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Stargazing: Whispers coming from outer space

Stargazing: Whispers coming from outer space

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The column I wrote a while back entitled “Are We Alone In Outer Space?” dealt primarily with the contact with, or communications with, an extraterrestrial intelligence.

I remember a book many years ago authored by John McVey which offered information upon which both pessimists and optimists could base their arguments as well as leaving room for the “fence sitters” to form their own conclusions.

Today, intense efforts to detect incoming signals from an intelligence among the stars is being conducted by the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) of Mountain Valley, California. At present time, the SETI Institute has more than 100 research scientists investigating the nature of the universe and the prevalence of life beyond Earth.

Using the 140-foot radio telescope located at Green Bank, West Virginia, scientists involved with Project Phoenix have plugged in receiving equipment which can simultaneously monitor 28 million channels.

To date, there have been some “intriguing” signals received but none which can be definitively identified as being of extraterrestrial origin.

Back in the 1960s, there was another project, this one Project Ozma, which was designed to scan the 21 centimeter wave lengths (1.4 MHZ) and the area of search was directed at two specific targets: Tau Ceti, a star in the constellation of Cetus, the Whale, and Epsilon Eridani, a star in the constellation of Eridanus, the River.

At approximately 4 a.m. on April 8, 1960, after years of preparation, the 85-foot dish antenna also located at Green Bank was pointed at Tau Ceti, and the electronic receiving equipment turned on. There was considerable disappointment among the workers when no unusual radio signals were detected.

A shift was made to the second target, Epsilon Eridani, and both had loud speakers and paper recorders were plugged into the antenna and turned on.

The needle inscribing the paper went off the scale.

There were very strong signals coming in and even when the volume on the speakers was turned down, the needle continued to record a series of high speed pulses.

Scientists working on the project saw and heard the pulses, roughly 8 per second, so uniformly spaced that they could only be produced by intelligent beings.

As it turned out, the signals that were being received on Project Ozma’s equipment were emanating from secret military experiments in radar counter measures, making use of airborne transmitters. Talk about disappointment!

The question facing workers in our continued scientific efforts to detect signals is unanswered. Should we continue our present efforts at SETI? To quote McVey, “Above and surrounding us lie the eternal stars — bright islands in the vase dark oceans of space.

“Between these islands and whispering across the star-strewn wastes of the heavens, may be passing even now messages that speak of galactic empire of celestial dynasties and of strange events long past.”

I, personally, am one who believes that to ensure Earth is not excluded from such a stellar communication network, every effort should be made to seek out these signals.

Pessimism and doubt are not partners to accompany us into the next century.

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