The worst idea in history?

Earth laser

Or we could not

It could prove to be:

A pair of MIT researchers has proposed a radical method for making our presence known in the universe.

In a new feasibility study, the team says it could be possible to use laser technology as a beacon to attract the attention of alien astronomers, much like a planetary-scale porch light.

Using a laser focused through a huge telescope, the researchers say this ‘porch light’ could be seen from as far as 20,000 light-years away.

In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, the MIT team describes how a high-powered 1 to 2-megawatt laser could be aimed toward space through a 30 to 45-meter telescope to create a detectable beacon.

With this configuration, the infrared radiation from the system would be strong enough for an intelligent species to differentiate it from the sun.

Granted, this is just a feasibility study rather than an actual proposal.

I think Stephen Hawking had the right idea about contacting aliens:

“One day, we might receive a signal from a planet like this, but we should be wary of answering back,” he in the documentary, “Stephen Hawking’s Favourite Places.”

“Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.”

He claimed alien life could be “rapacious marauders roaming the cosmos in search of resources to plunder, and planets to conquer and colonize.”

My concern would be catching the attention of an aggressive von Neumann probe launched by a xenophobic alien civilization. Such a probe would have a search and destroy mission to identify signs of intelligent life throughout the galaxy, and exterminate it. Aiming a giant laser beacon at space would be like announcing your position to the enemy. Sometimes you just need to lay low.

Incoming: mysterious radio bursts from distant galaxies

Australian researchers are detecting a vast number of “fast radio bursts” emanating from deep space after upgrading their telescopes, and they (the bursts, not the researchers) are brighter and closer than any we’ve spotted before. From the story:

Fast radio bursts are one of the most mysterious phenomena in the universe. They are blasts of incredible energy – equivalent to the amount released by the Sun in 80 years – that last for just a moment, and come from a mysterious source.

And no, this has absolutely nothing to do with aliens! …Wait.

Some have suggested they are being emitted by an extraterrestrial intelligence. Harvard University scientists suggested last year that they could be leaks from vast transmitters that are usually shooting at light sail ships to push them across the universe.

Those would have to be some big transmitters.

Others have suggested that less intelligent but equally spectacular causes, such as black holes or dense stars smashing into each other.

These particular bursts have traveled billions of years, from roughly halfway across the universe to reach us.

Observatory reopens, but I still believe in aliens

Mulder aliens

An update on that mysterious observatory closure last week is aptly summarized by the Buzzfeed headline, “New Mexico’s Solar Observatory Is Finally Reopening But The Whole Thing Is Still Pretty Weird”:

A solar observatory in the mountains of New Mexico has reopened 10 days after it was suddenly closed and its employees evacuated for a mysterious security threat, baffling locals, the internet, and whipping conspiracy theorists into a frenzy.

On Sunday, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), announced that it is reopening the Sunspot Observatory, which it manages, and that employees and the residents who had been forced to leave their homes on the site are now allowed to return.

“AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents,” Shari Lifson, an AURA spokesperson, said in a statement Sunday. “For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location.”

The statement provided no further details on the nature of the presumed threat, or on the status of the investigation. […]

Of course, that’s just what the authorities would say if the telescope had detected aliens or an apocalyptic solar storm, isn’t it? 🤔

But even some former NSO employees and other scientists have raised questions about the mysterious shutdown, calling it “fishy” and “pretty weird.”

“Nothing like this has ever happened before at an observatory,” John Varsik, a data scientist and telescope operator at Big Bear Solar Observatory who worked at Sunspot about two decades ago, said Friday.

“It’s all very fishy,” he said.

Here’s a nice rundown of the top theories on the closure.

Perhaps we’ll learn more when the new presidential alert system is rolled out this week:

The Trump administration will send a message to all US mobile phones on Thursday, as it tests an unused alert system that warns the public about national emergencies.

Phones will make a loud tone and have a special vibration according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which will send the alert.

The test message will be headlined “Presidential Alert” and will go on to read “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

US mobile phone users will not be able to opt out of the test.

Are we quite sure that’s what the message will say? Because I’m predicting a very special message of a different sort… and the famous five-tone sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind would make for a perfect alert sound.

Mysterious observatory closure

Deep Impact observatory

A terrible discovery?

If you were to write a movie screenplay in which some cosmic disaster befalls mankind, you could do worse than lifting the opening scene from news reports of what happened at a New Mexico observatory last week:

A space observatory at the centre of swirling alien conspiracy theories has asked for “patience” as it continues to be locked down.

The Sunspot Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico caught the attention of the world when it was shut down by FBI agents who reportedly swooped on the facility after arriving in elite Blackhawk helicopters.

It led immediately to suggestions the advanced technology inside of the facility spotted something it shouldn’t – such as proof of extraterrestrials, UFOs or even some baseless speculation that the observatory had spotted that the sun has started dying. The fact the observatory is only about 120 miles from the site of the Roswell UFO incident has only fuelled speculation.

The FBI and the administrators of the facility have said only that the shutdown happened because of a “security issue”.

In the days since, the sheriff’s department has said it has no idea what is going on. And the lockdown continues with no new information.

Could the observatory have detected something that has the authorities spooked? Like a catastrophic solar storm? (The director denies this.)

Another theory:

The Sunspot observatory on Sacramento Peak overlooks Holloman Air Force Base and an observer could potentially see out to the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Test range. That has raised questions about possible espionage. “New Mexico is a center of national-security-related science, and for that reason it has also been a prominent venue for foreign espionage,” says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “Spies go where the secrets are, and there are plenty of secrets in New Mexico.”

But, Aftergood says, a solar observatory might not be the best place to conduct such activity. “I imagine most or all of its sensors are directed up.” He wonders if someone at the Sunspot observatory somehow inadvertently spotted a classified satellite or transmission, triggering the shutdown.

It wasn’t aliens, I tell ya:

A spokeswoman for the nonprofit group that runs the facility said the organization was addressing a “security issue,” but would offer no additional information, other than, “I can tell you it definitely wasn’t aliens.”

Germany scandalously unprepared for alien invasion

Very disappointed in Germany. Apparently, the task of fighting off an alien invasion will fall on the US by default:

The German government has “no plans or protocol” should first contact with aliens occur, according to a report by German daily Bild.

The government considers such an event “extremely unlikely according to current scientific knowledge,” the Ministry of Economics said when responding to a question from Green MP Dieter Janecek.

“Concrete cases that could have been the subject of bilateral or multilateral talks with other states are not known,” the ministry’s statement continued.

United States has a plan

While Germany might not have a plan for extraterrestrial visitors, the US is more prepared. Even before the establishment of a Space Force that US President Donald Trump has recently said he plans to created as a new branch of the military, the 527th Space Aggressors Squadron is already a part of the United States Air Force. It aims to train US, joint and allied military forces for combat with “space-capable adversaries.”

The Air Force squadron regularly conducts drills designed to simulate what a space attack might look like if an otherworldly adversary attempted one.

In all seriousness, it’s hard to see what this can accomplish. Any alien invasion fleet will need to have traversed many light-years before reaching the earth, implying a level of technological sophistication that is surely far beyond that of the US military. Maybe, instead of rousing the invaders’ anger with pointless attacks, it would be better to do absolutely nothing.

From 2007-2012, the US also ran a task force that investigated sightings of unidentified flying objects with an annual budget of $22 million (€19.2 million). The UK has also run UFO sighting projects in the past.

More here about the Pentagon’s secret UFO task force. The military did admit that it was “incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies discovered” by the program, according to a New York Times report.

After analyzing past media coverage about possible findings of extraterrestrial microbial life, Varnum found most people’s reactions were positive.

In two following studies asking respondents what their hypothetical reaction would be if researchers did discover signs of life beyond Earth, or if researchers created a new life form in the lab, participants were still more positive than negative and were more excited about finding alien life than synthetically-created life.

Presumably, these people are betting that what we discover is kinder and gentler than this:

The research found that about half of Americans and Western Europeans surveyed elsewhere said they believe aliens have already visited Earth, Varnum said, and there does not seem to be any “chaos or disorder in the world” as a result.