Sunday, February 07, 2010

Alien Life

I just read an interesting article in the Sunday Mail's Review and decided to do a little search on it over the Internet. Michael Brooks (a consultant at New Scientist) is having his book '13 Things That Don't Make Sense' published this February. The first of those things is (both can be found here):

NASA scientists found evidence for life on Mars. Then they changed their minds
On July 20, 1976, the Viking landers scooped up some Martian soil and mixed it with radioactive nutrients. The mission's scientists all agreed that if radioactive methane was released from the soil, something must be eating the nutrients – and there must be life on Mars. The experiment gave a positive result, but NASA denied an official detection of Martian life. Today, there is even more evidence that something is creating methane on Mars. Is it life? The Viking experiment suggests it was. Martin Rees, England’s astronomer royal, calls the search for extraterrestrial life the most important scientific endeavour of our time. But have we already found it? 

Apparently, the reason they changed their minds was due to readings from another instrument on the Viking mission that searched for traces of carbon in the Martian soil and found none. The verdict about life remains unchanged despite it being known that the second instrument couldn't even detect large quantities of carbon here on Earth. It was a dud, but as we are learning every day now, scientists protecting their backsides quickly lose any acquaintance with the truth.

The next 'thing' was this:  

Has ET already been in touch?
It was an electromagnetic pulse that came from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. It lasted 37 seconds and had exactly the characteristics predicted for an alien signal. Maybe that’s why, on 15 August 1977 it caused astronomer Jerry Ehman to scrawl "Wow!" on the printout from Big Ear, Ohio State University's radio telescope in Delaware. The nearest star in that direction is 220 light years away. If that really is where is came from, it would have had to be a pretty powerful astronomical event - or an advanced alien civilisation using an astonishingly large and powerful transmitter. More than 30 years later, its origin remains a mystery.

After much consideration, wondering what method aliens would use to attract attention, researchers decided that a radio signal at precisely 1,420 MHz - the vibration frequency of hydrogen, the most common molecule in the universe - would be the best choice. That's precisely what they got. It also came from an area of space completely devoid of stars, maybe from a spaceship?

What do you think about this? The easiest thing to do is err on the side of doubt. I mean, lakes of methane on Titan aren't immediately pointed at as evidence of life there. And frankly, that signal could have come from Earth and been bounced back by some phenomena much more likely than a passing alien spaceship.


vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

if aliens decide to quit hiding they will probably drop some plutonium in the atmosphere, allow Sol to go gammamok, and then do something like in Disch's The Genocides. if they watch what the empire powers of earth do best then thats my guess. worst case scenario against any alien culture might be the contact of homo sapiens.
human? that means asshole in our language. a radio signal, no. only the human race would do that kind of bonehead goofus. here we are! come! check out 'I Love Lucy' reruns and our fall line up!!

of interest?

Unknown said...

A bedrock of the scientific method
is the repeatable observation or experiment: if a given
observation/experiment, when
performed under a set of conditions X reliably yields, every time, outcome Y, then the findings of that observation/experiment are considered to be reliable data, from which valid inferences can be made.

Singular events like the interception of the 'Wow' signal
place scientists in an awkward and frustrating situation; though they can offer tantalizing,keyhole-sized
glimpses into unexplored rooms of knowledge what is really needed is a set of keys to unlock the doors to those rooms; only a database
built up from the results of systematic and reliably repeatable observations and/or experiments
can hand science those keys

The 'Wow' signal might have been the beacon call of a passing star-ship or, as you suggest, a Terran signal bounced back to its
source by 'who knows what'; deprived of the opportunity and means to pock and prod at the anomaly from all angles, nothing
more can be made of it but
'who knows what' it was.

Xanares said...

If the aliens are advanced enough to let us know they are there, then they're also intelligent enough to NOT do it, I think.

If I was alien, I would just sit and watch and be slightly amused.

More on the subject tho, I'm sure there is. Life finds a way.

AngryMurloc said...

I hate the way Scientists are covering up their base data whenever it doesn't fit their models or is unexpected (and therefore annoying). It undermines everything I stand for and makes me question why I bother to discover things no one has seen before.

As for Aliens, I hope we never find them, because it's obvious the most likely reason they'll come here is for our tasty acidic planet covered in molten ice!

Jezcentral said...

I wouldn't be so quick to accuse scientists of "covering up". NASA themselves came out with "proof" of alien life in 2002. (Meteorite ALH84001). I dont think there us a cover-up. Dr Ehman, who found the Wow! Signal let everyone know where the signal came from, so they could check it themselves.

I think the outcome of ALH84001 also made people more cautious about claiming success. We have evidence of methane on Mars, but it's only right to be cautious about whether this definitely means life.

Michael Cummings said...

Reminds me of coming across this one day ( - I think this was further corroborated (io9 not being a great source of fact) by Universe Today here (, but either way it left much to the imagination - was this like "Wow!" event, questionably artificial, or just a fluke?

Scott said...

If the Wow! Signal was from aliens, they are probably still clearing the bureaucratic red tape for message #2. Why would we assume that humans have the asinine behavior market cornered? So far, we have observed a one-to-one ratio for the occurrence of trait in intelligent species.

Unknown said...

Meh if the wow signal had intelligent origins it would have repeated. Just because it's unexplained doesn't mean it not mundane.

I thought the initial possibility of Martian life from Viking was more down to a lack of understanding of the hyper-reactivity of the Martial soil. A few billion year of exposure to hard UV has made things nasty. But more interestingly the more recent discovery of new methane (or continuing appearance of CH4) might indicate methanogenic bacteria in deep rock. Not little green men, but still non-terran life.

Recently they have reassessed the structure in the meteorite and again it's more likely to be fossilised bacteria.