Yesterday’s post originally had a bunch of silly trivia about NASA and SETI mixed in. It was a mess, and the post is much better without it. But, I love SETI, so I thought I’d share some of that random junk:
Do you know about the Arecibo message? It’s a radio signal that was sent out to space, on the off chance that extraterrestrials were/are listening. Encoded are key math and science figures, to demonstrate our intelligence. It also contains the above map of our solar system, minus the coloring (that was added by me). As a pixel art nerd, this is both more primitive and more powerful than any other pixel drawing I can think of.
It’s not a modern idea: Carl Friedrich Gauss wanted to plant trees in a pattern that illustrated the Pythagorean theorem, in case anyone checked us out from above. Joseph Johann Littrow wanted to dig canals in geometric patterns, fill them with kerosene, and set it on fire.
Anyway, the guy that created the Arecibo message, Frank Drake, is also the mind behind the Drake equation, which attempts to estimate the number of detectable ET civilizations. It’s kinda bogus, but kinda not. It does raise an earnest question: if the odds of alien intelligence are so high, why haven’t they done what we’ve done: shoot sweet pixel art out into space for detection by other life?
There are a lot of theories, but one that science fiction loves is the zoo hypothesis: that ET life are simply watching and waiting. Two of my favorite pieces of science fiction, 2001 and Star Trek, both share this as their central premise. In 2001, the triggering event of ET intervention is man’s arrival to the moon. In Star Trek, the Vulcan race came to Earth only after we discovered the technology for interstellar travel. The Federation itself continued this nonintervention policy.
It won’t surprise you to learn that Carl Sagan had his hand in much of the above, and his depiction of all this, Contact, is one of my favorite movies, even though it really is super bad in most ways.
Bonus: The New York Times, in 1835, called reports of bat-men living on the moon “probable and possible.”