The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Inspired by Carl Sagan and the movie adaptation of his book “Contact” I have long been a fan of the S.E.T.I. efforts. However, considering the immense size and longevity of our galaxy, I admit that I am beginning to rethink the value of the hundreds of millions that have been spent on this project. While the wow! signal got folks excited it was over 33 years ago. It is the only potential result from all of the SETI efforts.

The Wow! signal was a strong narrowband radio signal received on August 15, 1977, by Ohio State University‘s Big Ear radio telescope in the United States, then used to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The signal appeared to come from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius and bore the expected hallmarks of extraterrestrial origin.

Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman discovered the anomaly a few days later while reviewing the recorded data. He was so impressed by the result that he circled the reading on the computer printout, “6EQUJ5”, and wrote the comment “Wow!” on its side, leading to the event’s widely used name.

The entire signal sequence lasted for the full 72-second window during which Big Ear was able to observe it, but has not been detected since, despite several subsequent attempts by Ehman and others. Many hypotheses have been advanced on the origin of the emission, including natural and human-made sources, but none of them adequately explain the signal.

Let’s suppose we do get a signal from other intelligent life. Let’s assume that this intelligence is very close to us, say only 1,000 light-years (the average of other solar systems in the Milky Way is 25,000 light-years). What are the odds that this civilization’s message to us from 1,000 years ago would be the same one they would send to us today? What are the odds that this civilization would be only 1,000 light-years away?

Like many people, I want to discover that we are not alone in the Galaxy. I can’t provide definitive scientific proof, but I think I can make a strong case, in a court of law, that we are not alone and that galactic tourists have visited us in the past and likely are here in the present. There is plenty of circumstantial and eye witness evidence.

I occasionally watch the Ancient Alien and UFO programming available through my Satellite provider. While I find many of the claims ridiculous, there are seemingly reliable reports from credible sources. There is also substantial evidence of governments successfully suppressing proof of these events. There has been congressional testimony from scientists. Thousands of persons are convinced that they have been abducted. Millions of eye witness UFO sitings remain unexplained. And numerous death bed confessions from individuals that were not willing to reveal their experiences until that time, fearing retribution. I believe these facts if presented in court, would carry the day. We are not alone.

We have spent massive funding on SETI research with essentially no results. The only folks doing legitimate research to validate what is occurring right now on unexplained encounters with potential ETs are small groups that rely heavily on the proceeds from TV programming for funding.

Assume for a moment that we are not alone in the Galaxy and that they are here now. The question then would be, where did the ETs originate? Did they come from another star system? Are they travelers from another dimension? Are they our civilization from the future? I have no idea.

The Great Wall of China

This is another of my eight wonders. They are not posted in order of importance as I find it difficult to rank them in their order of amazing. I intend to post the each of them eventually. I have been fortunate enough to actually visit a few of these and the rest are on my “bucket list”:

The Great Wall of China is the collective name of a series of fortification systems generally built across the historical northern borders of China to protect and consolidate territories of Chinese states and empires against various nomadic groups of the steppe and their polities. Several walls were being built from as early as the 7th century BC by ancient Chinese states; selective stretches were later joined together by Qin Shi Huang (220–206 BC), the first emperor of China. Little of the Qin wall remains. Later on, many successive dynasties have built and maintained multiple stretches of border walls. The most well-known sections of the wall were built by the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).


The frontier walls built by different dynasties have multiple courses. Collectively, they stretch from Liaodong in the east to Lop Lake in the west, from the present-day Sino–Russian border in the north to Taohe River in the south; along an arc that roughly delineates the edge of Mongolian steppe. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the walls built by the Ming dynasty measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measures out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi). Today, the defensive system of the Great Wall is generally recognized as one of the most impressive architectural feats in history. The strength of this wall lies in its construction mixture. The Great Wall of China was built by mixing sticky rice with mortar.

Another Earth

Another Earth

The search for another planet that has the potential to support intelligent life has always interested me. With improvements in telescopes, we are beginning to locate potential candidates in our Galaxy. I prefer to just focus on the Milky Way since it is sufficiently large to limit our traveling capabilities for several centuries or longer.

The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy.

The equation was written in 1961 by Frank Drake, not for purposes of quantifying the number of civilizations, but as a way to stimulate scientific dialogue at the first scientific meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The equation summarizes the main concepts which scientists must contemplate when considering the question of other radio-communicative life. It is more properly thought of as an approximation than as a serious attempt to determine a precise number.

It goes like this:

The Drake equation is: N = R * fp * ne * fl * fi* fc * L {\displaystyle N=R_{*}\cdot f_{\mathrm {p} }\cdot n_{\mathrm {e} }\cdot f_{\mathrm {l} }\cdot f_{\mathrm {i} }\cdot f_{\mathrm {c} }\cdot L}


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);


R = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy (recent estimate is 100 billion, there could be more)

fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets (based on stars observed so far there is at least one planet [on average] per star. Some have none, others have several)

ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets (so far, the average is that 1 in 20 planets observed in in the “habital” zone.)

fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point

(I have arbitrarily assigned a factor of 1 in a 100)

fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations) (I have arbitrarily assigned a factor of 1 in a 100)

fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space (I have arbitrarily assigned a factor of 1 in a 100)

L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space. (not a clue on this?)

Based the above my math reveals: 100,000,000,000 x 1 x .05 x .01 x .01 x .01 = 5,000 potential planets with the possibility of containing advanced civilizations (not factoring in “L”. Others have applied estimates that indicate that there may be as many as 10,000.  While this sounds like a lot of plants with intelligent life, the Galaxy is a very large space. The average distance of any of these planets would be over 25,000 light years from the Earth. Some would be closer, some a lot further. If we received communication from any of them it is possible that their existence has been terminated by the time, we receive it.

One very interesting system that is relatively close to us (just under 40 light years) is:

TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cool dwarf star that is approximately 8% the mass of and 11% the radius of the Sun. Although it is slightly larger than Jupiter, it is about 84 times more massive. It is a red dwarf rather than a very young brown dwarf   The star has a rotational period of 3.3 days.

  • thus proving that:
  • Owing to its low luminosity, the star has the ability to live for up to 12 trillion years. It is metal-rich, with a metallicity  109% the solar amount. Its luminosity is 0.05% of that of the Sun

·         Planetary system all seven planets are all near Earth-sized.

  • Relative sizes, densities, and illumination of the TRAPPIST-1 system compared to the inner planets of the Solar System.
  • On 22 February 2017, astronomers announced that the planetary system of this star is composed of seven temperate terrestrial planets, of which five (bcef and g) are similar in size to Earth, and two (d and h) are intermediate in size between Mars and Earth. Three of the planets (ef and g) orbit within the habitable zone.
  • The orbits of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system are very flat and compact. All seven of TRAPPIST-1’s planets orbit much closer than Mercury orbits the Sun. Except for b, they orbit farther than the Galilean satellites do around Jupiter, closer than most of the other moons of Jupiter. The distance between the orbits of b and c is only 1.6 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The planets should appear prominently in each other’s skies, in some cases appearing several times larger than the Moon appears from Earth. A year on the closest planet passes in only 1.5 Earth days, while the seventh planet’s year passes in only 18.8 days
  • The planets pass so close to one another that gravitational interactions are significant, and their orbital periods are nearly resonant. In the time the innermost planet completes eight orbits, the second, third, and fourth planets complete five, three, and two. The gravitational tugging also results in transit-timing variations (TTVs), ranging from under a minute to over 30 minutes, which allowed the investigators to calculate the masses of all but the outermost planet.
  • On 31 August 2017, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope reported the first evidence of possible water content on the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets.
  • Planets c and e are almost entirely rocky, while bdfg, and h have a layer of volatiles in the form of either a water shell, an ice shell, or a thick atmosphere. Planets cde, and f lack hydrogen-helium atmospheres. Planet g was also observed, but there was not enough data to firmly rule out a hydrogen atmosphere. Planet d might have a liquid water ocean comprising about 5% of its mass—for comparison, Earth’s water content is < 0.1%—while if f and g have water layers, they are likely frozen. Planet e has a slightly higher density than Earth, indicating a terrestrial rock and iron composition. Atmospheric modeling suggests the atmosphere of b is likely to be over the runaway greenhouse limit with an estimated 101 to 104 bar of water vapor.