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Putting the ‘Giggle Factor’ to Rest

Can we overcome our preconceptions about extraterrestrial life? Kathleen Toerpe thinks the answer is yes, for we’re moving from the era of ill-informed jokes about ‘little green men’ to a widening appreciation of our place in the cosmos. Dr. Toerpe is the Deputy CEO for Programs and Special Projects at the Astrosociology Research Institute and editor of The Journal of Astrosociology. She also serves as a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, one whose educational efforts on behalf of space exploration have revealed that the younger generation is familiar with and inspired by the subject, a fact that gives this essay its welcome patina of optimism. The recent hearings on SETI in the U.S. House of Representatives show that, for some at least, old attitudes die hard, but ongoing research into astrobiology and SETI is likely to make the ‘giggle factor’ seem positively prehistoric within our lifetimes.

by Kathleen D. Toerpe, PhD

Kathleen Toerpe- bio pic

Flip through any newsfeed these days, and it seems that humanity is experiencing an extraterrestrial renaissance. No, I’m not talking about the reboot of the Star Wars franchise, though that reawakening has been long overdue. Rather, I’m referring to the deservedly serious discourse in both the popular and scientific press over the search for extraterrestrial life (henceforth, shortened to “ET” – with both apologies and credit to Mr. Spielberg).

Two prominent examples here make my point.

On May 22, 2014, NASA released a free downloadable eBook edited by SETI social scientist, Douglas A. Vakoch, titled Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication. This fascinating book (which consumed much of my attention the recent Memorial Day weekend) examines the multilayered and interdisciplinary approaches that social scientists employ to anticipate how we might communicate with intelligent beings from another planet. Hearkening to analogs in Mayan hieroglyphs, music theory, Neanderthal research, and decoding extinct Earth languages (among several other fascinating analogs), this compilation of conference presentations teases out the seemingly intractable challenges of decoding and interpreting a message sent from ET and the possibilities of composing our own message in response.


A day earlier, on May 21, 2014, Seth Shostak and Dan Werthimer, two of SETI’s most eminent radio astronomers, testified before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology about “Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Universe.” The hearings focused on the progress made by radio and optical astronomy in detecting extraterrestrial life in the universe, and followed a similar hearing in December of 2013 that focused on the search for alien microbial life. Both Shostak’s and Werthimer’s prepared remarks thoroughly updated the House Committee on the rationales for the search, the search modalities, and the successes, challenges, and future direction of SETI investigations: atmospheric investigations into exoplanetary biochemical signatures, optical SETI recording intermittent pulses of light, panchromatic searches canvassing even broader swaths of the electromagnetic spectrum, even eavesdropping on our exoplanet neighbors for inadvertent signal leaks.

Serious science all around. But a final question, posed by the hearing’s Charter, asked the scientists to speak to the “public interest in the topic.” While Werthimer’s written testimony offered examples of SETI-inspired poetry and citizen science projects (the latter not surprising since the solidly popular and successful SETI@home project is headed out of Werthimer’s UC-Berkeley office), Shostak revealed the five-hundred-pound gorilla lurking in the background. This particular gorilla is commonly known as the “Giggle Factor.”

It is the immediate response many people have when the subject of ET and aliens arise. That under-the-breath chortle, that second look as if to say, “You’re really serious about this?” Psychologist and astrosociologist Albert Harrison analyzed it in his 2005 paper, “Overcoming the Image of Little Green Men: Astrosociology and SETI” and warned especially early-career SETI researchers to “be prepared . . . to risk ridicule . . . and public censure.” It was this same attitude that unfortunately earned SETI research that infamous 1979 “Golden Fleece Award” from former Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire. (Proxmire later recanted, but the damage to SETI’s reputation was done.) I suspect that every serious SETI researcher from the earliest pioneers to today’s practitioners has faced their peers’ and even their audience’s giggles. But I’m going to echo Shostak’s optimistic prediction to the House committee on the imminent discovery of ET life, and likewise guess that the Giggle Factor “is going to change within everyone’s lifetime in this room.”

What gives me the confidence to predict the demise of the Giggle Factor?

One simple word. Children.

One of the many “hats” I wear is as a volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. That is an auspicious-sounding way of saying that I present programs on space research and exploration to anyone in my community who wants to listen to me. Schools, scout troops and packs, senior centers, college classes, library programs, astronomy groups, radio interviews, church luncheons are all some of the places where I and my fellow Ambassadors carry the message of outer space to the public. And I’ve heard my share of giggles when I discuss Kepler exoplanetary discoveries, the Mars Curiosity Rover, and astrobiology research. But here’s the thing: the little kids aren’t laughing. Not a giggle. They wiggle and squirm, they want to play with the beach ball-like planets I bring with me, and they always want to know how much longer until snack time—but they don’t giggle. Not a chortle. Not a guffaw. Instead, there are a lot of wide eyes and dropping jaws when I describe the enormity of space and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life.

In a program I created called “Hello Out There!” we cover the science on Kepler and Curiosity and the Voyager probes, then the kids do their favorite part: composing their own messages on a cardboard “Golden Record” that they take home to share with their families. If Doug Vakoch would like to know what the scientists of tomorrow are most interested in telling ET about, it is . . . drum roll . . . their pets! In my informal review of the times I’ve presented this program (and I’m doing it with another 200 or so children this summer!) children want to tell ET about their pets, their siblings, their parents, and their favorite foods. Perhaps not quite the esoteric mathematical or chemical equations many active-SETI or messaging groups discuss sending, but it hearkens back to the more intimate and simply human messaging of the real-life Voyager recordings.

In his analysis on applying the techniques of archaeology to SETI, archaeologist and NASA e-book contributor Paul Watson concluded that we might be trapping ourselves in an “intellectual context” – our inability to overcome our preconceptions about alien life. Perhaps this is where an analysis of the Giggle Factor best finds its final resting place—as a cultural preconception. Even some of the House committee members couldn’t resist the urge to cast SETI in what Shostak earlier in the hearing had referred to as a “punchline.” House members’ questions about Ancient Aliens, Project Blue Book and UFO visitations, and whether or not ET likes the Beatles songs we’ve been sending out in space all seemed sadly discordant with the official formalities of a Congressional committee hearing. The Giggle Factor dies hard for us adults.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s (Texas) comment that “finding other sentient life in the universe would be the most significant discovery in human history” is no melodramatic hyperbole. The sheer discovery of even microbial life will be far-reaching, especially if it provides confirmatory evidence of an independent DNA structure. It is even more difficult to exaggerate the human impact of the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life, though as astrosociologists, I and my colleagues try hard to imagine and anticipate it. It would, in Shostak’s words, “calibrate our place in the intellectual universe.” Even finding nothing will be worth the search, since it would reaffirm, according to Werthimer, that “life on this planet . . . is very precious.” Indeed it is, whether or not we ever hear from ET!

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Image: Meeting of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology about “Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Universe.” Credit: Library of Congress.

There is serious work to be done to prepare for the likely detection of extraterrestrial life—by both scientists and social scientists alike. Computing power needs to be enhanced to deal with the massive volume of data being acquired; more sensitive land and sky-based instruments are needed to listen and peek in on the cosmos; media protocols to govern public disclosure of a putative signal detection need to be reviewed, revised and updated; public policy regarding ownership of and access to extraterrestrial microbial samples needs to be negotiated; and — my personal research field — more analysis is needed into the readiness of Earth societies and institutions to assimilate the likely knowledge that we are not alone. And this just scratches the surface of our SETI to-do list!

Once exiled to the fringes of legitimate scientific inquiry by the Giggle Factor, the search for extraterrestrial life has gained new momentum, focus, and funding as the search broadens to encompass the search for microbial, in addition to intelligent, life. In the end, it may be the children who lead the way into a new future for SETI. In his opening statement, Committee Chair Smith reminded the high school students in attendance at the hearing that day that one of the hearing’s purposes is “to inspire students today to be the scientists of tomorrow.” And the noticeable lack of giggling in the room was magic to my ears.


Kathleen Toerpe can be reached at ktoerpe@astrosociology.org and can be found at @ktoerpe on Twitter.

The video of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s hearing on “Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Universe,” and the participants’ written statements are available at http://science.house.gov/hearing/full-committee-hearing-astrobiology-and-search-life-universe

Albert Harrison’s 2005 paper, “Overcoming the Image of Little Green Men: Astrosociology and SETI” is available at http://astrosociology.com/Library/PDF/submissions/Overcoming%20LGM_Harrison.pdf

Information on the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program is available at http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ljk July 7, 2014, 13:01

    Should Humanity Try to Contact Intelligent Aliens?

    By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist | July 07, 2014 07:35 am ET

    Astronomers have detected nearly 2,000 alien planets to date. As that number continues to rise, so too does the prospect of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life.

    In terms of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), it may no longer be a matter of answering the “are we alone” question, some scientists say. Rather, just how crowded is the universe?

    And if ET is out there, it may be possible to reach out with direct “radio waving” to potentially habitable exoplanets. This form of cosmic cryptography, called “Active SETI,” involves no longer merely listening for a signal but purposefully broadcasting to, and perhaps establishing contact with, other starfolk.

    Full article here:


  • ljk July 7, 2014, 13:10


    JULY 7, 2014

    Who Speaks for Earth?/ BY DAVID GRINSPOON /


    Alexander Zaitsev, Chief Scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics, has access to one of the most powerful radio transmitters on Earth. Though he officially uses it to conduct the Institute’s planetary radar studies, Zaitsev is also trying to contact other civilizations in nearby star systems. He believes extraterrestrial intelligence exists, and that we as a species have a moral obligation to announce our presence to our sentient neighbors in the Milky Way—to let them know they are not alone. If everyone in the galaxy only listens, he reasons, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is doomed to failure.

    Zaitsev has already sent several powerful messages to nearby, sun-like stars—a practice called “Active SETI.” But some scientists feel that he’s not only acting out of turn, but also independently speaking for everyone on the entire planet. Moreover, they believe there are possible dangers we may unleash by announcing ourselves to the unknown darkness, and if anyone plans to transmit messages from Earth, they want the rest of the world to be involved. For years the debate over Active SETI versus passive “listening” has mostly been confined to SETI insiders. But late last year the controversy boiled over into public view after the journal Nature published an editorial scolding the SETI community for failing to conduct an open discussion on the remote, but real, risks of unregulated signals to the stars. And in September, two major figures resigned from an elite SETI study group in protest. All this despite the fact that SETI’s ongoing quest has so far been largely fruitless. For Active SETI’s critics, the potential for alerting dangerous or malevolent entities to our presence is enough to justify their concern.

    “We’re talking about initiating communication with other civilizations, but we know nothing of their goals, capabilities, or intent,” reasons John Billingham, a senior scientist at the private SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Billingham studied medicine at Oxford and headed NASA’s first extraterrestrial search effort in 1976. He believes we should apply the Hippocratic Oath’s primary tenet to our galactic behavior: “First, do no harm.” For years Billingham served as the chairman of the Permanent Study Group (PSG) of the SETI subcommittee of the International Academy of Astronautics, a widely accepted forum for devising international SETI agreements. But despite his deep involvement with the group, Billingham resigned in September, feeling the PSG is unwisely refusing to take a stand urging broad, interdisciplinary consultation on Active SETI. “At the very least we ought to talk about it first, and not just SETI people. We have a responsibility to the future well-being and survival of humankind.”

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    At present, the radio astronomy facilities potentially capable of producing a major Active SETI broadcast are all controlled by national governments, or at least large organizations responsible to boards and donors and sensitive to public opinion. However, seemingly inevitable trends are placing increasingly powerful technologies in the hands of small groups or eager individuals with their own agendas and no oversight. Today, on the entire planet, there are only a few mavericks like Zaitsev who are able and willing to unilaterally represent humanity and effectively reveal our presence. In the future, there could be one in every neighborhood.

  • ljk July 9, 2014, 11:15

    July 05, 2014

    Solved: Signals Thought Originating from Habitable-Zone Planets

    Mysteries about controversial signals coming from a dwarf star considered to be a prime target in the search for extraterrestrial life now have been solved in research led by scientists at Penn State University. Some of the signals, it appears, which were suspected to be coming from two planets orbiting the star at a distance where liquid water could potentially exist, actually are coming from events inside the star itself, not from so-called “Goldilocks planets” where conditions are just right for supporting life.

    “This result is exciting because it explains, for the first time, all the previous and somewhat conflicting observations of the intriguing dwarf star Gliese 581, a faint star with less mass than our Sun that is just 20 light years from Earth,” said lead author Paul Robertson, a postdoctoral fellow at Penn State who is affiliated with Penn State’s Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. As a result of this research, the planets now confirmed to be orbiting this dwarf star total exactly three.

    “We also have proven that some of the other controversial signals are not coming from two additional proposed Goldilocks planets in the star’s habitable zone, but instead are coming from activity within the star itself,” said Suvrath Mahadevan, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a coauthor of the research paper. None of the three remaining planets, whose existence the research confirms, are solidly inside this star system’s habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on a rocky planet like Earth.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    The research team made its discovery by analyzing Doppler shifts in existing spectroscopic observations of the star Gliese 581 obtained with the ESO HARPS and Keck HIRES spectrographs. The Doppler shifts that the scientists focused on were the ones most sensitive to magnetic activity. Using careful analyses and techniques, they boosted the signals of the three innermost planets around the star, but “the signals attributed to the existence of the two controversial planets disappeared, becoming indistinguishable from measurement noise,” Mahadevan said. “The disappearance of these two signals after correcting for the star’s activity indicates that these signals in the original data must have been produced by the activity and rotation of the star itself, not by the presence of these two suspected planets.

    “Our improved detection of the real planets in this system gives us confidence that we are now beginning to sufficiently eliminate Doppler signals from stellar activity to discover new, habitable exoplanets, even when they are hidden beneath stellar noise, said Robertson. “While it is unfortunate to find that two such promising planets do not exist, we feel that the results of this study will ultimately lead to more Earth-like planets.”

  • ljk July 10, 2014, 12:30


    A novel SETI strategy targeting the solar focal regions of the most nearby stars

    M. Gillon (University of Liege, Belgium)

    (Submitted on 29 Sep 2013)

    Many hypotheses have been raised to explain the famous Fermi paradox. One of them is that self-replicating probes could have explored the whole Galaxy, including our Solar System, and that they are still to be detected. In this scenario, it is proposed here that probes from neighboring stellar systems could use the stars they orbit as gravitational lenses to communicate efficiently with each other.

    Under this hypothesis, a novel SETI approach would be to monitor the solar focal regions of the most nearby stars to search for communication devices. The envisioned devices are probably not detectable by imagery or stellar occultation, but an intensive multi-spectral monitoring campaign could possibly detect some communication leakages. Another and more direct option would be to message the focal regions of nearby stars in an attempt to initiate a reaction.

    Comments: 12 pages, 2 figures. Accepted for publication in Acta Astronautica on 19 Sep 2013

    Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph); Earth and Planetary

    Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)

    DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.09.009

    Cite as: arXiv:1309.7586 [physics.pop-ph]
    (or arXiv:1309.7586v1 [physics.pop-ph] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Michael Gillon [view email]

    [v1] Sun, 29 Sep 2013 12:30:55 GMT (946kb)


  • ljk July 10, 2014, 13:14

    Arecibo Radio Observatory has detected “fast radio bursts” coming from very deep space via the ALFA survey.




    To quote from the first article:

    Exactly what may be causing such radio bursts represents a major new enigma for astrophysicists. Possibilities include a range of exotic astrophysical objects, such as evaporating black holes, mergers of neutron stars, or flares from magnetars — a type of neutron star with extremely powerful magnetic fields.

    “Another possibility is that they are bursts much brighter than the giant pulses seen from some pulsars,” notes James Cordes, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University and co-author of the new study.

    Though the news is being broadcast today, the paper on the subject was released in April:


  • ljk July 17, 2014, 15:42

    What If We Do Find Extraterrestrial Life?

    A public symposium in Washington D.C. will take up this provocative topic.

    By Dirk Schulze-Makuch


    July 14, 2014

    In mid-September, NASA and the Library of Congress will hold a free, two-day symposium on Astrobiology and Society in Washington D.C. to consider how we should prepare for the discovery of extraterrestrial life—not just microbial life, but perhaps complex and intelligent life as well. The fact that this topic is being discussed at the Library of Congress suggests that it’s no longer considered an unlikely pipe dream, but rather something that should be taken seriously by government institutions. [This caveat still needs to be said about exobiology in the year 2014?]

    Discoveries in the last few decades led to this change of view. Scientists have found extremophilic life in environmental niches previously considered impossible for life to thrive in. The number of known exoplanets now stands at more than 1,000 and counting. Some of these are Earth-size, some are potentially habitable, and some are both. Data from spacecraft and planetary rovers indicate habitable conditions not only on Mars, but on a number of moons in the outer solar system.

    With these developments in mind, Steven J. Dick, who holds the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, decided to assemble selected scientists, philosophers, historians, and theologians from around the world to explore how society can prepare for the discovery of extraterrestrial life and what this means to our understanding of life and our place in the universe.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    I will speak about the “landscape of life”—what types of life might be possible on different levels of complexity—while neuroscientist Lori Marino will talk about the landscape of intelligence. Philosopher Carol Cleland and political scientist Elspeth Wilson will speculate on the moral status of non-human organisms, and Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory will address the provocative question of whether you could (or perhaps should?) baptize an extraterrestrial. Margaret Race of the SETI Institute will consider potential risks in discovering life beyond Earth.

    In related news…

    Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno Wins Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society

    July 14, 2014 — Because of his unique perspective as both a scientist and a man of faith, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno has been awarded the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

    The Division for Planetary Sciences of the AAS, which gives the award to one individual each year, chose Br. Consolmagno because he “occupies a unique position within our profession as a credible spokesperson for scientific honesty within the context of religious belief.” The award is named after the late astronomer Carl Sagan, who was a popular author and writer of the 1980 television series “Cosmos.”

    The AAS recognized Br. Consolmagno for his diverse methods of reaching the public and for his achievements, including his numerous books and speaking engagements in both Europe and the United States, including his commencement address to the class of 2014 at Georgetown University.

    Full article here:


  • ljk July 23, 2014, 12:00

    Does freedom of speech really extend to freedom to not only say whatever stupid and wrong thing comes out of your mouth, but to have it covered by the media as well?


    That there are people who actually think like this and believe such medieval nonsense in the year 2014 should concern every thinking, rational person on this planet.

    You can dismiss this fool if you want, but he also got tens of millions of dollars to keep his creationist museum in Kentucky running.

    One can only imagine what might happen if an ETI came to Earth and they turned out to be missionaries touting the glories and superiority of THEIR deity. I consider religion to be one plausible reason why an alien race would travel across interstellar distances. And do not be surprised if members of the human race do something similar one day. I can see cults wanting to be free of terrestrial society and/or feeling it is their divine duty to “save” beings everywhere in the Universe.

  • ljk July 23, 2014, 12:47

    A New Approach to SETI: Targeting Alien Polluters

    Release No.: 2014-21

    For Release: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 – 10:00 am

    Cambridge, MA –

    Humanity is on the threshold of being able to detect signs of alien life on other worlds. By studying exoplanet atmospheres, we can look for gases like oxygen and methane that only coexist if replenished by life. But those gases come from simple life forms like microbes. What about advanced civilizations? Would they leave any detectable signs?

    They might, if they spew industrial pollution into the atmosphere. New research by theorists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) shows that we could spot the fingerprints of certain pollutants under ideal conditions. This would offer a new approach in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

    “We consider industrial pollution as a sign of intelligent life, but perhaps civilizations more advanced than us, with their own SETI programs, will consider pollution as a sign of unintelligent life since it’s not smart to contaminate your own air,” says Harvard student and lead author Henry Lin.

    “People often refer to ETs as ‘little green men,’ but the ETs detectable by this method should not be labeled ‘green’ since they are environmentally unfriendly,” adds Harvard co-author Avi Loeb.

    The team, which also includes Smithsonian scientist Gonzalo Gonzalez Abad, finds that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should be able to detect two kinds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — ozone-destroying chemicals used in solvents and aerosols. They calculated that JWST could tease out the signal of CFCs if atmospheric levels were 10 times those on Earth. A particularly advanced civilization might intentionally pollute the atmosphere to high levels and globally warm a planet that is otherwise too cold for life.

    There is one big caveat to this work. JWST can only detect pollutants on an Earth-like planet circling a white dwarf star, which is what remains when a star like our Sun dies. That scenario would maximize the atmospheric signal. Finding pollution on an Earth-like planet orbiting a Sun-like star would require an instrument beyond JWST — a next-next-generation telescope.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    The team notes that a white dwarf might be a better place to look for life than previously thought, since recent observations found planets in similar environments. Those planets could have survived the bloating of a dying star during its red giant phase, or have formed from the material shed during the star’s death throes.

    While searching for CFCs could ferret out an existing alien civilization, it also could detect the remnants of a civilization that annihilated itself. Some pollutants last for 50,000 years in Earth’s atmosphere while others last only 10 years. Detecting molecules from the long-lived category but none in the short-lived category would show that the sources are gone.

    “In that case, we could speculate that the aliens wised up and cleaned up their act. Or in a darker scenario, it would serve as a warning sign of the dangers of not being good stewards of our own planet,” says Loeb.

    This work has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.

    Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

    For more information, contact:

    David A. Aguilar
    Director of Public Affairs
    Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

    Christine Pulliam
    Public Affairs Specialist
    Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

  • ljk July 24, 2014, 9:57

    7/23/2014 @ 9:29 PM

    Alien Artifacts On The Moon?

    By Bruce Dorminey

    As nutty as it may seem to the uninitiated, the notion of looking for alien artifacts on our own Moon may finally be gaining mainstream scientific traction.

    There are good reasons to seriously consider the possibility that at some point in the Earth-Moon system’s storied 4.5 billion year-old history, an alien intelligence may have passed through our solar system; leaving physical artifacts of their visits.

    These artifacts would likely entail more than just alien space trash, and would arguably include evidence of alien scientific or industrial activity, such as extremely advanced lunar mining, energy generation; even technology related to lunar nearside Earth reconnaissance.

    Or so says Paul Davies, a longtime SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researcher, physicist, and now Director of the Beyond Center at Arizona State University in Tempe.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    At least one related paper on the subject is due to presented at the September meeting of the UK SETI Research Network, a group of mainstream British academicians. But even a decade ago, talk of alien lunar artifacts was mostly beyond the ken of anything remotely resembling the mainstream astronomical community.

    With the success of crowdsourcing, citizen science initiatives such as SETI@home; Einstein@home; and Cosmology@home however, Davies and a handful of other serious scientific researchers are now advocating marrying crowdsourcing analysis with the images now being catalogued by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

    Since 2009, LRO has been measuring lunar landforms down to half meter resolution; in the process targeting more than 10,000 lunar sites and covering up to 90 percent of the lunar surface. The mission’s current success has resulted in a treasure trove of thousands of very high resolution images, almost all of which could be searched via an citizen science initiative.

    Davies thinks the ideal lunar survey would not only include a search for optical anomalies but would go beyond the breadth of LRO’s own mission to include searches for evidence of alien lunar industrial activity.

    “[Evidence of past] mining or quarrying could show up in gravimetry or magnetic surveys, even if an ancient mine was buried under the lunar regolith,” said Davies. “We could detect [alien] nuclear waste perhaps from a lunar satellite by looking for localized gamma ray sources from the lunar surface.”


    “Professional astronomers sometimes suffer from the tendency to discount anything other than our expected signal as instrumental noise or some kind of interference,” said Siemion. “When identifying the unexpected, the eye of an amateur citizen scientist can be just as effective, if not more so, than that of a conditioned professional.”

    Amen, brother.

  • ljk December 24, 2014, 12:40

    DEC. 22, 2014

    Dennis Overbye

    A star appeared in the East.

    Following it, so the biblical story goes, three Magi urged on by a nervous King Herod arrived in Bethlehem and discovered the news that many of us celebrate with bells, lights and too much sugar and alcohol every year at this time: The son of God had come to die for our sins.

    Peace on earth and good will to men is fine, as far as it goes. But some astronomers and forward-thinking theologians wonder how the rest of the universe is supposed to get the message.

    If your dog can go to heaven, can E. T.? Astronomers have discovered in the last two decades that there are probably tens of billions of potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way. Only last week, NASA scientists reported that Mars had blown a methane sigh into the face of the Curiosity rover, though whether from microbes or geochemical grumblings may not be known until there are geologists’ boots on the Red Planet.

    So it’s not so crazy to imagine other living creatures scattered through the billions of years and light-years of cosmic history.

    Did Christ come to die for their sins, too?

    Or as Geoffrey Marcy, an exoplanet explorer and holder of the Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley, said not long ago in an email, “But do they know it’s Christmas?”

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    His point was echoed, if less ironically, by Nancy Ellen Abrams, a lawyer, philosopher and author of a forthcoming book, “A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science and the Future of Our Planet,” which argues that God is an emergent phenomenon, a result of the complexity of the universe and human aspirations rather than the cause of them — although no less real for that. “Our god is the god of humanity; it has nothing to do with aliens,” she said in an interview.