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David Whitehouse's Is Anybody Out There?

From: Don Ecker <decker0726.nul>
Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2007 12:31:51 -0700
Archived: Mon, 13 Aug 2007 08:28:16 -0400
Subject: David Whitehouse's Is Anybody Out There?

David Whitehouse wrote a very mind-provoking essay titled "Is
anybody out there?" concerned with possible negative
consequences of extraterrestrials "discovering" humanity here on
planet Earth.

I am sending this on because while sounding very 'science-
fiction'-like, this is a very serious topic.



Is Anybody Out There?
By David Whitehouse

August 4, 2007

We are making dangerous discoveries in space. In April,
astronomers found, on our cosmic doorstep, a planet dubbed
Gliese 581c. Nestling close to a dim red star, it's a rocky
world only a little larger than Earth. Like Earth, it could
support liquid water. And to scientists, liquid water means the
possibility of life.

Gliese 581c must be an ancient world, for it circles a star that
is far older than our sun. The question is, has any advanced
life evolved on that planet, or on the many other places that
must be suitable sites, not so very far away?

Recently, astronomers told the British Government that we might
find life in space. It is only a matter of time, this year
perhaps, before astronomers detect a planet even more similar in
size and mass to our Earth, circling another star. And when we
find that planet, we may discover a lot more than new oceans and
land masses.

Astronomers have been looking for intelligent life in space
since 1960, when Frank Drake started Project Ozma, using a radio
telescope to listen for signals from two nearby sun-like stars -
 Drake knew that radio waves travel more easily through the
cosmos than light waves. He didn't hear anything back. Since
then, our searches have become more thorough thanks to larger
radio telescopes and more sophisticated computers that look for
fainter signals. But we still have no signal from ET. Should we
want to?

This is not just a matter for astronomical research involving
distant worlds and academic questions. Could it be that, from
across the gulf of space, as H. G. Wells put it, there may
emerge an alien threat? That only happens in lurid science
fiction films, doesn't it? Well, the threat is real enough to
worry many scientists, who make a simple but increasingly urgent
point: if we don't know what's out there, why on earth are we
deliberately beaming messages into space, to try to contact
these civilisations about whom we know precisely nothing?

The searchers are undeterred. They argue that because of the
vastness of space - even if there are 10,000 transmitting
societies nestled in the stellar arms of the Milky Way - we
might have to search millions of star systems to find just one.

The SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute
in California is the only such group that searches the cosmos
for signs of intelligent alien life. It does so by listening for
radio signals. SETI, which was founded in 1984, has 100
scientists, educators and support staff. Its funding from the
American government was cut off in 1992 and it now relies on
private donations.

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