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Space Science

SETI Finds Interesting Signal 816

Several readers sent in notes about an interesting signal discovered by SETI. No real evidence of Someone Out There, but not fully explainable either. Another reader submits a blurb suggesting that aliens should send spacemail, not signals: "Rutgers electrical engineering professor, Christopher Rose, has an article on Nature magazine's cover today describing the most efficient way for our civilization to be discovered by aliens. On this question of better to 'write or radiate', his conclusions: better not to send radio transmission, when physical media like DNA on an asteroid can declare a terrestrial presence. Similar to what motivated Voyager scientists to attach a plaque for the outbound trip. Rose has some great information payload sizes as examples (like the entire information equivalent for our global genome fitting on a 100 pound laptop!)."
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SETI Finds Interesting Signal

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  • by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:28PM (#10134121) Homepage
    While I originally applauded SETI's efforts, I'm beginning to find this a bit ridiculous. When you lose your dog, you don't normally wait for it to find you: you look for it. We're basically sitting here waiting for a message, when we should be physically searching. Chances are any life worth finding in our neck of the universe won't be communicating via radio signals anyway.

    I think the latest Mars expedition was a good step: look for livable areas, later look for life. Don't sit around waiting for it to come to you.
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mOoZik ( 698544 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:28PM (#10134122) Homepage
    Because the laws of physics - most specifically the inverse square law - work against the transmission of electromagnetic energies over vast distances. Isn't efficiency the pinnacle of any advanced civilization?

  • by rasafras ( 637995 ) <tamas@pha.j[ ]edu ['hu.' in gap]> on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:29PM (#10134125) Homepage
    Physical objects are a tad harder to find. We would be happy to find a civilization like our own... however, we didn't notice a rather large until three days after it had almost hit our planet. The other real snag happens to be major as well - it doesn't travel at the speed of light. Puts things on a slightly larger timescale, doesn't it?
  • by snooo53 ( 663796 ) * on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:30PM (#10134137) Journal
    I would think that the chances of an alien race discovering an asteroid with our DNA on it would be infinitely less than them seeing our radiation signals.

    Not to mention the time involved for those rocks to travel interstellar distances. The radio signals will get there at the speed of light. Assuming the rocks don't vaporize along the way, by the time they arrive anywhere, we're talking millions->billions of years later... by which time if we haven't gone extinct, surely we will have already acheived interstellar travel.

  • Hopefully... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sploxx ( 622853 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:31PM (#10134146)
    it is "something"!!

    Maybe not aliens (I'm sometimes to sceptical to get excited, although I'd like to be :) but new astrophysical phenomena.
    AFAIK, pulsars (these fast spinning dead stars with rotational periods in the msec-sec range) were discovered as someone looked at the data and though "wow, aliens, this periodic signal".
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FlipmodePlaya ( 719010 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:31PM (#10134149) Journal
    Indeed. There's an outside chance [wikipedia.org] that in 40,000 years Voyager will enter another solar system with its record (the plaque was on the Pioneers). The chances that a civilization exists there, and that they will notice and intercept it are unbelievably small. Why bother?
  • by Repton ( 60818 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:33PM (#10134160) Homepage
    The universe is WAY too fricken big for us to be alone.

    But it could also be WAY too fricken big for us to be detectable...

    (try crunching some numbers WRT the invention of radio transmitters, the speed of light, and the distance to nearby stars)

  • Umm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by r00k123 ( 588214 ) <borenste@student ... u minus math_god> on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:38PM (#10134213)
    ...the entire informational equivalent for our global genome?

    I think I might rather hang onto this information until we're sure our new-found neighbors are friendly.

  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:43PM (#10134246) Journal
    Sorry to reply to myself, but I forgot to make a key point; Why do we want to be discovered?

    I mean, it would be cool to discover intelligent aliens and all, but why have them discover us?

    I like to surf the internet, but for crying out loud, I have a firewall. I see the Internet, the Internet doesn't see me.

    I'd say just be cosmic lurkers until we are damn sure it is safe to be sticking our nose into things.

    Of course the odds of anything on this topic happening (good or bad) are so poor that I don't think anyone has to worry.

  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gregmac ( 629064 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:45PM (#10134258) Homepage
    How about sending out an object that transmits a signal? You still have a limited range around the object, but at least it will broadcast farther than earth broadcasts. Sending out a signal also increases the chances that an object will be located .. if we were to start picking up some mysterious signal that was nearby, we'd sure try to locate it. It could run on solar power, and only wake up and start broadcasting when it's actually close enough to a sun (in a solar system) that it gets enough power. I'm not sure what it would broadcast - zipping it around our own planet and having SETI alarms going off would probably be a good test.

    The other problem with earth-based transmission is that we don't do it anymore [slashdot.org]. We'd need large antennas broadcasting "we're here" signals outwards, and considering SETI already has problems with credibility while looking for signals, I'd imagine getting funding to send out signals would be even harder.
  • by Kiryat Malachi ( 177258 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:46PM (#10134271) Journal
    What if we deliver this encoded DNA to a species that uses, say, a silicon matrix encoding their genetics?

    Why would they even look at DNA, if they didn't realize it was a way to encode info as well as the foundation of life for us?
  • Old Mindset (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:47PM (#10134276) Homepage Journal
    This line of thinking is incredibly anachrnostic. It's a relatively modern version of the Great Chain of Being. The GCOB is a western idea of a hierarchy of things, starting at the center of the earth, and radiating out into space. So, at the bottom are rocks and plants, then comes animals, then people, then angels and finally God in the Heavens. In the age of exploration and colonialization, it was thought that there was a linear development from stone tools -> spears -> bow and arrow -> bronze weapons -> steel weapons, finally to European society.

    The 50's 'world of tomorrow' thinking is just the updated version of this. Aliens (read: any advanced civilizatoin) are like us, just like God made us in His Image, except for the bad parts. Therefore they are mathematicians and scientists. They use radio waves and other technologies that we use, just like savages in the jungle use spears like ancient Europeans used to.

    I think when/if we do come into contact with trulu other life or intelligence, it will totally blow our collective and individuals minds, like way more than LSD.

  • by darnok ( 650458 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:51PM (#10134303)

    What I really want to live to see is how the world's religions suddenly reinvent their "sacred history" to deal with proof of the existence of intelligent alien life. My ideal scenario would be:
    - they're much more advanced that we are
    - they couldn't give a stuff about us, either way

    That would give many established religions a big PR problem.

    Let's see if Heinlein was right after all...
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:1, Insightful)

    by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:51PM (#10134308)
    Noo.. it holds true for all electromagnetic radiation, and many other things as well.

    A big dish, a directional signal.. none of these change the inverse square relationship in the least.
  • Re:Every time... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Webs 101 ( 798265 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @08:51PM (#10134311) Homepage
    You know, I've gone through several phases of education, including evolutionary biology and paleontology grad work. Something I've always wondered is what intelligent life on another planet would look like.

    The first assumption I make is that it has to be water-based organic life. It has to be water, since liquid methane seems just too cold to allow required chemical reactions. It has to be organic since those compounds have the right mix of solubility and insolubility in water.

    OK, so we have water and organic chemistry. The next thing to consider is environment. While you may develop a degree of intelligence as a marine creature, you will be severly hampered in technical development by being underwater. On an Earth-like planet, there is fire on the seabed, but it is too far from the surface to be of use. A special set of circumstances - very shallow seas and volcanic vents - may lead to underwater technology, but it seems a rare set of conditions and I dismiss this possibility. So, we have to assume that intelligence evolves on land.

    Now, the evolutionary experiments here on Earth have pretty much established that large land animals function best with four limbs. In a light gravity situation, more limbs may work, however.

    Animals tend to cluster sensory organs, and the brain that runs them, toward the front. Waste goes out the back. It's nearly a universal plan, so we can assume aliens would be the same.

    To grow intelligence and techology, you need the ability to manipulate tools, which means hands or maybe tentacles in light gravity. The manipulatory Earthlings are primates, raccoons, some reptiles (chameleons, e.g.), and some rodents. The rodents are now primarily terrestrial, though.

    With these patterns, we see that an intelligent alien would probably roughly resemble us. It would have a face and almost certainly a head. It would have arms, and although the "hands" might look different, they'd probably function similarly. They might have two legs or four or more, but they'd crap behind them, like we do. Who knows what skin or hair or scales they';d have.

    I could go on forever on this. The point is, however, is that intelligent life is almost certainly recognizable as intelligent life, no matter where it comes from. We'd be very different, but we'd also be kinds similar.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:06PM (#10134425)
    Why is it odd the civilization doesn't correct for rotational Doppler? After all we don't for our TV/Radio beacons.
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HotNeedleOfInquiry ( 598897 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:10PM (#10134447)
    You don't even need an optics textbook. Do a thought experiment; candle, laserpointer, lightmeter.
  • by ArcticCelt ( 660351 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:12PM (#10134471)
    "...better not to send radio transmission, when physical media like DNA on an asteroid can declare a terrestrial presence... ...like the entire information equivalent for our global genome fitting on a 100 pound laptop"

    They just forgot one little detail:

    If we want to cover as much space as with a radio signal we have to sent several billions times the amount of matter available on earth to multiple directions at the same time. Its similar as with radio signals. The farther you send, bigger is the amount of space to cover and bigger is the number of probes you have to send to cover it.

    Just a little detail. :)

  • Power supply (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spineboy ( 22918 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:13PM (#10134474) Journal
    I imagine that the opwer requirements for a probe to broadcast anything that could outshine earths would be formidable and probably not feasable. The Voyager(or Pioneer?) probe that recently escaped our solar system (past pluto) after 15-20 years was undetectable.

    We'd need something with a renewable energy source, like a bussard ramjet, to be able to broadcast a decent signal strength.

  • 100 pounds? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wmspringer ( 569211 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:14PM (#10134481) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure that qualifies as a laptop...
  • But ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:23PM (#10134538) Homepage
    Because the laws of physics - most specifically the inverse square law - work against the transmission of electromagnetic energies over vast distances.

    Ummm ... but space is three dimensional and vast. Flinging a rock in any random direction is exactly that.

    At least with EM stuff it tends to want to radiate in a lot of directions since we broadcast so much stuff. The sheer amount of noise we're bashing out is what SETI is looking for in reverse.

    Unless we throw as many rocks as radio signals, I utterly fail to see how a small rock is going to actually increase our odds of anyone stumbling upon us.

  • by qengho ( 54305 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:29PM (#10134584)

    Hasn't anyone at SETI read The Forge of God [sfreviews.net]? We need to just STFU and listen, not broadcast where we are so the Destroyers can find us! (In a nutshell: a highly paranoid alien race listens for broadcasts from nascent technological civilizations and eradicates them before they can become a threat.)

    Seriously, we have no idea of the mindset and capabilities of alien civilizations. The novel's viewpoint is arguable, but caution dictates that we determine the intentions of outsiders before we announce our presence (cf. American Indians vs. Europeans).

  • by AHumbleOpinion ( 546848 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:36PM (#10134635) Homepage
    ... Therefore they are mathematicians and scientists. They use radio waves and other technologies that we use ...

    You do realize that in the SETI context "advanced civilization" means "technologically advanced civilization"? If they are an advanced civilization they will have a basic understanding of science, of how the universe works. Electromagnetism is an elementary part of that understanding. Our methods for establishing communication do not have a western or human bias. Counting off prime numbers is pretty neutral, an advanced civilization should recognize that this would be a quite improbable natural phenomena. Similarly the frequencies we would use for such signals would be pretty neutral, a multiple of a universal constant, another improbable natural phenomena. Some things are universal, not products of human or western culture.
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shawnce ( 146129 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:55PM (#10134787) Homepage
    Actually the inverse square law holds for any thing with a initial fixed density that propagates from a point source.

    So say you throw 100 rocks (each with a placard saying "Eat at Joes") out in an even distribution across the night sky then the density of those rocks in a shell centered on and growing out from the earth will reduce in accordance with the inverse square law. The farther you get from the earth the bigger this shell gets and the farther the distance between the rocks in the shell.

    This increase in distance between the rocks means we have to get luckier and luckier that someone will actually see one or more of rocks and the little placard on it.

    So your statement is non sensical since the inverse square can affect a bunch of rocks or photons.

    Of course if we get lucky and someone happens to be inline with a rock they could get the message much better then a weak electromagnetic signal. Of course for every rock we send out we can send out trillions and trillions of photons in focused beams that can get their attention with enough signal strength to be useful. The beam can cover vastly larger areas then a rock ever could (now a rock with a say radio source could be interesting) and they travel just a wee bit faster ;-) then a rock.

    (I can see it now we launch a rock at a considerable fraction of light speed to get it out to a candidate world in a timely fashion only to get lucky and have a direct hit on their world... booom! Yeah they got the message alright.)
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dashing Leech ( 688077 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @09:58PM (#10134816)
    So if you look at a given photon traveling through space its "signal" will not weaken with the square of the distance

    This is probably the key point. Yes, the energy density decreases with square of distance, but that just means you have to stare longer to see the signal. This is how telescopes can measure faint stars. If they look longer, more photons arrive. So if we sent a modulated signal (e.g., amplitude, frequency, phase) it would still reach other planets in a readible form. The modulation would just have to be very slow so they don't integrate the whole modulation over the "staring" period.

  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @10:04PM (#10134852)
    And what do you think happens to a bunch of physical messages sent out? They spread out MUCH more slowly, and get farther and farther apart as they go, reducing the chance of them getting found.

    In fact, the two cases (sending out radio, vs objects) reduce to the same case- imagine sending out an infinite number of microscopic objects in all directions at once. They spread on a sphere, just like a radio signal would. Except, of course, a radio can be put on repeat....
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jim Starx ( 752545 ) <JStarx@nospAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @10:15PM (#10134908)
    Yes, but where to point it? Lasers are only good if you know what you're aiming at.
  • by jungd ( 223367 ) * on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @10:22PM (#10134958)

    Please provide an argument for why numbers are 'universal' (I assume you mean among intelligent life).

    There are contemporary human cultures that have no concept of numbers greater than 2 - and I doubt you'd argue that those humans are not intelligent.

    Granted, New Guinnea highlanders don't build radio-telescopes, but that doesn't mean that evolution in other parts of the universe hasn't managed to come up with intelligent beings that emit EM radiation for communication but cannot count!

    Cuttle fish generate and receive complex EM radiation patterns for communication (light!) right here in our own oceans and are also pretty smart - not so far from us (in evolutionary terms, compared to bacteria for example).

    Numbers are just an artifact or our perception. Specifically, of the need to make and signal distinctions; upon which further 'higher-level' distinctions can be made.

    Take colour as an analogy. If we didn't have three seperate colour detection mechanisms in our retinas, we wouldn't be able to make the distinction between 3 divisions of the EM spectrum of visible light (red, green & blue if you like). In such a case we wouldn't have 'colour' either. It is also an artifact of our perception (while not suggesting that frequency of EM radiation is).

    I can just hear it now - some other intelligent species out there with billions of finely discriminating EM frequency detectors all over their alien bodies proclaiming on their equivelent of slashdot, that colour is universal and any aliens out there must intuitively understand the concept of communicating via 100,000,000 dimensional colour spaces. (OK, so the analogy doesn't work exactly, but hey - I don't known any aliens - and I'm tired).

    Just because we can't imagine advanced intelligence without numbers is just a testament to our primitive imaginations.

  • by The Night Watchman ( 170430 ) <smarottaNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @10:33PM (#10135023)
    Giving them Earth DNA just gives them clues that we are here (which is of course the point) but more importantly tells them everything they need to know to make some bug spray especially for us.

    That is, assuming there are other alien life forms whose biological structure uses DNA. If not, it would be the equivalent of finding thousands of pages of assembly code for a processor you've never heard of and operates in a way that's completely different from anything you've ever seen, and trying to figure out what the code does. And if DNA is unique to this planet, how do they know it's our building block for life? For all the aliens would know, DNA could be our form of communication.

    And how would we represent the data? A visual image is only useful if the alien life in question perceives visible light the way we do. Same goes for audio transmissions. We take our senses for granted, but contact with alien life will require us to grapple with these fundamental issues of reality and perception in a way we've never done before.

    Then again, they may look just like us except for ridges on their foreheads and noses. And somewhere, Rick Berman will be there, saying, "I told you so!"

  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @10:52PM (#10135079)
    Photons or Laptops, you still require O(r^2) of them.

    Photons are cheaper than Laptops.

    Photons are better.

  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @10:59PM (#10135113)
    So if they could plot the trajectory backwards, couldn't they also plot the movement of the stars over time along with it with it? Thus determining that it's trajectory intercects this star at or about the time that the probe would have been there. Thus making this system at least a potential candidate for the probes origin?

    It may be a lot of math, but Math is nothing but MIPS to a computer (It is what they were designed to do after all). Throw enough MIPS at the problem, and It's just a matter of time.

    I figure that even with our current level of technology it should be possible to intercept an alien probe entering our solar system (assuming we had the political will to do so). Even if we didn't intercept it, we would eventually get a pretty good idea where it may have come from simply by running simulations on computers.

    I'm pretty sure if any alien object entered our solar system and got noticed that it would command the front page around the globe. So it stands to reason that we would get the same or similar reaction from an equivalently technologically advanced race on another world.

    Lets also not rule out the possibility that we might be the first alien race that they've encountered as well. ...or the possibility that we might even be their technological superiors.
  • by JDevers ( 83155 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @11:05PM (#10135140)
    Well, I would say that to produce a transmitter powerful enough to reach other star systems (and hence be of immediate interest to us) the civilization would have to understand at least the basic math of constructing that antenna. Of course you could say that an organic tech could evolve that, but in all honesty a civ advanced enough to genetically alter it's planet-mates to make transmitters would almost certainly have to understand the basic math THAT entailed.

    Color is an arbitrary thing, integer math is not arbitrary nor perceptual. Name me a method of perception that would change the number of continents on Earth or planets in our solar system. Even if they used reflected gamma radiation as a primary sense, there would still be the same number of rocks...

    A higher culture will understand math, maybe not the same formulas we do etc, but to say they don't have math is like saying they don't have chemistry. They may not have discovered it, but it still works there. As far as that is concerned, if they don't understand fundamental mathematical concepts, they aren't intelligent on a galactic scale and we will never find them anyway. Cuttlefish may generate EM, but they don't on a galactic scale. There is no immediate evolutionary advantage of being able to do that...
  • by Frizzle Fry ( 149026 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @11:06PM (#10135146) Homepage
    Consider a civilization with a far greater understanding of physical chemistry, and computers far more powerful than we have. I think it's plausible that they could simulate the interactions that would take place in a living entity well enough to get a good picture of its physiology.

    Agreed, but if they are that much more advanced than us (and also seeking to harm or exploit us), then we're ppretty much screwed anyway.
  • by bhny ( 97647 ) <bh AT usa DOT net> on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @11:21PM (#10135206) Homepage
    new scientist is down.
    can you post that text file?
  • Re:Waste of time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by arlandbayes ( 770479 ) on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @11:33PM (#10135259) Journal
    The purpose of SETI isn't to advertise our existence to aliens, but to *detect* the presence of intelligent life in the universe. We don't want to advertise our existence becuase they signal may be detected by hostile aliens which may then come and destroy us or enslave us.
  • It doesn't matter. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by inertia@yahoo.com ( 156602 ) * on Wednesday September 01, 2004 @11:44PM (#10135311) Homepage Journal
    As Carl Sagan's pointed out in is book, Contact, no matter how complex or compelling the message from beyond, there will be people who will think it's a hoax.

    Or to put it another way, even if God himself this very day with his own hand placed a crucifix in orbit around the earth replacing the moon, science would explain it.
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @12:09AM (#10135435) Homepage Journal
    No, thanks to entropy we know you can't stabilize the environment, and so the conclusion that follows is that you can't stop evolution.
  • Re:Waste of time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by merdark ( 550117 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @12:12AM (#10135450)
    Sooo, do you think you have enough information to make a logical decision to use your emotions? If you don't have enough infomration to make semi-logical choices for the majority of common situtaion, then perhaps you haven't thought about those situations enough.

    Emotions were usefull in primitive society. Now, they often get you in trouble more than anything. Take anger. People following this emotion has led to road rage, killings, beatings, many firings, bad customer service, etc etc etc. Take love, people do SO many stupid things because of love. You think people would learn from these stupid things, but no. They do not. Or take greed.

    If there is a lack of information avaliable, the logical thing to do is to try to FIND information. Not fall back on primitive emotions.

    Perhaps what you are referring to are situations involving ethics. Where logic is perhaps too *harsh* to be applied. In these situations it is indeed wiser to follow one's emotions. But not because of a lack of information. Rather, because we are still quite primitive as a species. Regardless of what we think of ourselves, many of our actions are not at all logical, nor are the smart, or wise, or anything of the like. As a result, being logical in ALL situations will quickly get you branded a lunatic, heritic, insenstive, immoral, or any number of other derogatory terms.

    Humans still incredibly stupid. We all simply have a HUGE ego problem.
  • by tobias.sargeant ( 741709 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @12:27AM (#10135530)
    ncevysbby is aprilfool rot13'ed
  • by Anthony Boyd ( 242971 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @12:39AM (#10135622) Homepage
    Are there any standard texts or treatises on the theory of how to distinguish interesting signals from large amplitude noise?

    Does it repeat? Then it's interesting. Even this:

    01001000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111 00100000 01010111 01101111 01110010 01101100 01100100 00100001

    ...becomes dumbly obvious as a message when it loops over and over and over again. We can pick out patterns. Even a signal that was so long and varied that it only repeated annually would still be possible to capture within normal human timespans.

  • by Christopher Thomas ( 11717 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @01:34AM (#10135914)
    OK, quick question. How would you be able to tell whether "our methods for establishing communication do not have a western or human bias"? What if the methodology to determine whether something is universal or culture?

    Certain properties of the universe are independent of human existance. If I see a light shining at, say, exactly one third the wavelength of the 1->0 emission line of a hydrogen atom, I'll know it's blatantly artificial no matter what planet I evolved on.

    As for communications methods, there appear to be only four fundamental forces, of which only two carry for great distances, and only one of which propagates in a way that lends itself to point-to-point communication. Unless we're very, very wrong about the nature of the universe, aliens will be using EM for their hypothetical beacons. This may not be radio, but there are limits to what it can be (certain bands don't carry well in the interstellar medium, and you get a high-energy cutoff due to the fact that information transmission requires a minimum photon count, and photons get more expensive to produce the higher the energy).

    Chief, of course there cannot be any other beings across the Great Waters. If there were, we would have seen their smoke signals by now.

    This falls into the "unless we're very wrong about the nature of the universe" category. The wonderful thing about this claim is that it's virtually impossible to _disprove_. However, I consider it unconvincing, because for the first time in human history, we have something approaching a _comprehensive_ model of reality. Certainly, there are extreme situations in which our models are known to not hold, but for everything else - from apples to transistors to stars - they do, in ways that are both testable and usable for things like engineering. This inspires confidence that our current understanding of reality is correct, at least for the domains where the models are intended to apply (important caveat).

    In short, I think that EM transmissions are the right thing to be looking for, though SETI itself might not be searching for the right kind.
  • by dustpuppy_de ( 322556 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @03:35AM (#10136409) Homepage
    And, most probably, ist is nothing more than an artifact from the telescope.
    Nobody seems to have noticed this paragraph of the Article:
    What is more, if telescopes are observing a signal that is drifting in frequency, then each time they look for it they should most likely encounter it at a slightly different frequency. But in the case of SHGb02+14a, every observation has first been made at 1420 megahertz, before it starts drifting. "It just boggles my mind," Korpela says
    So, everytime they detected it it started at 1420 MHz and then started shifting? How could asignal from 1000 Lightyears away react in such a way? Do you think the aliens restart the signal every time we are looking?

    No, sorry, everyone. This looks pretty much. like a malfunction of the telescope in Arecibo.
  • Re:Old Mindset (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Minna Kirai ( 624281 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @03:46AM (#10136442)
    This line of thinking is incredibly anachrnostic.

    Your line of thinking is anachronistic. It's a relatively modern version of heliocentrism or humanist chauvanism, or even creationism.

    You think that we're so special and rare that no aliens could possibly be similar to us.

    stone tools -> spears -> bow and arrow -> bronze weapons -> steel weapons, finally to European society.

    Yep, that's about the shape of it. Although you skipped wood tools at the beginning, and mispelled "Eurasian" at the end.
  • Re:Waste of time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JohnFluxx ( 413620 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @05:00AM (#10136667)
    Applying logic to maximise your own gains would be very bad - that's why we have emotions, so that we try to maximise the gains for everyone. (Consider the prisoners' dilema)
  • Hz = (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Errtu76 ( 776778 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @05:13AM (#10136717) Journal
    A planet would have to be rotating nearly 40 times faster than Earth to have produced the observed drift; a transmitter on Earth would produce a signal with a drift of about 1.5 hertz per second.

    Doesn't Hz stand for frequency, 1 per second? How can this be 1.5 'events' per second per second?
  • Re:DNA Over Signal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bigsmelly ( 165699 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @07:23AM (#10137107) Homepage
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but Voyager has a map on the gold plaque.

    http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/goldenrec 1. html

    It pinpoints the location of our sun using 14 pulsars.
  • by brainstyle ( 752879 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @08:23AM (#10137361)
    Unfortunately, there'd probably be too low a signal-to-noise ratio for anything good to turn up, considering the conclusions [enterprisemission.com] some people jump to [biblecodedigest.com] when they know what they want to find.
  • I see you've read (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @08:57AM (#10137553) Journal
    Uller Uprising by H Beam Piper.
  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday September 02, 2004 @09:36AM (#10137967) Homepage Journal
    OK, this is important:

    You based my credibility on how relatively long ago I created an account on a particular free non-credentialled web board? Are you nuts?

    Put another way, you don't know anything about me except that I have a 4-digit UID, but you figured that was enough to make me a paragon of reliability?

    To those who were tricked:

    If it makes you feel better, I was going for "Funny" instead of "Informative". I mean, you have to admit that all of the clues were there. I even explicitly revealed the joke and alluded to the fact that everyone would know it as soon as the server came back online and everyone realized that the data file was a 404. Sorry if that was too much of a ride for anyone; it wasn't supposed to be.

    If you have to take something away from this, then let it be your own willingness to have unknown "experts" prove the things you most want to be true. I'm Just Some Guy with a CompSci degree and enough math to make a halfway plausible sounding practical joke. I told you what you wanted to hear and you gobbled it up without vetting me, your source, my any means other than my Slashdot UID.

    Still, I truly am sorry for anyone who got too excited about the post. I really did mean it as more of an innocent practical joke between friends than as a cruel joke on strangers.

    Take care,

  • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Geoff-with-a-G ( 762688 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @09:50AM (#10138130)
    If you want to be analytical, tell me where emotions come from.

    My thinking is that your brain is aggregating and analyzing data in quantities too large for your conscious thought (ration/logic/analysis/thought, whatever you want to call it) to keep up with. Take someone throwing a ball at you. To plot coordinates and calculate trajectory with your conscious mind would take far too long for you to catch it in real time. But you've got "lower" brain functions that can handle those calculations fast enough to be useful.

    I think of it like ASICs (Application Specifc Integrated Circuits - think graphics cards and network switches) vs. CPUs. Your "higher brain" can think up new stuff and analyze situations that your instincts don't recognize. But your "higher brain" is goddamn slow by comparison. So netiher one is "better" or "more correct", they're just suited for different situations.

    As for "If there is a lack of information avaliable, the logical thing to do is to try to FIND information", that doesn't work. For last resorts, go back to DesCartes - you can't prove anything 100%, because you can't even trust your own senses 100%.

    If you don't like my extreme example, I'll pick something more moderate. Watch Law and Order. When you look at a real life (yes, I know it's a fictional show, but it's a good model) you get the impression that it's almost impossible to prove something 100%, especially when you're being opposed. "Go get more proof" is not a valid approach, because there is a limit to the amount of information you can actually get. To get anything done, you eventually have to make a decision based on the information you have, and those decisions are often messy.

    In addition to those theoretical limits, there's a time factor. To steal a quote from the military mindset: "It's better to make a good decision now than the best decision later." Real life happens in real time, and delays cost you. Emotions analyze available input way faster than logic does, and most things operate on time constraints. So emotions will often serve you better than analysis, especially in situations where time is short and information is limited.

    To call emotions "primitive" is, I belive, a primitive characterization of important workings of the human mind.
  • Well said (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joss ( 1346 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @10:41AM (#10138661) Homepage
    I was going to say something along similar lines, but I wasnt going to be as polite as you.

    I like your analogy of ASIC v CPU, but even that elevates conscious decisions, let along logic based decisions above their rightful place. The way I think of it is: Consciousness is the process of updating one's internal representation of oneself. Ie, there's what you're thinking and then there's what you think you're thinking. [People who have an unusally poor representation of themselves are better known as "assholes"]. Since it is beyond virtually everybody's capabilities to hold a detailed understanding of what happens inside a tv, its amazing that people can believe that they have a reasonable understanding of what's going on in their own brain. Consciousness, let along logic, is a tiny tiny fraction of it. Truly restricting oneself to logic would leave you incapable of deciding what to have for breakfast.
  • Re:Waste of time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by merdark ( 550117 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @11:06AM (#10139005)
    Emotions appear to be automatic neural responses to various sensory inputs. So I pretty much agree with your thoughts on how emotions work.

    I never said you need to prove something 100%, but one should still attempt to obtain more information about a situation, time permitting of course. You example of law and order is actually illustrative of this. The detectives try to find as much information as possible to convince a jury to convict. It also highlights the dangers of relying on emotion. Many times the jury will 'buy' some act of the accused. These acts are designed to play on the jurys emotions and specifically 'confuse' the facts.

    I also agree that there is a time facter in desicions. But, also drawing on the example of the military, trusting one's emotion is rarely the correct thing to do. Military training is designed to *overcome* emotion for the most part. If you are under fire, emotion will say to either run or hide. Of course, niether of those options is what solders are trained for. They are trained to fight. There *are* some rare examples of military training that rely on emotions, the Isrealie army comes to mind as one.

    I say emotions are primitive because they evolved to be usefull in situtations which no longer occur. Many emotions, fight or flight, anger, love, were usefull to early nomadic tribes. Fighting over food, running from animals, keeping the men around to protect their young.

    Today's world is different. We have the luxury to take the time to think about most of our situations. We understand how to train ourselves to overcome our emotions so we can excell at particular tasks. Unfortunately, we let our emotions rule us still. Take this example. There are lots of arguments whether or not we are cause the global destruction of our environment. Looking at it logically, if there is a reasonable chance we are, it is smart to try to prevent it while we research the matter furthur. If we ignore it, we are taking a pretty big gamble with the only thing which sustains our life, earth.

    Of course, greed overcomes any logic in this case. People are willing to take this absurd gamble because of their overwealming greed. Sure, in nomadic times, greed served us well. But now, it's often far better to rely on logic.
  • Re:Every time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by barawn ( 25691 ) on Thursday September 02, 2004 @12:46PM (#10140376) Homepage
    It's worse than that - I can't see how HF could possibly produce the huge variety of chemicals that water can. Water's a covalent dipole, but HF in its liquid state would just be a bunch of fluorine and hydrogen atoms in near proximity to each other. They wouldn't be able to form bonds *between* things because the atoms are free. Water, in contrast, can bond things together with hydrogen bonds.

    Life needs complexity, so it needs something that can create combinations. For that, it needs a covalent dipole, and the two easiest ones are ammonia and water. Maybe ammonia would work, but I'm betting that the reason we're water-based life isn't due to some freak chance of the location of our planet. (Keep in mind that were it not for life-related factors, water would, in fact, *not be* liquid on this planet. The blackbody temperature of this planet is below freezing.)

The Macintosh is Xerox technology at its best.