I'll Understand If You Don't Reply Before I'm Dead
February 15, 2013 9:12 PM Subscribe
MIT Technology Review recently posted a story about the SETI's discovery of pulsars in 1967, and the possibility that the radio signals we were getting from them were artificially generated.
Artificial. Signals. Mind-blowing then and now.
The gossipy tone of back-room sciency near-skullduggery in the article makes it crazy strong nerd bait. Nerds love to tell war stories, and many of the best ones are about crazy theories that someone heroically refuted, or crazy theories that someone heroically defended.
So, hey. SETI. Real Astronomers, maybe with lab coats on, sitting in an office and debating whether the regularity and aim of that object's signal means that Something is Trying to Talk to Us. This is Half-Life-level shit. (Remember? You're in the chamber and they tell you to put the sample in the reactor core and all hell breaks loose and next thing you know pissed-off monsters from Xen are tearing shit up?)
What are the consequences if we respond? What should we say? What if the Little Green Men turn out to be Keyser Soze?
Why the gripe about reporting? MITTR didn't bury the lede, they missed it entirely! Here's the right headline:
5,000-Year Min Delay for Scrapped Reply to LGM from 1967 SETI
(You try making it shorter! Shut up. I'm not a newspaper editor for a reason.)
You read that right. Five thousand years, minimum. Here's why: The first pulsar that Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered was eventually named PSR B1919+21. It's just a hair over 2.25k light years away.
Under ideal conditions an electromagnetic pulse or wave that far away will travel at near light speeds from the source and arrive here roughly 2,250 years later.
Probably more, considering two variables:
- Particle/wave energy pulses moving through space rarely meet the ideal of "light speed." I'm not a particle physicist, but I'd guess the fudge factor is somewhere from 5-15% of theoretical average light speed. In short, it's probably safe to just call the one-way journey ~2.5k years in our time.
- Relatively speaking, we only just yesterday got the brain power and tech to have any knowledge of cosmic radio signals. (Tesla!) As far as we know, the pulsars we're looking at didn't just suddenly wink into existence. Odds are, if it's a message, it's been pointed at us for a Very Long Time, and we just didn't stumble into it until just a moment ago.
The person waiting for our reply is the equivalent of us reading about a Super-Plato who was technologically advanced enough to build and drive a colossal, galactic transmitter. Our SPlato sent a message, over two thousand years ago, and expects her many-greats grandchildren--5000 Earth-years hence--to understand the original message well enough to make the reply meaningful.
If we come up with a witty answer (overlinked! yes.) quick, we might get a retort in five thousand years. We'll have to get right to work on our new transmitter.
This post was deleted for the following reason: Sorry, but this is presented as a sort of "Here-Are My Thoughts About This" essay-type thing you might put on your own blog; maybe try again tomorrow focusing more on just presenting the main links. Let us know if you have any questions. -- taz
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