Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a British astrophysicist at Oxford University who discovered the first radio pulsars with her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish, for which Hewish shared the Nobel Prize in Physics, Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum conference in Dublin, said: ‘I do suspect we are going to get signs of life elsewhere, maybe even intelligent life, within the next century.”
According to Britain’s Daily Mail. a poll of more than 2,000 men and women for the Royal Society found that 44 per cent are of the opinion extra-terrestrial life exists and more than a third of those questioned said we should be actively searching and trying to make contact with extraterrestrial civilizations.
“The fact that we have not yet found the slightest evidence for life — much less intelligence — beyond this Earth,” said Arthur C. Clarke, “does not surprise or disappoint me in the least. Our technology must still be laughably primitive, we may be like jungle savages listening for the throbbing of tom-toms while the ether around them carries more words per second than they could utter in a lifetime.”
In an earlier interview Lord Martin Rees, Great Britain’s Royal Astronomer and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics and Master of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge believes the existence of extraterrestrial life may be beyond human understanding.
“They could be staring us in the face and we just don’t recognize them. The problem is that we’re looking for something very much like us, assuming that they at least have something like the same mathematics and technology. I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive. Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there as aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”
“I certainly think that humans are not the limit of evolutionary complexity. There may indeed be post–human entities, either organic or silicon–based, which can in some respects surpass what a human can do,” said Rees. “I think it would be rather surprising if our mental capacities were matched to understanding all the levels of reality. The chimpanzees certainly aren’t, so why should ours be either? So there may be levels that will have to await some post-human emergence.”
Meanwhile, Frank Drake, the founder of SETI and Drake’s Equation, believes that satellite TV and the “digital revolution” is making humanity invisible to aliens by cutting the transmission of TV and radio signals into space. The earth is currently surrounded by a 50 light year-wide “shell” of radiation from analogue TV, radio and radar transmissions. According to Drake, digital TV signals would look like white noise to a race of observing aliens.
Although the signals have spread far enough to reach many nearby star systems, they are rapidly vanishing in the wake of digital technology, said Drake. In the 1960s, Drake spearheaded the conversion of the Arecibo Observatory to a radio astronomy center. As a researcher, Drake was involved in the early work on pulsars. Drake also designed the Pioneer plaque with Carl Sagan in 1972, the first physical message sent into space. The plaque was designed to be understandable by extraterrestrials should they encounter it.
Milan Cirkovic of the Astronomical Observatory in Belgrade, points out that the median age of terrestrial planets in the Milky Way is about 1.8 gigayears (one billion years) greater than the age of the Earth and the Solar System, which means that the median age of technological civilizations should be greater than the age of human civilization by the same amount. The vastness of this interval indicates that one or more processes must suppress observability of extraterrestrial communities.
The image at top of page is of Alpha Centauri, a binary star system, the nearest star system from Sol at 4.37 light years from Earth. Since both principal stars are fairly similar to the Sun in age and metallicity, Astronomers believe that planets could orbit Alpha Centauri A or Alpha Centauri Bindividually, or on large orbits around the binary Alpha Centauri AB.