Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Steampunk SETI

It's been a while since I posted about METI (message to extraterrestrial intelligence.) METI is also called, among other things, active SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence). In the subject line, I went for alliteration.

I found this article about early METI attempts very interesting. Crop triangles ... with 19th century technology, that made sense. (Don't get me started on the stoopidity of the movie Signs, whose aliens navigate across interstellar space but make crop circles to find their way around Earth.)

METI was simpler, of course, when its only aim was to shout out the fact of our existence. Why? Because any reply would tell us if we are alone. METI takes on a whole different context with the theoretical possibility ET could come visit, or that the Great Silence stems from (to choose one possible doom) kinetic-kill weapons hurled at any species imprudent enough to speak up. (Re the latter, a particularly chilling read is the Pellegrino/Zebrowski novel The Killing Star.)

Do I fear hostile aliens? No. Maybe (hopefully!) we'll find something like bacteria deep in the Martian permafrost or something like sponges or tube worms under Europa's ice -- but almost certainly, there's no extraterrestrial intelligence in this solar system. Looking farther afield, it's hard to imagine Sol system has anything worth the resources needed to steal it. That is: aliens can exploit the resources of their home system for a fraction of the time and energy they'd spend to cross interstellar distances (to gain access to Sol system's resources).

Still ...

I might be as quaintly naive as those early would-be message-senders. While I'm in favor of METI (using the latest technology, of course, not crop triangles), I say so presuming a deliberative, transparent, international, thoroughly vetted process.

Maybe next century.

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