Feb 14, 2011 I Micah Hanks

From Across the Cosmic Watering Hole: An Anomalous SETI Signal?

With recent news of so-called "rouge planets" that could potentially harbor life drifting around elsewhere in the galaxy, the discovery of a new signal detected from deep space which NASA experts say could be extraterrestrial may have arrived at a far more appropriate moment than many realize. That is, of course, if the recent find is in fact anything from an alien race, let alone intelligent beings in the cosmos with more advanced methods of making contact that humankind.

"No one knows for sure what caused this signal," a NASA statement said. "There is a slight possibility that it just might originate from an extraterrestrial intelligence." Of course, when we hear this sort of terminology used, people tend to graft themselves instantly to the part that describes something extraterrestrial. What this actually means is that, while there are a number of possibilities (a tiny fraction among them including the possibility that aliens are even going to the trouble of using radio to communicate like we do), probability doesn't dictate that we've received a post card from space brothers... yet, at least.

The image that indicates the wayward signal (which can be viewed by clicking here) is described as "an anomalous signal (that) was received here on Earth by a radio telescope involved in a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)." SETI today, rather than referring to a singular entity that oversees attempts at contacting extraterrestrials, entails a variety of organizations--both official and civilian--that operate using radio and, on occasion, other technologies (such as optics) to attempt to receive information from intelligent races throughout the galaxy.

But the likely prognosis here, rather than indicating aliens trying to strike up a conversation, has more to do with natural emissions from various locations in space; and possibly one much closer to home than many would guess. "In this case," the statement continues, "a leading possibility is that the signal originates from an unusual modulation between a GPS satellite and an unidentified Earth-based source." They conclude with the advice that, "No signal has yet been strong enough or run long enough to be unambiguously identified as originating from an extraterrestrial intelligence."

Granted, along with the many potential benefits of interaction with extraterrestrials, there could also be risks associated SETI programs. For an excellent primer on this, consider having a look at Russian trans-humanist and global risk assessor Alexei Turchin's thesis on UFOs and Global Risk (available here), or my own piece on alien nanotechnology and artificial intelligence in the March issue of Intrepid Magazine. Perhaps, when it comes to SETI, we would do best to follow the logic espoused by Stephen Hawking, who suggested to "lay low," rather than advertise our presence to potentially hostile aliens! After all, the universe is sort of like a box of chocolates (to paraphrase Forrest Gump)... and verily, we just don't know what we're gonna get!

Micah Hanks
Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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