wasting of muscles and bone, as the I.S.S. constantly ‘falls’ at 8km per second.
Paolo, who spent months onboard the I.S.S. said that the speed the station travels at means there are 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets each day.
He maintained contact with the world, by telephoning his family each day, and there was Internet (albeit very slow) which he used to send tweets, pictures of space and even do his taxes online.
Professor Anthony Murphy, NUI Maynooth, describes the darkness and numbing cold of space, where temperatures hover just above ‘absolute zero’.
This is a place, he says, where nothing can be heard, and it would not be possible to speak as there is no air to carry sounds. If a person was transported to space they would be frozen and asphyxiated instantly.
Dr Brian Caulfield, UCD, is working to develop technology to help humans stay healthier for longer in space.He is working with a company called Biomedical Research to develop a machine that can help prevent muscles from wasting, increase calorie burn, and heart rate, in order to limit the damaging effects of micro-gravity.