ParaSETI: ET Contact via Subtle Energies
Have signals from intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe passed us by because our technology is not designed to detect a range of more subtle energy frequencies? An article by Gavin Dingley.
Are we alone in the Universe? This is probably one of the most important questions to be answered, yet modern science seems reluctant to address it. It is almost certain that life does exist in some other part of the Universe; it is just a question of how far away and how evolved it is, never mind its state of technological development.
What would really hit home would be tangible evidence of an extraterrestrial intelligence that was as technologically developed as ourselves, perhaps more so, if only to just say "Hi out there!" Face-to-face contact would not be necessary; just to know we are not alone would be enough.
With this in mind, NASA started a program that was directed towards scanning the eternal cosmos for intelligent life, hoping to find a signal from a civilisation as technologically developed as our own. This project was named SETI: the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
For a while, it seemed that both the US government and the scientific community were ready to embrace a greater truth; however, this soon proved not to be the case. After many years of initial research and planning, the real search for extraterrestrial intelligence began in 1991; a year later, Congress ordered a termination of all funding.
The beginnings of SETI
SETI began in 1959 with the publication of an article in the journal Nature. Two Cornell physicists, Giuseppi Cocconi and Philip Morrison, suggested a project in which the presence of extraterrestrial life could be detected with radiotelescopes tuned into the microwave band (3 - 30 GHz). However, such an endeavour was already being planned by a young astronomer, the now famous Frank Drake, who in the spring of 1960 scanned sun-like stars for signs of ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence) with an 85-foot dish in West Virginia. Drake hypothesised that a more advanced ETI somewhere out there would be transmitting a signal to catch our (or anyone else's) attention. If so, then they would use one particular frequency of significance. Drake thought that 21 cm (1.4 MHz), the neutral band of hydrogen, would be it. After scanning for some time on this frequency, the young astronomer found nothing, and so ended what he called Project Ozma .
The first government-funded SETI-type project was not in America but in Soviet Russia. During the 1960s, the Russians set up omnidirectional antenna stations to listen in on the heavens in search of signals that might be of intelligent origin. While Drake used a highly directional antenna system, the Russian system would pick up radio emissions from all directions. This strategy meant that if a signal were found, it would be difficult to determine from which direction it originated. On the other hand, the Russian astronomers would never make the mistake of looking in the wrong direction!
It was not until the beginning of the 1970s that the United States government gave any serious thought to searching the Universe for radio signals of ETI origin. The first move was made at NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California, where several projects were set up to study the technical considerations involved. A team of outside experts was assembled -- including Bernard Oliver, who was on leave from the Hewlett Packard Corporation -- to produce a detailed report, known as Project Cyclops . By the late 1970s, NASA's Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, were engaged in projects studying the technical aspects of any SETI-type endeavour. Ames concentrated on examining 1,000 sun-like stars for intelligent life, much like Drake's original Project Ozma, in what was known as "targeted search" using sensitive equipment to detect weak or sporadic signals. Meanwhile, JPL was concerned with systematic sweeps in all directions in a complete sky survey.
It was not until 1988, after a decade of study, that NASA HQ had the go-ahead and in 1991 started scanning the cosmos for intelligent life. A year later, Congress terminated funding! It seems very strange that after so many years of developing the technology, the US government should suddenly terminate funding when the actual search was only just beginning. But is there more to this than meets the eye?
Back in the early 1990s, the author had contact with an individual who claimed to be a former KGB officer involved in infiltrating the US National Security Agency (NSA). While serving his home country, a former Soviet state, he was involved in assessing the NSA's signals analysis techniques. Since the Soviet Union's collapse, he has had no authority to answer to and so speaks freely on such subjects. He says that SETI was no more than a cover for a more subversive program. Like the launching of Sputnik was no more than an exercise in deploying nuclear weapons, SETI was about eavesdropping on the enemy. This makes a lot of sense, as the technologies involved are very similar indeed.
For a practical SETI program, one requires a system that can scan at high resolution a huge bandwidth of frequencies. Not only this, but it must be able to detect the presence of intelligent transmissions. The latter requirement is achieved using powerful algorithms -- code-breakers -- which use probability mathematics to analyse the incoming data. Another requirement is that the system should be able to pick out weak signals buried deep within the background noise. Described here is no more than the perfect eavesdropping system -- a system that would give a government a great advantage over another.
SETI was the perfect cover and means of drawing in the country's brilliant minds: radio engineers, mathematicians and computer systems experts. SETI was a means of gaining the people's support, a project into which they could freely pump money. Meanwhile, the technology developed could be controlled and siphoned off for more subversive applications.
All the government wanted was the technology; the discovery of intelligence elsewhere in the Universe would at best be an inconvenience, so funding was terminated.
But what of today? As there is no USSR, is there any use for such technology? The answer is yes, for now we are the enemy. It is our communications which are being tapped into, using the technology developed for SETI.
SETI projects today
After funding had been stopped, it was up to the scientists to carry on with the endeavour. To this end, they formed the SETI Institute which, mainly through private funding, carries on to this day the search for intelligent life in the Universe.
Continuing the strategy used by the Ames Research Center, Project Phoenix concentrates on the targeted search, scanning sun-like stars. There have been other SETI projects running in the background of the main government-sponsored project; for instance, SERENDIP (Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations) has been going strong since 1979. This project has survived by piggybacking on ordinary radio astronomy research, mainly at Arecibo Observatory (as per the film Contact).
There are also projects that have been listening in on an entirely different part of the electromagnetic spectrum. OSETI (Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scans the skies for laser signalling from across the Universe. One prominent project, COSETI (Columbus Optical SETI), uses a 10-inch aperture telescope with a sensitive optical transducer and is equipped to monitor for both pulsed beacons as well as modulated continuous wave transmissions. Those in the optical SETI fraternity believe this to be a better option, as it allows greater power to be directed by their hypothetical ETIs trying to get in contact. This aspect of SETI was apparently covered in Bernard Oliver's original Project Cyclops , but again the Russians, namely Shvartsman and Beskin, got there first.
There are also groups who are trying to encourage members of the public to get involved. One such venture is SETI@Home, where you can help by downloading a screen-saver that number- crunches data from the latest radio telescope observations. So while your computer sits idle, it could be searching for "life out there". Another venture is the SETI League, which concentrates on the more technical aspects of SETI.
It is for the bored radio ham who wants a real DX (for those who don't know, DX is the standard code for long distance on the air bands). Build the kit and download the software and you can be a mini Arecibo Observatory. The big plan is to link over the Internet everybody's mini SETI station to form one great big global dish.
This has been only a short overview of the SETI movement; there are many projects and endeavours that have not been mentioned. Science is going towards a goal that really has great implications for mankind, something everyone on Earth can appreciate. It is only a pity that it may be going in the wrong direction, especially when one considers that such a goal may already have been reached -- around a hundred and fifty years ago!
Fundamental problems with SETI
There are two main ways in which the SETI project may be directed. The first is to assume that a technologically developed civilisation, like ours, will have developed an electromagnetics- based global telecommunications system, as we have done. Any ETIs that are at a 70-light-year radius from Earth will be receiving the first of our TV transmissions. Equally, it is expected that any technologically advanced ETI civilisation will also be emitting a similar mass of radio signals; this would be the signature of an ETI.
The second approach is to assume that, somewhere out there, there is an ETI that is more advanced than we are and is constantly transmitting a signal to gain our attention. The second approach is preferred because the ETI in question would be transmitting a powerful signal in our direction, while modulating onto that same signal a simple message we can understand. For this reason, most SETI projects are geared up for the latter assumption.
One of the problems here is that the ETI must be fairly close to make the exercise worthwhile, otherwise they may not be around long enough to hear the reply! This is due to the finite speed of light, which here on Earth is more than fast enough for global communications. However, across the vastness of space, these 186,000-miles-per-second transmissions take a hell of a long time. For instance, to exchange greetings with an ETI near Proxima Centauri (the nearest star to us) would take around eight years! Would not a more advanced civilisation have discovered either a field or wave that could travel at a velocity greater than that of light? In which case, it would have a better chance of hearing a response.
This same limited velocity of light has another disadvantage: if the transmission has come from some far-distant star system, then the very civilisation from which it came could now be long gone! The electromagnetic wave may have made the world a smaller place, but it also reflects how vast the Universe is in both space and time.
Another assumption made by SETI is with regard to the definition of extraterrestrial intelligence. Looking for microwave transmissions of prime numbers from sun-like stars indicates a narrow criterion for intelligence. First, not all life may be biological; it may not even exist in the physical dimension. Even if it were, assuming it would spout out prime numbers indicates an expectation of a very similar psychology to our own. Also, who's to say their technological development went up the electromagnetic path? It is almost as though they are looking for other human life. So we have found nothing because we narrowed our search before we had even begun! What we need to do is widen our scope and so give ourselves a better chance of finding other intelligent life.
While at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, the now famous quantum physicist David Bohm made a startling discovery when conducting research on plasmas. He found that under certain conditions the electrons and ions that composed the plasma managed to organise themselves spontaneously into a single living unit. Like some amoeboid creature, the contained plasma was able to surround and destroy any foreign body that was within its vicinity. Bohm called these plasmic creatures "plasmons".
Considering that plasma is the most abundant state of matter in the Universe, it would seem logical to conclude that plasmons -- not hydrocarbon-based life such as ourselves -- may make up the greatest percentage of life in the cosmos.
Early contacts with other dimensions?
As has been mentioned before, communication may have been established with ETIs well over a hundred and fifty years ago, at the dawn of the modern development of electromagnetics.
The first electromagnetics-based communications system was developed by Samuel Morse in the 1830s and demonstrated in 1844; this, of course, was the telegraphic wire. In the original system, a battery and Morse key at the transmitting station actuated an electromechanical transducer some distance away at the receiving end, via a long stretch of cable. A return cable was then connected to the other terminal of the electromechanical device as a current-return back to the transmitting station's battery, these two cables being buried underground out of the way.
It was not long before it was discovered that it was possible to do away with the return cable and use the earth instead. In this new system, only a single cable was used, the return current to complete the circuit being established through metal stakes inserted into the ground; this was known as a "ground return". As soon as this was done, there were reports of anomalous power surges, so great that telegraph operators complained of big fat blue sparks jumping between their key contacts. Eventually it was decided that there was no point in using a battery any more, and so telegraph networks operated using the power within the earth.
In 1849, Alexander Bain invented the first well-known electrochemical recorder, which would receive, record and print out an incoming transmission through a chemical action. Many companies soon replaced their old electromechanical devices with this more sensitive electrochemical substitute. Due to their low current consumption, these devices were even better at being powered by the natural electrical energy within the ground. However, when many telegraphic operators returned to their posts after a night's sleep, they would find parts of sentences and strange geometric patterns recorded by the device. Could this have been early contact with an ETI or even an EDI -- an extradimensional intelligence?
Nikola Tesla's close encounter
Dr Nikola Tesla, the little-known inventor of the AC electrical power system, dedicated much time to researching the high-voltage, high-frequency electrical structure of the planet. During these investigations at his Colorado Springs research station, Tesla noticed that his instruments were receiving some unusual signals. In his own words, he wrote:
I can never forget the first sensations I experienced when it dawned upon me that I had observed something possibly of incalculable consequences to mankind. I felt as though I were present at the birth of a new knowledge or the revelation of a great truth....
My first observations positively terrified me, as there was present in them something mysterious, not to say supernatural, and I was alone in my laboratory at night; but at that time, the idea of these disturbances being intelligently controlled signals did not yet present itself to me. The changes I noted were taking place periodically and with such a clear suggestion of number and order that they were not traceable to any cause known to me.
I was familiar, of course, with such electrical disturbances as are produced by the Sun, Aurora Borealis and Earth currents, and I was as sure as I could be of any fact that these variations were due to none of these causes. The nature of my experiments precluded the possibility of the changes being produced by atmospheric disturbances, as has been rashly asserted by some.
It was some time afterward when the thought flashed upon my mind that the disturbances I had observed might be due to an intelligent control. Although I could not decipher their meaning, it was impossible for me to think of them as having been entirely accidental. The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another. A purpose was behind these electrical signals...
Tesla was investigating a form of radio very different to the one we use today. Our present radio communications use transverse electromagnetic waves that travel through the air -- the same technology SETI uses to scan the Universe for signs of ETI. The electromagnetic waves used in Tesla's system were longitudinal and travelled through the Earth and/or the plasmic layer of the atmosphere, i.e., the ionosphere. But it was through the use of this latter system -- and not the type used by SETI -- that signals of non-human origin had been received.
This incident plagued Tesla's mind for the rest of his life, and so played a part in his last publicly announced invention. While he had spent much of his life investigating the nature of high-voltage, high-frequency electricity, particularly with regard to employing it in a system to transmit electricity without wires, Tesla changed direction in the late 1930s and did research into high-voltage, direct-current electricity. His plan was to transmit electrical energy in the form of a particle beam -- an idea that was not practically realised until the late 1980s with SDI, the "Star Wars" project. While his system for transmitting energy via high-frequency potentials was limited to the Earth, Tesla's new particle-beam system was intended to transmit power to other planets! He then hypothesised that if the same beam were modulated with the vibrations of the human voice, we would also be able to communicate with the ETIs who dwell upon our neighbouring planets.
As far as is known, Tesla never had the opportunity to put his plan into action. The political climate at the time, which resulted in World War II, had generated much paranoia. The British had stated that they had a new weapon, a "death ray" invented by their own Mr H. Grindell Matthews. The Russians reacted and stated that they also had such a weapon, invented by Comrade Grammachikoff. Tesla, being a patriot of his adopted country, stated that he had also invented a similar device. Since then, Tesla's instrument of benign communication has been referred to as the "death ray".
Gravity wave detectors
In his general theory of relativity, Dr Albert Einstein found a solution that modelled an entirely new type of wave: the gravity wave. General relativity describes the force of gravity as a geometric warping in space-time; if the warping were to take the shape of a wave, then this would be a gravity wave.
While electromagnetic waves occupy three special dimensions (as well as time), gravity waves exist in five, making them hyperdimensional in nature. However, Einstein stated that these waves probably travelled at the same speed as light, 300,000 km/s, which means that nothing is gained in using gravity waves over their electromagnetic counterpart.
Officially there has been no detection of these waves; however, the design of such gravity detectors has been based on general relativity theory. There are some who have developed their own theories and so their own detector technology. They also claim to have detected transmissions from other worlds.
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