The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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An Ear On The Universe (Life in the Universe, Listening for Intelligence, Bibliography, M-13 Response Received practical joke)

graphic of page

[image]  This is Man on Earth Speaking to Space, the message beamed from Arecibo
Observatory to M-13.


Life In The Universe

The Universe is a rather large place, large enough to contain all the wonders
imaginable and quite a few which we have not approached in even our wildest
dreams.  Of all the things which may exist outside the bounds of our planet
Earth, surely the most wondrous of these is life itself.  The search for
extraterrestrial life is an exciting and important part of radio astronomy.

Scattered through interstellar space, between the stars and dust clouds, are
isolated molecules of materials such as hydrogen, formaldehyde and methyl
alcohol - some of the basic ingredients of life on Earth.  The Arecibo radio
telescope can be used to gather data for analyzing and quantifying these
molecules, as well as to search for other freely floating chemicals.  These
chemicals may very well be the seeds from which life on Earth evolved. 
Important confirmation of this theory may come when the Viking landers conduct
the first rigorous search for life on Mars in the summer of 1976.

If life has evolved on the planet Earth, in our solar system, why may it not
have evolved elsewhere in the Universe?  There are some 200 billion stars in our
Milky Way Galaxy alone.  It is now fairly certain that a number of stars, at
least in our part of the Galaxy, have planets of about the mass of Jupiter. 
Present methods can not detect less massive planets in orbit around other stars,
but it is generally accepted that stars with planetary systems are not
exceedingly rare.  Surely, on some of the other planets in our galaxy, the
correct conditions have obtained for life of some sort to begin its slow way
along the evolutionary process.  Among 200 billion stars, odds of even a million
to one begin to look rather plausible.

The most exciting possibility of all is that there may not simply be life
elsewhere in the Universe, but that it may be intelligent life.  There are
billions of stars in our galaxy and there are billions of galaxies in our
universe.  It is not so difficult to believe that intelligent beings inhabit
more than one planet in this vast universe.  Some of these 


M-13 Response Received

Less than 10 days after a formal announcement of life on earth was beamed toward
far-off cluster of stars known as M-13 from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto
Rico, an "answer," purported to be from outer space, was received.

Cornell professor and director of the National Astronomy Ionosphere Center
(NAIC) Frank D. Drake who, with his staff, initiated and composed the "life on
earth" message, received this answer by telegram Nov. 25:

"Message received.  Help is on the way. -M-l3."  It came through on the NAIC
telex machine in Ithaca via the International Telephone and Telegraph system. 
The true identity of the sender has not been confirmed, but Drake suspects that
it may have come from practical jokers on the observatory staff at Arecibo.


beings have probably reached the same level of understanding of natural
phenomena as have human beings; some are more, and some are less, advanced. 
With all of them we must feel the most basic kinship and a yearning to know for
certain that we are not alone in the face of the vastness of the Universe.


Listening For Intelligence

It is indeed tantalizing to think that, right now, like an inaudible whisper,
radio messages from light years away are falling into the valley of the Arecibo
reflector bowl - messages that could be heard if their direction and frequency
were known.  When the upgraded Arecibo radio telescope was dedicated on November
16, 1974, a message was sent commemorating the occasion.  Our first intentional
attempt at radio communication with extraterrestrial life is now travelling at
the speed of light through the Milky Way toward a globular cluster of some
300,000 stars known as M-13.  It will take about 25,000 years to reach its
destination.  Any reply will take as long to return to Earth.  Although the
message was beamed from Arecibo for only three minutes it is entirely possible
that one day a reply will be received.  (see figure)

In the meantime, it is within Earth's technological ability to decide the
question of whether there are other beings Out There trying to communicate with
each other and with us.  No more stupendous moment in the history of the Earth
can be imagined than the first intellectual interchange with an intelligence
other than our own.  The Arecibo radio telescope is now the premier instrument
in the world for such an undertaking.  Given careful planning and an adequate
observing program, there is a genuine probability that this most important of
frontiers will be crossed for the first time.


Thanks to Cornell University and the National Astronomy and lonosphere Center
for permission to use illustrations and to make extensive use of published
material on the Arecibo Observatory.


Annotated Bibliography

Hey, J. S.  The Evolution Of Radio Astronomy.  New York:  Science History
Publications, 1973.  A semi-technical account of the history of radio astronomy,
its instruments and its accomplishments.

Misner, C. W., K. S. Thorne and J. A. Wheeler.  GRAVITATION.  San Francisco:  W.
H. Freeman and Co., 1973.  A massive book on an utterly fascinating topic. 
Takes at least calculus through simple partial-differential equations to really
understand, but it is a mind stretching book to browse.  Just reading the
chapter headings and subheadings is a trip in itself.

Sagan, Carl. The Cosmic Connection.  New York:  Dell Publishing Co., 1975.  An
unrestrained intellectual romp through the concept of extraterrestrial life.

Sagan, Carl and Frank Drake.  "The Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence." 
Scientific American.  Vo. 232, No. 5, pp. 80-89, May, 1975.  A current appraisal
of the subject.  Contains the Arecibo message and its translation.

Strom, Richard G., et al. "Giant Radio Galaxies."  Scientific American.  Vol.
233, No. 2, pp. 26-35, August, 1975.  Research into the largest known objects in
the Universe.

Sullivan, Walter.  We Are Not Alone. New York. Signet Books, 1966.  One of the
first popular books on the subject of extraterrestrial life.  Includes an
account of Project Ozma and Frank Drake's first proposed interstellar message.



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