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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2004 > Mar > Mar 13

Astronomer Seeks Life Beyond Earth

From: Frank Warren <frank-warren.nul>
Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 05:42:38 -0800
Fwd Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 10:25:35 -0500
Subject: Astronomer Seeks Life Beyond Earth

Source: LA Monitor - Los Angeles


Saturday, March 13, 2004

Astronomer seeks life beyond Earth

Roger Snodgrass
Monitor Assistant Editor

If there are many billions of stars in every galaxy and billions
and billions of galaxies, there must be at least billions of
earth-like planets like ours and therefore plenty of
opportunities for life to form and evolve.

So, where is it?

That was what Enrico Fermi wanted to know. The Hungarian nuclear
physicist, who was closely associated with the formative years
of Los Alamos, asked why, with all that potential, we still had
no indisputable evidence for one living cell of life outside of
earth, much less the obvious signs of intelligent life, like
alien space probes or radio chatter.

Those who subscribe to the Fermi Paradox, as it is known, say
that the simplest explanation is that we are alone.

But many others, including Jill Tarter, beg to differ. Tarter is
the director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
(SETI) Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

In a presentation at the Expanding Your Horizons workshop here
Thursday, and an expanded presentation later that evening at the
Bradbury Science Museum, she made a case for the importance of
the search itself.

"My bottom line is - the search I helped to start may take a
very long time, and may take some one like you to finish it.,"
she told the audience of 150 eighth through tenth graders,
attending a career conference in Los Alamos.

Tarter quoted from one of the pioneers of SETI research and
another prominent figure from the Manhattan Project. Philip
Morrison concluded a 1959 paper in Nature magazine with the
line, "The probability of success is difficult to estimate; but
if we never search, the probability of success is zero,"

Life is a planetary phenomenon. The only life we know so far
lives on a watery planet, not too close and not too far from a
star with a long period of stable energy production, explained
Tarter, a set of parameters that has focused astronomers to
search for similar conditions in our galactic neighborhood.

One result has been the discovery, so far, of 120 planets
orbiting 105 other stars. "But good planets are hard to find,"
Tarter said. The planets that have been identified appear to be
heavy gas giants, like the planets Jupiter and Saturn in our
system, and closer to their star.

A NASA spacecraft called Kepler, scheduled to launch in 2007,
will specifically search for earth-like planets in a patch of
sky containing 100,000 stars.

Other SETI projects have used radio and optical telescopes to
listen and watch for interstellar signs of life, radio
frequencies and optical wavelengths that might indicate an
intelligent source.

Tartar has worked on at least three such programs, most recently
Project Phoenix, a privately funded venture that used the 1000-
meter telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, to tune in to about
1,000 individuals stars. The search was within the one to three
Megahertz range, a little higher than FM radio. Millions of
channels were searched at the same time, and two billion
channels altogether.

Although no solid evidence for intelligent life materialized,
those stars encompassing a mere 200 light years (6 trillion
miles), are a mere fraction of candidates in our galaxy alone.

"Unfortunately, the universe is quite enormous," said Tarter.

Soon, SETI will field another instrument, the Allen Telescope
Array. Assuming the funding requirements are met, the project
going up in northern California will grow from 32 small radio
telescopes to 350 dishes by 2007.

"I don't know when or even if we'll get a signal."

Meanwhile, explorations of Mars will continue, as well as new
probes to the icy moons of Jupiter, where vast oceans and
energy, hint at the possibility for life.

"Can life make a living under the ice?" Tarter asked. Finding
life that has evolved independently from Earth would be a major
step toward establishing that life exists in elsewhere in the

From the audience came the question, "If we do get a signal, how
are we going to say hello?"

Tarter said her program had signed a protocol agreeing not to
answer, until there is a global consensus on how to answer.

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