extraterrestrial intelligence

Alien Twitters

Frugal Aliens Might Be Sending in a Cost-Effective Way

The Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been the focus of a dedicated group of scientists for the past 50 years.  The process, developed in the 1960s, involves listening for signals from nearby stars and trying to decipher any type of intentional message from among the noise of space. And, make no mistake about it, space is noisy.

No signals have been found yet, and that has some researchers wondering if there isn’t a better and more cost-effective way to monitor signals.  But, has anybody thought about what sending messages across space might cost a civilization?  Gregory Benford, an astrophysicist at University of California-Irvine is. He’s teamed up with his twin brother James, who is a physicist specializing in microwave technology, to look at the problem from the point of view of the folks on other worlds who we have been hoping were sending messages to us.  Their conclusions, publihsed in the June of the journal Astrobiology, assume that any alien civilization might want to save money and resources and send their messages in the most cost-effective way possible. This means optimizing the use of bandwidth and sending narrowly focused beams that carry pulsed signals in the 1- to 10-gigahertz range.

James Benford likens that approach to being more like Twitter, with its shortened, efficient methodology of sending messages.  James and Gregory (who is also a science fiction writer) have caught the attention of the SETI community with their so-called “Benford Beacons”.  Researchers are taking a look at their current efforts, which focus their receivers on narrow-band input. They’ve come to the conclusion that they may be looking for the wrong kind of signals. The Benfords and a growing number of scientists involved in the hunt for extraterrestrial life advocate adjusting SETI receivers to maximize their ability to detect direct, broadband beacon blasts.

Once that’s done, the next question will focus on where to look for these little beacons. The Benfords suggest star-rich areas of the Milky Way, particularly toward the center where stars are at least a billion years older than the Sun. Those stars might stand a good chance of harboring life of the intelligent variety.

To hear more about these Benford Beacons, watch this video interview with James Benford.

If you’re interested in learning more about all the aspects of SETI, consider attending SETICon, being held August 13-15, 2010. Details at are

Interpreting a Message from ET

If you like puzzles you may like to try your hand at interpreting a message that was designed to be sent to an extraterrestrial intelligence. In an attempt to simulate an exchange of information via intelligent civilizations, scientists from Cal Tech (Busch) and Stanford (Reddick) developed a method for coding a message and tried to see if it could properly be decoded. The paper and code are available online here. If you are up for it, you too can see if you could have interpreted this message. Such message exchanges require much intelligence on both sides of the message, the sender and receiver.

April 2014
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