One of Russia’s top astronomers and the head of the SETI scientific and cultural center recently gave an extensive interview with RIA Novosti in which he shared some interesting observations, including that he believes one reason why we have not yet encountered extraterrestrials (in his opinion) is because they may be keeping us in a “reserve” where contact cannot interfere with our development – a kind of Russian version of the Star Trek “prime directive.” He also believes focusing on repeating fast radio bursts may be a mistake that could cause SETI researchers to miss other signals – signals that we may not yet recognize. Is he right?
“Of course we are not alone. The question is not whether they exist, but where they exist.”
Alexander Panov, a leading researcher at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of Moscow State University, head of the SETI scientific and cultural center under the Council on Astronomy of the RAS and chairman of the Life and Mind in the Universe section of the Council on Astronomy of the RAS (i.e. – someone who’s in the know) makes no bones about his believe in aliens. In fact, he says they’ve probably visited Earth before, although he doesn’t equate current UFO sightings to close encounters. Instead, he speculates that other intelligent civilizations, perhaps working together, keep Earth and its inhabitants in a “reserve.”
“It lies in the fact that highly humanized civilizations do not interfere in our development and have created a quarantine zone around us, a radio silence zone so as not to interfere with our independent development.”
However, Panov believes that this “radio silence zone” should not preclude us from searching for signals from other civilizations. One problem he has with current searches is their narrow focus. He is helping design the Russian space observatory Spektr-M, scheduled for launch in 2027, that will have a broad focus and mission – including looking for large artificial structures like Dyson spheres, black holes, cosmic rays, dark matter and laser signals rather than just fast radio bursts. He is also pushing for new technology which will allow telescopes to monitor the skies 24/7 and record and analyze what would then be ten-to-a-hundred times more data.
“Another method of searching for extraterrestrial civilizations is archaeoastronomy.”
Not content to look only in far corners of the universe for evidence of life, Panov supports searching closer – like on the Moon – for archeological evidence of advanced alien civilization that may have visited millions of years ago. He doesn’t believe that information of this kind has already been discovered and is being hidden from the public. If all of this sounds like pie-in-the sky, Panav agrees. He admits some of these projects could have been done before, but the driving force is budgets – not fear of alien contact.
“When you go outside, a brick may fall on your head, but this does not mean that you need to constantly stay at home. The potential benefits we can get from contacts are so great that they outweigh the risks. However, this does not mean that there is no need to think about possible risks. Scientists have defined a set of safety rules that must be followed if you received and decrypted the interstellar message. For example, if the algorithm for creating some device or computer program that we are offered to build and run is indicated there, then in no case should you do it without understanding. You never know, maybe this is something malicious. Safety rules must be observed, but not paranoid.”
“Observed but not paranoid.” Sounds like a good philosophy for a lot of things, not just SETI. And Alexander Panov sounds like an interesting person to invite over for dinner and conversation …. If he can pull himself away from searching for other life in the universe.