ASTRONOMY COLUMN: A cache of 'gems' within the Keystone

Early last week, I received an email from a reader who, though he admitted he wasn't really into space, stares up at the sky and wonders if there is anyone else out there.

I think pretty much everyone does, don't they?

We humans have actually been pretty persistent in seeking out extraterrestrial life.

We've attached a plaque to one of our early satellites, which shows a man and woman, our location in the solar system, and other data that we believe aliens would be able to decipher.

Have I said before that space is big?

What do you think the odds are that some alien spacecraft will just happen to cross paths with a satellite Earthlings launched in the 1970s? Pioneer 10 is 124 AU (124 times 93 million miles) away from the sun. Still pretty much within our stellar neighborhood. It's been 40 years, but it would take perhaps millions of years before the craft happened upon another civilization.

Of course, who knows; maybe aliens are patrolling the outer edges of our solar system? It's not outlandish to believe our home system might be on the outskirts of some hyperspace travel lane within the Milky Way. Probably not, but you never really know.

So, while scientists thought this might be a fun way to tell aliens about humans, it's probably not really effective.

How else can we try to discover alien life? The radio telescope is a useful tool that can help us catch signals from way out in space. In the past, any seemingly exciting signal ... other than perhaps the 'WOW' message, which I might cover in a separate column (or Google it) ... has been determined to be natural.

I guess some people figure that aliens, at least ones that match up in their technological expertise with us, are sending radio signals into space. And we have, too ... aiming at stars to tell them about us, then listening to see if we get an answer back.

But this is searching for an even smaller needle in an even larger haystack. Space is huge, and there are surely thousands of intelligent races in our Milky Way, but considering the age of the universe (13.8 billion years), what are the real odds that they would be communicating via radio telescope? Furthermore, who's to say that if these races did have radio telescopes, that they'd be pointing them at our solar system, trying to listen in on a signal from us?

Extremely slim. Almost none.

I'm still convinced that our best bet to meet extraterrestrials is to do nothing. When they're good and ready, they'll come to us. Or, we could build ships and go seek them out.

But, honestly, as far as the state of the human race goes, option No. 1 is probably a lot more simpler and safer right now. We need to learn to get along with each other first.

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Malan is entertainment editor and astronomy columnist for the News & Eagle.

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Entertainment Editor | Copy Editor | Astronomy Writer

Hi, I'm Joe. I've been with the Enid News & Eagle since June 2009. I design many of the pages you see each week in your newspaper. I love writing and talking about space, and I love listening to and writing about music as well.

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