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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Apr > Apr 20

BBC: Is Anybody Out There?

From: Steven J. Dunn <SDunn@LOGICON.COM>
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 1999 12:10:12 -0700
Fwd Date: Tue, 20 Apr 1999 07:57:48 -0400
Subject: BBC: Is Anybody Out There?


Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK

"Is anybody out there?"

By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Scientists and theologians who gathered in Washington to discuss
the origins of life and the Universe ended their conference by
trying to answer the question: "Are we alone?"

The question seemed particularly fitting in light of the past
week's announcement that astronomers have discovered three
planets orbiting a Sun-like star 44 light-years away.

David Latham is an astronomer who has carried out research into
extra-solar planets by observing the gravitational pull the
planet exerts on the star it orbits, by causing the star to
"wobble."

"It's an exciting time for planet research," he said, adding,
"this will have an impact on our thinking about intelligent life
elsewhere."

But as to whether these newly discovered planets could support
life, Latham said that the planets are nothing like Earth.

Inhospitable giants

They are several times more massive than Jupiter, the biggest
planet in our solar system, and just like Jupiter are probably
inhospitable gas giants, he said.

But while astronomical observations can detect the presence of
planets around other stars, we can only measure the most basic
attributes of the planets, such as their orbit and a minimum
mass, Latham said.

We have yet to measure whether these planets have features that
would support life. According to Ken Nealson, some of these
include:

>the presence of liquid water

>plate tectonics

>and a magnetic field to shield the planet from cosmic
radiation.

Nealson is a senior research biologist with the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory. He is working on future missions to Mars, which will
look for signs of life on the Red Planet.

The mission will bring back samples from Mars, and Nealson
predicts a leap in scientific knowledge similar to the quantum
leap in knowledge that took place after the Apollo missions
brought back samples from the moon.

The mission has generated great excitement and interest in the
scientific community. "We're no longer on the fringe," he said.

Contact

Jill Tarter is the director of Project Phoenix for Seti,  the
Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. She is the model for
Jodie Foster's character in the film "Contact."

When her daughter was eight years old, someone asked her what
her mother did. Tarter's daughter answered: "she searches for
little green men."

But, she was quick to note that Seti is "not an investigation of
UFO's or alien abduction. It is not a religion or a cult. It is
not a way of directly detecting alien intelligence. It is also
not politically correct."

Seti was formally a federally-funded project under the auspices
of NASA, but the groups funding was cut in 1993. The group now
relies on private funding.


Human intelligence

To detect extra-terrestrial intelligence over interstellar
distances, they listen for radio transmissions.

But Irven DeVore, an anthropologist at Harvard University, said
that six of eight conditions necessary for life are highly
improbable.

On Earth, the development of human intelligence was itself
highly improbable, if "nothing but fortuitous."

For these reasons, he said, "the chances for communication with
another intelligence are vanishingly small."

Although they disagreed on the possibility of extra-terrestrial
intelligence, Ms Tarter and Mr DeVore agreed that if we did make
contact with intelligent life from another planet, it would be a
monumental event.

"Contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence would be such a
momentous event that everything else would pale in comparison,"
Mr DeVore said.

Seti is ready for the day they hear a signal from space.

Ms Tarter showed a picture of Seti's refrigerator at the radio
telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. They have a bottle of
champagne waiting ready for the celebration.


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