SETI, the Eccentric

by Jeanette Cain

More articles in SETI

Once considered silly, outrageous, and a waste of funds, SETI has become a respected peer in the world of science. In 1959, Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison wrote and published, "Searching for Interstellar Communications," in Nature, a science journal. This was the beginning of SETI.

Frank Drake began Project OZMA in 1960, which was the first radio telescope that centered on searching the universe for artificial signals. Drake knew that radio telescopes would be the best tools for communicating with other life forms. Artificial signals would give an indication of intelligent life. Not only would these radio telescopes pick up signals, but used in reverse and broadcast signals across the galaxy. Drake's first attempt was the Project Cyclops, but this project became too expensive for anything beyond the drawing board.

In 1972 and 1973, NASA's Jupiter and Saturn probes, carried an engraved plague on board. The probes were Pioneer 10 and 11, which contained a primitive message from Earth, just in case intelligent life was around the corner.

An Arecibo message was sent to the globular cluster M13 in 1974 (Arecibo Radio Telescope is located in Puerto Rico). The message contained 1,679 on-off pulses directed toward M13, which is a dense ball of stars 25,000 light-years away. If there is intelligent life out there, it will recognize that 1,679 consists of multiplying the two prime numbers of 23 and 73. The pictogram had the pulses arrange in a rectangle, which is 23 columns wide and 73 rows deep. This pictogram explains the life forms inhabiting Earth. Sometimes I wonder if intelligent life is on Earth. Why? Because I would not pay that much attention to the pulses, therefore, I would not realize that someone was trying to communicate with me!

One unidentified transmission, which was picked up on a radio telescope in Ohio, found a loud signal in 1977, but it was never heard again. In 1992, NASA attempted to set up a SETI project, but Project Phoenix was cancelled by the political factions. Private funding was eventually found and it was then renamed Project Phoenix. This project is located in Greenbank, West Virginia, but it has access to telescopes world-wide.

SETI's future is uncertain. The problem arises from an increase in electronic noise (cell phones and microwaves), which seems to drown faint signals coming in. There have been suggestions, one of which is to create a SETI base on the Moon's farside, and its location would be in a crater called Saha.

If intelligent life does communicate, how will mankind handle it? We are already experiencing distrust of other races, other governments and other religions. Could mankind be civil toward another form of intelligent life? Maybe the answer will come in the short term future, but only after we have learned to be civil and understand our fellow humans.


1. Couper, Heather and Nigel Henbest. Space Encyclopedia DK Publishing, Inc.: NY 1999

2. Editors. Secrets of the Universe. International Master Publishing: US. 1999