Intelligent life: does it exist?

The Independent published an article yesterday about “Seti: The hunt for ET”, in the form of a bullet point list of 50 items. There are a lot of gems this article – it’s well worth reading (and then checking Wikipedia for the complete story in each case). I couldn’t resist drawing attention to, and commenting on, some of them though – hence this blog post in addition to my twitter.

33. In the mid-1990s, Seti scientists thought they were on to something when they picked up a signal every evening at 7pm. It turned out to be from a microwave oven used by technicians in the cellar at the Parkes Observatory in Australia. There is now a note on the microwave asking people not to use it while Seti is active.’

This is one of those great stories that mixes the trivial with the extraordinary, which happens so often in radio astronomy (and presumably in science in general). I could imagine an abbreviated conversation about this going like: “Wow – we’ve detected aliens!”, “Yes – they work downstairs.”

34. Other false calls have included signals from electronic garage doors, jet airliners, radios, televisions and even the Pioneer space craft. “We found intelligent life,” said Richard Davis, a radio astronomer at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, “but it was us.”‘

I’m not sure that I agree with this assessment – intelligent life exists on Earth? Is that the all-pervasive silicon lifeform that’s been spreading over the planet for the last 70 years or so? If so, that might explain why no communication attempts from ET have been detected – they’ve been identified as DDOS attacks and blocked. 😉

The oddest one is:

12. The most promising radio signal found to date, SHGb02+14a, was detected in 2003 at Arecibo. It was found on three occasions but emanates from between the constellations of Pisces and Aries where there are no stars. It is also a very weak signal. Scientists think it may have been due to an astrological phenomenon or a computer glitch.’

Why is that odd? What have “astrological phenomenon” got to do with science? Do they even exist (except in the mental constructs of humans)? Perhaps they meant “astronomical phenomenon”, which is something completely different? (Thanks to Stuart for pointing this out – until then I was in blissful ignorance…)


5. So far, no alien signals have been heard, however.”