Estimate of the Situation™ 2008: "Something Is Here"

From the blog - Estimate of the Situation™ 2008: "Something Is Here"

Something is here.”

Remember those words.

It’s cool here in Paris, but things are heating up at the SETI symposium currently under way at the UNESCO headquarters, sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics. This is my third report from the conference.

Tuesday was an intriguing day, particularly the presentation by Alain Labeque of the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in Orsay, France, which took an unexpected and -- for me -- shocking turn.

Entitled “Active SETI and the Zoo Hypothesis,” Labeque’s presentation began conventionally enough with a review of the well-known Fermi Paradox and it’s possible solutions. (For those of you who don’t know, the Fermi Paradox is simply the quandary that science tells us the Universe should be teeming with intelligent life, and yet the aliens don’t seem to be here on Earth – or anywhere else that we look. Where are they?)

There are several possible solutions to the Fermi Paradox, including the aliens don’t exist at all or interstellar travel is impossible or simply too expensive -- even for civilizations that may be millions (or billions) of years more advanced than humans. (I’ve discussed these proposed solutions before.)

Another possible solution to the Fermi Paradox is the Zoo Hypothesis, which I’ve also discussed before. Simply put, the Zoo Hypothesis is the suggestion the aliens have imposed a Star Trek-style “Prime Directive” to quarantine the Earth, for any one of many possible reasons:

Maybe they want to study us in our pure state, without us knowing they are watching.

Maybe they consider us to be too primitive and too savage.

Or maybe they are simply marinating us and aren’t ready to throw us on the grill.

In all seriousness, I find the Zoo Hypothesis the most plausible of the possible solutions, because it is a reasonable speculation on how a scientifically (and hopefully ethically) advanced civilization would behave toward us: they would want to study us, as we study nature, without inserting themselves into the experiment. In other words, no observational bias!

This is, of course, pure (if informed) speculation, but in his talk yesterday Alain Labeque proposed a possible method for scientists to test the Zoo Hypothesis.

And this is where my jaw dropped.

As I have written about before, I have become accustomed to the searing scorn generally heaped by the American scientific intelligentsia on anyone – inside or outside of traditional science – who proposes an advanced technological civilization in our galactic neighborhood might venture to travel between the stars – including our star, the Sun.

What I am learning at this symposium, however, is that this is a somewhat uniquely American attitude not so widely shared in Europe. (I will leave for another day – soon – my thoughts on the reasons for this seemingly American derangement that lately passes under the gross misnomer of “skepticism.”)

Labeque told his assembled colleagues they should examine UFO sightings for clues as to how to design the SETI experiment.

Suggesting we seriously consider the Zoo Hypothesis as a solution to the Fermi Paradox, Labeque essentially asked his colleagues: if we are being watched, as the Zoo Hypothesis suggests, where are the watchers? (As Labeque put it, where are the “photographers”?)

For a clue, Labeque urged his colleagues consider UFO sightings, including the 1400 or so documented in the Dominique Weinstein catalog. Labeque pointed out that, although many unexplained UFOs appear to behave as if they are under intelligent control, no organized scientific effort to understand the phenomena currently is underway.

In particular, Labeque pointed to the well-known July 1957 RB-47 sighting, during which:

"An Air Force Boeing Stratojet reconnaissance jet RB-47, equipped with electronic countermeasures gear and manned by six officers, was followed by an unidentified object for a distance of well over 700 miles, and for a time period of more than one hour, as it flew from Mississippi, through Louisiana and Texas and into Oklahoma. The object was, at various times, seen visually by the cockpit crew as an intensely luminous light, followed by ground-radar and detected on ECM monitoring gear aboard the RB-47. Of special interest in this case are several instances of simultaneous appearances and disappearances on all three of those physically distinct observation channels, and rapidity of maneuvers beyond aircraft possibilities."

According to Labeque, during the sighting the RB-47 detected a 3 GHz microwave transmission from the unknown craft.

Since the unidentified craft exhibited intelligent maneuvers and appeared to be communicating with someone, Labeque suggests SETI scientists use this data point to design an experiment.

Positing the craft may have been a scout craft sent from an alien station somewhere in our solar system, Labeque proposed SETI scientists transmit a microwave signal at 3 GHz and see if it elicits a reply. Since the possible location of an alien station is unknown, the signal would have to be broadcast in all directions of the sky. After transmitting for a period of time, the signal would be shut off, and scientists would listen for a response.

A few of Labeque’s European and Russian colleagues appeared intrigued by the suggested plan and challenged Labeque to clarify several points. In reference to the wealth of unexplained UFO sightings, Labeque concluded, “Something is here.”

The American contingent of SETI scientists asked no questions, politely applauding like everyone else at the end of Labeque’s talk.

Later in the day, another European scientist – Jean-Pierre Rospars of France -- suggested at the end of his presentation on SETI and terrestrial biological evolution:

“Possible ET presence in our environment should not be neglected. It may be partly accessible to our limited means of investigation.”

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Brad Johnson has been exposed as a liar:
Read it and pass on the message!

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