Will we be able to talk to aliens? “We know that the chances of other life forms are literally immeasurable and we haven’t started looking yet, we have so many places to visit yet.” Thus began a long report by Bloomberg dedicated to one of the great questions of our own existence: are we alone? Are there aliens or other forms of intelligence with which, sooner or later, we will be able to get in touch? Or rather: to understand each other.
There is a group of experts, known as Seti – Search for extraterrestrial intelligence – that for decades has been pointing powerful telescopes towards “nearby” stars or galaxies looking for specific radio signals that are believed to be produced only by some form of technology. On the other hand, Stephen Hawking, the great cosmologist who passed away in March last year and a pioneer of studies on black holes, on quantum cosmology and on the origin of the universe, had repeated it very often: “It is time to commit ourselves to looking for the answers about life beyond Earth. We are alive, we are intelligent, we must know, “said the Oxford astrophysicist.
So this group of experts decided to really get to work, “instead of doing what we have done for millennia, that is, asking priests and philosophers”, as the astronomer Jill Tarter, emeritus president of the scientific organization, explains in the doc. A researcher who dedicated her life to this mission and, curiosity, is also the expert who inspired the character played by Jodie Foster in the 1997 film “Contact”, directed by Robert Zemeckis and based on the book by Carl Sagan published 12 years before it describes a hypothetical first contact between humans and aliens.
But what exactly is the job? This international team is engaged in the search for electromagnetic radiation other than radio signals that we obtain from natural objects such as stars, galaxies and quasars (the galactic nuclei active by the controversial nature) and in some way corresponding to radiation emitted by technological instruments. At the University of Berkeley, for example, a team led by Andrew Siemion is engaged in a ten-year project financed by private individuals for 100 million dollars: “Technology sources have very interesting properties, that is they can compress electromagnetic energy over time or frequency – explains Siemion – in this way you can get a lot of energy in a single signal: they are effects that in nature tend not to occur”.
Rather than relying on radio telescopes, often public or otherwise belonging to governments and institutions, Seti decided some time ago that a headquarters was needed which was eventually built 280 miles north-east of San Francisco. The complex is called Allen Telescope and is in fact a system of different types of smaller instruments that work in conjunction with each other and are thus able to observe a large portion of Space at the same time. The Allen Telescope is now dedicated almost exclusively to research by the organization and to this listening to the unknown. Once completed, these six meter diameter dishes will have to be 350. At the moment there are 42 and “the amount of data produced is impressive”, experts add to Bloomberg’s microphones.
“When I graduated we knew only nine planets, those of our solar system – explains Tarter – we knew nothing about the planets around other stars. Today, however, we know that there are more planets than stars because each star has an average planet and even more “that revolves around it. This is the central point around which Seti’s research revolves: the fact that the universe has appeared over the most recent decades of research increasingly as potentially welcoming to other life forms.
On the other hand, “in the universe there are more stars than grains of sand on all the beaches of the world and if you look at a single grain and assume that it is the sun, and the third grain around it is habitable, and then you return looking at the beach, one wonders why it should happen in a grain of sand and not in others? ” wonders the astrophysicist Laurance Doyle. In short, the problem is us: we would not yet be able to recognize and decode complex messages that have certainly already been transmitted, explains the main person responsible for Seti’s research, already working with NASA on the Kepler space telescope. The mission of the US agency focuses precisely on the search for Earth-like planets in orbit around stars other than the Sun.
“Everything communicates. All animals and even plants communicate. It’s just a matter of how complex this communication is,” adds Doyle. This is why he has turned his gaze back to Earth and its creatures. To learn more about the different natural communication methods – such as those of dolphins, mysterious humpback whales, large pectoral fin cetaceans, or squirrel monkeys – to build something similar to a filter, that is, a system to understand the rules of intelligence , its syntax, to grasp at least what we lose on the way and work on absence. The signals of the squirrel monkeys touch the second order of entropy, perhaps the extraterrestrial ones could touch a level of entropy of the twentieth order: “But if we found out at least we would know that our position with respect to those signs is like our language seen from the perspective of a squirrel monkey,” says Doyle. An impossible challenge to decode, for now, but not for the future.
“We are connected to this gigantic cosmos – concludes Jill Tarter – and we want to know what else has happened out there”. We certainly know that the universe many times has given birth to certain types of organisms like us. Organizations that think and ask questions about the same universe. Now is the time to try to understand each other, since the question is almost certainly the same.
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