Before we begin I know there are real scientists who read this blog. I ask them for a mulligan today. I am well aware that I am going to be using allegories, simplifications and raging generalizations. Many of our readers, thanks to modern education, have little or no background in science and tend to take popular fiction at face value. Kind of like the people who learned all they knew about religion by reading The Da Vinci Code.
This blog will show that problem clearly.
I recently wrote about the WOW! signal. During the article I pointed out that I had learned that it was highly unlikely aliens would first be exposed to our culture via television and radio broadcasts. I received numerous emails pointing out that Carl Sagan, a real scientist and not some douche-bag blogger, had said that it would be our broadcast of the Berlin Olympic Games that would first be seen by our little green cousins. In order, yes, Carl Sagan was a real scientist. And, no, he never said any such thing. What he did do was write an excellent fiction novel, called Contact, which was made into a very good film of the same name, based on the concept that aliens would find out about us via our pop culture transmissions. It is one of many ways that science has discussed when it comes to figuring out how we will eventually make contact with an alien race. The fact that Professor Sagan utilized that one shows that he had a knack for understanding a good story just as much as he understood the math. Let’s face it; the fact that Hitler could be the mascot for Earth is a compelling story line.
Hitler, Hitler He’s Our Man, If He Can’t Conquer It No One Can! YAAAAY ADOLPH!
But it’s very unlikely that will ever happen. And the reason has a lot to do with the phrase “bumping uglies.”
Oh, come on, you knew a sexual metaphor played a role somewhere.
You see a majority of scientists now believe that all radio and television transmissions occur in what’s called “The Hydrogen Band or Line.” Click on the link to learn all about it. Simply put, it’s the range where radio and television broadcasts can transmit easiest. Scientists please go back to the opening paragraph, inhale slowly, count to ten and then continue on.
Anyway, all of our broadcast channels fall into that range. The WOW! signal was also in that range but was clearly broadcast with far more intensity than the surrounding noise.
And that gets to the crux of the issue.
You see, all of our episodes of I Love Lucy and everything else are probably using the same frequencies as Bloort Lorkles Zoonox (or whatever show is popular in Alpha Centauri). So, at some point, our signals will bump uglies with their signals and the whole thing will be a wash. Each will cancel out the other.
If there was some way to send an antenna a hundred or so light years from here to get in front of our signals then we might be able to hear what passes for humor on another world. I bet I’d be a comedy god on Jhornox V. But faster than light travel is still just a dream so we have to make do with the limitations we have.
And one way to get around those limitations is to broadcast a signal many times more powerful than the surrounding noise. To punch through the flotsam and jetsam of our culture and theirs to send a clear signal stating “We are here.”
Which begs the next question, “Do we want to do that?”
There are some very interesting arguments pro and con. They will tug your heartstrings and make you think far deeper thoughts than you may have previously.
I’ll make it easy for you. Yes we should.
Depending on which scientist you get drunk, the closest solar system that is likely to contain intelligent life is at least 70 light years away from us. That means that the absolute fastest we could get a response would be in 140 years. 70 to get our message where it’s going and 70 to get an answer back. Much has changed for us over the last 140 years and much more will again.
For example, depending on where you lived in the U.S., 140 years ago an interracial couple like Lucy and Ricky would have either been frowned upon greatly or simply deemed illegal. Either way they wouldn’t have been lauded on a national stage and sponsored by Winston. We make our progress in baby steps, but we do seem to keep making it.
Besides, if the fear mongering crackpots rise to power then it won’t matter what the answer is since there won’t be anyone with enough education to understand prime numbers anyway. But, and I’m being hopeful here, if they don’t then we may as well get our answer as soon as possible.
It would be nice to finally know if Bloort really did Lorkle Zoonox like Ricky loved Lucy or if it all was just for show.
Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Friday morning around 9:10!