No, I didn’t have a stroke and start typing a title. This is what is known as the Wow signal. This signal lasted for 72 seconds, and some people believe it is a call from outer space. E.T. phoning, from home. It was detected by the Big Ear Telescope then located in Delaware, Ohio. Was it a long distance dedication from Howard the Ducks home planet, or was it just interference from the microwave in the Ohio State University Faculty lounge? Who knows. I’d like to believe we are not alone in this universe.
You see there are billions of stars out there and the thought of our planet being the only one with life on it, seems a little self-centred to me. Didn’t we used to think that the earth was the centre of the universe? Then we said, well okay, the sun is the centre of the universe? Then we found out we aren’t even the flea on the butt of the big dog that is our universe. To make it even clearer, we aren’t even the rash on the butt of the microbe on the flea on the butt of the big dog that is the universe. We are so far away from anything that it is actually kind of freaky. Even if we left now, it would take forever to make it to another place that has habitable planets. We are protected in our little solar system by two big brothers, the sun, which keeps us warm and grows our food and Jupiter who catches any incoming asteroids or comets that want to smash into our little planet and vaporize us. Check out my blog on Nemesis, the only other bully that could cause Jupiter some problems. Also we are in a special zone called the Goldilocks zone, which is just the right distance from the Sun. Not too hot, not too cold. This keeps us from melting into puddles or on the flip side, freezing us into humansicles. Is this meant to be? Is this a unique set up, not to be duplicated anywhere else in the universe? I doubt it, and I’ll tell you why.
There is an equation called the Drake equation, this is it here: N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L. Don’t ask me how it breaks down, I have no clue, it could be pictures of kittens and I would just nod my head and mumble, “Uh-huh”. Needless to say it estimates the number of habitable planets in the universe. Well once we plug numbers into the equation we realize that there is a plethora of earth like planets out there, worlds like ours that have the possibility of life whether it be Alf, The Predator, Jar Jar Binks, Kal-El or even Spock. Is it like yelling into the blackness of a well and waiting for a response? Maybe, but we shouldn’t give up.
We have tricks we can use to shrink the vastness of space and hunt down these habitable planets. You see, stars are bright and to see a dark planet against it from billions of miles away is near impossible. Imagine trying to see a firefly in front of a search light in L.A. from New York then you start to see how difficult it is to find these planets. One trick is the transit method, we measure the brightness of a star, then when the planet passes in front of the star we see the star dim a bit. We measure this and are able to find planets. But this only works if the planet passes between us and the star. What if we are looking top down at a planetary system? Don’t fret readers, there is a trick for this as well, the radial velocity method. Imagine someone trying to work a hula-hoop (I can never get them to work right). As the hula-hoop moves around, the person’s ass needs to move in a circular motion. The same thing happens with planets, as the planet moves around the star, they push and pull each other and this motion can be detected. How the star moves tells us how big and how far these planets are away from the star. There are even ways to tell what the atmospheres are like on these planets but that is a topic for another blog. Needless to say we can pin point other earths pretty well, and with technology getting better and better, we may be able to hook up our intergalactic Skype soon.
So be patient, and think of what the day will be like when we make contact. Will they have better TV shows, a recipe for a great rib sauce or even the answers to some of our planets biggest problems. Regardless of who they are, all we really want to know is that we are not alone, that there will be someone out there to answer us from the infinite blackness of space, because we are, by nature, a needy species. Plus we running out of room here SETI, hurry up!